March 3, 2013
Yet another creature from the lovely country of Ireland, I give you, the Banshee!
The banshee is another well known creature of folklore, though she is often mistaken as a malevolent spirit.
According to the tales, a banshee is a fey woman who begins to wail if someone is about to die. In later versions, the banshee might appear before the death and warn the family by wailing, in attempts to save them. When several banshees appeared at once, it signaled the death of someone great or holy. The tales didn't always portray her as a fey. She is often thought of as a ghost, usually either a murdered woman, or a mother who died during childbirth. In Scottish Gaelic mythology she is known as the bean sìth or bean-nighe and is seen washing the blood-stained clothes or armour of those marked for death. Alleged tales of banshees appearing have been reported as late as 1948, and as far back as far as 1380, with the publication of the Cathreim Thoirdhealbhaigh (Triumps of Torlough) by Seean mac Craith.
The story of the banshee began as a fairy woman keening at the death of important people, and in later stories, the appearance of the banshee could predict death. Banshees are said to wail only for particular Irish families, though which families made it onto this list vary depending on who is telling the story. Most, though not all, surnames associated with banshees have the Ó or Mac prefix, such as O'Malley, or MacCormack.
The banshee can appear in a variety of forms, though most often she appears as an ugly, frightening hag. However, she can also appear as a stunningly beautiful woman, and in some tales, the figure who first appears to be a "banshee" is later revealed to be the Irish battle goddess, the Morrígan. Banshees are often described as dressed in white or grey, having long, pale hair which they brush with a silver comb. This comb detail is also related to the centuries-old traditional romantic Irish story that, if you ever see a comb lying on the ground in Ireland, you must never pick it up, or the banshees, having placed it there to lure unsuspecting humans, will spirit such gullible humans away.
Although not always seen, her mourning call is heard easily across the land, normally at night when someone is about to die. In 1437, King James I of Scotland was approached by an Irish seer who was later identified as a banshee who foretold his murder at the instigation of the Earl of Atholl. Banshees are usually only witnessed by a person who is about to die in a violent way, such as murder.
Just like the changeling, there are countless variations on this heartbreaking soul. In parts of Leinster, she is known as the bean chaointe (keening woman) whose wail can shatter glass. In Kerry, Ireland, her keen is experienced as a "low, pleasant singing". In Tyrone, as "the sound of two boards being struck together", and on Rathlin Island as "a thin, screeching sound somewhere between the wail of a woman and the moan of an owl".
Whichever variation you choose to support, if you hear a wail in the night, think twice before investigating the noise.
And as always, if any of you have tales or experiences of your own involving any of these beasties, please post said stories on the monsters' respective pages!!