The Woman in White
Why is there always a woman in white? It seems like every time I watch my favorite ghost shows, someone mentions a lady in white at every location. The story is always different, but usually involves grief and loss. There's usually a tragedy or love story gone wrong, and almost every town seems to have one. Has this been a staple in ghostly legends forever?
My curiosity was definitely piqued, so I did some research trying to figure out where this particular legend may have started. It's nearly impossible to pinpoint, but here are a few
historical examples I could find:
Frederick I of Prussia’s death was reportedly predicted by the appearance of a lady in white, and this was recorded all the way back in 1713. .
The Hohenzollerns of Germany were said to be haunted by a “lady in white”. Some thought it was Countess Kunigunde von Orlamonde who died in 1382 and had killed her all of her children.
There is white lady of Haapsalu Castle who went in disguise as a man to be with her lover and was eventually found out and killed. In Estonia there is now even a “White Lady Days” festival.
The White Lady of Ireland (White Lady of Kinsale) who's story originated in the 1800's. Her husband-to-be was killed, so she threw herself over an edge while wearing her wedding dress.
The Netherlands have the “white maidens” which are often associated with witches and faeries.
In the United States there are countless stories of the Lady in the Lake, who seems to always have befallen tragedy. These stories are much more modern and often involve murder & suicide.
In Mexico there is the legend of La Llorona, "The Weeping Woman", who drowned her two children out of anger, immediately regretted it, and then drowned herself. Legend has it she is still looking for her children. The story varies depending on who you talk to, but she's always in a white dress.
In my mind, there has to be a grain of truth to these stories. Part of me wonders of some of the stories also tie in with the Bean Sídhe (Banshee), a type of faery, that brings the omen of death to families when they hear her wailing. As a faery witch I have read a great deal about Banshees, and that was my first thought when browsing through the older legends.
The Washers at the Ford in Arthurian Legends are also could be tied in.
"The bean-nighe, also known as the Washing Woman or Washer at the Ford, is seen in lonely places beside a stream or pool, washing the blood from the linen and grave-clothes of those who are about to die."
As for many of the more modern “lady in white” stories, I tend to believe they are urban legends. Every town has a haunted bridge, or a school bus crash where the ghosts of children will move your car. These stories are always fun, and get people spooked but I can for sure say as soon as someone tells me “There’s been sightings of a lady in white…..” I usually become a lot more skeptical.
Maybe she’s the manifestation of all the tragic things that happen to women, living on because we keep her alive with the stories all over the world. Maybe she’s real, and maybe some have seen her.
Who knows, maybe someday I’ll run into the spirit of a lady in white and help set her sadness free.