Thursday, September 16, 2010

Spirit Trees (help, please)

more commonly called Bottle Trees

I first came across a reference to Spirit Trees while reading the memoir, Salvation on Sand Mountain, by Dennis Covington--his story of exploring the world of Appalachian snake handlers and his own spiritual turn by the experience.  (This, by the way, was one from the short stack of books I read over fireworks season that led me to write the letter, posted here on the blog, to Umberto Eco (still waiting/hoping to hear back from him).)

I've looked all over for real information on these things--generally garden ornaments now, so I've learned--and finally came across this very helpful, entertaining website:  I'm not going to waste your time writing all about them here, as the website does all that for me.  Suffice it to say, I'm particularly interested in the historical and folkloric beginnings of these funny things (okay, not "funny;" I'm actually really intrigued by them), and they fit perfectly with an element I want to really focus on in my newest writing attempt.  While my book--the writing attempt--is going to be fantasy, technically at least, I'm going to be basing a lot of the human and physical setting--all the various landscapes and the people who inhabit them--in the real folklores that stem from those locations.  The book starts in the Midwest, Appalachian foothills, and I'm looking first for folklore from the Heartland. 

So here are my two questions:

  1. What folklore do you know that may or may not have derived, or at least found root, in the Midwest?  (By folklore, I mean superstitions, songs, sayings, characters, traditions, foods, and so on passed down and passed down.)
  2. Has anyone out there had an "experience" --sighting or known someone who has one or have one yourself--with a spirit or bottle tree?

If you can contribute to either of these very open and broad questions, please post a comment sharing whatever and as much information as you're willing or able. 

Thank you, thank you, thank you in advance.


  1. Hmm... the problem with folklore in the Midwest is that white people have only been in it for a couple hundred years, and we kicked out all the Native Americans (sadly).

    Certainly one folk legend that comes to mind is Paul Bunyan. I am not sure how much Appalachian foothills that is, though. It's more Upper Midwest, but then again, that's where I'm from, as you know. People around the Midwest say, "pop," for, "soda," which always gets me strange looks now that I live in Washington.

    I think one thing I would say about the Midwest, and this isn't really folklore, but mannerisms, is that people are less loud/in your face than in the East. It's hard to describe, but if you've been to both, you know the difference. People aren't cutting you off as much as when you're driving or speaking. It's almost a quiet humility/dignity that I would stress in the character if I were writing such a story. I'm not sure life is slow like what I have heard about the South, but it's certainly not fast like Washington, DC and northward. I know this isn't the folklore that you're looking for, but I think it's essential to the character of the people.

    Anyway, as always, I'm really interested to see what you come up with!

  2. By the way, I'm sure you know this with having lived in Italy, Utah, Ohio, and Michigan (I'm probably missing another one or two there), but nothing gives you an appreciation for what's unique about a culture like leaving it and going to another one (and then especially for coming back). Take the Michigan accent. There's a tradition in-and-of-itself. We all think that, unlike any other place in world history, we don't have aaaaaaayyccents, but everyone in Washington recognized it as soon as I got there, and now, even I recognize it.

  3. The great thing about folklore, is it doesn't matter as much how long it's been in a particular geographic location as it does that there is something passed along family lines. The deepest folklore is where there a deep core to a family or clan, that grows to a village, then a region. No matter where you go, the people rooted in the folklore had family members somewhere back along the lines that brought a tradition, idea, song, or superstition with them. Then other people move in or at least come and visit and pick up on things as well. Generally, items specific to celebrations are the most obvious.