The Colour of Ghosts: White Lady and Grey Lady Meanings
Each heart has its haunted chamber,
Where the silent moonlight falls!
On the floor are mysterious footsteps,
There are whispers along the walls!
And mine at times is haunted
By phantoms of the Past
As motionless as shadows
By the silent moonlight cast.
A form sits by the window,
That is not seen by day,
For as soon as the dawn approaches
It vanishes away.
From - "The Haunted Chamber" By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Believe in them or not a fascinating aspect of ghosts are the various colours described. We have white, grey, green, red, blue, grey and black/shadows. But why do we have all these colours? Is it to do with the kind of ghost? Is it the environment or our perception? Why are so many ghosts described as being 'white'? Why does the UK have such a high percentage of green ghosts? As yet there may not be any definitive answers to all these questions. But lets have a look at the main categories of ghost to see if there are factors common to each colour.
One of the classic forms of ghost within paranormal research and fiction is the white ghost. There are thousands of documented cases describing these apparitions.
The most familiar form is the 'white lady', frequently seen in a long dress or cloak. They are often reported in rural areas or lonely roads. Commonly appearing to only one person, the story surrounding the ghost is often that of heartbreak or trauma. People who have encountered a white lady ghost often remark on the feeling that the spirit had something important to say.
The colour white may in fact be due to a paranormal phenomena called ecto-mist. These strange fog-like shapes have been caught on video and photographs and are often seen as white whispy smoke. The hazy shape may also lead people to believe that the form is female, when it is possible that the spirit is male. Although not as numerous as 'white ladies', there are in fact accounts of 'white men' ghosts from many parts of the world. In addition, if the 'ghost' is simply an imprint/playback of a person rather than a spirit, over the centuries these recorded pictures of the person will start to fade, turn more grey and then disappear altogether.
Alternatively, 'white' ghosts are occasionally attached to families and announce the death of a family member by wailing. But in some cases they are also protectors. The most familiar of these supernatural beings are Scotland's bean-nighe and Ireland's banshee .
One of the saddest 'White Lady' ghost stories comes from Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire in England. This was once the home of the famous poet Lord Byron and is now a museum dedicated to his life and works. The building dates from 1540 when it was still an Augustinian Priory but parts of the building were modified in later centuries. Lord Byron was often absent from the abbey and finally sold it to an old school friend, a Thomas Wildman. As well as Thomas and his wife, a young lady called Sophie Hyatt, lived in one of the small houses near by. She was a devoted fan of Lord Byron and was given permission to walk in the grounds. Sophie was a very shy young lady. She was deaf and unable to speak, although she could read and write. She took a slate and chalk around with her everywhere in order to communicate with people. She was soon nicknamed 'the little white lady'. because of the light coloured clothing that she always wore.
Unfortunately the relative that looked after Sophie's well-being and monetary support, died and the money ran out. Sophie knew of a relative in America and decided to try to get there to make contact. She left a note at the Abbey for Mr and Mrs Wildman explaining her intentions. When the couple realised what Sophie had planned they were distraught. They planned to bring Sophie back and allow her free living at the Abbey. A horse rider was sent out to stop Sophie getting on the stagecoach.
When the rider reached the Market Square of the town, he found a crowd surrounding the body of Sophie. Unable to hear, she had not heard a warning shout and had been knocked down and killed instantly by a large cart. Her white figure can still be seen today calmly roaming the beautiful gardens that she still loves.
Berry Pomeroy Castle - Devon, England
This castle dates back to the 13th century. The land was presented to Ralph de Pomeroy by William the Conqueror for his support during the Norman Invasion of England. This was to be a long association as the Pomeroy family lived here for over 500 years. In the 16th century the castle and lands passed to Sir Edward Seymour.
Over the centuries the castle has been witness to wars, revolutions, fires, cruelty, murder and death. It is alleged to be one of the most haunted buildings in the UK.
