Most believe that blue bottle trees got their roots in the Congo area of Africa in the 9th Century A.D. and that the practice was brought over by slaves who suspended blue bottles from trees and huts as talismans to ward off evil spirits.
But after extensive research, it’s now believed that bottle trees and their lore go back much farther in time, and originate farther north. It’s also believed that the superstitions surrounding them were embraced by most ancient cultures, including European.
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. and tales began to circulate that spirits could live in bottles - probably from when people heard sounds caused by wind blowing over bottle openings.
It is believed that the spirits are dazzled by the colors of the bottles. Once they enter the bottle, they can't find their way out, much like flies.
Legend had it that empty glass bottles placed outside the home could "capture" roving (evil) spirits at night, and the spirits would be destroyed, the next day, in the blazing sunshine.
Although blue is a favorite choice for these creative glass trees, in Eureka Springs, you will find trees of all different colors.
Mostly, however, glass bottle trees will be blue glass bottles and this is because many believe that blue bottles also contain some healing qualities.
Bottle trees have been featured as accessories in most of the prestigious flower show garden displays all over the world. Additionally, glass bottles have long been placed in windows for color and commonly used to line flower beds.
Warding Off Evil Spirits
Oral traditions are very important, especially in our society today. We are so inundated with smart phones, TV, computers and tablets that provide us with an inconceivable number of videos, movies and other types of on-demand entertainment that because of this modern technology, our old stories are being lost and forgotten.
A favorite story, on this very subject, comes from an 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 crepe myrtle tree, they will help you ward off evil. Evil spirits are very curious and these blue bottles are so attractive that the evil spirits are drawn into them. Once inside they become confused and therefore they get trapped.
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 dream 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, and all over the yards and gardens of Eureka Springs.
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 Crepe Myrtle.
The Crepe Myrtle Tree has long held spiritual significance through ancient cultures. Crepe Myrtles 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 also utilized in Chinese, Korean and Japanese mythologies.
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.””
The Crepe 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 Crepe 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 Crepe and masculine energy of the blue of the glass bottle as well.
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.
Today, bottle trees in all their glorious variations are ubiquitous in Southern gardens, especially those with cottage-garden flair, being an easy way to add affordable sculpture and color. They jut from dead tree trunks, perch on nails hammered into branches, cap rebar or plastic stakes poked into the dirt, bristle from raw or painted wooden posts, and brighten metal “trees” purchased from garden shops.
Southerners today still call a certain shade of blue “haint blue” (“haint” comes from the word “haunt;” an evil spirit). Even in cities like Santa Fe and Taos, people paint window frames and doors blue for the same reason: a folkloric superstition that it keeps out bad spirits.
Whatever your color of choice for your bottle tree, know that it is from a long and proud tradition of trapping bad things - ironically, including the blues - and keeping them away from your home.
...and, once again, as we speak about this cultural connection to Eureka Springs and these mysterious and mesmerizing blue bottle trees we, once again, find ourselves connected back to - water.
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.