Oral traditions are very important, especially in society today. We are over run and inundated with TV, computers, smart phones and tablets that provide us with an inconceivable number of videos, movies and other types of entertainment. Because of this modern technology, our old stories are being lost and forgotten.
Author/Storyteller Kathryn Tucker Windham and storytellers like her, have became concerned over the loss of our old stories. Thankfully they are setting these stories down on paper in a series of books that are worth reading. (You can find the Jeffery series by Kathryn Tucker Windham on Amazon).
One of my favorite stories comes from old Appalachian folklore tale called, The Blue Bottle Tree and The Witch’s Heart.
The legend goes like this:
If you place blue bottles in a crape myrtle tree they will help you ward off evil. Evil spirits are very curious. The blue bottles are so attractive that the evil spirits are drawn into them. Once inside they become confused and get trapped. Some variations of this wives tale, continue by adding the destruction of the evil within the bottle. Much like a Native American dream catcher; when the sun rises in the morning it’s warmth and bright light destroys the evil that was trapped inside (or within the web of the catcher) so that it can never do harm to anyone again.
A variation of this story uses glass balls or globes, especially reflective ones. These became known as “Witch balls”. The idea behind these garden balls is that they reflect evil back onto itself. The evil is then destroyed by itself. It’s common to find blue globes in gardens or yards all over the United States.
The original folklore for these garden or home decorations is said to come from the south (the southern U.S.); but the history points to these concepts as being much older. And while today you can find a variety of colored bottle trees or garden balls, there is some significance to the blue color and hanging these decorations in a specific kind of tree, the Crape Myrtle tree (also known as a Crepe Myrtle) to be specific.
Many point to the Congo area of Africa in the 9th Century A.D. for the origins of the blue bottles. But author Felder Rushing has found these trees farther back in time and a little north in region.
Although glass was made deliberately as early as 3500 B.C. in northern Africa, hollow glass bottles began appearing around 1600 B.C. in Egypt and Mesopotamia. Clear glass was invented in Alexandria around 100 A.D. Soon around then, tales began to circulate that spirits could live in bottles – probably from when people heard sounds caused by wind blowing over bottle openings. This led to the belief in “bottle imps” and genies (from the Arabic word djinn) that could be captured in bottles (remember Aladdin and his magic lamp? This story originated as an Arabian folk tale dating back thousands of years, even before clear glass was invented). Somewhere in there, people started using glass to capture or repel bad spirits. The idea was, roaming night spirits would be lured into and trapped in bottles placed around entryways, and morning light would destroy them.
Today there are some people who refuse to put these superstitious decorative items in or around their homes, because of their connections to early pagan folklore. At some point I think people need to get over this kind of thinking, because nearly everything we do today that involves spirituality is linked to pagan perspectives. Even saying “God bless you” when you sneeze is based on a pagan concept that evil can enter your body when you sneeze. Long before Christians existed, the ancient people would say “May this god or goddess preserve you” when someone would sneeze. ..but this is an entirely different topic, so let’s go back to the Blue Bottle Trees.
As with most superstitions the idea of the bottle trees migrated around the world over a long period of time. In his book History of the Island of Domi (1791) author Thomas Atwood, made particular note of the bottle tree as a protection of the home through an invocation of the dead. Atwood writes about the belief held by African slaves in “the power of the dead, of the sun and the moon—nay, even of sticks, stones and earth from graves hung in bottles in their gardens.”
While you can find a variety of color in today’s bottle trees, blue was the preferred color in old folklore. Blue was seen as representing the energy of water and sky, which could be translated to Heaven and Earth in Hoodoo magik. But going farther back in time, blue was commonly used as a representation of a God, masculine energy, protection and safety. It is more closely related to water than “earth” or “heaven”. Have you ever put a bottle outside overnight on its side and then checked it in the morning? One of the first things you discover is that water has condensed inside the bottle.
Water is the flow of life, it cleanses, it nourishes but it also destroys and brings chaos. It is in these two energies of good and evil that gives water one of its most powerful energy representations and why it’s often associated with blue.
