A Banshee is a wailing spirit of Celtic folklore. Generally known as Banshee, Bean Sidhe (Irish), Ban Sith (Scots Gealic meaning woman for fairies) or gwarch y Rhibyn (Welsh for witch of Rhibyn).
It is claimed if the wailing of a Banshee was heard, usually at night, it foretold the imminent and unavoidable death of a relative of those unfortunate enough to hear it. This means the Banshee was not a welcome visitor to any home.
The sound of a Banshee was described as many things including a mournful wail, a desperate cry, an anguished moaning or sobbing, an unearthly scream or a lamented keen*.
*Keening is a traditional part of mourning in parts of Ireland and Scotland and consisted of wailing and moaning at the death, usually by a keening woman. She was usually hired by the family of the departed and was a more extreme version of a professional mourner. This is why a Banshee is often depicted or described as an old hag or woman.
In Ireland it was claimed the Banshee could only be heard by pure Irish descent while the Welsh gwarch y Rhibyn would only be heard by those from Welsh lineage.
Banshees may be called fairies by some but they are in fact spectres or ghosts, usually that of a murdered woman or a tragic mother who died during childbirth.
Described as a woman, usually elderly but not always, with long straggly hair in a cloak or dress with red eyes from her perpetual misery and eternal weeping, the Banshee cuts a lonely and wretched figure.
She may be unusually short, perhaps only between one and four feet, extremely tall at six feet plus in height and may have an attractively fine complexion or a deeply disfigured complexion with scars, spots and boils. Basically, a Banshee could look as beautiful or as ugly as you can imagine.
As well as wailing, a Banshee may be seen washing the blood stained clothing of those about to die with a cry that could shatter glass; such is its piercing and shrill nature.
While they are usually solitary figures appearing alone there may be times when several Banshees are seen at once, this is believed to forecast the death of someone great or deeply pious.
Whatever the reason for their appearance, the Banshee’s cries always brought fear and dread to all unfortunate enough to hear it.
© Colin Lawson Books