Dutch ghost stories: Spirits and apparitions
The Netherlands and the netherworld are more closely connected than you may think! Beaches, fields and cities across the country are riddled with myths and whispers of the deceased who might still be roaming there.
Spooky tales of ghost sightings in the Netherlands
For this edition of Dutch ghost stories, here are some old tales about spirits and apparitions that are said to have appeared in the Netherlands.
The Witte Wieven are among the more famous classic ghosts in Dutch folklore. The term translates as "white women", or "devious wise women" in older Dutch. These pale wraiths have long terrorised the people of western Europe, and have been described as ugly, old women with sharp teeth and claws wearing flowing white garments and veils.
There are stories of them having hidden treasures in caves under burial mounds, stealing babies, dancing in the moonlight as wisps of fog, and luring people to their deaths. If you throw a peening anvil (a thin, pointed anvil used to sharpen scythes), into a pit where Witte Wieven reside, they will catch it, chase you down and throw it at you - sharp end first. One famous Dutch ghost story involving the Witte Wieven features them attacking a farmer in the woods, forcing himself to dance himself to death!
Blue Gerrit is described as an invisible but ape-like spirit or demon who jumps on the shoulders of unsuspecting passers-by who are walking in rural areas. Sometimes, you can see his eyes shine, or a blue light appear in the bushes. He is heavy and smelly and wears the travellers down so they are completely exhausted by the time they reach town. Walk in the tracks of a cart, and he will push you aside.
Blue Gerrit is a tease, but can sometimes save people in need. An old story tells of a widow’s daughter who was about to be kidnapped by a young lord. His horse would not budge, though, and suddenly Blue Gerrit appeared in a frightening blaze. Blue Gerrit jumped on the lord’s back and rode the man, who fled on foot, until morning. When the widow’s daughter returned the horse to the lord, he gave her two bags of gold hoping to rid himself of the vengeful spirit.
Blue Gerrit's description is similar to that of a water spirit called the Ossaert. Sometimes the Ossaert is said to be a black beast with huge claws and burning red eyes.
The Zeedijk Ghost
A tanner’s daughter from Zeedijk named Dina was dating a young sailor, to the envy of her sister Helena. One day, when he was out at sea, the sisters fought viciously. In a flurry of anger, Helena pushed Dina down the basement stairs, beat her to death, and threw the hatch shut. She got to marry the sailor instead of Dina, but Helena spent her years wracked with guilt.
She finally admitted to the murder on her deathbed, and the sailor turned away from her in disgust. She died miserable and alone. That very night, residents of the Zeedijk were aroused by chilling wails and raging howls. Lone wanderers in Zeedijk still encounter the lonely ghost of Helena from time to time - you’ll know she is near when cold shivers run down your back.
The third fisherman
Two men from Maastricht went fishing by night, near the Maas River. They found a small barge and sailed out. After a few hours of looking out over the dark waters and catching fish, one of the fishermen looked to the side and got such a shock that he bumped into his friend. The other man looked and turned ash-grey.
"Are you seeing that too?" one muttered.
"Yes I am," whispered the other.
But neither of them moved. They felt as if they were nailed down. At the front of the boat, a third fisherman was sitting with his rod cast out, his back towards them. The two fishermen stared at the surprise visitor, not even moving when they got a bite on their line.
After what seemed like ages, the church bells struck one. The third fisherman stood up, turned, and walked towards them. The first man hid his face in his hands, but the second one saw that the stranger’s face looked like it was spun from cobwebs. As he moved past them and stepped over the side, the boat never rocked.
The headless man
Again, this story takes place by the Maas River. One night, a merchant was waiting for a ferry. The oarsman refused to let him cross, saying the headless man was roaming the opposite shore. The merchant joked that without a head this man would have no teeth to bite him with, and demanded to cross.
The merchant got off across the river and continued on foot. After a while, he became aware of a gigantic dark shape by his side. It stopped when he stopped, and moved when he moved. When he finally dared to face the shape, he saw a five-metre-tall man with broad shoulders and no head. He looked down, and two long horse legs clopped over the ground.
The merchant kept walking, staring straight ahead while the headless men walked by his side. Under his breath, he frantically muttered a prayer. When he finished the words, the headless man disappeared with a loud wail, leaving behind a hellish stink.
Halloween in the Netherlands
Truly terrifying! Looking for inspiration for ways to celebrate this Halloween in the Netherlands? Check out our ultimate guide to doing Halloween the Dutch way, or browse through our picks for the best Halloween events in the Netherlands.
Have you ever seen a ghost before? Share your story with us in the comments below!