by Denise Golinowski
Hi! Welcome to Myth Perceptions where I explore and then share aspects of myth and legend that I have encountered in my reading and writing. Currently, I’m exploring the stories, myths and legends pertaining to fairies.
Today’s spotlight is on that original Wailer – The Banshee!
The Banshee – from the original Irish “bean sidhe” – is a fairy creature who foretells death with horrendous wailing.
Myth claims that the banshee will appear as an old woman washing bloody clothing or armor of the one who is to die. Not all banshees shriek, some are quite melodious, though I even read something about it sounding like boards being rubbed together (Everyone’s a critic!). Depending on family mythology, the banshee sometimes appears as a beautiful woman, a rabbit, a crow, a stoat or weasel (creatures associated with witchcraft BTW).
Some Irish families have traditionally claimed a banshee as their own portent of doom. One source claims that Irish families whose names begin with O’ or Mac are most often recipients of this particular honor. Another source listed five original families: O’Neills, O’Briens, O’Connors, O’Gradys, and Kavanaghs. That list has become extended through marriage.
I read that the myth of the banshee may have arisen from the lament, an ancient funeral tradition of having professional mourners, or keeners, attend funerals. A peculiar tradition, however, I suppose that the more weeping and wailing at a funeral, the more beloved the deceased was believed to have been. And if the family can’t provide enough volume, adding some choice voices to the mix helped. Also saves on the personal hypocrisy, eh? And, if you’re going to hire folks to weep and wail, why not kick it up a notch and claim that YOUR family actually has someone supernatural coming to mourn your dead? Talk about status seeking. No offense intended to the Irish banshees.
To make the shift from a funeral accompaniment to a prophetic visit, one theory offered is that since the fae have foresight, they could see the death before it occurred. Then again, in an age without instantaneous communication, the fae’s ability to see afar would let them see the death as it occurred and well before the family received official news. This would look like prophecy, wouldn’t it?
The Irish Banshee’s Scottish counterpart is the bean nighe and they appear in some American myths/folktales as well (probably carried to our shores by the arrival of Irish immigrants).
Banshees have appeared in many forms and media. From Disney’s Darby O’Gill and the Little People (Did you catch that? O’Gill) to Marvel Comics as Banshee, a MALE Irish Superhero to TV series like Charmed (Season 3, Look Who’s Barking).
Well, I think I’ll wrap it up right here. I hope you enjoyed another foray into the world of the fae and will come back next month to see where else my research has taken me.
Denise Golinowski is a reader and writer of fantasy and romance. Her enovella, Collector’s Item, is available as both print and ebook The Wild Rose Press.
Her first enovella, The Festival of the Flowers: The Courtesan and the Scholar is also available through the Wild Rose Press. You can visit her blog at Golinowski’s Gambol.