The Banshee: An Irish Legend
Myth, Superstition, and Legend
Most of us have heard of the legend of the Banshee. Close your eyes and picture it. What sort of image does that word bring about? What does your mind see? A floating, misty figure howling through the woods? An evil, hag-like creature screaming into the night? Well, you are partly right. There is so much more to the story than that. The Banshee is a rich, interesting myth of a much more superstitious time, in what is still a superstitious land.
Ireland is rich with stories and myths of fairies, ghosts, leprechauns, and other strange things. None of these inspire fear the way a Banshee does when the word crosses someone's lips. We imagine unearthly howls in the forest on a dark night. The truth can be that scary, but there is more to the stories than an angry, screaming woman in the woods.
So, What Is a Banshee?
A Banshee is called many things and goes by many names. Some other terms include Banshi, Benshee, a female fairy, Woman of Peace, Lady of Death, the Angel of Death, the White Lady of Sorrow, the Nymph of the Air, or the Spirit of the Air.
Whatever you call her, she is one thing, and one thing alone. A Banshee is a disembodied spirit; a ghost, in other words. Some Irish believe that the souls of the departed do not get taken from this earth, but dwell here, and are often tied here. They either enjoy the happiness of a life well-lived, or if during their life, they lived a life of sin, they were forced to suffer punishment. The spirits of the bad are restrained; forced to pay for their sins in areas near where these sins were committed.
Banshees are spirits still tied to earthly matters. They are said to attend only to the old families. Banshees are believed to follow the family, either with good intent or ill, until every last descendant has died and been buried. Though it is said that a Banshee will not follow family members to foreign lands, instead sticking to the lovely shores of Ireland. They either had strong ties to their family, and a desire in death to watch over them, or in life, they had reasons to hate their family. This gives us two distinct types of Banshees.
Caspernia, the Friendly Banshee
OK, so I kid a little with the title there.
A 'friendly Banshee' is one who in life, had strong ties to her family, and in death, felt the need to watch over them, and keep close to them. A friendly Banshee is not the horrible, scary thing we imagine. Banshees are rarely seen, but are said to, at times, show themselves. Kind Banshees are said to be seen as young, beautiful women, with pale faces, either black or golden hair, and long, flowing, white garments.
The song, because that is what it really is, of a friendly Banshee is sorrowful and longing. It is filled with love and concern for those she loves. It is a warning to her loved ones.
It is believed that a Banshee's song can be heard in the few days leading up to the death of a family member. The wails, or songs, are most often heard at night, and fairly often, the song is only heard by the one whom the warning is intended for. A Banshee sings her song in warning to her family of the death of a beloved family member.
A Not So Friendly Warning
On the other end of the spectrum is a Banshee that we are all a little more familiar with. Remember that image you had in your head of a Banshee? This is a lot more in line with that.
A 'hateful Banshee' in life, had reasons to hate her family, and in death, is a dreaded visitor by the members of the family against which she has hate or anger. She is seen as ugly and twisted, with distorted features, and hate pouring from every line on her face. The screaming howls of a hateful Banshee are enough to make your blood run cold. Imagine the scariest witch, from the scariest movie you've ever seen. Now make her even uglier, scarier, and screaming unearthly howls at you, on a dark night.
Rather than provide warning of the death of a family member, a hateful Banshee is screaming in spiteful, hateful celebration as a member of the family meets his or her end. It may come as a warning, but a dire, frightening warning.
A Belief Fades
No one is sure how a Banshee obtains her prophetic knowledge, though there are theories out there. Some believe that each family member has a silent attendant, an observer, who follows them and reports information back to the Banshee. This is not a widely held belief, and belief in Banshees altogether is fading.
At one time, Banshees were held in regard as a firm belief, and to not believe was blasphemous. With the passage of time, and the disappearance of numerous noble Irish names, some that have died out, and some that have gone off to other lands, the Banshee has fallen into myth and superstition.
If ever you venture to the Emerald Isle, and you happen to be out and about at night, take a listen. You may just hear the haunting song or the frightening wails of a Banshee. But, be warned, for she foretells only death.
Cry of The Banshee
© 2008 Anna Marie Bowman