photo by Kathryn Tucker Windham
Are your premises safe against haints, furies and other such ornery spirits? Have you painted your front door blue? Has the neighborhood seen a sudden upsurge of bottles dangling upside down in the trees?
She knew that there could be a spell put in trees, and she was familiar from the time she was born with the way bottle trees kept evil spirits from coming into the house — by luring them inside the colored bottles, where they cannot get out again. — Livvie, by Eudora Welty
Glass ‘bottle trees’ originated in ninth century Kongo during a period when superstitious Central African people believed that a genii or imp could be captured in a bottle. Legend had it that empty glass bottles placed outside, but near, the home could capture roving (usually evil) spirits at night, and the spirit would be destroyed the next day in the sunshine. One could then cork the bottles and throw them into the river to wash away the evil spirits.
Furthermore, the Kongo tree altar is a tradition of honoring deceased relatives with graveside memorials. The family will surround the grave with plates attached to sticks or trees. The plates are thought to resemble mushrooms, calling on a Kongo pun: matondo/tondo [the Kongo word for mushroom is similar to their word to love].
And so, trees and bottles eventually came together. Read more about the history of bottle trees here:
My brother, a welder by trade, surprised me with my very own ‘bottle tree’.
Oh, happy day!