Mae Clair’s Cabinet of Curiosities: The Banshee

stack of book with round wire-frame eyeglasses on top, beside lighted vintage brass candle, carnivale mask in background

Weeds and thistles are woven into portents,
a funeral of the fallen is a soul to collect,
bound to the river by a fragile, pale vision,
are the shards of a life fate failed to protect.
*

The keening wail of a banshee is said to herald death. The name comes from the Irish “bean sidhe” (or Scottish Gaelic “bean sith”) which relates to a woman of faerie blood. She is “the woman of the fairy mound.”

Blessed with foresight, the banshee knows of a loved one’s demise prior to their passage, and loudly lamented their departure with sorrowful weeping and moaning.

She often appears in the guise of an old crone on the side of a stream or river, washing the blood-drenched clothing of the one doomed to die. Other times, she may be young and beautiful, or appear in the form of a hooded crow, hare or weasel. Sometimes she is not seen, only heard, her eerie wailing enough to make those who catch it on the night air, cower in terror. 

Traditional folklore paints the banshee as an ancestral spirit attached to the five great families of Irish heritage—the Kavanghs, O’Briens, O’Gradys, O’Connors, and the O’Neills. She would only wail for members of these families, with some believing each had its own banshee. Likely more curse than blessing.

woman dressed in black wailing on bank of stream, among tangled trees and briars

As with most legends, myth is contorted and changed over time as it passes from generation to generation.  I don’t recall my first exposure to the banshee myth but whenever I hear the name, I picture a woman with unkempt red hair, keening as she washes bloody clothes on the bank of a rock-strewn stream or river.

Why red hair? I’m not sure. Maybe it meshes with the idea of blood-soaked garments. Maybe I associate her with battle, as attributed in some ancient myths. There are other folktales that depict the banshee as a young woman who uses a silver comb to attend to her flowing white hair as she weeps. Certainly, the more poetic of the two versions. Somewhere among my many years of reading fantasy and myth, the weeping washer-woman must have ingrained her image into my subconscious.

I’m a visual person whether I’m reading, writing or having a discussion. What about you? What do you see when you hear the word banshee?


*Verse taken from the poem, Funeral for the Fallen
Copyright Mae Clair


75 thoughts on “Mae Clair’s Cabinet of Curiosities: The Banshee

    • Priscilla, I loved Scooby-Doo! That show is partially responsible for creating my love of mysteries (along with Dark Shadows and a book I read). Now that you mention it, I think I remember that episode. Those were such fun cartoons!

      Liked by 1 person

    • I have no idea where the red hair came from, Mischenko. Weird, huh? LOL!
      Your image def sounds creepy. I wouldn’t want to encounter HER by a creaked—or anywhere else!

      Like

  1. Guess I’ve never thought about picturing a banshee, but I didn’t know the story behind the legend. Makes me worder if the legend of La Llorona is a variation of the banshee. (A woman weeping for her dead children.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Heehee. I love how images just pop like that. I can so “see” that visual, Teri.
      Pretty soon I’m going to have to ditch my image of a banshee with red hair, given the comments I’m getting! 😄😄

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post, Mae, and very interesting. I’ve always imagined the banshee as the ghostly spirit of a bereaved woman, floating a bit above the ground, and wailing at the top of her lungs. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie or tv show where one was portrayed, but that’s the picture I’ve had in my mind. It’s interesting to think of other variations. I do think of her as having long, tangled white hair, blowing or floating around her head.

    Love this series, Mae, even though I haven’t been able to comment very often. Thanks for another very interesting post. 😀 ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • It seems most agree that she has white hair. Where the heck did I get red, LOL?
      I can def seem her floating above the ground with her long hair swirling around in the air. I would HATE to hear what her wail sounds like!

      So glad you’re enjoying the series, Marcia. I’m just happy you can pop in now and then, so no worries. It’s always great to see you online, and you know I always love having you visit, my PenderPal! 🙂❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Coming from a long line of O’Briens, I’ve always imagined a banshee as being haggard and dressed in tear-soaked shreds of clothes. Her hair is usually dark black or unruly grey. Like you, Mae, I’m very visual and because of that, I’m drawn to books that use descriptions sparingly. My mind fills the scenes without much help. Great post, thought-provoking.

