Gullah folktale from coastal Georgia about a man who suspects his beautiful new bride might be a witch – the Boo Hag!
Table of Contents
The Boo Hag – Audio Story
Brother Emmet Fisher was a fine looking young man who lived in a tiny community on the Georgia coast. He was well respected in town for being an honest, hardworking fellow. Although he wasn’t wealthy, he made a nice-enough living doing handiwork for the local townspeople.
Emmet was getting close to marrying age, and every woman in town was jumping at the chance to be his chosen. He’d have unexpected visits from different women every day bearing gifts of fried chicken, gumbo, cakes, cookies and other delicacies.
But Emmet had his eyes set on a beautifully mysterious young woman who lived alone in a small cabin deep in the marsh. She was incredibly beautiful, with long dark hair, smooth skin and piercing green eyes. But word around town was that she was a little strange, and it was best to stay away from her.
Emmet, however, couldn’t get this mysterious woman out of his head. What made her even more intriguing was the fact that she would walk through town, turning heads with every step, but never did she acknowledge the admiring glances or catcalls from numerous, hopeful, would-be suitors. In fact, no one in town could ever remember this woman speaking a word to anybody.
After several months of watching this gorgeous beauty walk through town, Emmet finally worked up enough nerve to call on her at her marsh cabin. His plan was to go fishing one day in a tidal creek that just so happened to be near her home. While out fishing, he conveniently broke his water jug into a hundred little pieces. Brother Emmet walked up to the woman’s house and knocked on the door.
As the door slowly creaked open and the woman peeked out, Emmet nervously cleared his parched throat. “Excuse me, ma’am,” he stammered, “my name is Emmet Fisher, and I seem to have broken my water jug. Could you please spare me just a cup of water? I’m mighty thirsty.”
The woman smiled and invited him in without hesitation. Her voice was even more beautiful and silky than Emmet had imagined. She not only gave Emmet a cup of water, but to his surprise, asked him to stay for supper. The food was delicious, and the woman waited on Emmet hand and foot. Before he knew it, she invited him to stay for breakfast the next day, then lunch, then another dinner.
Suddenly, in the blink of an eye, Brother Emmet found himself married to the mysterious woman.
After their sudden marriage, Emmet and his bride got along reasonably well for a while. But after a few months, he began to notice that something peculiar was going on with his new wife. On certain nights, when the clock struck midnight, Emmet would sometimes wake up to find that his wife wasn’t in bed with him, nor could she be found anywhere in the house. Emmet began to get worried that she might be seeing someone else on the side, and confronted her about it. But she would just laugh and reassure him that she was, indeed, in the house, and that he must be having nightmares.
As his wife began to disappear more often, Emmet decided to confide in one of his best friends who had also just gotten married. After hearing Emmet’s story, his friend shook his head and said, “Emmet, I hate to say this, but it sounds to me like you might’ve married yo’self a boo-hag.”
“A boo-hag?” asked Emmet. “What’s a boo-hag?”
His friend went on to explain: “Well, a boo-hag is an evil spirit that wakes up at night, sheds her skin like a snake, and flies outside and sucks the blood out of victims from near and far. A boo-hag is an evil spirit that sits on your chest and steals your voice. A boo-hag is an evil spirit that sits on your back and rides you all night like a horse until you drop dead.”
Horrified, Emmet said, “Well, I sho’ don’t want to be married to no boo-hag, if that’s what she is. What am I gonna do about it?”
“The only way to get rid of a boo-hag is to make sho’ she can’t get back in her skin. When she’s gone, take a look in the closet. If you see her skin hanging in there, take it offa the hook, fill it with salt and pepper, put it back in the closet, then lie back and watch.”
Around midnight that very evening, Emmet rolled over in bed and found that his wife was gone. He did what his friend told him to do – he got up, went to the closet, and found his wife’s skin hanging there, cold and slimy to his touch like a lizard’s skin. He filled it with salt and pepper, hung it back in the closet, then went back to bed and waited for his wife to return.
Sure enough, as the sun was about to rise that morning, the door opened, and in walked his skinless wife. She opened the closet door, took her skin off the hook and spoke to it in a gravelly, witch-like hiss:
“I done been out and had my fun,
But I’m back now, and my work’s all done.
So let me in, skin, for the sun’s about to crest,
You knows I’m a boo-hag, and I needs my rest.”
She then stepped into her skin and fastened it around her body. But after a while, that salt and pepper started to itch and burn her real bad. She tried to yank the skin off, but the more she tried, the tighter the skin pressed against her body. She screamed and hollered and jumped around the room, her skin burning her alive.
With that, Emmet leapt out of bed and said, “I got you now, you ol’ boo-hag witch! You fooled me and tricked me into marrying you. So now I’m gonna kill you. Ain’t nothin’ else can be done!”