One of the most repeated sightings at the castle is the 'White Lady'. This is reputed to be Lady Margaret Pomeroy who died horribly at the hands of her sister Eleanor. The story is that when Lord Pomeroy, Eleanor's husband, left to go to war, both she and her sister Margaret became involved in a love triangle. Margaret was very beautiful and Eleanor became jealous. She locked her sister up in the dungeons where she remained for 20 years. She was then cruelly and slowly starved to death by Eleanor. Margaret has been seen both in the dungeons and walking from St. Margaret's Tower to the ramparts.
Castle Huntly - Scotland
Instead of one White Lady ghost, Castle Huntly could possibly have two that resemble each other. At least there are two different legends that surround the ghost. The first relates to a daughter of the Lyon family who owned the castle. She fell in love with a manservant. Her family were furious and in retribution imprisoned the young woman in a tower bedroom. Whether she fell to her death, jumped or was pushed has never been proved, but her body was found at the bottom of the tower in which her bedroom was located.
The second ghost legend relates to a Dowager Countess of Strathmore. When her first husband died she is said to have remarried but this turned out to be a hell on earth as her new husband turned out to be harsh and cruel. She is alleged to have written about her experiences and this is said to have inspired the book "Barry Lyndown" by Thackery. The White Lady ghost is thought by some people to be that of the Countess.
The white lady (or ladies) have been witnessed numerous times over the centuries by family members, staff and visitors. The ghost not only haunts the grounds but can be seen within the castle itself - particularly in the tower room where the daughter of the Lyon family was imprisoned. The apparition is said to be dressed in white, flowing robes and to have a very sad expression.
Two things are apparent with these accounts. Firstly, they are similar in many ways to other 'white lady' ghosts where tragedy is the main theme. Secondly, white ghosts do not tend to be malicious or harmful. But neither do most of them want to interact that much with witnesses. Although there are many accounts where an eyewitness felt that the spirit had a story to tell. These ghosts are most often seen walking around the places that were familiar to them in life. Could it be that in some way the emotions of their tragic deaths show through in the colour of the image we see? Or is it simply that white is the normal colour for most apparitions?
Grey ghosts are among the most numerous of spirit and residual energy manifestations. When carrying out research there seems to be an equal amount of 'grey ladies' and 'grey men' or some other form of grey phantom.
Rufford Old Hall.
One of the most interesting grey ghosts can be found at Rufford Old Hall in England, built in the late 15th century. This 'Grey Lady' also seems to keep very royal company as the ghost of Queen Elizabeth I is also said to haunt here. The Grey Lady herself is also named Elizabeth and she was married to Sir Thomas Hesketh. The haunting is a classic tale of a broken hearted lady, waiting for her husband to return from war. She waited many weeks for him to arrive and as the time passed she became more frail and ill. Her husband never did return from battle. The intriguing aspect of this story is that the reason for the haunting was reputedly given by the ghost herself during investigations.
The Big Grey Man of Ben MacDhui.
Another eerie account is not to be found in any stately manor house but a mountain. This is Ben MacDhui, the highest peak in the Cairngorms range in Scotland. The 'ghost' is called the big grey man of Ben MacDhui or simply the grey man. Many witnesses have described this curious 'apparition' as either a tall, large man or some form of being that is covered in short hair. The sightings are always accompanied with strong feelings of uneasiness and being watched. Apart from the various sightings, strange footprints have also been reported. When we look at the various details of this alleged 'ghost' it would seem that this presence may be more physical than spiritual.
The most fascinating aspect of this 'creature' is that it has been around for hundreds of years. Many legends from Scotland refer to these beings as Am Fear Liath Mor , (big grey man = Scots Gaelic). They are similar in appearance to the legends in other parts of Europe called wild grey men; woods men or sometimes Wudewas. They have been compared to the sightings of Big Foot in North America and the Yeti in the Himalayas and for some these creatures represent an ancient line of hominids.
The stories from mountaineers is generally that the Grey Man of Ben MacDhui is malignant and stalks anyone who trespasses into his territory. Although actual visual contact is rare, there have been enough to get a good description of this humanoid figure - approximately 8-10 feet tall, short hair all over his body, very long arms and legs. But is it a ghost or a physical species not yet recognised by science?