    Liked by 1 person

    • An O’Brien! Wow. That’s kind of like Irish royalty–one of the five great houses or Eire. 🙂🍀☘️
      Gwen, I think you’re the first person to visualize a banshee with dark hair. I’ve been getting a lot of white, but not dark black.
      I like your description of her having “tear-soaked shreds of clothes.” That’s awesome!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’d always pictured a wailing woman, MC, tearing at her hair and clothes. It’s interesting that both the Irish and Scottish Gaelic are pronounced the same “baen shi.” The dh in the Irish is a gutteral hu sound. That’s what two years of Gaelic got me!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oooh! Gaelic!
      Do I remember you learning that through Duolingo, or am I confused? I knew someone who was doing that.
      Thanks for the cool education on pronunciation, Noelle! I love these extra tidbits that come to light. 🙂😊

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    • Hmm. I wonder if that’s where I got red hair from, Jacqui.
      For some reason, I have a vague memory of a fantasy novel from many moons ago with a banshee. I think it had to do with warring factions, and the banshee had red hair. It must have stuck in my head!
      Glad you enjoyed the backstory!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve always pictured a banshee a lot like Harmony and John–in ragged clothes floating above the ground, keening. Ilona Andrews used a banshee in her book Iron Magic. Just a small part, but it was fun.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s so interesting the impressions people have been leaving. Floating above the ground seems to be popular. For some reason, I have always pictured her kneeling by the stream or river, but I like the visualization of her floating.
      I haven’t read IIona Andrews, but I know I’ve come across banshees in other books. They’re always interesting!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve never heard of the Banshee but I would be scared if I hear the wailing in the middle of the night. I avoid horror books and the moment I happen to pick any, I drop it! 😀 I was not like this, as I remember watching ‘The Exorcist’ once upon a time but didn’t enjoy it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m not much for horror either, Balroop, although I did read a lot of Stephen King in my younger days. I watched The Exorcist under protest many moons ago, and like you, didn’t enjoy it. That is one movie I’ll never watch again!
      For the record, I wouldn’t want to encounter a banshee, either! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I don’t think I ever knew the whole story of Banahees. My visual always ran more with the white or silver hair though, crying. Great post, Mae.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I looked this up a few years ago and was fascinated, especially with my Irish heritage. I remembered the saying, screaming like a banshee, but didn’t have the slightest idea where is was from. Cool post! Happy Women’s day, Mae.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oooh, Irish heritage, Peachy? How cool. There are so many good legends tucked among the Emerald Aisle.
      Glad you enjoyed my post and homage to the banshee. Happy Women’s Day to you, too! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

    • I never saw Charmed, but I do remember hearing about it.
      Isn’t it weird how those images stick in your head? I’m still trying to remember where I came up with red hair, but I’m pretty sure it was from a book I read.
      Glad you enjoyed today’s Cabinet of Curiosities, Tessa!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Wonderfully creepy, Mae. I never really pictured a Banshee, but I do love visual of the young white-haired weeper with her silver comb. Maybe because it’s a little less scary (?). And thanks for sharing the history of the lore. Fascinating.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. The banshee walks the battlegrounds of the fallen dead and near dead. Her sorrowful wail for those near the final door is slightly different than for those who have already crossed over. Her sister, a merciful spirit healer, follows the sound to the former. She loses more than she saves, but for those few, she is golden.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I’ve always been fascinated by the idea surrounding the banshee. Learning it has an Irish backstory makes a lot of sense, considering I love anything that has to do with Ireland. lol You’ve shared some things I didn’t know. Like you though, I’ve always imagined a banshee as having a head of messy, red hair. It’s interesting how people have their own visualizations of such myths. Thank you so much for sharing this with us, Mae. I definitely enjoyed it! 🙂

    Like

  12. I have heard of the banshee, but I did not know some of these facts, especially relating to Ireland. I picture a screaming banshee as an old crone with scraggly gray hair and a wide mouth. 🙂 Great post, Mae!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like the idea of a wide mouth, Jan. She would need that to do all the mournful wailing!
      I’m glad you found some new info in the post, and I liked hearing your vision of this Irish spirit. It’s been a lot of fun getting everyone’s interpretation!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I have no idea why, but I’ve always pictured a banshee as a cartoon looking “Cousin It” from the Addams Family. Yeah, I know…I’ll go back into hiding…lol.

    Liked by 1 person

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