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  • Writer's pictureMallie Fox

You Say Banshee, I Say Bean Nighe

I thought that I would dedicate this blog to the poor souls who woke up this morning fighting a slight hangover while still wearing their “Kiss Me I’m Irish” t-shirts with smeared St. Patty’s Day tattoos on their cheeks, and fuzzy, green tongues reminiscent of the endless pitchers of green beer.

The Irish Banshee, also known as Bean Nighe in Scotland, is typically known as a fore-teller of death or a messenger from the Other-world. She appears in a variety of forms. The most common is an ugly, very frightening hag, clothed in grey or white. Some other sightings have described her as a washing maid with a blood stained apron, or as a beautiful young woman.

It is said that she also takes on the form of animals associated with witchcraft such as hares, weasels and/or crows.

She is not always seen, but her haunting wail can be heard. Her crying has been described several ways depending in what part of Ireland or Scotland the story is told.

The wailings have been reported to be a low, beautiful, melancholy singing, “the sound of two boards being struck together”, or “a thin, screeching sound somewhere between the wail of a woman and the moan of an owl”.

If the wailing of a Banshee is heard, it symbolizes death of a family member. If the haunting wail is heard three days in a row, then it warns the entire family will soon die.

One well known documented case of an encounter with a Banshee appears in the Memoirs of Lady Fanshaw.

In 1642 her husband, Sir Richard, and she chanced to visit a friend, the head of an Irish sept, who resided in his ancient baronial castle, surrounded with a moat. At midnight she was awakened by a ghastly and supernatural scream, and looking out of bed, beheld in the moonlight a female face and part of the form hovering at the window. The distance from the ground, as well as the circumstance of the moat, excluded the possibility that what she beheld was of this world. The face was that of a young and rather handsome woman, but pale, and the hair, which was reddish was loose and disheveled.The dress, which Lady Fanshaw’s terror did not prevent her remarking accurately, was that of the ancient Irish. This apparition continued to exhibit itself for some time, and then vanished with two shrieks similar to that which had first excited Lady Fanshaw’s attention.

In the morning, with infinite terror, she communicated to her host what she had witnessed, and found him prepared not only to credit, but to account for the superstition. “A near relation of my family,” said he, “expired last night in this castle. We disguised our certain expectation of the event from you, lest it should throw a cloud over the cheerful reception which was your due. Now, before such an event happens in this family or castle, the female specter whom you have seen is always visible. She is believed to be the spirit of a woman of inferior rank, whom one of my ancestors degraded himself by marrying, and whom afterwards, to expiate the dishonor done to his family, he caused to be drowned in the moat.”

In strictness this woman could hardly be termed a Banshee. The motive for the haunting is akin to that in the tale of the Scotch “Drummer of Cortachy “where the spirit of the murdered man haunts the family out of revenge, and appears before a death.*

* Scott’s Lady of the Lake, notes to Canto III (edition of 1811)

Now, if you’re thinking to yourself that you’re safe from Banshees because you live in the States, well my friends, you are wrong. There are reports of Scottish Banshees in West Virginia and along the Ohio River. So beware!

Sending you lots of paranormal love,

Mallie Fox~

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