About a life devoted to the love for Folklore, Mythology, Legends and.....Art

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Witte Wieven - A Dutch Folktale

(Please, click picture for bigger and better view)

'Why all these Dutch folktales all of the sudden? ' some of you might be thinking. Well, I have started a new folklore related project a few weeks ago about which I will tell you all later this week.
But first I would like to share with you my latest drawing, which is also part of the project, named: "Witte Wieven". These two small words have two different meanings. Witte can mean white or (in dialect) wise and wieven means women. Thus it can refer to white women or wise women. In this case both interpetations would actually be correct.

These Witte Wieven are always described by the people as white, ghostly, witch-like figures, often brought in connection with mist. They haunt the old burial-mounds, which can still be found in the Netherlands, dating back to the Iron Age. It is not a coincidence that these ghostly women are haunting these burial-mounds because the Witte Wieven are infact the vestiges of the old Germanic priestesses worshipped by the people. The church obviously disapproved with this sort of worship like they cursed the old burial mounds, being graveyards of heathens. And soon the two: Germanic priestesses and the burial-mounds, became connected.

The people for a long time strongly believed in the powers of the Witte Wieven. They often left food for them in order to recieve their blessings. Their favorite food was balkenhaze, which is the name for roast cat and pancakes. It was believed that if one should refuse to offer the Witte Wieven food they would take revenge. They would kill cattle by sticking long needles into the animal bodies and burn down sheds and if you were really unlucky they would kidnap you. They were especially known for kidnapping young mothers, because they needed them for feeding their young dogs. It was said that the Witte Wieven sometimes had such long breasts, because of the feeding, they could throw them over their shoulders. Hence the reason why they preferred other women to do the job, I guess. Once these women were captured they had to stay with them for 7 years, after which they were released.

The Witte Wieven were also great sorceresses; who could turn wood into gold and such. This is why the people were making offerings, in hope they would share these gifts with them.

There must be hundreds of folktales related to the Witte Wieven: stories about revenge they took on young rude boys, women they kidnapped and about women who knew how to escape. Tales about farmers who owe their riches to them and farmers who lost it all because they broke with the tradition of food-offerings.

Nowadays, the people in the eastern parts of the Netherlands no longer believe in these matters, but the tales they have survived. But if you are lucky to meet one of the old farmers they will assure you all of it is true and they still look at the burial mounds with a suspicious eye. Of course, they know better....


  1. I love the work you've been doing lately! The composition here is so interesting. I like how the white figures appear on the black background. The mist is just gorgeous, and I love how it seems to be flowing through the picture...

  2. Oh, wonderful! I'm assuming this is black on white; either way, I love the faces!

  3. I would love to see more in the way of Dutch folktale art! I am researching Dutch folklore right now as it relates to the plot of my NaNoWriMo novel. ( http://www.nanowrimo.org )

    Have you ever used changelings as a subject?

  4. your art is wonderful and so perfect for the information you have shared with us, so interesting wild and fun.

  5. Your work is breath taking...I am enjoying my visit here!
    I am following, hope you can stop by for a visit!

    Thanks, Becky Jane
    Raising kids can be a lot like weeding the rose bed...well worth it, but...OUCH!

  6. I really like your art! For some reason this one reminds me of Shel Silverstein, one of my favorite authors when I was a kid xD Keep up the good work!

  7. There is an other version my dad told me when I was young. They are wives of fishers who drowned themselves out of sorrow because their husband never returned. They returned and have to wait forever till their husbands return. When there is a fog in the area near the dykes/waterlevels/etc you can hear their grieving moans.