The White Lady of Hoog Soeren
To further the understanding of this tale, I’ll need to introduce it with some historical and local peculiarities. The village of Hoog Soeren is most likely older than Apeldoorn; very early on there was a settlement of the first inhabitants of the ‘Vale Ouwe’ in the area, as shown by the many Germanic burial mounds found in the vicinity.
The spring at Pomphul is so ancient that Wodan himself might’ve created it. The name Pomphul stems from a later date, because the old name is Springdel, a much more interesting name than the unmotivated ‘Pomphul’. Not so long ago there wasn’t a pump to be found in the area, and the water simply welled up out of the ground.
Thanks to the spring and the well that was later dug at the Steeg (‘Alley’, where you can still find a pump even now), Hoog Soeren was an oasis in the dry wilderness of the ‘Vale Ouwe’. That well belonged to the castle that once stood at the crossroads between the Echoput, Apeldoorn, Assel, and the Dassenberg1.
When they built the gravel road, they stumbled on the cellars of the old castle and found the stone bullets which were kept in it. Folklore has it that the last inhabitant of the castle was called Straatman and that the stables must’ve stood where hotel Eik and Dal is now; that hotel got its name from the surname Eikendal, the former occupants of a large homestead in the area.
To the right of the gravel road leading from Hoog Soeren to Apeldoorn, right across from the place where the road from the Kruisjesdal2 leads onto the gravel road, there once stood a huge beech tree at the foot of a hill, well-remembered by the elders of Hoog Soeren, and usually called the Ladytree or Spinningtree.
Forever and a day that tree had stood there, since long before the time of the gravel road. The carriageway or post road used to lead around the hill. A small footpath led, to shorten the way, over the hill, which was dug through when they built the gravel road. Surrounding this place are the Germanic burial mounds.
The cart road, later known as the Hessen-road, after the ‘Hessen3 carts’, which transported goods from Hamburg to Amsterdam, led past Hoog Soeren, allowing the horses to be watered there. From Hoog Soeren the road went straight across the barren heath, where six horses were not too many to pull the creaking, heavily loaded carts; and when bad weather made the road nearly impassable, the farmers even borrowed their oxen to help the carts along. Deep grooves still show where the heavy wagons travelled across the heath. The road went on past ‘s Greevenholt and the Heidensgat4, where wild gipsies used to live who, because of their stealing and plundering, were for centuries the fright of the Veluwe.
Many a bloody battle between the wagoners and plunderers has been waged on that lonely waste. Many a heavily loaded Hessen cart was ransacked on that wild, abandoned road.
Near Millingen, the road led onto the Amersfoortse road. It was thus in ‘the good old days’, but in much, much earlier times the White Lady5 of Soeren must’ve already been there, the old folks even now telling that she used to sit there, spinning, in the old hollow tree.
Even many years before that time, in days gone by, when first the Celts and then the Saxons inhabited the Veluwe, she may have been one of the Norns or Fates, spinning the fate of the people. She may have been called Urth then. That this goddess belonged here is attested by a Gelder Charter from 855, which mentions Urthensula (pillar of Urth) in a forest in the Veluwe, once a sacred wood. Could this forest have been located here? And could that pillar have stood approximately where the Spinningtree used to stand? Who will ever know for sure? Or was this the location of the World Ash, at the foot of which the Norns spun the threads of fate?
Numerous burial mounds dot the hills around Soeren. They can be found near the place where the Spinningtree used to stand, in the Vanenbosch6 on the mountain at the foot of which lies the spring-dale with its once perhaps sacred spring, and in many other places. There the ashes of the Celts and Saxons still rest. Proud and royal the burial mounds lie on the tops of those hills. Generations of ancient oaks grew up and fell around them, and the storms of more than a thousand years have raged above them; for on the ‘Vale Ouwe’ the storms rule: when the old Thundergod is master there, when the wild rainclouds tear themselves into shreds on the treetops, when the wind howls and cries, or when all the werewolves have been set loose and Wodan himself rides his Wild Hunt through the forests, his two ravens flying ahead, his hounds making the forest shake with their howling, and the entire procession of the Old, now misjudged and driven away, gods follow him.
