What is a Banshee?
A Banshee is said to be a fairy in Irish legend and her scream is believed to be an omen of death. The scream is also called ‘caoine’ which means ‘keening’ and is a warning that there will be an imminent death in the family and as the Irish families blended over time, it is said that each family has its own Banshee!
A Banshee is a disembodied spirit and can appear in any of the following forms:
- A beautiful woman wearing a shroud
- A pale woman in a white dress with long red hair
- A woman with a long silver dress and silver hair
- A headless woman carrying a bowl of blood that is naked from the waist up
- An old woman with frightening red eyes, a green dress and long white hair
- An old woman with a veil covering her face, dressed all in black with long grey hair
Historians have traced the first stories of the Banshee to the 8th century which were based on a tradition where women sang a sorrowful song to lament someone’s death. These women were known as ‘keeners’ and since they accepted alcohol as payment, they were said to be sinners and punished by being doomed to become Banshees. According to the mythology of the Banshee, if she is spotted, she will vanish into a cloud of mist and this action creates a noise similar to that of a bird flapping its wings. Legend says that Banshees don’t cause death; they only serve as a warning of it.
Banshees – The Good & Bad
Not all Banshees are hate-filled creatures; there are some that had strong ties to their families in life and continued to watch over them in death. When they manifest themselves, these Banshees appear as beautiful enchanting women that sing a sorrowful, haunting song which is filled with concern and love for their families. This song can be heard a few days before the death of a family member and in most cases the song can only be heard by the person for whom it is intended.
On the other side of the coin we have the angry and scary Banshee that most of us are familiar with. During their lives, these women had reasons to hate their families and appear as distorted and frightening apparitions filled with hatred. The howls emitted by these Banshees are enough to chill you to the bone and rather than appearing to warn a family member, these Banshees are celebrating the future demise of someone they loathed!
Other Irish mythology stories relating to the Banshee say that she is the ghost of a young girl that suffered a brutal death and her spirit remains to warn family members that a violent death is imminent. It is said that this Banshee appears as an old woman with rotten teeth and long fingernails. She wears rags and has blood red eyes that are so filled with hate that looking directly into them will cause immediate death! This Banshee’s mouth is always open as her piercing scream torments the souls of the living.
According to some tales, there are evil Banshees that derive pleasure from taking a life and they actively seek out their victims and wail at them to the point where the person commits suicide or goes insane. There are even Banshees that can tear people to shreds and these horrific apparitions are what feature in modern day horror films. It is important to note that Banshees do not bring death however; they warn of it and give the family time to prepare for the inevitable.
No one is actually sure where Banshees get their knowledge of a person’s death from. One theory suggests that each family member has his own personal observer who follows him around and reports back to the Banshee. However, this is a belief that is slowly dying out as is the tale of the Banshee which is now regarded as nothing more than a spooky bedtime story.
Many centuries ago, belief in Banshees was more widespread in Ireland and being a disbeliever was said to be blasphemous; perhaps you have a grandparent who still holds this belief! For the rest of us, the legend of the Banshee falls into the myth and superstition category so if you are enjoying a night out in Ireland and hear a piercing scream, it is unlikely to be the Banshee offering a warning!