Image from here.
As defined by Wikipedia: The Banshee (pronounced /ˈbænʃiː/, BAN-shee), from the Irish bean sídhe [bʲæn ˈʃiː] ("woman of the síde" or "woman of the fairy mounds") is a female spirit in Irish mythology, usually seen as an omen of death and a messenger from the Otherworld. Her Scottish counterpart is the bean shìth (also spelled bean-shìdh).
The aos sí (people of the mounds, people of peace) are variously believed to be the survivals of pre-Christian Gaelic deities, spirits of nature, or the ancestors. Some Theosophists and Celtic Christians have referred to the aos sí as "fallen angels". They are commonly referred to in English as "fairies", and the banshee can also be described as a "fairy woman".
I've heard stories about the Banshee many times throughout my life. Whether it was a campfire story, or a friends aunt trying to scare her niece and her little friends with a good old fashion ghost tale, it was mesmerizing. I loved the forewarning as much as the messengers themselves. Depending upon who was weaving the tale (and if said person had a bit too much wine at dinner) then the warning was delivered by any number of sources.
There is the clock that stops at the time of death, the bird that flies through the window or perches on the sill, candles that burn oddly or snuff out without external help such as a breeze, and numerous animals which includes the black dog or hound, but that's a story for a different post.
Even the Banshee has appeared in many forms of disguise. She can be a frighteningly ugly hag, or beautiful woman. Most Irish tales are of her in farming clothes and cloak with long hair, while Scotland lores are of a hag-like washer-woman (bean-nighe). The later could be seen washing the blood stained clothes of those about to die.
In Scotland, the "bean-nighe" or washing woman is seen by travelers around pools or fjords washing the shrouds of those who are about to die, singing a dirge or crying. The bean-nighe will tell for whom she is keening and also the fate of those travelers who would dare to ask her. The bean-nigh is thought to be the ghost of a woman who died in childbirth. The feminine gender of this grieving spirit is a theme found again in the exclusively Irish form of the "bean-si", or banshee. ~~ The Banshee, Celtic Death Messenger by C.Austin
Like her appearance, her trademark wail also varies with location and culture. There is the keening woman wail that is so piercing that it shatters glass (Hey, I can do that with my singing. Cool.). Southwest of Ireland the wail is considered to be somewhat of "low pleasant singing". There is also the reference of her sounding like "two boards being struck together", and my personal favorite, as "a thin, screeching sound somewhere between the wail of a woman and the moan of an owl". (The last one was commonly used by auntie-I-have-a-buzz-lets-freak-out-the-children.)
Why all the wailing and screeching you ask? Well, which version do you want? I'm going to go with the traditional Irish version. Both of my brothers married lovely Irish girls (I'd say lassies, but they'd kick my arse.) so it's fitting. That, and the threat of having to do every version of Banshee known to Mankind, therefore sucking the life out of my non-existent social life (I am an A-lister in my head), has me totally convinced one legend is enough for you folks.
Let's start with "keeners". I have heard of this regardless of the Banshee mythology it stems from. Did you ever go to a funeral or wake, and see the overly weepy woman ready to throw herself on the coffin? I have. Of course it was for real here not staged. There are cultures that believe your status in life was how many and how mournful your grievers were. So basically if you had the means, or "meads" back in the day, you could hire women to weep, wail, cry, sing, and pretty much create the illusion that you were of importance. They actually do this in some foreign countries still today. Hell. We do that here in the States whenever someone you have never heard of, or was two generations before you passes on.
The legendary Irish Banshee wails in close proximity to the home where the soon to be stricken lay. (Yes. I know the other tale of them wailing from a distance to a far removed relative who then makes the journey.)With assistance from my friend Answers.com
'The Banshee,' says D. R. McAnally [in his book Irish Wonders (1888)], 'is really a disembodied soul, that of one who in life was strongly attached to the family, or who had good reason to hate all its members. Thus, in different instances, the Banshee's song may be inspired by different motives. When the Banshee loves those she calls, the song is a low, soft chant giving notice, indeed, of the close proximity of the angel of death, but with a tenderness of tone that reassures the one destined to die and comforts the survivors; rather a welcome than a warning, and having in its tones a thrill of exultation, as though the messenger spirit were bringing glad tidings to him summoned to join the waiting throng of his ancest[o]rs.' To a doomed member of the family of the O'Reardons the Banshee generally appears in the form of a beautiful woman, 'and sings a song so sweetly solemn as to reconcile him to his approaching fate.' But if, during his lifetime, the Banshee was an enemy of the family, the cry is the scream of a fiend, howling with demoniac delight over the coming death agony of another of his foes.'
Wow. Lyn just keeps going & going. Whoops. That would be me.
I found this animated short while hunting today. Give it a click and take a peek. I thought it was cute, informative, and a good way to explain a Banshee without damaging a nieces friends mind.
The Banshee by Ed Bains.
Image from here.
"Who sits upon the heath forlorn,
With robe so free and tresses torn?
Anon she pours a harrowing strain,
And then she sits all mute again!
Now peals the wild funeral cry
And now... it sinks into a sigh."
If you are looking for the post on Ghouls don't worry, I have them coming up soon. I thought for sure I wouldn't find much on the creepy cretins, but no, not them. They have oodles of sites, literature, and movies dedicated to them. So, I had to push them off a bit to give them some breathing room. Ha! I made a funny. Ghouls breathing. As if! Ahem. OK. See ya next time.