Then the great Elder is the grand awe-inspiring ‘Vale Ouwe’ once again, as untameable and rough as ever.
The White Lady
More than one inhabitant of Soeren was able to tell me something about the Spinningtree. That tree, so hollow that a man could stand up straight inside it, had a great opening at the bottom.
When people entered the forest at night, they could see a light burning there and hear the Lady at her spinning. Sometimes one could see a fiery-eyed black dog roam the area or hear a knocking sound come from inside the tree.
One Saturday morning, after payday, a labourer travelled from Soeren to Apeldoorn to buy his groceries. In those days, there wasn’t a store to be found in Soeren, and people preferred to go to Apeldoorn in the evening, as they didn’t have time for that during the day.
The labourer stayed in Apeldoorn longer than planned, hanging around at the inn for a while, and when the conversation turned to the White Lady of Soeren, he was inappropriately cocky about the subject. It would cost him dearly.
It was midnight by the time he went on his way home, where his wife had been waiting for him for hours. The road to Soeren was dark, very dark, as it sometimes is during starless nights, when one can only keep to the road by following the strip of light up between the treetops. He walked quickly onwards for an hour, not hearing a sound except for that of his own footsteps.
Nearing the Spinningtree, he first saw a black dog, with eyes like balls of fire, soundlessly disappear into the forest. Suddenly he received some hearty blows around his ears. He didn’t see anything, heard nothing, felt around with his firm fists, but couldn’t grab hold of a thing, all the while being beaten so, that he tumbled across the road.
Severely shaken and as pale as a corpse he finally arrived at his house, where his wife, in great fear, sat waiting for him near the last glow of the fire.
Once upon a time, it so happened that a few children were playing near the tree and a girl stuck her head in the opening, calling out: ‘White Lady, are you spinning still?’ When the girl wanted to pull her head out of the tree and quickly run away, she was stuck. The Lady held her by her hair. The child screamed and moaned awfully. When she was finally released, she came out with her face covered in scratches and bruises. The Lady had thoroughly punished her for her irreverent daring.
Still, the spinning-lady was not an angry or evil spirit. She was simply not a woman to be trifled with. To good, careful folk, she was very kind.
Treasures and Silence
At a small farmhouse in Soeren lived an old woman with her two sons and one daughter. It had been a bad year. Although both her sons were good hard-working men, the harvest had been very poor. The times were expensive. Autumn arrived with its cold gusts and the old mother became very ill. At first they’d tried some home-remedies, but her health hadn’t improved. The doctor was sent for, who came every day and prescribed expensive recipes.
The family had lost quite a lot of money even before winter arrived, so one day the two sons and the daughter conferred together, to see what could be done to save their old mother. They decided to bring the yearling to market in Apeldoorn and earn some money by selling it there.
The next day the young men left with the cow. When they passed by the Spinningtree they heard the Lady at her spinning. The two men looked at each other, and the one spoke to the other: ‘Can you hear the Lady spinning?’ ‘Yes,’ answered the other. ‘I hear it too, and can only hope it is a good sign;’ after which they silently walked on. At the market, they sold their yearling for a remarkably high price.
They bought a few delicacies for mother, and then had to wait a very long time at the pharmacy for the medicinal drink to be prepared.
So it happened that it had become dark by the time they went homewards. It was a beautiful, peaceful evening and the woods lay in a deep, secretive silence. The trunks rose up gravely and majestically. It was more solemn there than among the most precious pillars of a large quiet cathedral.
A late bird sung a quiet memory of the sun, until its song tenderly blended with the light whispering of the trees.
