Considering the trouble I had finding examples of ghosts from the orange/yellow part of the spectrum, it came as a relief to find myself in the more familiar landscape of the green-clad Gentry, in an embarrassment of verdant riches.
Green is decidedly the color of the uncanny; think of the Green Children of Saint Martin’s Land, the sinister leafy masks of the Green Man, the beheaded-yet-living Green Knight of Sir Gawain, Little Green Men…. On mortals, however, it was not a good look, for the Fae were said to be territorial about their favored color.
Green is worn by the fairy folk, for green is the colour of eternal youth, and they guard it jealously against presumptuous mortals. There was a curious instance of this superstition in a Cornish fishing village a year or two ago. “I’ve seen Miss A. in a green dress,” said an old villager; “she’ll be wearing black before many weeks are out! I’d never let none of my maidens wear green.” And sure enough, within a month, Miss A. was in mourning. The Occult Review February 1922: p. 91- 92
Even in the 1930s, the belief was still current among those of Scottish heritage:
GREEN IS FAIRY-LIGHT
Our Old Country folk carried many a poetic belief to the new lands, sometimes to fit in rather well with primitive popular fancy. The other day a Wellington woman paid a visit to an old Scottish acquaintance, a Western Highlands dame of eighty-six. The visitor was wearing a new all-green dress. “My dear,” said the old lady, “you shouldn’t be wearing that dress. You must always wear a bit of blue or some other colour with it.” “Why?” was the natural inquiry. “Because,” the Highland woman explained, “green is the colour of the little folks. They are always dressed in green, and it is not right or lucky to wear exactly what they wear. When you go home you should alter it. Meanwhile”—and she pinned a marigold posy on her friend’s dress.
The old lady was not joking, as she told her friend; she was brought up with a faith in all manner of fairy lore, and it persisted through a long life…. I have read of a small lake in the hills of the Isle of Skye which is deep green in hue, and the people say that the fairy folk wash their garments in it, hence the colour. Auckland [NZ] Star, 15 June 1935: p. 8
Green was the quintessential fairy color, but in contrast to the stories above of fairies being jealous of mortals wearing green, this account suggests that the color could be used by occultists as a protective charm against them.
In the British Museum is such a formula contained in the Papyrus of Nesi Amsu, a Scribe of Amen Ra (No. 10188), dated in the twelfth year of Pharaoh Alexander, the son of Alexander (i.e. Alexander II), about B.c. 312, almost every detail of which may be paralleled from the witchcraft trials. It must be recited over the name of Apophi, written in green ink on new papyrus, and over a wax figure of Apophi inscribed with his name in green ink. This green ink was for some time a puzzle to me, for the black magical rituals mostly prescribe the writing of names in blood, usually the blood of a crow, but occasionally of other birds or beasts. But an old minister from the western islands, a great Gaelic scholar, knowing that I was curious in such matters, showed me an ancient Gaelic MS. of fairy lore, wherein it was said that one may perhaps be afflicted by ill-disposed fairies, and for remedy thereof a certain fairy name should be written in green, the same being the fairy colour, and if this were buried by the doorstep of the afflicted person the fairies would be unable to attack him. The Occult Review August 1917: p. 77-78
Green was one of the tints of the underworld. It was also the color of the Cu Sith, the death-dealing Scottish fairy dog and was sometimes worn by the Banshee and other messengers of Death, such as “The Green Laddie” of Fyvie Castle.
Among those who have suffered in this manner are Lord and Lady Leith, who, when they acquired Fyvie Castle, in Aberdeenshire, were disposed to ridicule the idea that it was accounted unlucky. Lady Leith is an American woman, a daughter of D. A. January of St. Louis, and her husband, after retiring from the British navy, established himself in business in this country, and made a large fortune in Chicago as president of the Joliet, the Illinois, and the Federal Steel Companies, before returning to his native land to buy Fyvie Castle. All sorts of legends cluster round the latter, including that of the Trumpeter of Fyvie, whose unhappy love for Annie Tifty, the miller’s daughter, has furnished the themes of so many poems.
