Since ancient times colors have had deep symbolism. Today I want to look at the symbolism of the color white, and its association with the supernatural! In ancient Celtic tales white was a symbol of faeries. This symbolism of white with faeries and the Faery realm carried over into Arthurian legends. More modern books have been written that utilize white as an element of the supernatural, as well. In particular I would like to point out the use of white in Lisa Jane (L.J.) Smith’s novel series The Vampire Diaries (upon which the CW television show was based). The television show did not contain the symbolism, so I will focus on the novels here.
In ancient Celtic lore faerie animals could often be detected by them being white. Rhiannon rides upon a white horse when Pwyell first sees her, and this showed her link with the Faery realm. Blodeuwedd turned into a white owl as punishment. Swans, which are primarily white animals, are very often linked to faeries. This is where we get all the fairytales containing swans. Those swan fairytales also utilize the color white in many of the same ways. Lewis Carroll tapped into white being a color of the supernatural in animals when he chose to make his rabbit white in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland! All of the stories that have white animals being supernatural are rooted in the archetypal knowledge of the ancient Celtic lore!
In Arthurian legend white as a usage for the supernatural can be seen often in names. Most importantly Guinevere’s name is derived from the Welsh originally, and means something like “The White Fay” of “The White Enchantress.” White is a symbol in Arthurian legends of both the holy and the otherworldly. Connecting Guinevere to the supernatural color white shows that she was in fact likely a faerie bride. I have discussed by opinion that Guinevere is a faerie bride to Arthur many times on this blog. The connection to her name and the color white, and faeries in general, are further examples of the Celtic tradition of a king marrying the land by marrying faerie women and sovereignty goddesses. For those who have read The Mabinogion it is easy to see the parallels to Blodeuwedd. Blodeuwedd also was a faerie/sovereignty goddess married to a king to cement his kingship. She was also an unhappy bride who fell in love with another. Blodeuwedd’s story differed in that she was literally made of flowers, and that she plotted to kill her husband. Guinevere did not do those things of course, but they both have things in common.
Finally I want to look at the usage of white in L.J. Smith’s The Vampire Diaries series of novels. In the early novels we see many white animals, a kitten, a snowy owl, and a tiger. In the third novel we learn that these animals are in fact Katherine taking on animal forms. In the novels Smith allowed her vampires to have animal forms. This was never utilized in the series that was inspired by these books. The fact that Katherine, who was an old vampire, would take on forms of specifically white animals shows her connection to the supernatural, and it continues the Celtic white animal trope. Often times the character Katherine is also depicted as wearing white, a symbolism of her supernatural status. Her bird form of a white owl also connects her to Blodeuwedd, and interestingly Smith would use Blodeuwedd as a character in the sixth novel! The hierarchy of the Dark Dimension (and other dimensions) in the novel also used a lot of color symbolism. The character of Damon was tied to black much like Katherine was tied to white. Damon could turn into a crow and a black wolf! I found the symbology used in this series to be brilliant!
The color of white has long been used to show an otherness, whether good or bad. I hope you have enjoyed my analysis of the color white used in tales of the supernatural. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is “Blodeuwedd in Bloom” by Selina Fenech. I found the image on journeyingtothegoddess.wordpress.com.
- The Mabinogion translated by Sioned Davies
- Le Morte D’Arthur by Thomas Malory
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
- The Vampire Diaries (series) by L.J. Smith