Moving back to an account that is almost certainly non-physical is Glamis Castle. I have mentioned this ghost in another hub but the accounts are so numerous that there is always something fresh to say about this location. The Grey Lady ghost at the Castle is thought to be that of Lady Janet Douglas. She was falsely accused of witchcraft and plotting against the King. She was finally executed - a disgrace that would haunt the normally benign King until his death. It is said that her spirit walks through all of the castle but she seems to have a particular liking for the family chapel situated at the Castle. This apparition is given so much respect that there is a particular chair within the chapel that no one is allowed to sit on - this is the chair that is reserved for Lady Janet.
Apart from the 'grey man of Ben MacDhui' the spirits of grey ghosts would seem to have had similar heartache to the 'white' ghosts. But if we look at the colour spectrum there is not really that much difference between shades of grey and white. This is particularly true if witnessing an apparition in diverse locations with variable amounts of natural light available. The colours of an apparition may well shift from white to grey and back again. Therefore, it might be appropriate to class both white and grey ghosts together. But as with the white ghosts, why is the colour grey also common? With the thousands of accounts on record we could speculate that this is just the colour the majority of apparitions are or that are perceived by our limited vision.
As mentioned previously, the UK is one country where apparitions of green ghosts are common. Within folklore, especially of Scotland and Ireland, there are a number of traditional supernatural entities dressed in green. For example elves, leprechauns, faeries and banshees. The banshees were traditionally called, in Scotland the Bean Nighe, and in Ireland the Bean Sidhe. In addition there are much darker legends of Green Lady figures who are demonic in nature. Under their long gown is hidden a hairy body and cloven feet.
But putting folklore traditions aside, there are also many reports of green ghosts that are human in form.
Fernie Castle - Fife, Scotland.
One of the most interesting cases of a green ghost is to be found in Fernie Castle in Fife. This is the ghost of the 'green lady' but no one knows her name. The spirit is perhaps that of a young bride, who married against her father's wishes. A fight began between her new husband and her father and in the tangle the bride fell from one of the castle towers. Her ghost is still said to be seen at Fernie today. Also in Fife is the spirit of Green Jeanie another female ghost. This particular spirit is very fond of electrical appliances - often switching them on and off at very inconvenient times.
Skipness Castle - Loch Fyne, Scotland.
A very protective green ghost haunts Skipness Castle by beautiful Loch Fyne. She is said to have protected the castle and the inhabitants for centuries. It is alleged that when the castle was in any danger from attack the green lady would arouse spiritual forces that confused the enemy to such a degree that the planned assault was abandoned. On retreating from the castle, the raiders would find that everything went back to normal.
Castle of Park - Banff, Scotland
This castle ghost manifests as a green apparition. It is said to be the spirit of a young serving maid from hundreds of years ago. The young, unmarried girl, was allegedly dismissed from her position after becoming pregnant. She is then thought to have hung herself somewhere in the castle.
Fyvie Castle - Scotland
Perhaps the most famous green ghost of all is that of Dame Lillias Drummond who, it would seem, was starved to death by her husband Lord Seton. The story states that Dame Drummond gave birth to girls but no sons. In order to have a male heir, Lord Seton planned to marry a younger woman. Before doing so he had to get rid of his first wife. Dame Lillias still haunts Fyvie Castle today. Often she is seen as an ordinary woman and other times her face is seen as skeletal. But in all accounts the colour green is present whether in dress or in the hue that surrounds her.
The most interesting thing about these apparitions is that they are female. But they are also very benign - even in one instance protective. Although encounters have been frightening for many witnesses their stories relate the same thread throughout - that no harm was intended by the spirit. But more importantly their stories are also very similar to that of any of the white or grey ghosts previously mentioned. Having said this, there is also one marked exception - the protective green spirit of skipness. If we refer to folklore, many of the entities dressed in green are reputed to have supernatural powers very similar to the Skipness ghost. So is this protective lady a human spirit or a manifestation of something much older? In addition, with some of the accounts there does seem to be more interaction. For example the Fife spirit that interferes with electricity. Dame Drummond changing her facial features in front of eyewitnesses. The protective spirit of Skipness that we have already mentioned. Is this just coincidence that a number of ghosts coloured green are more active and interactive?
