Witte Wieven (translation: White Women) are nocturnal apparitions commonly found in the East and Northern parts of the Netherlands, most notably Drenthe, Overijsel and Gelderland, with the regions Twente, Achterhoek and the Veluwe in particular. But they're also known in Groningen as Widde Juvvers. They appeared all over the west of Europe. In Germany they were known as "Weiße Frauen", the French called them "Dame Blanche", the English "White Women" and the Irish "Banshee", but all of them are slightly different from the Dutch Witte Wieven. In the Netherlands they were otherwise known as Huede Holden, Joffers, Jomfers, Juvvers, Old Wiefien Platvoet, Olde Witten, Telewitten, Wiefkes, Widde Juffers, Witte Juffers, Witten or Witvrouwe. They always appeared as women in (dirty) white garnments, oftentimes in groups of three.
Who Are The Witte Wieven?
Some people said they were elves (nymphs?). This was believed in Overijsel, where much like Dwaallichtjes they lured unsuspecting people into following them, never to be seen again. Others said they were ghosts of witches and women who had otherwise sinned and continued to do so in the afterlife. Again others believed they were victim to men's torment, and roamed the afterlife to avenge men for the pain they were caused. Witte Wieven had a great knack for finding things that had been lost. They knew exactly where to find valuables and supposedly had a lot of money stored underneath the Hunebedden, where they were usually said to live. In some places it was believed Witte Wieven came from the Witte Wievenkuil (translation: Witte Wieven Hole), such as Barchem, Bathmen and Luttenberg. and some say they live in in hills and terps. Most sources however spoke of them living inside grave hills and Hunebedden that surround the area. At night they would slither out of their abodes and roam forests, swamps and moorlands. Other than their white garnments, not a lot is known about their appearance. Some sources state they look like ugly old women, sometimes even bearing claws.
What Do Witte Wieven Do?
It was strongly adviced against to aggravate the Witte Wieven. While these women helped with both harvest and the birth of a newborn babies, they were more commonly known to be malicious creatures, capable of stealing milk or beer by slipping through the cracks, and performing acts of sexual assault against men. Those who spent the night with them were said to die in euphoria, while others died a much longer, more painful death. Stories tell of Witte Wieven going door by door, asking townsfolk for a "Balkenhaas" (common name for a cat). If it was given to them, they would roast and eat it. Sometimes the Witte Wieven invited people over to their homes and showed them miraculous things they were then told to keep secret from any living soul. Furthermore, the Witte Wieven are notorious for spiriting people away. People oftentimes drowned when following them into the swamp but that's not always how people managed to disappear. Babies were oftentimes stolen from their cradle by these vicious women and taken to their grave abode. Some people claimed they could hear cries coming from within the Hunebedden where the infants had been taken to. Sometimes the Witte Wieven would exchange the baby for a Wisselkind.
Witte Wieven, Explained
Witte Wieven were often found in swamps, peat bogs, lakes and motte-and-bailey castles. An explanation from Drenthe tells of juniper bushes within the heather which could take on very human shapes, making strange appearances in the mist. That's what the Witte Wieven really were: Moving vertical columns of fog above bodies of water. "Witte Wieven" is still a Dutch synonym for these tatters of mist.
Where the Witte Wieven got their name from exactly isn't clear. Suggested is their name could be derived from "wetende wijfen", which used to be a common name for fortune tellers. It's not unthinkable that "Witte Wieven" may be a bastardized version of indo-germanic predecessors. German versions for instance speak of "Wise Women". The coming of Christianity in the Netherlands very much opposed the Germanic ways of life, and may have played a big role in the demonisation of an otherwise harmless swamp culture. hello
- M.D. Teenstra - Volksverhalen & Legenden van vroegere en latere dagen, uit meest nederlandsche schrijvers en mededeelingen verzameld