||This article lacks historical information on the subject. (May 2012)|
According to the legend, Boo Hags (some people refer to it as a "Tommy") are similar to vampires. Unlike vampires, they gain sustenance from a person's breath, as opposed to their blood, by riding their victims.
They have no skin, and thus are red. In order to be less conspicuous, they will steal a victim's skin and use it for as long as it holds out, wearing it as one might wear clothing. They will remove and hide this skin before going riding.
When a hag determines a victim is suitable for riding, the hag will generally gain access to the home through a small crack, crevice, or hole. The hag will then position themselves over the sleeping victim, sucking their breath. This act renders the victim helpless, and induces a deep dream-filled sleep. The hag tends to leave the victim alive, so as to use them again for their energy. However, if the victim struggles, the hag may take their skin, leaving the victim to suffer. After taking the victim's energy, the hag flies off, as they must be in their skin by dawn or be forever trapped without skin. When the victim awakes, they may feel short of breath, but generally the victim only feels tired.
An expression sometimes used in South Carolina is "don't let de hag ride ya." This expression may come from the Boo Hag legend.
It was also said that if a person placed a broom beside their bed before going to sleep it would prevent the Hag from riding them. Hags supposedly would be distracted by counting the straws of the broom and would not get to ride the person sleeping before the sun rose the next morning.
The popular horror character Freddy Krueger is loosely based on the Boo Hag folklore. Similarities include visiting children through their dreams and trapping them, not allowing them to wake until the Tommy lets go.
There are many nursery rhymes referencing a Boo Hag, or Tommy. These rhymes vary by region. Most common being South Carolina with "You betta get yo'self right or the Tommy comes in the night". In Texas, you might hear "How bout that, Boo Hag, She'll take your breath, How bout that, Boo Hag, In darkness, In death"
Boo Hags referenced outside of the Gullah culture
While the Boo Hag is a product of Gullah culture, the legend has managed to become known on a wider scale. The legend has been used as an object lesson in stranger danger. The legend has also been the subject of song, and poetry.
In 2005, the Boo Hag became a character in a children's book called Precious and the Boo Hag written by Patricia C. McKissack and Onawumi Jean Moss. In the story, the Boo Hag is said to be strange, tricky, and will do anything to get into the house. Precious, the main character, is told by her brother that the Boo Hag also, "...tries to make you disobey yo' mama!"
- Ghosts & Legends Tour of Charleston
- Spooky Streets Contains a note regarding a link between racial inequality and boo hags.
- Forum thread with a slightly different account of the legend
- Boo Hag Story
- Eric Wright. "Charleston South Carolina Ghosts - Boo Hag Legend". Retrieved 2007-12-31.
- "Charleston Ghosts". Retrieved 2007-12-31.
- Jones, Mark R. (2005). Wicked Charleston: The Dark Side of ... The History Press. p. 128. ISBN 978-1-59629-076-1. Retrieved 2007-12-31.
- "Charleston Boo Hags". Retrieved 2011-10-31.
- McKissack, Patricia; Onawumi Jean Moss (2005). Precious and the Boo Hag. Atheneum (Anne Schwartz Books). p. 40. ISBN 978-0-689-85194-0.
Now remember, don't let nothing and nobody in this house—not even me, 'cause I got a key.
- Louisiana State Library (2007-04-27). "Precious and the Boo Hag" (pdf). p. 3. Retrieved 2007-12-31.
- "Ballad of the Boo Hag by David Bowles". Retrieved 2007-12-31.
- "Poetry From The Starlite Cafe: The Legend of the Boo Hag". Retrieved 2007-12-31.
- "Booktalks Quick and Simple". Retrieved 2011-10-31.