Haints, Haunts and Halloween
Perhaps its my inquisitive nature (my husband often refers to me as the “Detective”) or my love of history and all things historic that leads me to explore the ‘why’ behind some of the more interesting traditions I have experienced while living in Virginia.
Not long after moving here, my horse trainer while inspecting my barn and giving me pointers about what needed to be repaired and modified, said I should paint the ceiling blue. She said it was widely known that blue ceilings keep away the flies and wasps. Coming from Arizona this concept was new to me but definitely worth contemplating. If you have spent any time in Virginia during a hot and muggy summer you will certainly understand why this type of advice might be something you should consider. When discussing the renovations at our farmhouse my contractor also mentioned the need to paint my porch ceilings haint blue, explaining that it would help deter the wasps from building their nests in my beautiful wood porch ceiling. This began my search to figure out what exactly Haint blue is, and the history behind why people in the South paint their porches this color.
As with most traditions passed on from generation to generation there isn’t a clear answer as to why something began or why it endures. Often an explanation that starts with, “that’s what my mother did and her mother before her” seems to satisfy most. How this custom began does point to a blending of cultural history, spiritualism and a regional practice that took root, spread across the South and continues on even today.
So, if you haven’t heard of Haint Blue either don’t be embarrassed. The word “haint” appears to come from the Gullah Geechee people of the low country of South Carolina and refers to spirits trapped between the world of the living and the dead. The Gullah people are the descendants of Central and West Africa who came from different ethnic and social groups. They were enslaved together in an area now designated as the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, a stretch of the U.S. coastline that extends from Pender County, North Carolina to St. John’s County Florida. Gullah is a unique creole language spoken that began as a simplified form of communication among people of different languages.
The custom of painting porch ceilings haint blue to deter haints, or malicious ghosts, began in Georgia and South Carolina but survives today across the South. The Gullah believed that the blue ceiling would confuse the haints or evil spirits into thinking it was water which they believed the evil ghosts could not cross. To be on the safe side the Gullah didn’t stop at just painting the ceiling they also painted the doors, window frames and shutters.
The milk paint they used contained both lye/lime and a natural indigo for color which might explain how the insect repellent theory came about. Lye is known as an effective insect repellent. As beautiful as the old milk paint was it faded quickly so repainting was a frequent occurrence and this helped replenish the insect repellent nature of the paint.
Just to clarify there is not a specific color called Haint Blue. It’s a spectrum of colors that range from a robin’s egg blue to an almost grey-blue, but painting them on your porch ceiling makes them haint blue. This custom has caught on to the point that any Pinterest search will provide you lots of inspiration for picking just the right Haint Blue for your porch. I chose Sherwin Williams Atmospheric SW 6505 and while I can’t swear that it keeps the haints at bay it does make me smile every time I walk out on the porch and look up.
As we edge closer to Halloween, keep an eye out for the Haints and when you get ready to paint your porch ceiling you might just want to consider selecting a beautiful Haint Blue.
Have a Happy Halloween!