The White Women, the White Lady, La Dame Blanche:
To further explain the Banshee, it is good to look at the mythology and folklore of the French Celtic Banshee. It is widely accepted throughout, that the Celtics, as a culture, were held together by the Druid Priests for thousands of years. These Druid Priests expanded their practices throughout the world as it was known back then.
Due to the various warring conquests, family migrations, and inter-marriages among the native Peoples of Europe and the British Isles, the Celtic culture of the powerful Druids had survived. Evidence of them and of their craft, is still found in today’s France; most especially in Brittany, as the Breton’s were one of the last to resist the Roman invasion and the Christianized conquest of Gaul. Today, the Celtic culture of the Druids is found in Breton mythology and folklore. One such lore is that of the Banshee of the Bretons.
In French mythology or folklore, one type of banshee is ‘Les Dames Blanches’; this literally means – White Ladies. The White Ladies were female spirits (supernatural beings) who got compared to the stories about the ‘White Women’ of Dutch and Germanic, Irish and Wales mythology. They were not called “white ladies” necessarily because of the color of their skin; but rather, because they were thought to be ‘washer women’ (women who did the washing of the whites; the linen). Back then, ‘the whites’ was another way to say: the linen.
There were reports of ‘Dame Blanches’ sightings. They were seen in Lorraine (Lotharingen) and Normandy. In Occitan, they were ‘Damas blancas’, also in the Pyrenees mountains, near caves and caverns.
In Normandy, were there had been many Dames Blanches sightings, they are not considered benevolent. It was Thomas Keightley (1870), who describes the Banshee found there, as a type of ‘Fee’ (Fairy). Mr. Keightley said that the Banshee in Normandy “are of a less benevolent character”. This description leads one to understand that, there are kinds of Banshee.
And that the kinds of Banshee would not be due to race, religion, culture, language or superstitious beliefs and influences; but rather, to ‘the reality’ of the Banshee in question. It is what kind of banshee spirit it is, that determines the specific type of geographical location the ghost will inhabit; where it will take up residence. Indeed! It is the ‘geography’ itself, that will make her choose to live somewhere or not. And it is by ‘where she lives’, that we can tell if she is a ‘benevolent spirit’ or not.
Thomas Keightley went on to say, that the Dames blanches, in Normandy, lurked in narrow places such as ravines, fords, and on bridges. From there, they tried to attract the attention of passersby. Perhaps because it is that the Banshee may need someone to join in her dance or help her out, that determines if someone one can pass. If assisted, she “makes him many courtesies, and then vanishes.”
In support of the Dames blanches who required a passerby to dance with her, is the popular children’s song “Sur le Pont D’Avignon’. “Sur le Pont D’Avignon l’on y danse, l’on y danse tout en rond. Roughly translated, the song goes like this: at the D’avignon Bridge, we dance there, we dance there forming a circle, together. It is historically well documented that there, in the south of France, in D’Avignon, unwed young ladies and gentlemen of the gentry class would form a circle together. (Les demoiselles font comme-ci, et les monsieurs font comme-ca), the young women do this kind of dance gesture, while the gentlemen do this other kind of dance gesture.
Normandy also had it’s own White Lady who obliged people to dance. La ‘Dame d’Apringy’ would appeare in a ravine – at the Rue Quentin, at Bayeux in the southern part of Normandy. There, one had to dance with The White Lady a few rounds, so to be able to pass by. Those who refused to do so, were thrown into the thistles and briar; while those who did dance with her, were not harmed.
Another Dame Blanche was known to be on a narrow bridge in the district of Falaise, named the Pont d’Angot. She only allowed people to pass if they went on their knees to her. Anyone who refused, got tormented by the lutins(1); cats, owls, and other creatures who helped her.
J. A. MacCulloch believed that, the Dames Blanches are one of the characterizations of a pre-Christian female goddess. MacCulloch suggested the name “Dame”, may have derived from the ancient guardian goddesses known as ‘the Matres’. It is by looking at old inscriptions to guardian goddesses, specifically, inscriptions to “the Dominæ, who watched over the home”; perhaps she became the Dames of medieval folk-lore.”
The Dames Blanches have close counterparts in both name and characterization in neighboring northern countries. In Germany, they are ‘the Weisse Frauen’. And in the Dutch Low Countries, ‘the Witte Wieven’.
(1) N.B.: A lutin is a type of hobgoblin (an amusing goblin, in French folklore and fairy tales). Another word for lutin is: a red dwarf, in the folklore of Normandy. In England, Germany and Scandinavia, they are called house-spirits. The French word ‘Lutin’, when properly translated into English, becomes: brownie, elf, fairy, gnome, goblin, hobgoblin, imp, leprechaun, pixie, puck, or sprite. The ‘Lutin’ sometimes take the form of a horse: le cheval gayard.
The Lutins, since they change in to animals, and obey ‘la Dames blanches’, can easily be associated in folklore, as ‘the familiars’, or the familiar spirits.
Lutins in Quebec: The first French settlers of Quebec in Canada, came from Normandy, and Brittany. They brought with them their belief in lutins. According to the French-Canadians there, lutins are spirits who take the form of pets such as cats and dogs, or rabbits, and even of other common animals. More specifically, it is the ‘completely white cat’ that is especially considered likely to be a lutin. It would not take a big leap of thought to link the concept of ‘a completely white pet or common animal, and most especially – a familiar animal – that is a companion of ‘La dame blanche) (the banshee). However, any distinctive animal that lives in or near the home may be regarded as ‘a lutin’.
These ‘lutins’, just as much as their ‘Dame blanche’, may be good or evil. It is said that the ‘good lutins’, that they have powers of their own. Powers ranging from: control of the weather to shaving the beard of the master of the house before he woke on Sundays.
Whereas, the evil (offended lutins) were pre-ported to harass the house-owner with any some minor troubles, such as blunting a scythe or filling shoes with pebbles. Salt is considered abhorrent to them, and they are thought to go out of their way to avoid crossing it when spilled on the ground. Which is why, when something a person does starts going wrong, the French in Canada, mainly in Quebec, will pick-up a salt shaker to toss a bit of salt over their shoulder, or on the ground.
For many of the French who lived and worked in Detroit, the lutins were the ‘Le Nain Rouge’. The appearance of Le Nain Rouge is said to presage terrible events for the city. The Nain Rouge appears as a small childlike creature with red or black fur boots. It is also said to have “blazing red eyes and rotten teeth.” (Skinner 1896).And again, where a lutin is seen, la Dame blanch is surely there.
La dame blanche (opera)
Mount Blanc, nicknamed La Dame Blanche
Weisse Frauen (Germanic ‘white women’)
White Goddess (Pan-European deity, posited by Robert Graves)
White Lady (ghost)
White women (mythology)
Witte Wieven (Dutch ‘white women’)
1.^ Keightley 1870.
2.^ MacCulloch 1911:46-47.
The Religion of the Ancient Celts, by J. A. MacCulloch, 1911.
The Fairy Mythology: Illustrative of the Romance and Superstition of Various Countries, by Thomas Keightley, 1870.
Taken and adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia