by Bob Ciminel
October 29, 2004
The South Carolina Low Country has always provided fertile ground for those creepy creatures inhabiting the night. Haints, hags, and plat-eyes provided convenient explanations for the unexplainable. Earlier generations, who were mostly uneducated, confirmed their existence. Please note that I said uneducated, not ignorant. It takes an intelligent group of people to create a ghost story plausible enough pass from generation to generation. The storytellers of the Low Country were experts when it came to constructing intricate tales to explain the strange behavior of friends and neighbors. It was simple; you just said a haint, a hag, or a plat-eye got them.
This is a good time to explain haints, hags, and plat-eyes. It's important to know what you're dealing with if you ever come across one of these critters on a dark, moonless night when you're somewhere you ought not to be, or even if you're just lying at home in your bed.
Hags are similar to witches in that they are women, but that is where the similarity ends. Hags do not ride brooms or gather 'round boiling pots cooking up spells. Hags are loners and very independent creatures. Do not get the idea that Hags are old crones; some are beautiful young women. Any woman could be a hag. Your wife could be a hag. So could your mother-in-law. In the daylight, hags are just your ordinary run-of-the-mill women; it is at night that they become creatures of torment.
As darkness falls, a hag sheds her skin and becomes a diaphanous, semi-spirit floating through the night air searching out her victim. A hag comes while you are sleeping, slipping into your house through a keyhole, an open window, a mouse hole, or a chink in the wall. Once inside, the hag will "ride" you throughout the long night. People ridden by a hag wake up feeling tired and out of sorts, although they slept soundly through the night. Creatures that prey on you while you are asleep are the hardest to protect against, unless you stay awake all night.
The residents of the South Carolina Low Country have come up with a variety of remedies to combat hags. You can keep a hag from entering your house by painting the windows and doorframes robin's- egg blue. (This will work for plat-eyes too.) Other defenses include placing a handful of mustard seeds on the floor near your doors and windows. A hag will stop and pick up every one of those mustard seeds before continuing into the house. (Does that sound like anyone you know? I sure have someone in mind.) Propping a broom upside down next to your door works too. The hag will count every straw in that broom before continuing into your room.
You can try hanging a horseshoe above your door. The hag will tread every mile of roadway traveled by that horseshoe before it can attack its victim. I would try to get one from a horse that pulled carriages around Central Park or the French Quarter. A horseshoe from the days of the Pony Express would not be a bad idea either. These are all effective remedies to combat a hag once it has picked out your house to do its mischief, but a smart hag will figure a way around all of these barriers. Hags can be very adept at counting straws and mustard seeds. However, more often than not, they will just find an opening that you neglected to protect.
There are some so-called last measures of defense you can use to protect yourself even as a hag is about to ride you. You can put a flour sifter with a fork underneath it over your face. You will probably wake up when the hag starts whispering as she counts all the holes in the sifter. Then, you can pull the flour sifter off your face and pin the hag inside it with the fork. Just keep the hag pinned until sunrise and it will be too late for her to return to her skin.
Well, we have beaten the hags to death, so now we will talk about haints. Haints are dead people whose souls cannot rest. A haint can take the form of a ghost or a person. For example, the Gray Man of Pawleys Island is a haint. He is the ghost of an old sea captain who appears before each hurricane to warn the residents off the island. On our vacations to Pawleys Island, we have often stayed at the Gray Man's former home, the Tamarisk cottage, and my sister-in-law swears that she saw him one night. I know if I drink enough of my brother-in-law's margaritas, I start seeing things too, so who am I to doubt my sister-in-law? If she says she saw the Gray Man, I believe her.
The nice thing about haints is they are benign creatures, and, as in the case of the Gray Man, often can be beneficial to humans. Haints are also predictable; they just keep doing the same thing repeatedly. If a Haint is a chain rattler, it will always be a chain rattler.
Well, I guess that just leaves plat-eyes, the third and final creature in our Low Country version of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Plat-eyes are spirits that can take the form of other animals or objects. They are quite aggressive, and haunt low-lying areas, such as swamps and old rice fields. Plat-Eyes have front teeth, but no back teeth. When they are not disguised as other creatures, plat-eyes have one big eye, like a round plate; hence the name plat-eye. Plat-eyes do not often leave the swirling mists from which they arise. Therefore, if you stay away from the swamps and abandoned rice fields, you should be safe. Legend has it that plat-eyes were originally created to scare people away from buried treasures. That works for us. We have told our children for years about the plat-eyes in the marsh at Pawleys Island who keep people away from the clams and crabs that are our buried treasures.
So, how does one protect oneself from all these haints, hags, and plat-eyes that abound in the Low Country? It is simple, really. You just get a conjure doctor (they are in the Yellow Pages) to whip you up a boo-daddy. A boo-daddy is made from a mixture of marsh mud, Spanish moss, sweet grass, and saltwater. Once formed by the conjure doctor, the boo-daddy is incubated inside a marsh oyster. Boo-daddies renew their power every month, under the full moon, by going back to drink the nectar from the marsh oysters. Boo-daddies have large heads and shapeless bodies. They can fly through solid objects and can protect you from a variety of evil spirits. The more boo-daddies you have, the better protected you are.
There is an old Low Country saying about boo-daddies. "If oonah be scairt o dem haints, hags, n plat eyes what be roamin roun de streets afta dak, keep yoself a boo-daddy in yo pocket or roun yo neck and dem scaries be stayin way fum oonah an go mess wit somebody what aint got no tekshun. Mo oonah hab da fadah dem scaries be runnin an stayin gon fo good." (Translation: If you are afraid of ghosts, witches, and goblins that roam the streets after dark, keep yourself a boo-daddy in your pocket or around your neck and the scary creatures will stay away from you and go frighten someone who doesn't have any protection. The more you have, the farther those creatures will run until they stay away forever.)
This Halloween, I'm carrying a mess of Boo Daddies with me. You just never know who will show up at your door, even way up here in the foothills of the North Georgia Mountains.
Note: If you would like to
learn more about hags, haints, plat-eyes, and boo-daddies, I
can highly recommend "Ghosts of Georgetown" and "More
Ghosts of Georgetown" by Elizabeth Robertson Huntsinger.
These books should be available through Amazon.com. Ms. Huntsinger's
writings provided much of the material for this article.