Friday, August 3, 2012

Magic Thursday - Mythical Creatures - Banshees

Better late than never I always say, so tonight, I'm belatedly extolling my love for mythical creatures by talking about the Banshee.

"You sound like a goddamn Banshee!"
Has anyone ever said this to you? No? Me either.


This phrase often follows the wailing cry of an agitated woman, so where does it come from? What exactly does it mean?

Settle down with a cup of tea and allow me to explain....


Image Courtesy: Wiki
The Banshee originally hales from Celtic mythology. The word Banshee comes from the Irish meaning 'woman of the Sidhe' (the Sidhe many of you will recognise as the Irish Fae). Similarly in Scottish mythology the creature is called the bean s├Čth or bean-nighe
Almost all mythology surrounding the Banshee indicates that it is a female spirit and an omen of death.

Image: Phantoms & Monsters
Generally dressed in white or grey robes, the Banshee (according to legend) may be seen combing her long fair hair with a silver comb, or perhaps washing bloodstains from the clothes of the person doomed to die.

Having said that, the Banshee can appear in a variety of guises. she sometimes appears as an ugly, frightening hag, but also as a stunningly beautiful woman of any age that suits her. In some tales, the figure who first appears to be a "banshee" is later revealed to be the Irish battle goddess, The Morrigan.

A Banshee announces her presence by keening, that is, a wailing cry so incredibly high in pitch that it shatters glass (is anyone else looking at Mariah Carey in a different light?!)
The deathly cry of the Banshee may be heard, even though she herself may remain unseen.

According to folk beliefs, certain families have a Banshee attached to them (lucky!) and the Banshee's cry will herald death of a member of that family. The most common surname attached to the banshee is apparently Mac, and also the Airlie clan (phew!)

Perhaps unsurprisingly the Banshee or a mythical creature of considerable likeness can be seen in a few other mythologies around the world. There is La Llorona from Mexico (the  miserable and scary spirit of a wailing woman) as well as several Banshee like myths in post colonial North America, not mentioning the Scottish and Welsh interpretations of the myth....

I also had a quick look on Amazon and searched for "Banshee" in the title, and there was a surprising number of books, romance, mythology, horror on the topic. So if you're interested there is plenty of fodder for your muse out there.
Well, that's about it for tonight and just remember, the next time someone tells you to "be quiet, you sound like a Banshee!" You can gently quip "You'd better hope not," with a level of authority on the matter.

Enjoy your weekend.

7 comments:

  1. For a minute there Nicola, I thought I'd slipped into Star Wars. :)

    It makes you wonder what purpose the Banshee filled. What good could come from knowing someone is about to die? Was it comforting for the dying to know a Banshee wailed for them?

    I like your quip, must remember that - if I ever feel the need to wail like a Banshee in company. :)

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  2. Love, love, love this post Nicola. It opens so many possibilities for story writing. I've been watching the History of Scotland and it was so violent that i could imagine the sound of wailing women haunting the highlands.
    Let's face it, who hasn't had a banshee moment?
    Best
    Cathleen

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  3. Hey Sandy, interesting question! I love the idea that the wail of the Banshee could be a comfort, knowing that someone is grieving for you and I think that would a terrific premise to use in a novel! What a sad life a Banshee must live! Seriously, if I had a file of ideas for future books (which I don't due to organisational issues), I'd file that one!

    Alas from what I've read, mythologically speaking the Banshee's wail is almost exclusively described as inspiring terror, sadly not comfort. In my Mythological Creatures Bible (fabulous book that it is,) the Banshee is actually categorised under 'Dead Creatures', and the illustration is pretty horrific. All up the Bashee (and it's various incarnations in other folklaws) is considered a malevolent or at the vary least a creature that will bring you no good.

    Thanks for your very thought provoking comment! Love it.

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  4. I love your posts on mythological creatures, Nicola! The Banshee is a fascinating one and I especially love her connection to The Morrigan. Then again I'm very partial to everything goddess related!!!

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    1. Thanks Christina, I do love mythology! I know, I thought the link with The Morrigan was particularly cool too. If I'd had more time to research, I'd have dug up some of the folklaw about it!

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  5. Again, another fantastic post on the mythical. Thanks, Nicola.

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