I vividly remember watching the pilot episode of Supernatural (one of my favourite TV shows) way back in 2006. The episode centred around the ghost of a young woman, Constance, dressed in white. She had drowned her children after discovering her husband’s infidelity. She was doomed to roam the roads near her home asking for male drivers to give her a lift home and then murdering them.
The character of Constance is representative of a wider type of haunting
(although normally much less violent) – that of the woman in white, or the White Lady.
Having a profound interest in the paranormal, I’ve visited many haunted places. When the list of ghosts said to haunt the site is read aloud I would always lose interest when I heard the words ‘Woman in White’. It was just such a common trope. It seems that every castle or abandoned building had one! More recently, I have regretted my former disrespect for these spirits and the witnesses who have sene them.
I’ve started to wonder, why is there always a woman in white at haunted locations? Men haunt places, but they’re often not noted for wearing any particular colour.
White is Symbloic
First of all, white is symbolic. It represents purity. Could this then offer us a clue?
There is a tradition in many cultures of burying the dead in white, but would this then not apply to men as well? I ‘ve not come across a single story of a man in white.
The colour white is often worn by women on their wedding day (although, more modern variations sway towards cream and ivory!) Perhaps the woman is appearing in her wedding dress, perhaps the garment she was buried in?
However, the white wedding dress theory is also problematic. White only became a common choice for the colour of a wedding dress in the Victorian era. Queen Victoria wore a white dress at her wedding to Price Albert in 1840, and thus the trend began. Before then, women traditionally wore coloured dresses embellished with white and silver thread. So, what about the sightings of the woman in white that pre-date the Victorian era?
Perhaps then we must consider the nature of
As noted above, white symbolises purity and innocence. Could this then be why these ghostly women appear in white? As murder victims, could these women be exhibiting their innocence?
Let’s take a look at some specific women in white examples:
Some Examples of ‘the Woman in White’
With a history spanning almost a millennium, it’s no wonder that Corfe Castle is reportedly haunted.
The castle was home to the Bankes family who were royalists during the Civil War (1642–1651). Allegedly, it was an act of betrayal that enabled Roundhead troops to enter the castle and take it. Ever since, a woman in white is said to roam the property. It is assumed that she is the traitor.
Tower of London
Thousands of people have been impriosned and executed in the Tower of London throughout its almost 1,000 year history. This makes identifying a ghost particularly difficult.
A nameless woman in white is said to roam the Tower of London at night. Once the apparition has passed, the smell of old fashioned perfume is said to fill the air. She has even been seen staring from the windows and waving at children as they pass by.
10 Downing Street
Whilst researching for this post, I was extremely surprised to find a report of a woman in white at 10 Downing Street!
The Facilities Manager, confused by a paranormal experience he had one evening with an unseen spirit, explained his encounter to his colleagues. Who then confirmed to him that a woman in a white ball gown haunts the building at night.
Berry Pomeroy Castle
The Woman in White of Berry Pomeroy Castle in Devon is representative of many ‘woman in white’ stories. She is identified as Margaret Pomeroy. Margaret was allegedly locked up somewhere in the castle and starved to death at the hands of her jealous sister, Eleanor.
Margaret is the archetypal innocent murder victim whose violent end has cursed her to roam around the grounds, dressed in white.
Similar to the woman in
There are countless other examples of women meeting violent ends and then returning to the site of their death to haunt the area. My father grew up in Liverpool and knew the local legend of the White Lady of Willow Park. Reportedly, a young woman was drowned/murdered by her husband in the Newton-Le-Willows forest on her wedding night.
There are countless other examples I could have cited, however this is not an extensive piece of research, just something to consider.
Does Anything Connect These Women?
Some of these women have a shared characteristic- they were innocents who met an untimely death. They often (although not always) meet their demise at the hands of their fathers or husbands.
So, the woman in white could be indicative of our patriarchal past. Women were used by men as possessions and objects to be used and disposed of at will.
However, not all these stories follow the same pattern. The only consistency within each history is the colour of the apparition – white.
Interestingly, the description of some (not all) of these apparitions simply refers to the colour of the ghost – the woman in white. Did she appear in white clothing and her skin was skin coloured? Or was the spirit herself, including her clothing, hair and skin etc, entirely white in appearance? This got me thinking …
Is it possibly something to do with the way our eyes perceive the spirit world, in a sort of black and white form? However, some spirits do appear in colour. Does it represent innocent victims of murder? Is white the simplest colour for the spirit to take during manifestation? Does it have something to do with the colour of the substance spirits are said to be made of, such as ectoplasm?
Since we have a limited understanding of the spirit world, there are endless possible answers to the question – why is there always a woman in white? Perhaps we will never have the answer to the question, but
Let me know what you think in the comments below.