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Spirit Houses

Updated on March 9, 2016
Nightcat profile image

Nightcat is a practicing witch who loves to write about Wicca and many of the Gods and Goddesses she’s had the pleasure to encounter.

Embrace the Mystery

This idea comes directly from the Gullah Gullah people. The traditional blue bottles used to be hung outside of homes in Africa and in Gullah Gullah to catch negative spirits. But according to one website, they can also be spirit drinking bottles.

As you watch your completed tree, the bottles gently sway in the wind. The music of wind chimes and the fragrant air is lulling. As the warmth of the day causes your eyes to close, you see a bottle tip over. A spirit has drank, but which one? As an added bit of fun, we will cover spirit houses, Goddess bottles and more. Happy crafting to thee.

Like my lovely spirit house pictured here? People all around the world make houses for the spirits that mean the most to them. I used a plain green bottle here from carbonated fruit juice. After it was dry, I glued on the silver panel from a Christmas candle, then a few jewels. Some jewelry that means something to me, and the colors and symbols of the spirits were incorporated.

I assume they like it as they have appeared in dreams to inspire the bottle and thank me. And yes, I made all the bottles shown here. I've noticed a lot of folks take the word tree and run with it...

Please Note

No disrespect is meant by sharing my bottle tree. I'd be the last person to gloss over the horror of slavery. But I work with African spirits, and wish to make them at home. It is also a tribute for all the suffering that brought the blue bottles to our shore.

The Gullah Gullah Wars - African Americans freed themselves, honey.

What spirits can use this tree?

I'd say any spirits, although mine is adapted to please my ancestors, friendly spirits and the lwa. You could certainly make one for faries, ghosts, Gods and Goddesses, or just for fun. Please remember though, the paint we are using is NOT food safe.

If these bottles becomes shelf-sitters or gifts, never use them to store liquid. Some techniques call for spraying the inside of the bottle or up to the rim for artistic sake. That and as most of these bottles are plastic, I'm not 100% sure if the paint might not leach into the bottle itself.

You can of course make a bottle for the Goddess or God of your choice. I started with many, many coats of engine enamel for the base. Engine enamel is not meant for plastic, but it had the coat color I wanted for the big cat look. Then the black spots were painted on. This bottle has survived winds over 50 mph and windchills of-25 quite nicely, not to mention temps in the high 90's.

Bottle Tree Videos

Tribute to Gullah Gullah

Tribute to Gullah Gullah
Tribute to Gullah Gullah

How to Get Started

You will need the following items. I won't give you a step-by-step as it is up to you how the bottles turn out. You will need glass or plastic bottles. Lots of them if you are doing a whole tree. Some you might like to hang as is after washing or drying them.

I use plastic here as the winters are extremely cold, and they make it through just fine. I've had success with glass too, but keep in mind a heavier bottle only gets heavier with rainwater. Breaking off tree limbs won't make any spirit happy.

You will also need wire. I used small gauge you can buy almost anywhere or in any hardware store. I wouldn't use hemp as it rots, and fishing line can cut tree bark. It also tends to break in bad weather. Have metal cutters or snips on hand depending on your thickness. You want something you can wrap around the bottles neck snugly.

Paint: You can use any kind of paint you can think of. Van Gogh H2Oil paints, fingernail polish, funiture paint, outdoor/indoor paint, even car paint or engine enamel. Although engine enamel tends to be fussy and run, FYI. Fingernail polish takes the most time, but allows for endless detail. It also tends to come in a huge range of colors.

Spray paint works extremely quickly, and can be combined with any other technique. It also has many colors, but some can be pricey. I found to my surprise that bottles done with oil based paint that thin with water work extremely well and don't run off in the rain if allowed to dry.

Embellishments are also a nice touch. You can use anything from bottle caps, to hardware store finds, stick on gems, or anything else that strikes your fancy. Keep in mind the likes or dislikes of the spirit you are making that bottle for. You know, if you are missing a loved one, you can certainly make a bottle for him or her.

