Just recently, I encountered an interesting convergence of three separate references to boo hags. The first two references occurred back in March, over the weekend where John participated in a storytelling symposium. And what is a storytelling symposium without a ghost story or two? Enter a tale about a boo hag who, every night, would unwind her skin onto a spindle and fly away to search for unsuspecting young men.
The second reference was unconnected to the symposium but came during a conversation where someone brought up the custom, in certain parts of the country, of painting door and window frames blue, to keep out boo hags since legend holds these scary critters can’t cross water, or the color blue. Or how you sometimes see, here and there, an entire house painted blue. The blue keeps the haints out.
I was immediately taken with the term ‘boo hag,’ which I have not heard much in my life. I’ve heard haint, but not so much boo hag. I was immediately curious, so started some research—so easy to do in these days of the internet! More about this in a bit.
So it was with some new knowledge about boo hags that I watched a movie called Angel Heart (1989), starring Mickey Rourke (during his hot days) and Lisa Bonet. (Y’all remember Lisa Bonet from The Cosby Show?) I wasn’t familiar with the movie; just added it to my Netflix queue before I had done the boo hag research, because it looked interesting. And boy was it ever! Turns out voodoo was a pretty strong part of the plot, and one scene had Lisa Bonet’s character doing a ceremonial voodoo dance that was a strong nod toward a boo hag doing her nightly thing. I wouldn’t have recognized that if I hadn’t just done a bit of research on boo hags. (BTW, not a movie suitable for young ‘uns.)
Now, for those of you who don’t know what a boo hag is:
According to the legend, Boo Hags are similar to vampires. Unlike vampires, they (usually female) gain sustenance from a person's breath, as opposed to their blood, by riding their victims (usually male).
They have no skin, and thus are red. In order to be less conspicuous, they will steal a victim's skin and use it for as long as it holds out, wearing it as one might wear clothing. They will remove and hide this skin before going riding.
When a hag determines a victim is suitable for riding, the hag will generally gain access to the home through a small crack, crevice, or hole. (Places needing a nice coat of blue paint!) The hag will then position themselves over the sleeping victim, sucking their breath. This act renders the victim helpless, and induces a deep dream-filled sleep. The hag tends to leave the victim alive, so as to use them again for their energy. However, if the victim struggles, the hag may take their skin, leaving the victim to suffer. After taking the victim's energy, the hag flies off, as they must be in their skin by dawn or be forever trapped without skin. When the victim awakes, they may feel short of breath, but generally is only tired.
Turns out the hag folktale is a world-wide occurrence. Robert Herrick (1591-1674) obviously knew of the hag story, because he wrote a poem about her.
The Hag is astride,
This night for to ride;
The Devill and shee together:
Through thick, and through thin,
Now out, and then in,
Though ne’r so foule be the weather.
A Thorn or a Burr
She takes for a Spurre:
With a lash of a Bramble she rides now,
Through Brakes and through Bryars,
O’re Ditches, and Mires,
She followes the Spirit that guides now.
No Beast, for his food,
Dares now range the wood;
But husht in his laire he lies lurking:
While mischiefs, by these,
On Land and on Seas,
At noone of Night are working,
The storme will arise,
And trouble the skies;
This night, and more for the wonder,
The ghost from the Tomb
Affrighted shall come,
Cal’d out by the clap of the Thunder.
That's it for now! Be careful out there, especially you young men.