Lowcountry Customs and Folklore

Dear Reader:

It, still, makes me happy to see so much underbrush removed last week by Jeff, my lawn maintenance expert. For the first time, in a long time, people riding down the street can see the bottle tree in all its beauty again…not hidden behind and within the thick foliage of vines and ropes.

The “Ya’s” (lifetime friends from college days) all got interested in giving each other a bottle tree and subsequent bottles to put on it after reading local author, Karen White’s novel…On Folly Beach (several years back.)

It was chocked full of World War II home front stories from Folly Beach residents…including German u-boats and local volunteers looking for submarines…spies…lots of local history I never knew took place.

But within the story, there were several strong characters who, also shared local folklore and the history/mystery behind the bottle trees of the area. One character shared this legend….

One of the many traditions steeped in local Lowcountry history is the bottle tree. … The legend is, early Africans believed that when night rolled around, the bottles lured and trapped evil spirits in them and held them hostage until the rising morning sun could destroy them.

In the story…it was also a novel way to send communications with military secrets or warnings about spies in the area. Notes would be written on small pieces of paper and left in certain bottles during the night.

Besides the bottle tree out by Rainbow road…I have two more bottle trees in my garden…I am taking no chances with bad spirits wandering my garden.

Another sage piece of protection from bad spirits comes from painting one’s house with “haint blue” colors…particularly the door, windows and porches.

I still have “haint” blue on my front porch ceiling and a blue door upon the exit from my Happy Room. According to local folklore…the color blue is used for a specific reason.

Originally, haint blue was thought by the Gullah peoples to ward haints, or ghosts, away from the home. The tactic was intended either to mimic the appearance of the sky, tricking the ghost into passing through, or to mimic the appearance of water, which ghosts traditionally could not cross.

*There is also another benefit too…I have never had a wasp or other insect nest on my front porch…supposedly the blue hue confuses flying insects and they think it is the sky…and fly away.

The Gullah would paint not only the porch, but also doors, window frames, and shutters. Blue glass bottles were also hung in trees to trap haints and boo hags. ( I always make sure I have blue cobalt bottles on my bottle trees for this reason) 🙂

I first came to hear the story of haints, boo hags and painting homes blue when I first started teaching SC History in the early seventies. Back then many of my students lived in homes with blue ceilings, porches, doors, and windows…and if they didn’t live in one… their aunts, uncles, or grandparents still did.

Sadly this piece of folklore has died out with many of the old homes being taken apart for new housing developments. I miss seeing the “haint” houses around Summerville like I got to experience in my early teaching years.

I am glad my students filled my imagination  long ago with their cultural histories and that I have been able to preserve some of these old folklore legends in my home in the lowcountry…

So until tomorrow….

I like narrative storytelling as being part of a tradition, a folk tradition.

“Today is my favorite day”  Winnie the Pooh

I added greenery to the Pine Forest swing and now it completes the perimeter at the front of the garden

Sunshine in the seventies yesterday and today…life is SO GOOD!

Finally…I can safely leave the pillows and mattress out a few days straight without worrying about them getting wet…a benchmark!


About Becky Dingle

I was born a Tarheel but ended up a Sandlapper. My grandparents were cotton farmers in Laurens, South Carolina and it was in my grandmother’s house that my love of storytelling began beside an old Franklin stove. When I graduated from Laurens High School, I attended Erskine College (Due West of what?) and would later get my Masters Degree in Education/Social Studies from Charleston Southern. I am presently an adjunct professor/clinical supervisor at CSU and have also taught at the College of Charleston. For 28 years I taught Social Studies through storytelling. My philosophy matched Rudyard Kipling’s quote: “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” Today I still spread this message through workshops and presentations throughout the state. The secret of success in teaching social studies is always in the story. I want to keep learning and being surprised by life…it is the greatest teacher. Like Kermit said, “When you’re green you grow, when you’re ripe you rot.”
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2 Responses to Lowcountry Customs and Folklore

  1. Sis Kinney says:

    Good morning, Becky!
    Great post today especially about the bottle trees and “haint” blue. I remember the “haint” blue being painted on porch ceilings – I believe our (screened-in) porch in Summerville had that color ceiling, but I can’t remember if our front porch did. We don’t have a porch on this house, and Bobby doesn’t have any interest in getting a bottle tree. Oh, well.
    I LOVE Karen White’s “Tradd Street” series – especially since each one brings up memories of the places she mentions – and am looking forward to the next (supposedly last) one to come out. I must try some of her other ones, too; I know she’s a prolific writer!
    Glad spring is coming your way; that must mean it’ll be coming our way,too – eventually! The weather has been a tad warmer the last couple of days, but I know that won’t last. Up here, we’re always told not to put out any plants on decks/porches until after Mother’s Day!
    BUT – daylight savings time starts March 14th! Another harbinger of spring – man-made, but nonetheless.
    Have a blessed day! I know you will!
    Much love,


    • Becky Dingle says:

      As always…wonderful to hear from you Sis! I had forgotten about the daylight savings time….will throw students and teachers off again for a few days…adjusting to the darkness on one of either end. Hope your spring comes early this year…I think, after the winter we had,… whether snowy and icy for y’all…or rainy for us…we all deserve a beautiful warm spring to bask in. Have a marvelous day!


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