Dutch ghost stories: Spirits and apparitions
The Netherlands and the netherworld are more closely connected than you may think! Dutch shores, fields and streets are riddled with myths and whispers of the deceased who might still be roaming there.
Spirits and apparitions
For this edition of Dutch ghost stories, here are some old tales about spirits and apparitions that were said to appear 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. Said to be the spirits of medicine women, these pale wraiths have been described as pranksters, elves and helpers.
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. Some lucky escapees ran through a door and closed it just in time. When the peening anvil was thrown it lodged itself firmly into the wood.
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 sailing, 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 high 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
Will you be going as a spooky spirit or an alarming apparition this Halloween? Make sure you don't miss out on the best place to show off your costume by checking our events page. Also, if you've ever seen a ghost before, share your story with us in the comments below!
Want to indulge in more spooky stories? Check out the other articles in this series:
› Dutch ghost stories: Haunted castles
› Dutch ghost stories: Witches and wenches
› Dutch ghost stories: Ghost ships