The Trumpeter’s tragic death, which is said to have caused even the very stones to weep, led to the imposition of a curse upon the castle by that master of magic and spells, Thomas the Rhymer, who, angered beyond measure at the disposition of the lord of the castle to ridicule the idea that stones could weep, declared that the ownership of Fyvie should never pass from father to son until the third of three stones known as “The Weeping Stones” was recovered. One of the stones is built into the castle walls, where it absorbs and exudes moisture in a most curious way; another is transferred to the possession of each purchaser or tenant of the estate; while the third, which is missing, is currently believed to be lying embedded in the mud at the bottom of a terribly deep lake in a remote portion of the property. Whatever doubts may have existed in the mind of Lord and Lady Leith as to the value of this superstition were set at rest by the death of their only son Percy in South Africa during the Boer War.
Not but his parents were prepared for their bereavement. For fully twenty-four hours before the receipt of the despatches containing news that the young officer, born in America, had fallen in battle, the people of Fyvie Castle had been troubled by the appearance of the specter of the Trumpeter, known in the countryside as “The Green Laddie,” who for the last five hundred years has invariably shown himself when ever any calamity was about to overtake the owners or occupants of Fyvie. Evening Star [Washington DC] 27 January 1907: p. 9 [Other sources say that the Laddie is a Lady.]
That lyrical paranormalist, Elliott O’Donnell, told of a kindly banshee, dressed in a bright green dress, who kept a lonely boy company until, one night, she came to fetch him away. This gentleman of the Gentry, dressed in an archaic green coat, also attempted to lure away a child.
The Green Man
An old lady in Yorkshire related as follows:—My eldest daughter Betsey was about four years old; I remember it was on a fine summer’s afternoon, or rather evening, I was seated in this chair which I now occupy. The child had been in the garden, she came into that entry or passage from the kitchen (on the right side of the entry was the old parlour-door, on the left the door of the common sitting-room; the mother of the child was in a line with both the doors); the child, instead of turning towards the sitting-room made a pause at the parlour-door, which was open. She stood several minutes quite still; at last I saw her draw her hand quickly towards her body; she set up a loud shriek and ran, or rather flew, to me crying out ” Oh! Mammy, green man will hab me! green man will hab me!” It was a long time before I could pacify her; I then asked her why she was so frightened. “O Mammy,” she said, “all t’parlour is full of addlers and menters.” Elves and fairies (spectres ?) I suppose she meant. She said they were dancing, and a little man in a green coat with a gold-laced cocked hat on his head, offered to take her hand as if he would have her as his partner in the dance. The mother, upon hearing this, went and looked into the old parlour, but the fairy vision had melted into thin air. “Such,” adds the narrator, “is the account I heard of this vision of fairies. The person is still alive who witnessed or supposed she saw it, and though a well-informed person, still positively asserts the relation to be strictly true. The Fairy Mythology, Thomas Keightley, 1850: p. 308-09
The castles of Scotland positively bristle with Green Ladies, most with tragic and legendary back-stories, first recorded in the heyday of Sir Walter Scott. The Green Ladies are generally so legendary that they appear only in folklore collections, rather than in person. So it is refreshing to find several eye-witness accounts of “Green Jean” of Wemyss Castle.
My last reminiscence will be a ghost story for which I can vouch the truth.
My sister Millicent (who, as I have said married Mr. Hay Erskine Wemyss, of Wemyss Castle) herself told me the story.
There was a large party staying at Wemyss Castle for Christmas, and my sister had arranged some theatricals for Christmas evening for the amusement of her guests. She had driven out to Kirkcaldy, the nearest town in those days, to purchase several requisites for the evening’s amusement, and had not returned when what I am about to relate took place.
I ought to have begun by stating that “the ghost” of Wemyss Castle was always styled “Green Jean,” and was supposed to appear in the form of a beautiful, tall, slim lady, clad in a long gown of green that “swished” very much as she walked, or rather, glided, by. No one seemed to know her history, or, at all events, it was a subject which was to be avoided.
But to my story.
Everything had been prepared for the theatricals, which were to take place in a large room, which was then used as a dining-room. A stage had been placed at the further end, and a curtain was hung in readiness. It must be noted that there was a small room which led from the stage, its door being in front of the curtain, and in view of everybody. This door was kept shut, the room being generally used by the butler to keep glasses, &c., in. At the time it was perfectly empty.
