What is a Banshee?
A Banshee is a female spirit in Ireland who will wail outside a home to warn of an imminent death of a family member. Her wails are high-pitched and terrifying that nobody will dare to attempt to see her.
Banshee (bean-sidhe) means ‘Faerie woman’ or ‘woman of the Faerie mound. Many legends exist surrounding the Banshees and just how evil is she meant to be.
The legends of the Irish Banshee
The first legend is that she is the ghost of a young woman who was brutally killed and died so horribly that her spirit is left to wander the world. She watches her family and loved ones warning them when a violent death is imminent.
This particular type of Banshee appears as an old woman in rags with dirty grey hair, long fingernails and sharp-pointed rotten teeth. Her eyes are blood-red and filled with so much hatred and sorrow that to look into them will cause instant death. The Banshees mouth is permanently open as she emits a long and painful scream to torture the souls of the living.
The wailing Banshee
According to legend there are a few Banshees that relish in taking a life. She will stalk their victim wailing and screaming at them to the point that the victim goes insane or die. It has been told that the Banshee has ripped many a brave man to death with her bare hands. This is the type of Banshee portrayed in Hollywood ‘horror’ films.
Here in Ireland we have a much less gory view of the Banshee. She does attach herself to families usually with an O or a Mc in the surname such as O’Brien or McNeill etc, and she does indeed foretell a death in the family.
The Banshee does not ‘bring’ death but warns that death is near and this gives the family a chance to prepare. It is not necessarily a violent death that may occur and may even be of a family member that has lived to 106 years of age! She is considered as an escort to ensure that the loved one passes safely to the other side.
A family story of the wailing Banshee
Stories have been passed down through generations of families of ‘O’s and ‘Mc’s of their personal experiences with their own Banshee and my family are no different.
I remember being told of an uncle who was walking home one cold blustery night (probably three sheets to the wind after partaking of a snifter to keep the cold out!) and on arriving home told my grand-mother that he had tried to comfort an old woman. She was dressed in black with a veil over her face, who was crying and wailing outside the house but every time he went over to her she moved away and kept pointing at the house.
My grand-mother knew straight away what this old lady represented. She sent my uncle to bed telling him she would have a look. Needless to say she didn’t dare look herself. Three days later my grand-mothers brother died peacefully in his sleep. As children we used to plague my uncle to recount the story of the night he tried to invite the Banshee in for tea!
What does a Banshee look like?
The Banshee may sometimes only be heard keening, an Irish word used to describe the wailing that women used to do over the body of a deceased person to ward off evil spirits. When the Banshee decides to appear she may take the form of the following:
- An old woman dressed in black with long grey hair and covering her face with a veil.
- An old woman with long white hair, red eyes and dressed in a green dress.
- A deathly pale woman with long red hair dressed in a white dress sometimes a shroud.
- A beautiful woman wearing a shroud.
- A beautiful woman with silver-white hair wearing a long shimmering silver dress.
- A headless woman naked from the waist up and carrying a bowl of blood.
Of course no-one wishes a visit from a Banshee no matter how alluring she is but she does serve a purpose to the family by letting them know that they should start making preparations for a traditional funeral.