Tag Archives: warding off evil

Ghosts Can’t Cross Running Water

Background: The informant has lived in Durham, North Carolina his whole life. His whole extended family has also lived in North Carolina their entire lives.

TR: This is uh, this is kind of like a superstition that I remember, um, and it had to do with porches, remember and this is from a long time ago, but, so the superstition is that um, ghosts, ghosts can’t cross running water. Don’t ask me why ghosts can’t cross running water, I don’t know. Um, it doesn’t, um, you know, unless, unless it has to do with the fact that you know, once you’re across the river Styx, you can’t get back across without the boatman, so if you’re a ghost on that side you can’t get back, I don’t know. Anyway, that’s the superstition, and so, you know, because, maybe not so much now, but a lot of porches were painted blue for that reason. The whole thing was like blue is the color of water so that would protect your house from ghosts. Um, so that’s, you know, and I think it’s persisted a little bit like maybe there’s still like actual entryways like foyers in houses that maybe are painted blue and that could just be an unconscious, unknowing continuation of this practice, but, that’s something that’s like a very old like oooo ghosts can’t cross water, so um, porches would be painted blue for that reason.

Me: Do you remember who and when you first heard this from? Do you know if it’s a regional thing?

TR: Uh, it’s probably regional. Um, I remember it from my dad’s side of the family. This would be my great uncles and aunts, um we would go out to my great uncle’s farm and so we went out there quite a bit and he had this really old house, I mean old house, which, of course, when we told ghost stories about the house, so it was all, ghosts were just a popular thing. So that’s probably where, if I had to say I mean, I don’t have a memory of like oh this is you know, that’s when I first heard this story about ghosts can’t cross water.

Me: Have you ever thought about painting a deck blue? Like do you have any belief in it?

TR: Oh, no. absolutely not.

Context of the performance: This was told to me over a Zoom call.

Thoughts: This superstition about ghosts has been enacted into a practice. It relies on color meaning and symbolization for the connection to work. It works under the assumption that blue represents water and therefore the color is what is creating meaning, as the thing acting as a barrier between the ghosts and houses. The informants theory about the river Styx connects this superstition to myths to form a hypothesis about the meaning of the saying–the superstition–itself. This suggests that even though myths take place before, after, or outside the real world, people draw meaning from them and connect them to real life beliefs.