A Boo Hag is a mythical creature in the folklore of Gullah culture. It is a regionalized version of the Hag myth.
According to the legend, Boo Hags 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.
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!”