A white hind stood still in the forest and questioningly regarded the two men, who, both deep in thought, silently continued their way.
From afar they could see the glimmer of the lamp in the Spinningtree. The great moving magic of the sacred, silent evening-forest held their souls enwrapped, so that when they approached the tree they both took off their caps in a spontaneous greeting. They saw the White lady standing next to the tree, and both heard her say softly but clearly:
‘Deep in the Heathen’s hole
lies a buried treasure,
He who retrieves it when the moon is full,
while remaining silent, shall own it in full measure.’
Over the forest the moon shone large and awe-inspiring in the cloudless sky, like the gigantic eye of the night. The heath spread itself out towards the far horizon. The rolling hillsides rode like waves on a dark, endless ocean. In the far distance the forests of Hoog Buurloo were outlined against the sky like an island. The big full moon, which had risen as red as blood, now spread a silver light over the heath.
The two brothers, after a day of heavy labour, walked on next to each other, each carrying a spade on the shoulder.
Two black ravens flew far ahead of them, seeming to land time and time again, but always flying onwards, until they finally reached the Heathen’s hole. There the birds flew around in large circles a few times and then disappeared in the direction of ‘s Greevenholt.
When the two brothers climbed down into the large hole, a blue light showed them where the treasure lay buried, and they shivered.
The one was as much tempted as the other to hastily return home, but they didn’t want to admit it to each other and so began to dig.
As soon as they hesitantly stuck the spade into the ground for the first time, the blue light suddenly disappeared.
They grubbed for a long time and with difficulty. They took turns digging, the other resting in the meantime.
Suddenly the elder struck something hard, which resisted his spade. He’d almost called out to his brother before he remembered the command to silence. To alert his brother to the find, he struck the object three times with his spade, and, afraid that his brother would say something, jumping up in his excitement, he immediately held his finger to his lips to remind him of the command. In silence they slowly hauled up a very heavy chest.
With difficulty they’d dragged it up until it was almost over the edge of the pit, when the weight became too much for the youngest and the chest threatened to slip down again. There the eldest suddenly called out: ‘Hold it’ and at those words the entire chest and all that it contained disappeared, as if by magic, into the depths.
No matter how long they dug, until twilight and many times after, when the moon was again full, they never found a trace or shadow of the treasure, which had irrevocably disappeared into the depths.
But their mother got better soon after and lived happily among them for a long time. They satisfied themselves with this and saw it as a great wealth, which they had received after all.
From Legends of the Veluwe/Veluwsche Sagen by Gust van de Wall Perné, published in 1910-1912 by Scheltens & Giltay and translated by Eva Weggelaar
1. Springdel: Springdale, Pomphul: Pumphill, Echoput: Echowell, Apeldoorn, Dassenberg: Badgersmountain.
2. Straatman: Streetman, Eik and Dal: Oak and Dale, Kruisjesdal: Crossdale.
3. Hessen: quite a few roads, trading routes between North-Germany and the western parts of The Netherlands, are called Hessen-road (Hessenweg). There are several possible explanations for the name. Traditionally the name is thought to refer to the traders who came from the German state of Hesse. Etymologists explain the name differently, saying the word derives from ‘hers’, which means horse, or that the name refers to the broad-tracked Hessen-carts, and is unconnected to the traders from Hesse. These broad-tracked carts were not allowed on the regular roads and therefore travelled around villages and cities, forming their own routes.
4. Heidensgat: Heathen’s Hole.
5. White ladies (witte juffers, witte wieven) were seen as wise women who had changed into spirits, elves, or as the ghosts of priestesses who guarded the burial mounds. 'Witte Wieven' literally means 'White Women' but originally meant 'wise women' in dialects of Dutch Low Saxon. 'Wit' or 'witte' meant 'wise' in a way similar to the English 'witty'. They are related to the Germanic belief in disen, land wights, and elves.
6. Vanenbosch: literally Vanes-forest.