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Urban Legends: Who is the Woman in White?

Updated on August 8, 2017

The White Lady

The White Lady is an urban legend and folktale that has circled the globe for centuries. She is spotted often, and her story is refurbished every few decades, given a new name, a new face, and a modern story. She is a stigma of society.

This article will look at the different myths connected to the White Lady and offer a brief explanation as to why she is so prevalent.

A famous photo of a White Lady in a graveyard
A famous photo of a White Lady in a graveyard

What is an Urban Legend?

An urban legend is merely a contemporary folktale. It generally contains elements of the macabre or sinister. Its intent varies. Sometimes, it is merely for entertainment purposes. Other times, they are used to explain the unexplainable.


Once upon a time, word of mouth was the only circulation these tales and stories used. Thanks to the media, however, many urban legends can now travel across the world, lending ambiguity to sources, keeping truth skirting the grey edges of the tales.


Still, this mysterious nature lends to the mysticism of the stories, and many urban legends become staples in history and culture.

The White Lady and Archetypes

The White Lady, no matter where the story is told, has some specific characteristics.

Harbinger of Death

  • In many cultures, seeing the Lady in White closely precedes one's own death. For example in the UK, the Woman in White will be frequently spotted in a home. Soon after, a member of that household will die. It is generally claimed that she is a former member of the family.
  • In Irish folklore, if someone hears her scream, they will be the next person to die.

Betrayed

  • In the US, most legends of the White Lady claim that she was somehow betrayed by her lover.
  • In Mexico, La Llorona, "The Weeping Woman," is a legend of a woman who was driven mad by the betrayal of her husband. In an act of mad revenge, she drowns her children in the local river. When she realizes what she's done, she kills herself. The legend says that she still weeps for the loss to this day.

Deserted Highways and Auto Accidents

The most common element of every White Lady urban legend is that of an deserted highway.

  • Local legends will often list a woman's tragic ending in a motor accident as the source of the haunting.
  • People will claim that they see a woman walking down a deserted or abandoned road. She is most often wearing a white dress. Sometimes, the legend will report that it was the night before her wedding.
  • Some folklore will state that if you see her or hear her scream, your death is imminent.
  • Other claims will be that she is merely looking for her lost lover.


Claim of White Lady Caught on Tape

The White Lady and Titles

Around the world, The Lady in White is spotted, her story retold. However, she is not always called the same thing. Here are a few other titles that can be attributed to the mysterious White Lady.

  • Banshee- In Gaelic mythology, a banshee is a fairy woman whose wail is the announcement of a death to come.
  • The Lady in White- Or White Lady. This is the most common title given to this mysterious legend. It is called such in the UK and USA.
  • La Llorona- This title originates in Mexico. It means, 'The Weeping Woman.'
  • Kuchisake-onna- "Slit-Mouthed Woman" is a urban legend in Japan of a woman who kills any who look upon her disfigured face.

The Lady in White-
-Around the World
Ireland
The Banshee
USA
White Lady- deserted highway
UK
White Lady-ancestress
Mexico
La Llorona
Japan/Korea
Kuchisake-onna

The Banshee

The legend of the Banshee has been a foundation for Gaelic mythologies for hundreds of years. The earliest reports of sightings date back to the mid-1300's. Some Irish families believe that they have a Banshee attached to their lineage. When her piercing wail is heard, someone in the family dies.

  • This can be linked to the legends in the UK of ancestresses bearing a death omen for families.

The Banshee's appearance can change depending on the legend. However, most often she is seen wearing white or grey. In Ireland, she is a hag with gnarled limbs and long, pale hair.

  • Some claims say that the Banshee can also appear beautiful or has the ability to change her appearance as she pleases.
  • Like the mermaid, she is sometimes said to lure unsuspecting humans to their demise.

This legend has travelled some. In Scotland, a similar visage is seen. The ban nigheachain, "Little Washerwoman" is seen washing the bloody armor of a warrior who will soon die. America has its own tales of Banshees, but they rarely foretell of a death to come. Usually, they are wailing for the loss of a child or lover.


La Llorona- The Weeping Woman

In Mexio, the legend of La Llorona is used to keep children from staying out too late.

The story says that a beautiful woman, generally named Maria, went mad when she discovered the infidelity of her husband.

As an act of revenge, La Llorona drowns her children in a local river. When she realizes what she has done, she kills herself. Forever stuck, cursed to roam Mexico, La Llorona searches for her lost children.

It is said that she will kidnap children who resemble the ones she killed. To take the place of her lost children, she drowns them. However, it never eases her torture.

She is called the weeping woman because she is reported as being seen crying or wailing near any lake or river in Mexico.

Kuchisake-onna- The Slit-mouthed Woman

Kuchisake-onna is an urban legend that began in the late 1970's in Japan. The rumor claimed that a woman was mutilated by her husband, her mouth slit ear to ear before being murdered.

Legend says, a woman wearing a surgical mask will approach unknowing innocents and ask, "Am I pretty?" Or "Do you think I am pretty?"

If they respond with, "No," they are stabbed to death.

If they respond, "Yes," she will take the mask off to reveal her disfigurement, and ask again. "Am I pretty now?" or "How about now?"

  • If they answer, "no," She will stab them.
  • If they reply, "yes," She will cut their mouth to resemble her own.

It is impossible to escape this woman when she decides to target you. You cannot run from her, for she will merely appear in front of you, no matter where you turn.

Some claims say that if you answer her with, "Maybe," or "So-So," she will be confused long enough for you to run away. Other claims state that she will leave if presented with a child that answers her question with the same one.

In Japan, there were accounts of schools allowing the children to stay home and police increasing patrols because of a masked woman chasing children in the areas. The locals attributed this ti Kuchisake-onna, and kept their children inside.

The urban legend has now spread to North and South Korea where Kuchisake-onna has been seen wearing a red mask and chasing children down to play her unwinable game.


The White Lady and Society

In ancient history, women were considered magic in a very simply way; They bore children. This miraculous ability caused some, like the ancient Greeks to claim ownership of women and hold them at arms length for fear of upsetting the awesome power within them.

It is safe to say, then, that woman were feared. If these creatures can carry and bear children, create life within themselves, then perhaps they have the ability to take it away.

This deep-seeded fear is what I now present as the basis for the White Lady urban myth and its prevalence in todays society.

Do you know a local White Lady legend?

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    • chelseafrasure profile image
      Author

      Chelsea Frasure 24 months ago from Idaho

      Xhyniie, I can most definitely add that piece of the legend. Isn't it interesting that, depending on where the story is told, it changes?

      Thanks!

    • Xhyniie profile image

      Xhyniie 24 months ago

      The slit-mouthed woman is also popular in South Korea. It is said that she's seen wearing a red mask while chasing children. And when you try to remove her mask you can see her mouth slit from ear to ear. Hahahahaha. I am actually a fan of horror stories and I enjoy reading articles like yours. It would be fun if you will include that legend on your list.