Monster Monday: Banshee

We all know about vampires and werewolves, or at least we think we do. The legends and myths that inspired these monsters are sometimes surprisingly different, but no less chilling. In this series of posts, Monster Monday, we’ll investigate the monsters that have informed our modern notions, as well as some lesser known monsters. Today, we talk about the Banshee.

Bunworth Banshee, Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland by Thomas Crofton Croker
Bunworth Banshee, Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland by Thomas Crofton Croker

In Irish folklore, a Banshee is a female spirit. The name comes from the Irish Gaelic bean sí, which means “fairy woman.” A banshee is an omen of death. Originally, the wailing or keening of a banshee could be heard by a person’s family at his or her death, even if the person died far away. In later stories, the appearance of a banshee foretells the death of a family member.

Banshees tend to attach themselves to certain families, and some of them even have names. If a particularly important person dies, the passing might be marked by the appearance of several banshees.

Most often, a banshee appears as an ugly hag, but sometimes she appears as a beautiful woman or even an animal such as a crow or a hare. The sound of her keen varies as well, from the screech of an owl to low, pleasant singing.

Unlike modern depictions, a banshee in traditional Irish folklore is not necessarily a malevolent spirit. She merely announced or foretells a death and does not actively cause it, but of course, as a member of the faerie host, she should be given a certain amount of deference.

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