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The Origin of the Bottle Tree

Bottle Tree Origins trace back to Africa, bottle trees trace their roots to the Congo area of Africa in the 9th Century A.D. and that practice was brought over to the US by slaves who hung blue bottles from trees in the south and most predominantly in the Appalachian mountains informing the Hoodoo traditions there with African based spiritual concepts believed to ward off evil spirits and protect the household, Europeans in the region called the trees “Haint trees” believing them to be haunted and claiming the whistle of the wind over the bottles was the moan of spirits. Porch roofs, shutters, and doors are still painted a special, protective, pale shade of blue called Haint Blue throughout the low country of Georgia and the Carolinas. Bottle trees and their lore have deep roots in Africa. Art historian Robert Farris Thompson traces it to the Bakongo people, whose homeland is near the mouth of the Congo River. Many of their customs survived the cruel filter of slavery and took hold in the Caribbean and U.S. South.. It’s also believed that the superstitions surrounding them were embraced by many cultures, including Europeans.

Although glass was made deliberately as early as 3500 B.C. in Kemet also called Egypt by foreigners from Greece who migrated to northern Africa, hollow glass bottles began appearing around 1600 B.C. in Egypt. Clear glass was invented in West Africa approximately 100 years before it was made in Alexandria around 100 A.D. Tales began to circulate that spirits could live in bottles - probably from when people heard sounds caused by wind blowing over bottle openings. A newly discovered treasure trove of more than 10,000 colorful glass beads, approximately 1000 years old as well as evidence of glassmaking tools, proves that an ancient city in southwestern Nigeria was one of the first places in West Africa to master the complex art of glassmaking, scientists reported.

It is believed that the spirits are dazzled by the colors of the bottles in the sun. Once they enter the bottle, they can't find their way out, much like flies. Legend has it that empty glass bottles placed outside the home could "capture" roving (usually evil) spirits at night, and the spirit would be destroyed the next day in the sunshine. The African people who were forcefully brought to America arrived with their own religious traditions and practices. But these practices were not culturally homogenous to one African tribe, multiple traditions, languages, and religions that were all forced together and forced to adapt and survive in a new and deliberately hostile environment did so and found commonality in some beliefs.

A significant number of people were kidnapped from West Africa. In this region there were great kingdoms with paved streets and street lamps, a system of banking glass bead manufacturing, multiple African ethnic and cultural groups shared a similar practice, that of hanging empty gourds outside of homes to catch malicious spirits and prevent them from entering and doing harm. Similar to how Europeans hang wreaths on their doors during Holidays early Romans wished each other “good health” by exchanging branches of evergreens. The boughs were curved into a circle, and hung. It's circular shape represents eternity. From a Christian religious perspective, it represents an unending circle of life, eternity or life never ending. The evergreen, most frequently used in making wreaths, symbolizes growth and everlasting life. In African tradition the tree is a symbol of the unending circle of life and blue traditionally is the color of the spirit or Ka an Egyptian/Kemetic word for life force. The Asians of the ancient world called it Chi.

These practices persisted with the passage to America, while adapting over time to use the materials available. The heavy gourds of Africa being less easy to find in America, a suitable substitute took their place, glass bottles. Particularly favored were blue glass bottles. Blue as a color has a long tradition of being viewed as protective against evil spirits, a belief which can be found throughout much of the Mediterranean world, Northern and Western Africa, and throughout the Islamic world. In Ancient Egypt blue (irtyu) was the color of the heavens and hence represented the universe. Ka, in ancient Egyptian religion, with the ba and the akh, a principal aspect of the soul of a human being or of a god. The exact significance of the ka remains a matter of controversy, Ka is the life force or spiritual double of the person a ghost. The royal Ka symbolized a pharaoh's right to rule, a universal force that passed from one pharaoh to the next. Ba is represented as a human-headed bird that leaves the body when a person dies this refers to the soul leaving the body.

Blue is a favorite choice of bottle tree lovers. Many believe that blue bottles also contain some healing qualities. Whatever your color of choice for your bottle tree, know that it is from a long and proud tradition of trapping and keeping bad things - including the Blues - away. In the Bible blue is the color of God, his moral law and represents the truth. In European depictions of Bible stories saints and angels or the messiah would be depicted in blue. In ancient Egypt royalty or the Gods would be depicted in blue in hieroglyphs. Many people will claim bottle trees originated in North Africa or the Middle East by citing the story of Aladdin and the genie in the bottle or lamp. This is erroneous and easily debunked because of several easy to confirm facts.

Although no collection of stories is more beloved worldwide than the Middle Eastern folk tales known as One Thousand and One Nights. The original collection only contained about 40 stories and was compiled into a manuscript sometime between the 8th century and the 14th century during the Islamic Golden Age. The stories were made popular in the West by the French translator Antoine Galland who got a hold of this original manuscript in the 1690s and translated it into French. They were an instant hit. But some of the most popular stories, such as Aladdin and Ali Baba didn’t appear in that original manuscript. Because Galland wrote them himself!

Bottle trees have been featured as accessories in most of the prestigious flower show garden displays all over the world. Additionally, glass bottles, which have long been placed in windows for color ("poor man's stained glass"), are also commonly used to line flower beds. This tradition brings beauty and culture together to honor the circle of life and proclaim the humanity of all mankind.

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