The Blair Witch is a woman named Elly Kedward who was banished to die in the woods near Blair Township, Maryland in the late 1700s. It's said that she continues to haunt those woods to this day, causing the disappearances of townspeople, children, and anyone intrepid enough to enter her realm. The legend of the Blair Witch strikes fear into the hearts of those who hear her story, as do many similar tales of the unknown. So is it true? Nope. The Blair Witch is an urban legend. Her story is entirely a work of fiction created by clever filmmakers in the late 1990s.
The Blair Witch Legend
The Blair Witch Project was a fictional movie that showed just how powerful the genre of found footage films could be. It was so well done that it inspired other creepy found footage films such as Paranormal Activity and Cloverfield. Because the footage was so convincing, however, many believe that the Blair Witch was a real person. According to the story, an Irish immigrant named Elly Kedward was accused of being a witch in 1786. She was banished to starve to death in the forests surrounding the fictional township of Blair, Maryland.
Throughout that winter, the children of the town began disappearing, and the townsfolk soon became convinced that the witch of the Black Woods was taking their children. The curse of the Black Woods drove away the townsfolk, and Blair became nothing more than an abandoned ghost town.
In 1824, the town was rediscovered and rebuilt along a new railway system. The new town was named Burkittsville. Before long, children started disappearing once more. One child was pulled into a creek, and a girl disappeared in the forest. An entire search party disappeared, and a second search party discovered the first, completely massacred in the forest with pagan symbols drawn on their bodies. A crazed old hermit named Rustin Parr eventually admitted to murdering seven children in his house in the woods, but confessed that he was told to do so by an old woman from the forest who was dressed in a black cloak.
Although the legend and the events of the movie were entirely fabricated by the filmmakers, found footage films were not commonplace when The Blair Witch Project came out in 1999. The storytelling about the three documentary filmmakers chasing the legend and disappearing was so convincing that the movie left many people wondering if there might be some reality to the story, which is why Blair Witch legends persist to this day.
Despite the fact that the three actors who played the disappeared filmmakers provided interviews and attended public events following the release of the film, the promotion of the Blair Witch urban legend was so thorough and widespread that there are still people who believe the story is true. This is a clear demonstration of the power of urban legends.
Additional Blair Witch Urban Legends
In addition to the core legend of Elly Kedward, there are a number of elements throughout the film that were borrowed from existing legends. In particular, the objects that the students found during their walk into the Black Woods were highly symbolic of real-world objects steeped in legend and folklore.
The Rock Piles
In the movie, as the student filmmakers walked through the woods and became lost, they discovered seven piles of stones. It seemed obvious that each pile of stones represented each of the seven children that were murdered in the Blair Witch legend. Later, the three students woke up one morning to find three more piles of stones around their tent; an ominous threat that they would soon suffer the same fate as the children.
The choice to use piles of stones as a symbolic grave or death was probably borrowed from the many old stories of the accused witches' gravesites in both Europe and Colonial America. The executed witches had nothing to mark their graves but a simple pile of stones. One example of this is the prehistoric fort in Lothian, Scotland where piles of stones north of the Fort represent the gravesites of witches that were burned at the stake. Many towns throughout the world share similar legends about local witch graves marked by small piles of stones. By adding this element to the movie, the filmmakers of the Blair Witch movie made the story even more believable.
Blair Witch Project Stickman Figures Symbols
Another discovery in the course of the students' adventures was a group of stick dolls hanging from the trees. While the meaning of this discovery wasn't entirely obvious, the use of such figures was reminiscent of voodoo legends of magical rituals that use wooden dolls. In fact, one West African legend mentions the story of a woman named Akua who could not bear children. One day a wise old man advised her to make a wooden doll and treat it as though it were a real child. This is the reason that particular style of wooden doll represented fertility. It may only be coincidence that the Blair Witch legend involved the murder of children, but the connection between stick dolls and voodoo-like magical rituals and children seemed obvious enough.
The Blair Witch Is an Urban Legend
The Blair Witch Project is a testament to the power of good filmmaking. In spite of the fact that the movie and legends it sparked are entirely works of fiction, like other urban legends, it plays on the natural fears of humans. And it is the telling of stories about these fears that keeps the legends alive in the minds of people who believe they just might be true, in spite of all evidence to the contrary.