Creepy Cryptids: Boo Hags
Today, let’s take a look at a cryptid from Gullah culture. Before we dive in, I want to first give you all an overview of the Gullah people, as I am continuing my efforts to elevate Black voices and culture.
The Gullah People
The Gullah People are a cultural group made up of Black Americans in the states of Georgia and South Carolina. The Gullah people live on the islands off the coast of these states, essentially isolating their culture and limiting outside influence – it is because of this that they have been able to maintain close connections to their African heritage, and they maintain that connection more than any other group of Black Americans today.
The Gullah people speak a creole language, which is a language that develops from the synthesizing of multiple different languages to create a new one. The creole language that the Gullah people use is said to be similar to the Krio language of Sierra Leone. Additionally, the Gullah go by traditionally African Names, have a rich tapestry of African Folktales, and create handicrafts that are traditionally Aftican such as baskets and carved walking sticks. Their diet is heavily rice-based.
The legend of the Boo Hag is rooted in the archetypal myth of the Hag. The broad strokes of the Hag myth are that there is an old woman (or a malevolent creature that takes the shape of an old woman) that terrorizes people as they are in the place between sleep and waking. This old woman (or hag) sits on the person’s chest as they sleep and afflict them with nightmares. Usually, the person is unable to move or breathe when they wake up. Recently (in the grand scheme of things), this phenomena has been explained away by sleep paralysis.
Boo Hags do seem to be a variation to the Hag Myth, as they tend to appear and attack at night by sitting on their victims’ chests. However, that is where the similarities end. Boo Hags are skinless, bloody beings. They’re described as being mostly red and are often only seen when they are in the midst of an attack. Their method of attack reminds many people of vampires in that they gain sustenance from humans – but instead of drinking blood, Boo Hags steal their victims’ breath. Another similarity between vampires and Boo Hags is that Boo Hags have to return to their skin by dawn or be stuck skinless for eternity. It is unclear from my research whether a Boo Hag maintains their original skin, or if they return to the skin of their last victim (which will make more sense in the next paragraph, read on).
Now onto the attacks. When a Boo Hag finds a suitable victim, they enter the home through a small crack or hole. Then they will locate the victim within the dwelling and perch on the chest of the victim and steal their breath. This process is called Riding. While a Boo Hag is Riding, their victim is put into a dreamlike state. If the victim doesn’t struggle, the Boo Hag will often let them live. People who have survived the Riding of a Boo Hag often wake up breathless and tired. If the victim struggles, the Boo Hag will kill them. After they kill someone, they will steal their skin and wear it like a suit, to blend in with the world.