#FolkloreThursday, Banshee, Celtic folklore, Faerie, Faeries, folklore, folklore creatures, Irish folklore, preview of work, Ronel Janse van Vuuren, Scottish folklore, short story, Stories on Scrolls, Teen Wolf, Wattpad, writing
Though the Banshee isn’t as well-known as some other wraiths and death omens, she is scary and interesting.
In Teen Wolf, Lydia screams a lot and has visions of the future – a witch told her that’s she’s “the wailing woman”.
Banshees on Teen Wolf can hear voices in their heads. Often this leads them, subconsciously, to murder scenes. They sometimes write or draw messages from the voices subconsciously.
While they get early indications that someone is going to die, their ability lacks precision and the banshees seen on show to date don’t seem to be in complete control of their abilities.
Banshees on Teen Wolf do not appear to be supernatural. Chris Argent explains in Maid of Gevaudan that banshees have a connection to the supernatural but are not controlled by it. For example, Lydia can cross Mountain Ash barriers which no supernatural creature on the show can cross, and she remains unaffected by kanima venom and the bite of an Alpha werewolf.
But the true Banshee is much more fascinating and her story is steeped deep in folklore.
“Banshee (or Bean-Sidh) is an Irish omen of death in the form of a weeping, wailing spirit, described, in the seventeenth-century Memoirs of Lady Fanshawe, as ‘a woman in white… with red hair and pale and ghastly complexion:… to me her body looked more like a thick cloud than substance.’
Tales of the Scottish banshee depict the banshee as deformed. In Popular Tales of the West Highlands (4 vols, 1860-1862), JF Campbell describes an old mill that is haunted by a banshee:
She was sitting on a stone, quiet, and beautifully dressed in a green silk dress, the sleeves of which were curiously puffed from the wrists to the shoulder. Her long hair was yellow, like ripe corn; but on nearer view, she had no nose.”
“Another guise of the banshee in Scottish and Irish folklore is as the bean nighe, or washer woman, who is to be found beside lonely streams washing blood from the clothes of those soon to die. On the Island of Skye the bean nighe is said to be ‘squat in figure and not unlike a small pitiful child,’ according to JG Campbell’s Superstitions of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland (1900).”
“Meaning ‘weeper’, caoineag is one of the names of the Scottish banshee. Her wail, heard in the darkness at a waterfall, heralds catastrophe for the clan. She is heard, but never seen.”
“Bozaloshtsh, a banshee-like spirit in Wend folklore of eastern Germany. Like the Irish banshee, she is an omen of impending death and weeps in lament beneath the window of those about to die.”
– More can be read in The Element Encyclopedia of Fairies by Lucy Cooper.
Obviously, the banshee is scary and finds her way around the world. Though, she’s more a creature of Celtic folklore.
In Scotland the banshee is portrayed as a hag, an ugly crone. However, in Ireland she is commonly depicted as a beautiful woman. She often has burning eyes of red dressed in green with a cloak of grey (McKillop, 1998). The banshee has three guises that are maiden, matronly mother, and the wizened witch-like hag, that is dressed in either white, green, red or grey. These guises are those of the aspects of the triple Celtic goddess of death and war known as Badbh, Macha, and Mar-Rioghain (Morrigan). The banshee is seen as a powerful spirit casting her spells as a ‘queen of the fairies’ in South Munster where she is called Chiadhna or Cleena (Joyce, 1871). In Leinster she is bean chaointe or ‘keening woman’.
In Scottish Gaelic the Bean nighe (a specific type of bean sith, plural muathan nighe), like the banshee, is a fairy ‘washerwoman’ who is an omen of death (Campbell, 2005). The bean nighe is sometimes called the ban nigheachain or ‘little washerwoman’ or nigheag na h-ath, the ‘washer at the ford’. The Welsh banshee is known as the Gwrach-y–Rhilyn or Cyoeraeth is a spirit hag depicted as an ugly woman whose wailing is a sign of impending death. Popularly known as the ‘Hag of the Mist’ she is often invisible, but can be seen beside misty streams and crossroads (Evans-Wendt, 1990). The bean sith or bean sidhe is often referred to as the ‘Washer at the Ford’, seen near isolated streams washing the blood from the grave-clothes of those about to die (Campbell, 2005), as well as confused with the ‘White Ladies’ of folklore. Thus the washerwoman bean nighe with long fair hair.
Stories of the Banshee have been passed on through the generations for centuries. Some say that the Banshee is the ghost of a young woman who was brutally killed and died so horribly that she now watches families and loved ones warning them of an impending death.
