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How the Woman in White Legend Varies Across Cultures

Krista loves to write and has a passion for the paranormal, mythical, and supernatural aspects of life.

Legends of the Woman in White come from all around the world.

Legends of the Woman in White come from all around the world.

Woman in White Meaning

The general term for this mythical creature is a White Lady. She is also often known as a Woman in White or a Weeping Woman. A White Lady is a type of female ghost or apparition that is often seen in rural areas and is associated with tragedy. The most common story behind this legend is that of a woman who takes her own life after being betrayed by her husband or fiancé.

In some myths, the women murder their own children after the betrayal of their spouse and then commit suicide. These apparitions are often said to be harbingers of death. The White Lady can also be found in stories about "Ghostly Hitchhikers" because she is sometimes seen by the side of the road, waiting for unfaithful men to pick her up.

The names White Lady and Woman in White come from reported sightings that describe this ghost as a Caucasian female wearing a flowing white dress. Meanwhile, the term Weeping Woman refers to a specific Hispanic legend (explained below). Several variations of this myth from the United Kingdom, United States, Slavic mythology, and Brazil are also detailed below.

Though there are many apparitions that people might label as a White Lady, not all of them fit the actual description of what she is. To claim a female spirit is a White Lady, Weeping Woman, or Woman in White, she has to have been betrayed by a lover.

If this is not a factor, but the apparition still cries, weeps, or screams when seen, then she might be described as a Weeping Woman even without a story of betrayal.

Hispanic Legend

La Llorona: The Weeping Woman

This story is often linked to Hispanic cultures and is popular in both North and South America. According to this myth, a beautiful woman by the name of Maria drowned her children in order to be with the man she loved. When he would not have her, she then drowned herself in a lake in Mexico City. It is said that she was not permitted into heaven when she was asked at the gate about the whereabouts of her children. Maria was forced to wander the Earth for all eternity to search for her murdered offspring. Her constant weeping is what gives her the name La Llorona.

In some versions, La Llorona will kidnap wandering children who resemble her own or children who disobey their parents. People who claim to have seen her say she only appears at night near rivers or lakes in Mexico. Some say that those who hear her weeping are marked for death.

Legend says she will cry "Ay, mis hijos!" which translates to "Oh, my children!"

Legend From the United Kingdom

The White Lady of Willow Park

This legend out of England seems to fit the description of a White Lady.

Willow Park is a heavily wooded area in Newton-le-Willows, Merseyside, in Northwest England. This ghost is thought to be the tormented spirit of a bride who was drowned in the lake by her husband on their wedding night. Other variations of this story and the woman's death say that she was either trapped in a cave or hanged herself in the kitchen. There is no mention of a husband in these accounts.

Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone National Park.

Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone National Park.

Legends From the United States

The Headless Bride in Yellowstone National Park

There are tales of a ghost known as The Headless Bride who haunts the Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone National Park. She and her husband were on a trip to Yellowstone, where he supposedly gambled away all of their money. When the bride asked her father for money, he refused. The husband responded to this refusal by beheading his wife and then fleeing the scene. According to the legend, this ghostly lady only haunts the Old House since that was the only part that was built when she was alive.

The Ghost of Clearview Drive

This story fits the description of a Weeping Woman more than a White Lady.

In Mukilteo, Washington, there have been many sightings in the forest just off of Clearview Drive. When night falls, rumor has it a ghostly woman will try to hitch a ride from drivers. Or, she will stand in the middle of the road pointing before suddenly disappearing—almost as if to trick them. There have also been reports of crying and screaming around the waterfall on Clearview, which suggests this ghost fits the definition of a Weeping Woman.

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Slavic Mythology

In Slavic mythology, there is a creature called a Rusalka that bears a strikingly similar description to that of a White Lady. A Rusalka is a ghost of a girl or young woman who died violently. The young woman either committed suicide because she'd been betrayed by a lover or was an unmarried pregnant woman when she died. Unlike the White Lady, the Rusalka may take the form of a ghost, nymph, succubus, or mermaid. They are more commonly known as "fish-women" who live at the bottom of rivers.

