A Lament For All Who Are About To Die


The Wailing Banshee

Is it a banshee or is it a ghost?

Trapped for an eternity

According to Irish mythology the Banshee, meaning ‘woman of the fairies’, is a female spirit who is usually seen as an omen of death and a messenger from the 'other' world.  She wails in the night, crying a mournful lamentation outside the house of someone who is about to die.  Banshees foretell disaster and are usually only ever heard but not seen.  Whatever her origins, the banshee chiefly appears in one of three guises; either as a young woman, a stately matron or a raddled old hag.  She usually wears either a grey, hooded cloak, a winding sheet, or a grave robe of the un-shriven dead.

There are particular families who are believed to have Banshees attached to them, and whose cries herald the death of a member of that family. Traditionally, when a citizen of an Irish village died, a woman would sing a lament (a wailing song) at their funeral.  These women singers were called ‘keeners’ and were in great demand.  Legend has it that the banshee can only cry for five major Irish families: the O'Neills, the O'Briens, the O'Connors, the O'Gradys and the Kavanaghs.

The lament would be sung by a fairy woman; having foresight, she would sing the lament when a family member died, even if the person had died far away from their ancestral home and news of their death had not yet come, so that the wailing of the banshee was the first warning the household had of the death.  It is also believed that the person who is about to die never actually hears the banshee's wails, only the other family members hear the lament.  Traditionally in Ireland, banshee's are seen as the spirit of one of the earlier generations of the family who has taken the task to warn of impending doom down the centuries and generations.




There are other stories that the banshee could also appear before the death and warn the family by wailing, usually outside their house.  When several banshees appeared at once it indicated the death of someone great or holy.  The tales sometimes recounted that the woman, though called a fairy, was a ghost, often of a specific murdered woman, or a woman who died in childbirth.


Banshees are often described as having long, fair hair which they brush with a silver comb.  The silver comb is also related to, in an old traditional romantic Irish story.  If you ever see a comb lying on the ground in Ireland, you must never pick it up, or the banshees, having placed it there to lure unsuspecting humans, will spirit such gullible humans away.

In Scotland Banshees are referred to as the Washerwoman (Bean Nighe), where she washes the blood stained clothes of those who are about to die.  In Wales Banshees are referred to as Gwarach-y-rhibyn, a hideous hag who also haunts old Welsh families.  In Ireland  Banshees have the same mythical status as fairies and leprechauns.

What do you see when you gaze into the crystal ball?


www. mysteriousbritain.co.uk/folklore/banshee.html

www. irelandseye.com/animation/explorer/banshee.html


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Page last updated: 28/9/08 ><><><