Friday, March 23, 2012

The Bane of the Banshee

Don't make her angry or she'll turn into a banshee.

Have you ever heard anyone say something like this?  I have.  Somehow, in recent years, the word banshee has come to connote a shrew or a woman who is out of control.  Similarly, I've read about about a woman screaming like a banshee.  The poor banshees!  How have they come to be so maligned?

Banshees are not crazy, wrathful, or evil.  They are souls of compassion.  A banshee is devoted to a particular family and appears when the death of a family member is imminent.  She appears both to warn the family of the death and to mourn for the one who will die.  Often she is described as having a wailing cry similar to a strong wind whipping around a house or ripping across moors. Sometimes she is seen.  Sometimes only her cry is heard.  Never have I heard of a banshee who screamed or flew into a crazy fit. Well, on second thought, maybe the "crazy fit" part isn't entirely unjustified.  According to "The Banshee in Ireland," after the family member has died, the banshee may be heard "keening (an Irish word used to describe the wailing that women used to do over the body of a deceased person to ward off evil spirits)" (  Someone wailing over a dead person's body may sound a little crazy.  But the banshee's not crazy; she's only doing her job.

Numerous sources, such as "Wail of the Banshee--Harbinger of Death" by David Kubichek, say that the banshees only attach themselves to members of "one of the five major families of Ireland" (,).  Other sources, such as and, say that if your last name begins with an O or a Mc, you might have a family banshee.

My family, to the best of my knowledge, is not blessed with a banshee, and honestly, I am thankful for this.  Nevertheless, tales of banshees have been passed down in the family.  My mother told me stories she heard from her grandmother, Catherine McGuire Fallon of County Leitrim, Ireland.  I was taught, as I said above, that the banshee's cry, like the sorrowful sound of the wind around the house, can be heard just before someone in the family dies. One element of my family's story that I have never heard nor read elsewhere is knocking. My mother told me that a mysterious knocking, like a knock at the door when no one was there or a knocking in the house that couldn't be explained, would be heard just before someone in the house died.  As a child, having complete faith in my mother's words and a vivid imagination, I spent many sleepless nights after hearing a knocking sound.  Of course it was probably just the house "settling."  But I lie awake, worried that the knocking was for me.  I thought that I had outgrown this fear until the other night when I heard a knocking in my bedroom wall.  Three knocks in the middle of the night.  I still don't know what it was. Whatever it was, no one in the house died, thankfully.

So, as much as it saddens me to see the banshee defamed the way she has been in recent years, I have to admit, I'm happy never to have heard or seen one.  And I hope I never will.

Do you have a family banshee?

Would you consider a banshee a blessing or a curse?

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