The Crape Myrtle Tree has long held spiritual significance through ancient cultures. Crape Myrtle are native to the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, Northern Australia and parts of Oceania. The common crepe myrtle from China and Korea was introduced circa 1790 to Charleston, South Carolina by the French botanist Andre Michaux. Two hundred years of cultivation has resulted in a huge number of cultivars of widely varying characteristics. The petals have a crinkled appearance, similar to crepe paper, hence the name crepe myrtle. There are various flower colors available to the gardener, including white, lavender, purple, pink, magenta, and red.
They’re spiritual significance varies of course, depending on where you look and what you believe. They are part of Asian culture so they are utilized in Chinese, Korean and Japanese mythologies.
But they can be found around the world, and even appear in Greek and Roman mythology. From Wikipedia:
In Greek mythology and ritual the myrtle was sacred to the goddesses Aphrodite and also Demeter: Artemidorus asserts that in interpreting dreams “a myrtle garland signifies the same as an olive garland, except that it is especially auspicious for farmers because of Demeter and for women because of Aphrodite.
The lovely crepe myrtle even has Biblical notoriety in Isaiah 55: 13 Where God explains his plan for those who have sought him. “12 You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. 13 Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. This will be for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign, that will endure forever.””
In pagan mythology the Crape Myrtle is often associated with the Goddess and love, similar to the Greek connection and Aphrodite. She has many stories that link her to love captured and lost. Some historians suggest the Crape is used specifically as a bottle tree because of her link to these stories of love and attraction. Her energy of attraction pulls evil spirits to her and the love she expresses within the bottle pulls them inside where they can become trapped. It’s also a significant connection between the female energy of the Crape and masculine energy of the blue of the glass bottle as well.
Making Your Bottle Tree
If you would like to make your own Blue Bottle Tree there are a few things to keep in mind.
- Use blue bottles.
- Wash the bottles thoroughly before you create your tree. They don’t have to be dry, but they do have to be clean.
- If you wish, you can empower the bottles with a prayer or ritual to help them keep evil away.
- Place the bottle in a Crape Myrtle tree. If you don’t have one, you might consider an Ash or Oak.
- Don’t use a fabricated piece of wood. For instance, placing them on a fence post or building a “fake” tree. Your tree should be alive and living.
- Always place the bottles upside down as much as possible, where the opening is facing the trunk of the tree.
- Place the bottles on a tree that receives direct sunlight at least once during the day. It doesn’t have to be in the sun all day; but you do want it to receive some sunlight so the spirits will be destroyed by the sunshine.
- Some instructional folklore procedures say to clean the bottles at least once a year. Others say every 3 years. And some say not at all. So that part is up to you.
You might also consider writing a message on one or more of your bottles. You can include a blessing, a prayer or a special request. A thank you to the spirits of your garden or whatever Divine spirit is in your life.
You can even create and decorate a bottle with a specific problem or block you have going on in your life to ward off problems with that specific issue. As you make this special bottle, imagine the problem or issue moving inside the bottle and getting trapped where it will be dispersed the next morning in the sun light. The visualization with help energize the bottle to attract the negative energies associated with it.
Say a prayer over that bottle to emphasis it’s intent when you hang it in your tree and leave it there for at least 3 days and up to 3 months. If the issue still persists after 3 months, take the bottle down. Wash and clean it, inside and out. Then redecorate it with new items that represent the issue. This time, choose your words carefully and write on the bottle with a washable marker. You don’t want to use a permanent marker; that may make the issue permanent. Once the issue has been resolved, make sure you take this special bottle down and clean it to fully rid your life of the issue. You might even consider taking it to a glass recycling center to be destroyed and reused.
Have fun making your bottle tree. Be creative and decorate it to fit your personality if you’d like to make it extra special. It’s a wonderful tradition that can brighten up any garden, yard, or patio.
© 2013 Springwolf, D.D., Ph.D. Springwolf Reflections / Springs Haven, LLC. All Rights Reserved.