Many cultures from different countries have different myths/folklores or spirits to fear or worship. This short series looks at the different ghosts from around the World! Today's ghost is the Banshee.
"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 funereal cry—
And now—it sinks into a sigh."
A Banshee is an Irish mythological creature. Banshee or (bean sidhe) means fairy woman and she is thought to be a messenger from the other side who will often sing and mourn for a person before their death. Their presence is thought to be a warning of impending death. A Banshee appears in female form while you may not see her, you will hear her wails which sound anything from screaming or shrieking to singing or crying. She indicates that there will be a death in the house and her cries are a form of mourning. Those who claim to have actually seen a Banshee say that she has red eyes because she has been crying so much. Some say she wears a long cloak and appears as a hagged old woman while to others she appears as a beautiful young woman.
The banshee first appeared in very old Gaelic legends. She is also referred to as Hag of the Mist, Little Washerwoman and Hag of the Black Head. Tradition tells us that when a local citizen of an Irish village died, a woman would sing a keen as a way of expressing their sorry at the funeral. Music itself back then was heavily connected to spirits and fairies which locals believed inhabited the woods. They said on occasion a fairy woman would begin "keening" before the news of the death of a person who had died far away had reached their family. This is thought to be connected to the 'wailing' of the banshee. Local legends tell us legend, the six noteworthy families of Ireland—the O'Neills, O'Donnells, O'Connors, O'Learys, O'Tools, and O'Connaghs—all had a woman spirit who would act as the harbinger of death for their family. She would appear before the death of someone in the family while singing a sad song. It was believed she sang such a sad song to express her grief as she was closely connected to the family. Gaelic oral traditions that were passed down for centuries were written down only in the last five hundred years. They are the most common place to find references of the banshee, such as the fourteenth century Chogaidh Gaeil are Gall.
One of the most famous stories involving an encounter with a Banshee is that of Reverend Charles Bunworth. Published in the book "Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland" by Thomas Crofton Croker and published in 1825. Residing in Buttevant Ireland, Bunworth was a very well-loved and respected Reverend all the way through to County Cork. It was due to his popularity that when he became ill in 1770, a lot of friends and family came to care for him and all witnessed some strange phenomena. It is worth noting that at this point, his illness was not yet bad enough to be thought fatal.
One night, the sound of what sounded like a sheep being sheered with clippers could be heard from the hallway. They dismissed it and didn't really think anything of it. At around 11 pm on the same night, one of the men helping to care for the Reverend came back to the house with medicine he had been sent out to get. The Reverend's daughter collected the medicine from the man and noticed he seemed quite agitated. When she asked him what was wrong, he began crying. He told her that he knew her father the Reverend was going to die even though it seemed like he wasn't that ill. She kept asking him why he felt this way and he eventually admitted as did others within the household had witnessed a Banshee.
The Reverend's daughter thought the man was drunk and he assured he that he wasn't and he had seen this creature himself. She had travelled with him for part of the journey to collect the medicine. She was singing and calling the Reverend's name which is why he had no doubt that this Banshee had come for the Reverend. Bunworth's daughter asked this man not to tell anyone else as she did not want panic to go through the house for something she did not believe to be true.
As the days progressed, it appeared that the Reverend's health declined rapidly and it seemed that maybe this man was correct in his claims that the Revered was going to die. As his health declined, more family came to help with the care of Reverend which meant his daughters could finally get a night's sleep. Their father had been moved downstairs to a parlour where his bed sat next to a window. An older lady was tending to the Reverend on this night and in the next room, there was a group of men who were good friends to the Reverend. The kitchen was full of people as well so there were quite a lot of people around to witness what happened next.
It was fairly quiet outside until a rose tree suddenly moved by a seemingly unknown force and made a loud noise against the window. They then heard what sounded like a low moaning and hands clapping. The sound of a woman in mourning. Two of the men went outside to investigate what was happening. They noted the rose tree had still been moved - pushed to one side by some unseen force, even though no one was standing next to it. They walked the perimeter outside of the house and could not find anyone outside. In fact, they couldn't hear these moaning sounds outside. When they returned inside to tell everyone there was no one outside and no noises, they were informed that inside the house, there was the sound of loud singing and wailing the entire time they were outside. The singing and the wailing and the clapping continued and became louder and louder. This went on for hours terrifying everyone inside until finally, the Reverend took his last breath and the illness had overcome him. The sounds then stopped.
Of course like other entities from the Ghosts of the World series, the Banshee has her own place in the World of Pop culture. Outside of old folklore, there are little to no references of the banshee, however she has seemed to have popped up again over recent years. From appearing in the popular game Phasmaphobia through to the Witcher, they contain variations on the folklore of the Banshee. While the story of their strengths, weaknesses and motivations varies depending on where it appears, the general concept of a traumatised female ghost dressed in white with long hair who often screams or wails is the common theme here. While the Banshee is the Irish iteration, I can't help but draw comparisons to La Llorona - the weeping woman from Mexican folklore. The Banshee was said to not be geographically written about outside of Ireland and Scotland yet we hear similar stories all over the World that go by different names - such as La Llorona. Are they all one and the same?
Much like the Draugr and Onryō these entities aren't really heard of in modern-day hauntings beyond the old stories that stem from folklore. I also have to make reference here to the typical sad/traumatised woman dressed in white with long hair. We have all heard of stories of a lady in white and I can't help but wonder why it is that she is always traumatised or even out for revenge in all of the stories. Is it a representation of how women were viewed during these times? Is it because it just makes a good story? We all know that spirit interaction doesn't necessarily have to be negative, yet we rarely hear in the literature about the positive visitations people claim they have with spirits. From Onryō, La Llorona through to the Banshee, these form a general perception of what many people believe a female spirit to be. Paranormal television shows often depict this as well because it adds to the storytelling and entertainment factor.
Ultimately what is becoming even clearer as we dive deeper into this series is that we can't ignore the fact our modern-day belief in the paranormal is somewhat rooted in pop culture. Ironically it all stems from folklore so in some ways we do have modern interpretations of these entities which have somewhat all morphed together no matter geographical location, just not necessarily by the name and original folklore in which they began.
If you would like to read first-hand accounts, here is a public domain version of FAIRY LEGENDS AND TRADITIONS OF THE SOUTH OF IRELAND BY T. CROFTON CROKER.
Ghosts of the World: Draugr
Ghosts of the World: Onryō
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