Where to do this

Honestly outdoors is the safest place. I choose to work in the garage, as in the summer it is nice and toasty (read: unbelievably hot) and dries bottles nicely. It also allows me to work near the entrance with the door wide open.

You could work right outside, but the blowing wind, even a gentle one, will kick all sorts of things into your fresh paint. Also, nothing looks worse than bugs trapped in your paint job. Make sure if spray painting you follow all safety procedures like a mask and goggles. Also layer your work area with newspaper or tarp. Then spray any design you wish.

With nail polish you still want to be outside and cover your table. If you are brushing on canned paint, the same rules apply.

Drying time can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days depending on how many coats you are using and the weather. Damper weather or colder weather extends paint drying time. You may put the hanging wire on before or after your paint job. You can embellish the wire with beads if you wish.

Remember to be outside if you are using any paint, including the fingernail polish I used here. That stuff isn't healthy to breathe in in such vast amounts. A bottle like this will take you several hours to a few days depending on how you design it.

Where to Hang

Ideally you want a nice tree to hang these in, with strong enough limbs to hold many bottles. Just hang them as the spirits move you, and make sure to hang more than you feel you need. You don't want squabbles breaking out. Also, if you have to, make duplicates of certain bottles. Spirits, like small children, sometimes won't share.

While it is true your nieghbors might gawk, and family might think you are nuts, the spirits love these trees. I've found passed on family members like the idea of having a bottle to snuggle up in or drink out of. Yes, spirits will sleep in empty bottles, so try not to annoy them by batting at your creations.

This can be addictive, but it is a lot of fun.

Lwa Bottles

Also called Vodoun bottles, they are used to house, pacify, or entice the lwa closer. Some hold libations, but the ones here are a heartfelt offering. They are traditionally made and filled with the herbs, items, and other objects sacred to the lwa. They can be very expensive (plus, how the heck do I know what is in that bottle?) so I make my own based on what my personal spirits like and dislike. This avoids being told by your lwa that they hate that expensive bottle, and get it off my altar now. Remember, they don't care how much you paid for it. It is the love and intent you put into it.

I have my own methods, some are traditional some are not. But most simply have some herbs and offerings that lwa likes. They are covered in fabric, and jewels and sequins are glued on. Sometimes I use paint instead. The bottles are topped with fabric and the right number of feathers for that spirit.

The bottle picture here is for my Baron Samedi features the purple he favors. There are nine feathers held in place by painted clay, and it is wrapped in purple ribbon. A yin yang symbol for his daul nature, and purple glitter top it. Inside are a payment of nine pennies, his favorite herbs, some good tobacco, and offerings. From time to time I add things to it. He also has black Mardi Gras style beads, which he loves.

This is my oldest and first lwa bottle. He loooves to remind all the other lwa of that, trust me. Oh his herbs include dried violets, lavender, or any flower you would offer the deceased in your practices. You may quietly offer the bottle, hold a ritual, or meditate to meet the lwa in the astral realm to present the bottle.

The 50's Called. They Want Their Bottle Back!

The 50's Called. They Want Their Bottle Back!
The 50's Called. They Want Their Bottle Back!

Indoor bottles

Indoor bottles can be very elaborate. Here a bottle for Ogu Balendjo is done in the colors of the sea, while still honoring his main colors of blue and gold. Expect a bottle like this to take days or weeks as each piece must be handset then allowed to dry, but when you are finished, you have a work of art.

Quick Tip: Hot glue guns are a life saver when attaching anything to glass.

Need a house to blend in?

I hear you. After the twentieth billion time of people asking you WHY are their bottles in your trees, you might want to go commando. Simple, my dears, offer up an ornamental birdhouse or other treasure in your spirit's colors. The birdhouse here is made of ceramic and features a nautical theme, perfect for my Ogu Balendjo to lay claim to, and too small for local bird species to move in.

Bottle Links - Continue Your Search

A Few Handy websites about bottle trees and whatnot.

Ideas, Comments?

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