The banshee (IPAEng|ˈbænʃiː), from the Irish "bean sí" ("woman of the '" or "woman of the
fairy mounds") is a female spirit in Irish mythology, usually seen as an omen of death and a messenger from the Otherworld. Her Scottish counterpart is the "bean shìth" (also spelled "bean-shìdh""').
aos sí" ("people of the mounds", "people of peace") are variously believed to be the survivals of pre-ChristianGaelic deities, spirits of nature, or the ancestors. Some Theosophists and Celtic Christians have also referred to the "aos sí" as "fallen angels". They are commonly referred to in English as "fairies", and the banshee can also be described as a "fairy woman".
The term "banshee" is an anglicization of the Irish "bean sídhe" or "bean sí", or the Scots Gaelic "bean shìth", - both meaning "woman of the fairy mounds" or "woman of peace". Both names are derived from the Old Irish "ben sídhe": "bean": "woman", and "sídhe": "of the mounds". Some consider the "
bean nighe" ("washer-woman") the Scottish counterpart of the Irish banshee. However, "bean shìth" is the linguistic and mythological equivalent, appearing in a number of different roles and situations in folklore and mythology. The "bean nighe" is a specific type of "bean shìth".Campbell, John Gregorson (1900, 1902, 2005) "The Gaelic Otherworld". Edited by Ronald Black. Edinburgh, Birlinn Ltd. ISBN 1-84158-207-7 p.311: "A "bean shìth" is any otherworld woman; the "bean nighe" is a specific otherworld woman."] In Scottish Gaelic, "bean shìth" can also be spelled "bean-shìdh". "Síd" in Irish, and "Sìth" in Scots Gaelic, also mean "peace", and the fairies are also referred to as "the people of peace" - "Aos Sí" or "Daoine-Sìth".
Banshees in history, mythology and folklore
In Irish legend, a banshee wails around a house if someone in the house is about to die. 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 (in Irish: "caoineadh", IPA| [ˈkiːnʲə] or IPA| [ˈkiːnʲuː] , "caoin" meaning "to weep, to wail") at their funeral. These women singers are sometimes referred to as "keeners" and the best keeners would be in much demand. Legend has it that, for five great Gaelic families: the O'Gradys, the
O'Neills, the O'Briens, the O'Connors, 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 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.
In later versions the banshee might appear before the death and warn the family by wailing. When several banshees appeared at once, it indicated the death of someone great or holy.Yeats, W. B. "Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry" in "A Treasury of Irish Myth, Legend, and Folklore". ISBN 0-517-489904-X p.108] 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. [Briggs, Katharine, "An Encyclopedia of Fairies, Hobgoblins, Brownies, Boogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures". ISBN 0-394-73467-X p.14-16: "Banshee"]
Banshees are frequently described as dressed in white or grey, and often having long, fair hair which they brush with a silver comb, a detail scholar Patricia Lysaght attributes to confusion with local
mermaidmyths. This comb detail is also related to the centuries-old traditional romantic Irish story that, if you ever see a comb lying on the ground in Ireland, you must never pick it up, or the banshees (or mermaids - stories vary), having placed it there to lure unsuspecting humans, will spirit such gullible humans away. Other stories portray banshees as dressed in green, red or black with a grey cloak.
They are common in Irish and Scottish folk stories such as those recorded by
Herminie T. Kavanagh. They enjoy the same mythical status in Irelandas fairies and leprechauns. Banshees continue to appear in modern fiction that deals with mythology, folklore or the supernatural.
One example of banshees appearing in more modern stories is
Harry Potter. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkabanby J.K. Rowling, during a Defense Against the Dark Arts class with Remus Lupin, a boggart was released, showing students' worst fears. Seamus Finnigan, an Irish student, saw a banshee. In this case, the banshee was not at all beautiful, but had green skin and long black hair that reached the floor. Its howl was horrible. Banshees were mentioned again in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Firewhen a horrible screeching noise was heard, and Seamus Finnigannoted that it sounded like a banshee.
* cite book
title = Cris de vie, cris de mort. Les fées du destin dans les pays celtiques
first = Evelyne | last = Sorlin
year = 1991
publisher = Academia Scientiarum Fennica, Helsinki
id = ISBN 951-41-0650-4
* cite book
title = The Banshee: The Irish Death Messenger
first = Patricia | last = Lysaght
year = 1986
publisher = Roberts Rinehart Publishers
id = ISBN 1-57098-138-8
* cite book
title = An Encyclopedia of Fairies
first = Katharine | last = Briggs
year = 1976
publisher = Pantheon Books
id = ISBN 0-394-73467-X
* cite book
title = The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries
first = W. Y. | last = Evans-Wentz
authorlink = W. Y. Evans-Wentz
year = 1966, 1990
publisher = Citadel
* [http://www.movilleinishowen.com/history/mythology/legend_of_the_banshee.htm MovilleInishowen.com: The Legend of the Banshee, Leo Bowes]
* [http://www.irishcultureandcustoms.com/ACalend/CreepyCreatures.html Irish Culture and Customs: Creepy Irish Creatures, Bridget Haggerty]
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