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Lo the bottle tree. In recent times, it has become available on the market for anyone to buy a metal “tree” to hang bottles on out front. Before that, it was set up in these hills by withered hands and whispered prayers.
The bottle tree has been an ornament of the yard for centuries. It’s usual purpose today is simply decorative. But it’s main goal was catching and getting rid of haints and other troublesome spirits.
Originating first in Egypt, the belief was that the troublesome spirit would be drawn in and trapped by the bottle during the night and would vanish by the first rays of the sun.
Bottles and vessels have played an important role in the folks beliefs of Appalachia, whether it’s an old beer bottle loaded to lift a curse on someone or an old croc left at the grave of a loved one as us Melungeons used to do.
They hold. Memories, problems, tears, or blood. Bottles represent the despair and hope of the mountaineer where you find them littered on the floor or placed delicately in the branches of a tree. It also speaks to the deep need of the mountain folks to be remembered and to leave their mark the mountain way, to leave a piece of themselves without taking that piece from the mountain or leaving a scar on the land.
But real power of the bottle tree doesn’t happen at night nor is it in the bottles themselves. The power is found in the gleaming of the morning sun painting patches of the ground below with hues of blue, creating a union between heaven and earth, a meeting place between man and spirit.
So when you hang that bottle on the branch, you’re participating in a practice that is more than simple protection from evil spirits. You participate in a time honored tradition of creating beauty, adorning the tree with paint brushes of light, with each bottle containing the same hope for better times as our ancestors instilled in them.
Because of course that is the basis of warding off evil spirits, whether internal or external. To keep the bad times at bay, not permanently, but just long enough, just long enough, to get a good taste of peace and hope in a dark hollow in some forgotten place that can sometimes feel is even outside of God’s sight.