According to Legend, the Banshee can also take on many forms. However, in Ireland, she has been most commonly seen as either a beautiful, young woman with long, flowing silver/white (sometimes red) hair or as an old woman in rags with dirty grey hair, long fingernails and sharp-pointed rotten teeth. Both descriptions also give the Banshee eyes which are noticeably red from crying so much.
A banshee, or Bean Sidhe, is a fairy from Irish folklore whose scream was an omen of death. Her thin scream is referred to as “caoine,” which translates to “keening.” It is said that a banshee’s cry predicts the death of a member of one of Ireland’s five major families: the O’Grady’s, the O’Neills, the O’Briens, the O’Connors or the Kavanaghs. Over time as families blended, it was said that most Irish families had their own banshee. It is also said that the banshees followed their families as they emigrated from Ireland to other places across the globe, though some stayed behind to grieve at the original family estate.
Various versions of the banshee have been described, from a woman with long, red hair and very pale skin to an older woman with stringy, gray hair, rotten teeth and fiery red eyes. She is often depicted with a comb in her hair and this has led to an Irish superstition that finding a comb on the ground is considered bad luck. It is believed that a single banshee can take on any of these forms and shift between them, much like the goddesses of Celtic folklore. Other forms of the banshee include the Bean Nighe and the washer woman, both more attributed to Scotland than Ireland. The Bean Nighe is said to be the ghost of a woman who died during childbirth and would be seen wearing the clothes of the person about to die while the washer woman is dressed like a countrywoman and is cleaning bloody rags on a river shore.
The Banshee’s arguably the most famous ghost of them all, and probably the least understood.
“When the Banshee calls she sings the spirit home. In some houses still a soft low music is heard at death.” – George Henderson 1911 (Survivals in Belief Amongst Celts)
There’s an Irish tradition promoting the Banshee as over ever interacting with certain families. Although folklorists have also made this statement in the past, it’s entirely false. The Banshee’s known by many different names, was encountered in many varied forms, and was believed to have existed by a wide array of people.
In Ireland, the Banshee is also called Banshie, Bean Sidhe, and Ban Side amongst other names. A great deal of surviving Banshee lore comes from outside Ireland, however. In Scotland, for example, the Banshee may be referred to as Ban Sith or Bean Sith. On The Isle of Mann she’s called Ben Shee, while the Welsh call her close sister Cyhyraeth.
“Banshee: A female wraith of Irish or Scottish Gaelic tradition thought to be able to foretell but not necessarily cause death in a household.” – James MacKillop (Oxford Dictionary of Celtic Mythology)
In the 1887 book Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms and Superstitions of Ireland by Lady Wilde, we’re told that the Irish Banshee was more likely to be beautiful, while the Scottish Banshee was more likely to appear in the image of an older crone-like woman. Like most things in Celtic lore, however, this wasn’t always consistent.
The Banshee would usually warn of death by: wailing, appearing as an apparition, playing or singing music, tapping on a window in the form of a crow, be seen washing body parts or armour at a stream, knocking at the door, whispering a name, or by speaking through a person that she had already possessed – a host or medium. The noble families of Ireland generally viewed the spirit’s attendance as a great honour.
Whatever her origins, the banshee chiefly appears in one of three guises: a young woman, a stately matron or a raddled old hag. These represent the triple aspects of the Celtic goddess of war and death, namely Badhbh, Macha and Mor-Rioghain.) She usually wears either a grey, hooded cloak or the winding sheet or grave robe of the unshriven dead. She may also appear as a washer-woman, and is seen apparently washing the blood stained clothes of those who are about to die. In this guise she is known as the bean-nighe (washing woman).
Traditionally, banshees have been thought of as messengers of death who roam Ireland and the nearby Islands. So if you’re traveling to those parts, and you hear a piteous moan in the deep of the night, beware, especially if you have Irish ancestry. According to legend, every Irish family has their very own banshee that warns them of an impending death.
Tales of banshees can be traced to the early eighth-century. Even today, belief in banshees is widespread in Ireland.
But in mythology, the banshee was linked to the fairies as being part of the mystical race, Tuatha De’Dannan, which the fairies descended from.
It just shows that though the banshee is a commonly known figure, the familiar specter remains steeped in mystery, and there are many theories to account for banshee sightings.
