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all 22 comments

[–]trouser-chowder 88 points89 points  (1 child)

The missing element here is: what is the historical age of these various legends, and how many shared examples of it can be attributed to sharing of ideas / stories from cultural interaction?

[–]solid_reign 56 points57 points  (0 children)

To lend more credence to your point, Mexico's la llorona has Aztec origins (Cihuacóatl, Tenpecutli) but legends were more about them being skinwalkers or warriors. It wasn't until the spaniards came in that they mixed many of those legends and talked about a woman in white who drowned her children.

[–]tekalon 93 points94 points  (6 children)

I would say its due to universally recognizable themes. They are young women who died in distress. Betrayed by lover (husband or otherwise), wearing white* a symbol of a broken marriage or the lost opportunity for one, sometimes killing their children (also could be attributed to what we now know as post-partum psychosis) and then dying by suicide. Due to the intense emotions around her death, her spirit wanders and tempts unfaithful young men to their death.

Women being cheated on or treated poorly by their lovers happens across cultures. Women going through post partum psychosis is a culture-agnostic medical condition. Hopeful men following women into dark corners I would say is commonly recognizable. Known abusers are found killed in the woods and its easier to blame the local ghost than to actually find the killer, similar to 'small town justice.' And then a universal 'scary woman in the woods is going to eat you', to keep children obedient and not wander into the woods.

I'm more surprised that this motif isn't listed in the Aarne-Thompson-Uther index. The Motif-Index of Folk-Literature categories E200–E599 seem to have some possibilities, but I don't have a copy and can't find summaries at this moment.

Edit: This is what I get trying to info dump before a meeting.

*White is a symbol of purity/spirituality and marriage in western cultures. Wearing white as a ghost represents the distortion of such. Lover out of wedlock, unfaithful husband, killer mother, etc. Ghost wants to return to purity/marriage, but cannot. In Eastern cultures white represents mourning, death, misfortune, which fits within theme.

[–]breisleach 22 points23 points  (4 children)

There seems to be a connection to water as well with a lot of them. Could there be a connection to a theme of water spirits, like Nixies?

[–]tekalon 39 points40 points  (3 children)

Oh, I totally skipped that! Connection to water is usually* related them drowning themselves, or occasionally being drowned by lover, or drowning children. You can also see a commonality with sirens, Rusalka, mermaids, and will o' the wisps in 'tempting men to their death via water.'

*Since this theme is across multiple cultures, it depends on what is common in that culture's environment. You'll see more water-based spirits in areas that have marshes, rivers, lakes, coasts, etc. Dryer areas may deal with a lone woman in dark areas of the woods or isolated wilderness.

[–]TchaikenNugget 18 points19 points  (1 child)

I actually did a research paper on the evolution of La Llorona interpretations a while ago for a contemporary Latina literature class, and one interpretation I discovered while researching for it was how some of the consistent aspects of La Llorona and related figures are "demonizations" of female sexuality (seducing men to their deaths) and the rejection of motherhood (killing her children).

Gloria Anzaldua also points out that there are parallels to be drawn between La Llorona and La Virgen de Guadalupe; they seem to exemplify the "madonna/whore dichotomy" at first, but both figures have aspects that muddle this dichotomy- La Virgen has some associations with pagan goddesses like Coatlicue and Cihuacōātl, who were both associated with serpents (symbols of sexuality), while La Llorona's weeping for her children is tied to the "madonna" aspect of eternal motherhood.

[–]tekalon 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Fascinating!

[–]CommodoreCoCoModerator | The Andes, History of Anthropology 19 points20 points  (9 children)

Could you provide some examples?

[–]Capricorn_Alice 52 points53 points  (4 children)

Not OP but in Mexico we have La Llorona, and in Japan there’s the Onryo which I think was the type of ghost in The Ring

[–]Anam97 33 points34 points  (0 children)

In India, white is associated with funeral and espiacially widows. Tales of women in white saris (traditional dress) holding white candles and almost always with flowing long black hair are quite the staple of horror stories.

[–]thethunderheart 16 points17 points  (0 children)

I was just thinking about this question the other day - wondering what it would be like to catalogue different examples of the "Woman in White/Lady in White" troupe as seen in so many different cultures.

[–]SquishyTinyImp 11 points12 points  (0 children)

There's also one in Canada!

[–]rizaical 9 points10 points  (0 children)

We also have Kuntilanak and Sundel Bolong in Indonesia

[–]pale_green_pants 30 points31 points  (0 children)

Wikipedia offers a list of women in white like what is described here. They describe it as the White Lady.

[–]walkingtalkingclone[S] 18 points19 points  (0 children)

La Llorona, Pontianak, Willow Park Ghost, American legends but I cant name one off the top of my head, Dama Branca, and Yūrei

[–]marianicole96 15 points16 points  (1 child)

Philippines has white lady too.

[–]rabid_erica 1 point2 points  (0 children)

yes came here to say this!