It is also still a mystery why the UK should have so many green ghosts. Is there something in the environment that would cause apparitions to take on a colour other than white or grey? Or do green ghosts manifest in a different way to grey/white apparitions so giving rise to a different colour?
Blue ghosts have been reported for as long as any other apparition. They are perhaps not as common as white or grey ghosts, but their stories are no less unnerving.
Chillingham Castle - Northumberland, England
One of the most widely known ghosts is that of the 'blue boy' of Chillingham Castle. This is a horrific story that is backed up by physical evidence. Many people and guests staying in the Pink Room at the castle over the years would report wailing and crying followed by blue flashes of light. Some of the blue lights displayed were described as being like halos above their heads. When renovation work began around the 1920s in this area, the body of a small boy and that of a man were discovered behind a ten foot thick wall. What is most disturbing is that on forensic examination not only were scratch marks found on the wall but the boys finger bones had been worn down at the top leading to the suggestion that the boy had been trying to scratch his way out of his tomb for a considerable length of time before dying. Scratch marks were only found at the area where the boy lay, further suggesting that the man had been put in the wall prior to the boy and had died or else his corpse was placed with the boy in the wall at the same time. The hauntings are reported to have subsided some what since renovation and the subsequent buriel of the child's remains in the churchyard. This points to the hopeful conclusion that this wee boy is finally at peace. Although occasional sightings of a boy either bathed in blue light or dressed in blue are still seen. Why this child was buried alive and by who has not yet been discovered.
Berry Pomeroy Castle - Devon, England
This second apparition is a 'Blue Lady' and has been witnessed for a very long time - as far back as the 18th century. She is said to be dressed in a hooded cloak and is alleged to be a nasty character. The legend states that she has a hatred for men. It is believed that she tries to lure them to their death by enticing them to unsafe areas of the castle. In addition the legend states that this ghost was sexually abused by her father - a Norman Lord - as a result she gave birth to a baby girl. There are two versions of the story. One is that her father strangled the baby shortly after the birth. The alternative account is that the lady herself, strangled the baby, due to her hatred of the child she had been forced to conceive through abuse. The Blue Lady has been seen wringing her hands in anguish and generally looking distraught. There have also been numerous witness accounts of a baby's crying being heard throughout the castle.
Temple Newsam Mansion Nr Leeds, England
Within this beautiful Tudor-Jacobean mansion we have another Blue Lady ghost. She is the best known of the all ghosts reputed to haunt Temple Newsam. The ghost is said to be that of Mary Ingram - her portrait can still be seen within the mansion and has been there since 1862. It is said that she was brutally attacked and robbed one night while travelling home in her carriage. Although she survived the savage assault she was mentally scarred for life.
Here we have three different ghosts all perceived as the colour blue. Is it just co-incidence that each of these people suffered a terrible physical trauma? Blue is generally accepted as one of the healing colours of the human aura. Could it be that it is the spirits who are emanating this colour due to either requiring healing or in the process of healing?
I think it would be fair to say that there is no clear cut reason for an apparition to appear as one colour over another. There is more than likely a variety of reasons why certain ghosts and spirits are reported as being white, green, blue or another colour. The surrounding environment may play a key role in the way that apparitions manifest and our personal perception of them.
Perhaps our minds also have a part to play on both how a spirit will manifest and the way we will witness it. For a long time there has been a theory that suggests that spirit works through the mind via the sub-conscious. If this is the case, then spirit entities will use our own thoughts, images and beliefs to manifest. This could be the reason why so many negative spirits are seen as being black with red eyes for example, since this tends to be a popular image for evil. Indeed if it is the case that spirit is working through the mind, then any manifestations could tell us just as much about ourselves as it does about the spirit.
But could the colour of a ghost or entity also be a natural signal? In nature we have a beautiful and stunning lizard called the chameleon. Depending upon its moods - whether distressed, angry, peaceful - it has the ability to show these emotions through colour. Could it be that spirits and ghosts have this same capability? Are they trying to communicate their needs through colour rather than words? Research continues everyday into the unknown depths of the paranormal. Perhaps one day we will fully understand the colour of ghosts and in so doing perhaps learn much more about ourselves.
© 2011 Helen Murphy Howell