Some even speculate that the banshee is some type of devil or demon-like creature who wails for the souls that are lost to her as they ascend to heaven. It has also been suggested that banshees are familial guardian angels, the souls of unbaptized children, or even the souls of women who committed the sin of pride in life.
The Irish aren’t the only ones who have these ghastly harbingers of death. In Scotland, the folks dreaded the feared “bean-nighe,” a spectral washing woman, thought to have died in childbirth. In death, the poor soul is often seen near bodies of water, washing the shrouds of those who are soon to die. Though, like the Irish banshee, the bean-nigh is a frightful apparition who sings sad dirges and wails hideously, if questioned, the entity will tell passersby who it’s waiting to take to the afterlife.
One of the most enduring myths of the Irish people is that of the Banshee. According to legend, the Banshee floats through the forests of Ireland in the dead of night, wailing and keening. Traditionally, the Banshee is depicted as a female ghost or spirit.
She has other names, too, such as The White Lady of Sorrow, or the Woman of Peace. The Banshee cries her frightening, haunting cries to warn human beings of impending death to hear her doleful voice is to know that someone will soon pass to the other side.
Banshees are believed by some to be spirts of nature or pre-Christian Gaelic deities. In Theosophy and in Celtic Christian religion, they are commonly called “fallen angels”. In English, they are described as a “fairy” or “fairy woman”.
Apparently in terms of clothing, she either wears a grey, hooded cloak or a grave robe meant for the unshriven dead. Those who were not allowed to find “absolution”. Banshee usually come in three of many forms, the first being a young woman, the second being a rich middle-aged lady or matron, and the third being of a fraglie old woman. Another being, the bean-nighe (washing woman). In this form, she is apparently seen washing the bloodstains out of the fated person clothes.
The quality of her voice varies to region to region. Some describe it as ‘low and pleasant’ which can be used to comfort people or generally just to make them feel good and others as ‘a mix of a wail of a woman and a moan of an owl’ which can hypnotize many. Some also take to singing songs to do the work, and put power into it without changing the sound.
Banshees also appear in places where there is great sorrow and pain.
Banshee mythology began centuries ago in the Celtic isles of Ireland, Scotland, and Great Britain. Primarily known now as an Irish fairy creature, the Banshee legend has been passed down through generations due to its consistent haunting quality. A banshee is a ghostly woman whose high pitched screams prophesy the death of someone soon to come. These ghostly screams are almost always heard at night and are said to sound like a blend between a woman’s scream and a night creature’s wail. It is said that if you hear the wail of a banshee then someone close to you, or possibly yourself, will soon meet their end.
There isn’t a lot of detail about banshees in Celtic mythology, mostly because it is rare for anyone to actually see one. The vast majority of what we know about these mythical creatures come from what they sound like, not what they look like. Those who have seen a banshee usually describe them as a thin, old woman wearing a traditional burial robe (typically given to those people with no family or religious identification) which is often torn and tattered. They have wild, uncombed hair and wrinkled skin. Banshees appear in non-corporeal form (they have no physical body), and their ghostly visages can float several feet above ground and pass through solid objects.
I took all of this and created my own version of the Banshee for my stories.
Banshee [The Origin of the Fae page]
The Banshee is a wailing wraith usually clad in green. she can have either red or blonde hair which floats around her. she is strikingly beautiful despite her incessant bawling.
Once she is banished (usually by a stronger Faery) her body puffs out to resemble a cloud of smoke and her face becomes truly ghastly and terrifying, still framed by her reddish-blonde hair. she disappears in a puff of smoke.
The Banshee always tries to trick people or Faeries into thinking that they’re dying. She’ll wail until the person she haunts dies. (Running away from her can be dangerous – cliffs, trucks, various sharp objects, etc.)
though the Banshee is thought to be a harbinger of Death, she usually causes it.
I then used this creature, along with various others, in a scary story I entered into a Wattpad competition about “The night the boundaries fell”. Like all the other stories in Stories on Scrolls, The Torn Veil is dark fantasy.
“A woman in green silk dress stood wailing inconsolably at the foot of the castle they had to enter. Anja glared at her. The woman’s body puffed out to resemble a cloud and her face became ghastly, framed by her reddish-blonde hair.
‘Away, Banshee!’ she cried, walking past the creature who disappeared in a puff of smoke.” – The Torn Veil, Stories on Scrolls, Ronel Janse van Vuuren
I hope you enjoy reading the sixth tale in the series. Comments can be left here or on Wattpad – I always appreciate feedback. Where did you first hear about the Banshee? Do you know of folktales where she appears in?