Uncanny Georgia: Boo Hags

"The Old Plantation," South Carolina, abt. 1790

“The Old Plantation,” South Carolina, abt. 1790

The boo hag is a variant on the widespread belief in hags: evil spirits that torment a person in his or her sleep. It is part of the culture of the Gullah (or Geechee) people of the Sea Islands mainly off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia. (Take time to watch this 6-minute video introduction to Gullah culture.)

A boo hag is an undead creature somewhat like a vampire that can become invisible by shedding its skin. The hag then slips into a victim’s skin while he or she is sleeping and gives that person nightmares.

A hag lives a normal life during the day but sheds its skin in order to haunt people at night. It is usually female.

So, how does this creature “work”? According to one source,

One of the beliefs that Gullahs hold is that people have both a soul and a spirit.  They believe that souls leave human bodies upon death, and, if it’s a good soul, it ascends to Heaven.  The spirit of a person has a different function.  A good spirit stays behind to watch over the deceased’s family, guiding and protecting them, if needed.

A bad spirit, on the other hand, is a “boo hag.”  The boo hag uses witchcraft to manipulate people and steal energy from the living while they sleep.  Gullahs sometimes bid each other good night, saying “don’t let de hag ride ya!”

Boo hags are a little like vampires in that they are undead beings that feed off of living humans.  They are skinless, and bright red in color, with bulging blue veins.  To survive in the world of the living, they’ll steal a living person’s skin, and wear it like clothes so that they can move amongst the living without suspicion.  At night, though, they shed the skin, and go looking for a victim to “ride.”

Boo hags are crafty.  They can get into your house through very small openings—a slightly open window, or even a crack in a wall.  Once inside, they’ll sit on a sleeping victim’s chest, and steal their breath, or, more specifically, their energy.  A boo hag will “ride” its victim all night long, then sneak away before dawn to return to its skin.  If it can’t get back to its skin before the sun comes up, it will be destroyed.

There are some warning signs to let you know that a boo hag is close.  First, the air will become very hot and damp.  Second, the air will smell like something is rotting.

But if you’ve woken up exhausted after a full night’s rest, you may have been visited by a boo hag.

Sweet dreams!

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