In Dutch mythology and legends, the Witte Wieven (also known as Wittewijven) are spirits of "wise women" (or else elven beings). The mythology dates back at least to the pre-Christian era (7th century) and was known in the present-day regions of the Netherlands and Belgium and parts of France. In some places they were known as Juffers or Joffers ("ladies"), or as Dames Blanches ("white ladies") in French.
Witte wieven literally means white women today, but "wise women" in dialects of the Low Saxon language of the Netherlands. The word witte in Dutch means white. Wit or witte meant "witty" or "wise", from the root word "weten" which means "to know." The word for wisdom was wijsheid. Witte wieven is often translated to be "white woman" (sources differ) as the words come from the same roots. The association of wise women with the color white was either an accidental translation error, or a symbolic color association for wisdom (sources differ).
Historically, the witte wieven are thought to be wise women, herbalists and medicine healers who took care of people's physical and mental ailments (wala in OHG). It was said they had the talent for prophecy and looking into the future. They had a high status in the communities, and so when they died ceremonies were held at their grave sites to honour them.
According to mythology, their spirits remained on earth, and they became living spirits (or elven beings) that either helped or hindered people who encountered them. They tended to reside in the burial sites or other sacred places. It was thought that mist on a gravehill was the spirit of the wise woman appearing, and people would bring them offerings and ask for help.
While many scholars believe Witte Wieven originated as above from honoring graves of wise women, others think the mythology of witte wieven come from part of the Germanic belief in disen, land wights, and/or alven (Old Dutch for "elf") for several reasons: The practice of bringing offerings and asking for help from their graves is very similar to honoring disen, land wights and alfen in Germanic paganism. In addition, in some localities the mythological witte wieven were described directly as "Alfen" or "Alven".
Jacob Grimm mentioned them in the Deutsche Mythologie (1835) as the Dutch variant of the Germanic weisse frauen: "The people of Friesland, Drenthe and the Netherlands have just as much to tell of their written wijven or juffers in hills and caverns ... though here they get mixed up with elvish personages."
At first, early medieval literature described the witte wieven more like pranksters and pests. Later Christian teaching transformed the idea of a "witte wieven" into mistflarden: ghost witches— recharacterized as evil and to be avoided.
In certain legends "Alvinne" was a ghost in a white cloak.
The following places were named after witte wieven, and report witte wieven legends:
In the Netherlands:
- Near the Village of Eefde is Wittewievenbult: translates "Wise Women hill". Local legend holds that White Women appear on Christmas Eve every year and dance on this hill.
- Near the Village of Barchem is Wittewijvenkuil: translates "Wise Woman Pitt" is a pit between two local hills. Local legend holds that three white women lived there.
- Dames Blanches (White women of French mythology, similar)
- Weisse Frauen (White women of German mythology, similar)
- White Goddess (book by Robert Graves)
- White women (mythology)
- Grimm 1835:3.
- "Heathen History of Achterhoek", 2002.
- "Heathen History of Achterhoek": 2002.
- Grimm, Jacob (1835). Deutsche Mythologie (German Mythology); From English released version Grimm's Teutonic Mythology (1888); Available online by Northvegr © 2004-2007, Chapter 32, page 3.
- Reginheim. Heathen History of the Achterhoek. 2002. Files retrieved 02-24-2007
- Reginheim. Witte wieven. 2007. (in English) File retrieved 03-08-2007.