Dutch ghost stories: Witches and wenches
The Netherlands and the netherworld are more closely connected than you may think! Like most countries, the Dutch towns and fields know their share of classic tales about eccentric old ladies, elusive maidens and bewitching wenches who made their way into legend.
Witches and wenches
This edition of Dutch ghost stories presents some old tales about witches and mysterious women in the Netherlands.
The fortune-teller of Amsterdam
The Jordaan area of Amsterdam had its very own fortune teller, who went by the name of Aunty Cor and would read people's future in her cards. She always asked to be paid in pawn receipts, so she would not need to identify herself at the bank. One day, Aunty Cor was visited by a man whose wife had been having fits of deliriousness, as if she was possessed. Aunty Cor told him that his wife had refused a wicked merchant’s wares, and laughed at the man. He was the one who had bewitched her.
Aunty Cor threw a powder into the flames of her stove, and the fire rose up. "There he is," she told the man, and sure enough he leaned forward to see a figure in the glow. "Go ahead and give him a good cut across the face, so you’ll recognise him later," Aunty Cor whispered, "He deserves it." The man took his pocket knife and slashed it through the flames. From then on, no doors were ever opened for the merchant again, for he had a deep, nasty red scar running from his ear to his mouth.
The Edam Mermaid
This tale is more sad than scary. It is said that a mermaid was once caught near Edam. She spoke a strange language, and her hair was tangled and full of seaweed. Her captors dressed her, taught her to eat human food and showed her off, although she never stopped trying to dive back into the water. The city of Haarlem, which was very powerful back then, demanded to have her. The town officials took her with them, taught her how to spin wool, and had her on display until the day she died.
Old Minneke was an impressively ugly witch who lived in a ditch near Holterberg. In this ditch, you could scream and no one would hear you. She was bald and had huge warts. There was a large, black hole where her nose should've been, and her mouth only contained some rotting teeth and two yellow poison fangs. Old Minneke was fond of farm boys. When they entered her lair, she would let them leave with as much gold as they could carry. All they’d have to do was spend one night with her every week.
One story tells how a farm boy got a sack of gold from Old Minneke to marry his girlfriend, but his weekly visits were slowly draining his life source. When his wife found out she dressed as a farm boy herself and lured Old Minneke into the territory of the Willowman, a wise creature who lived nearby. The Willowman grabbed Old Minneke and threw her straight into the Ijssel, which bubbled and spat, but Old Minneke never came back up.
Rixt van Oerd
Rixt was a woman who lived in Ameland, in a cabin made of driftwood. People tended to avoid her, but once in a while they would find Rixt sitting under a tree, where she would convince them to trade some things she had found on the shore for an old cow. She’d tie a lantern around the cow’s neck, and chase it around the dunes. Sailors would see the light, think it came from a lighthouse, and sail their boats into the cliffs.
The next day, Rixt went through all the debris that washed up on the shore, biting swollen fingers off the corpses to get to their gold rings. One day, after sinking a ship, she found the body of her long lost son, who had been on board. The shock killed her then and there, and her body was dragged into the sea by a wave. Her tree was cut down and its branches were planted in people’s gardens. Some nights, the eastern winds whistle through their leaves, still carrying the voice of Rixt, who is calling for her son.
The Rye Mother
There are many versions of the Rye Mother in various European countries. In Dutch tales, she is sometimes called Antsje Pluk. She is a kind of bogeyman, invented to keep children from playing in rye, corn and wheat fields. When you see a stalk of rye move strangely, the Rye Mother is coming to get you. Sometimes she grabs a stalk of rye, turning its seeds black and poisonous.
The horseshoed hag
A woman in Maastricht told her husband that a woman appeared by their bed every night, turned her into a horse, and rode her until morning. She was exhausted and getting noticeably thinner. In other words, she was literally hag-ridden. The husband swapped places with his wife in the bed and took care not to fall asleep.
Just before midnight, the door opened and a woman tiptoed in holding a bridle, keeping to the shadows. The man jumped up, grabbed the bridle, and threw it over the woman. She immediately turned into a grey mare. He led the horse to a smith and fitted the animal with four heavy iron horseshoes. The horse escaped on the way back, but the next morning they noticed that a notoriously unkind neighbour wouldn’t come outside. After three days, the police broke down her door and saw her lying on the bed with heavy horseshoes nailed to her hands and feet.
Halloween in the Netherlands
What's cooking in your cauldron this Halloween? If you don't fancy staying at home and brewing potions you can check our lifestyle page for all sorts of Halloween events and celebrations.
Want to indulge in more spooky stories? Check out the other articles in this series:
› Dutch ghost stories: Haunted castles
› Dutch ghost stories: Spirits and apparitions
› Dutch ghost stories: Ghost ships