Haunting Experiences: Ghosts in Contemporary Folklore

Haunting Experiences: Ghosts in Contemporary Folklore

Haunting Experiences: Ghosts in Contemporary Folklore

Haunting Experiences: Ghosts in Contemporary Folklore

Excerpt

Bright wind chimes composed of enticing, candy-colored, pastel bits of glass are for sale at the Winchester Mystery House gift shop (figure 1). Some of the glass is formed into colorful bottles reminiscent of those in the southern supernatural tradition of bottle trees, a custom depicted in movies such as Ray (2004), a biopic about African American musician Ray Charles, or Because of Winn-Dixie (2005), a children's film about a beloved dog. The famous southern writer Eudora Welty photographed them. A contemporary southern author, Dennis Covington, describes them: “If you happen to have evil spirits, you put bottles on the branches of a “bare” tree in your yard. The more colorful the glass, the better, I suppose. The evil spirits get trapped in the bottles and won't do you any harm. This is what Southerners in the country do with evil spirits” (1995, xv).

Bottle trees are a product of southern African American culture. Jim Martin says that glassblowing and bottle making existed as early as the ninth century in Africa. The practice of hanging objects from trees to ward off evil spirits is also African, and the bottle tree itself is Kongo-derived. He adds that as the wind moves the tree, the spirits in the bottles moan (1988, 495). Martin maintains this type of bottle tree is less common today than in the past. However, certain variants for “upscale neighborhoods” have come into vogue: for example, sculpted metal trees are sold . . .

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