On the afternoon in question, two girls, my sister’s eldest daughter and a girl friend, were sitting over the fire. It was a cold, wet afternoon, and though it was late, except for the fire, which was a roaring one in an enormous fireplace, there was no light; the room was shut up and the candles were not yet lit.
My niece and her friend were talking over the coming theatricals. Nothing could be heard but their two voices, and the violent rain which was pouring against the window. Suddenly a rustling sound smote their ears, as if coming from the stage. They looked up; the curtain, however, remained down. But presently it was gently pushed aside to make room for the entry of a tall, pale-looking lady dressed in green, who held a sort of Egyptian lamp (lit).
The lady took no notice of either of the girls, but, holding the lamp well in front of her, she walked calmly (her long gown “swishing” after her as she went) up to the door, before mentioned, in front of the curtain. She opened it, passed into the room, and closed it noiselessly. My niece was much excited. She sprang to the door, and taking the handle in her hand she called out to her companion, “Get a candle quickly; there is no way out of the room into which she is gone, and it is quite dark.” The other girl hurriedly brought a light and ran to the door. They opened it. It was pitch dark–no sign of the Green Lady. To their amazement she had disappeared into space.
Not long after my sister’s carriage was heard driving up to the door. The two girls rushed out to meet her, and told her “We have seen ‘Green Jean!'” My sister knew the effect such a report might have upon the visitors and the servants, and that it might alarm the latter so much as to spoil the arrangements and the pleasures of the evening. She was not the person herself to be alarmed at a ghost, but she feared the effects of such a report upon the others, so the story was hushed up.
Not long after my sister herself saw the Green Lady. But to relate this, I must state that my sister’s sitting-room, in which she always sat and wrote her private letters, donné-ed on the sea, into which you could easily throw a stone from the window. The door of this room was at the end of a long gallery, upon which the doors of several rooms opened. The next room to my sister’s sitting-room was her son’s sitting-room, in which he transacted all business, and that room led into his bedroom. All the doors of these rooms opened on a gallery, which looked out (or used to do so—for I have not been at Wemyss Castle for many years) on to a court-yard with a plot of grass in the middle.
On the evening of the event I am about to relate, it was, as often is the case in bonnie Scotland, a pouring wet night. My sister’s son had been out riding most of the day, and he being at that time rather delicate-chested, his mother was anxious that he should come home.
Suddenly she heard the door-bell ring, and then her son’s hasty footsteps into his sitting-room, and thence to his bedroom. Feeling much relieved, and knowing a young man’s dislike to espionage, even as regards his health, she waited quietly in her sitting-room. In about half an hour’s time, hearing no more, she put her head into his sitting-room, and walked through into his bedroom, which was lit by gas. Seeing that his wet clothes were all lying on the ground she was satisfied, and made good her way out on to the gallery, when, to her surprise, she saw, about twenty yards off, coming towards her along the gallery, a tall lady in green! Although the house was full of guests, my sister could not conceive for a moment who this lady could be, for it was some one she had never seen before.
The lady walked in a slow, dignified fashion, and seemed in no way put out at seeing another person on the gallery. For a moment my sister stared in astonishment, but in a flash she felt who it was.
“It is ‘Green Jean,'” she said to herself, “and I shall wait till she comes up to me, and then I shall walk by her side, and see what she will say.” She waited. “Green Jean” joined her, but turned her head away! My sister moved on by her side, but, as she afterwards told me, she felt tongue-tied. The figure accompanied her to the end of the gallery, and then—was gone.
My sister felt, I think, annoyed with herself for not having done or said something. But when afterwards some one rebuked her for her faintheartedness, she said truly, “I walked by her the whole length of the gallery, and I don’t think there are many who would have done that—but speak I could not.”
My Memories and Miscellanies, by The Countess of Munster [Wilhelmina FitzClarence, Countess of Munster], 1904: pp. 159-164
I think we can all agree that Millicent did well to walk even a few feet by the side of the reticent green wight…
Has “Green Jean” been seen since? And who was the “old minister from the western islands, a great Gaelic scholar” who said that he possessed a manuscript recommending green ink? Green with envy over that ms. of Gaelic fairy lore… chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com
Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog, The Victorian Book of the Dead.