With that, he shoved the boo-hag into a large barrel of tar he had cooking on the hearth. And that boo-hag burned and melted, her screams filling the air for miles and miles.
After the boo-hag was dead, Emmet, being the handyman that he was, knew exactly what to do with that hot barrel of tar. As the sun rose that morning, he took that tar up to the top of his house, and poured himself a brand new roof.
So, all of you nice, hard working, fine-looking young men out there – the next time your eye is caught by a beautiful young girl, you’d better get to know her before you marry her. Because, one day, you, too, may wake up late in the midnight hour, roll over in bed, and find yourself sleeping next to a boo-hag!
-THE END –
Hear another version of this story in a live Moonlit Road Radio Show.
Where Did The Boo Hag Come From?
“The Boo-Hag” is based on an old Gullah folktale passed around the coastal islands of Georgia for years. Many of these folktales were collected and preserved in written form for the Federal Writers Project (FWP), an ambitious government program providing jobs for unemployed writers during the 1930s and 1940s.
Boo-hags, also known as simply “hags,” are evil, supernatural creatures found in stories and folktales throughout the world (such as Shakespeare’s Hamlet). In most tales, they are ugly, malicious old women who are believed to be in leagues with the Devil or the dead. They can take the form of witches, sorceresses, she-devils or evil spirits. They can also appear as beautiful young women who seduce and weaken rich and handsome young men.
At night, a boo-hag would typically sneak into a sleeping victim’s home and commit all kinds of dastardly deeds, such as sucking his blood, stealing his voice and causing nightmares. One of the most common boo-hag tricks is to “ride” a sleeping victim like a horse for miles, tiring him to the point that he would die of exhaustion. The term “hag-ridden” is used to describe someone distressed by nightmares or hallucinations of being ridden at night.
The Gullah people came up with unique ways of battling the boo-hag. One method was to put a loaded gun across the head of the bed, since boo-hags hate the smell of gunpowder. Another was to sleep with a fork under the pillow to keep from being ridden. Yet another was to lay a broom on the floor, since the boo-hag would be inclined to stop and count every straw until the sun came up.
The Boo Hag Woman – Song
Original song based on The Boo Hag story. Written and performed by Frank Whitaker. Used by permission.
Way out past the salt marsh, by a creek that leads to sea;
There is a spooky four-room shack beneath a twisted live oak tree.
A strange young lady lived there with a man she’d met in town.
Her perfect skin, it lured him in, but after ‘while he found;
That she was creepin’ out at night;
And she was slippin’ out of sight;
And she hardly ever acted right at all.
He thought she might be cheatin’ on him, but his friend said, “Son;
You done married yo’self a Boo Hag, and she’s slippin’ out for fun.”
“Boo Hags shed their skins at night, like evil spirit crones.
They suck the air from young men’s lungs;
And try to crush their bones.
She may look good by the light of day;
But at night, she’ll never stay;
And if a man can’t slip away, she’ll ride his back until he falls;”
And I said . . .
Boo Hag Woman, get on back – I don’t believe the things you say!
You can’t spook me with your sweet-talk, Girl —
I’ve got to live to see another day.
It is a sin to shed your skin.
You gon’ get got, I guarantee –
Boo Hag Woman, get on back from me.
Now, to get rid of a Boo Hag, there is just one thing to do –
If she can’t get back in her skin, then her Boo Hag days are through.
So late one night, when she went away, he searched around the shack.
Her slimy skin was hangin’ in a closet in the back.
He took the salt and the pepper down;
And he shook it all around;
Inside that skin that he had found, ’till he was done.
She came back ‘fore the morning, when the sun was ’bout to crest; And she said, “I am a Boo Hag, and Lord knows, I needs my rest.”
But when she slipped back in her skin, and gathered it around;
That skin, it started smokin’, and it made a bubblin’ sound.
And then that lyin’ witch;
She started jumpin’ from the itch.
He saw her body start to twitch and melt there, in the risin’ sun;
And I said . . .
He boiled her Boo Hag body in a barrel full of tar;
And poured himself a brand new roof, that hasn’t leaked so far.
And now, he lives there all alone, beside that crooked stream.
That Boo Hag taught a lesson, ’cause she was not what she seemed.
If there’s a pretty girl you know;
Then you’d better take it slow;
‘Cause there’s no tellin’ where she’ll go;
When she slips-out at night;
And I said . . .
. . . I don’t want no old Boo Hag attack, I said;
Boo Hag Woman, get on back from me!
The Boo Hag – Story Credits
Written by Veronica Byrd and Craig Dominey
Told by Veronica Byrd
Music by Les Scott
Artwork by Berta Fuller
Sound Design by Henry Howard