Answered By: Regan Brumagen Last Updated: Sep 23, 2016 Views: 133
I found a little information in our online catalog about "bottle trees" and a lot more in the databases available to us.
I attached a bibliography. The books and articles by Robert Farris Thompson appear to be particularly useful. You may want to do a search for a complete list of his publications.
You may wish to explore our library collections using the "Rakow Library Catalog" and "Article Index" databases at http://rakow.cmog.org
Are you familiar with "witch balls"? There is a similar myth around these glass balls. I've attached a brief bibliography.
Reliquaries (often including glass or rock crystal) are a different way of containing spirit.
I searched the web for information about bottle trees and found the following -- I expect they are familiar to you:
One challenged the African origin of spirits in bottles and went back through history noting ways that glass and spirit had been connected. My notes don't indicate which one - sorry!
BOTTLE TREE HISTORY, Compiled by Felder Rushing, http://www.felderrushing.net
100 Photographs by Felder Rushing: http://www.felderrushing.net/BottleTreeImagess.htm
“Tree bling, Southern style” by Lucinda Coulter, The Tuscaloosa (Ala.) News
“According to ancient African myth, bottles on trees could catch evil spirits and prevent them from entering a home. In the 18th century, Africans who came to the South as slaves adorned cedar trees with bottles for protection, said Robert Farris Thompson, African and African American art historian at Yale University. The color blue also signified healing powers.”
“Even into the late 1950s, bottle trees glistened in out-of-the-way backyards in the rural South. Stories such as Eudora Welty's "Livvie," published in 1943, preserved the lore.”
“Bottle trees captured her imagination when she read a story about them in a collection by folklorist Kathryn Tucker Windham.”
“…He said he was mesmerized by the bottle tree in the film, "Ray: Unchain My Heart," a Ray Charles biopic. Charles' mother's care of her poor Mississippi family and the tree's spiritual importance impressed him, he said.”
History, quotes, and photographs: http://www.bottletree.net/Trees.htm (Bottle Tree Beer Co)
The Mississippi Writers Page: Eudora Welty
“In her short story "Livvie," Welty depicted bottle-trees, like these photographed by Welty in Simpson County. They were believed by some to trap evil spirits.”
Photograph from the Eudora Welty Collection, Mississippi Dept. of Archives and History
“Home with Bottle-trees (Simpson County): http://www.olemiss.edu/depts/english/ms-writers/dir/welty_e
“This photograph by Welty, of a home in Simpson County, reflects a folk belief that "bottle-trees" — trees on whose limbs bottles have been placed — will trap evil spirits that might try to get in the house. Welty used bottle trees in her short story "Livvie," which was set near the Old Natchez Trace, a famous colonial "road" used by Indians, merchants, soldiers, and outlaws between Natchez and Nashville, Tennessee. This photograph, like many others taken by Welty during her work for the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, appears in One Time, One Place: Mississippi in the Depression: A Snapshot Album (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1996).”
Selected contemporary makers:
“In Africa the kongo tree altar is a tradition of honoring deceased relatives with graveside memorials. The family will surround the grave with plates attached to sticks or trees. The plates are thought to resemble mushrooms, calling on a Kongo pun: “matondo”/”tondo” [the kongo word for “mushroom” is similar to their word “to love”]. During the slave trade this tradition migrated to the southern United States where the slaves would place bottles in trees in hopes that the evil spirits would go into the bottles and be trapped. Once the evil spirits were trapped the slaves would cork the bottles and throw them into the river to wash away the evil spirits.”