Rusalka ("The Mermaids")

Rusalka ("The Mermaids")

Brazilian Legend

The apparition in this legend is called Dama Branca or Mulher de Branco in Portuguese and is said to be the ghost of a young woman who died either in childbirth or from other violent causes. People say the ghost appears as a pale woman in a long white dress or sleeping gown. Although usually speechless, this ghost will occasionally recount her misfortunes.

Depending on the source of the story, the details of this legend may be slightly different. For example, in the Brazilian Folklore Dictionary by Luis de Camara Cascudo, the White Lady is the ghost of a young white woman who was murdered by either her father or husband in an "honor" killing. The most common reasons for these killings were adultery, denial of sex, or abuse. Meanwhile, another book—Urupes by Monteiro Lobato—describes a young woman who was starved to death by her husband because he suspected her of having an affair with a Black slave. In this telling, the jealous husband only gave his wife the stewed meat of her lover's corpse for food.

The "Woman in White" from the pilot episode of Supernatural.

The "Woman in White" from the pilot episode of Supernatural.

The pilot episode of the horror/fantasy/drama TV show Supernatural features a Woman in White or Weeping Woman named Constance Welch. In this episode, her husband's infidelity drives Constance insane and causes her to drown her two children. After realizing what she has done, Constance takes her own life by jumping off a bridge into a river. As a ghost, she hitchhikes for rides from unfaithful men and then kills them. If the man isn't unfaithful, she may force them to be with her, claiming they will be unfaithful. In this case, the ghost is afraid to return home because she cannot face what she did to her children.

Similar Creatures to a White Lady

  • Bloody Mary: Ghost or spirit conjured to reveal the future.
  • Banshee: A fairy woman who wails when someone is about to die.
  • Baobhan Sith: Female vampire in Scottish mythology.
  • Leannan Sidhe: A fairy woman who takes a human lover in Celtic folklore.
  • Huldra: Seductive forest creature in Scandinavian folklore.
  • Sayona: Vengeful spirits of women who appear to unfaithful men in Venezuelan folklore.
  • Soucouyant: A witch vampire from Dominican, Trinidadian, and Guadeloupean folklore.
  • Samodiva: Woodland fairies found in South-Slavic folklore.
  • Cliodhna: The Queen of Banshees from Irish mythology.
  • Aswang: A vampire-like creature in Filipino folklore.
  • Pontianak: Vampiric ghost from Indonesia.
  • Manananggal: Vampire in Filipino folklore.
  • Rusalka: A female ghost, water nymph, succubus, or mermaid-like demon from Slavic mythology.
  • Succubus: Female demon that seduces men.
  • Mouras Encantadas: Female fairy of Portuguese and Galician folklore.
  • Weisse Frauen: Elven-like spirits from German folklore.
  • Witte Wieven: Elven beings known as "wise women" from Dutch mythology.

Feel free to speak your mind!

Lara Walker on May 16, 2019:

There is an American tale, most commonly "The Lady in White." There is one publishing of a children's tale, "The Woman in the Purple Dress". The story is the same: It's a dark and story night. A man picks up a woman in white to give her a ride home. He turns around and she's gone. So is his jacket that she borrowed. He goes to the door and there's an older couple. He asks them about this young woman. They explain that their daughter died in a car accident on prom night 30 years ago. On stormy nights like that one, she tries to get back home, but never does. They tell him where she's buried. He goes the next day to her grave and there is his jacket!

Someone on July 14, 2018:

Have you herd of the Adilade women in white?

Chelsea Frasure from Idaho on December 16, 2015:

I appreciate all these legends, but I definitely think that they all stem from a similar fear of a woman harbinger of death. :) Nice Hub!

anonymous on April 09, 2015:

Legend has it there are many women in white around the world. They are mistreated by their husbands (being cheated on, hit, etc.) then driven to kill their children for mental disorders such as manic depression and such, feeling guilty they commit suicide.In their rage they hitch hike near their death place and ask unfaithful men to take them "home" where they kill them.

Shasta Matova from USA on November 18, 2013:

Congratulations on your Rising Star nomination. There are a lot of stories and legends about women ghosts, and you have recounted quite a few. Very interesting. Voted up

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