the Banshee assumes the form of some sweet singing virgin of the family
who died young, and has been given the mission by the invisible powers
to become the harbinger of coming doom to her mortal kindred. Or she
may be seen at night as a shrouded woman, crouched beneath the trees,
lamenting with veiled face; or flying past in the moonlight, crying
bitterly: and the cry of thus spirit is mournful beyond all other
sounds on earth, and betokens certain death to some member of the
family whenever it. is heard in the silence of the night.
Banshee even follows the old race across the ocean and to distant.
lands; for space and the offer no hindrance to the mystic power which
is selected and appointed to bear the prophecy of death to a family. Of
this a well authenticated instance happened a few years ago, and many
now living can attest the truth of the narrative.
A branch of the
ancient race of the O'Gradys had settled in Canada, far removed,
apparently, from all the associations, traditions, and mysterious
influences of the old land of their fore-fathers.
But one night a
strange and mournful lamentation was heard outside the house. No word
was uttered, only a bitter cry, as of one in deepest agony and sorrow,
floated through the air.
Inquiry was made, but no one had been seen
near the house at the time, though several persons distinctly heard the
weird, unearthly cry, and a terror fell upon the household, as if some
supernatural influence had overshadowed them.
Next day it so
happened that the gentleman and his eldest son went out boating. As
they did not return, however, at the usual time for dinner, some alarm
was excited, and messengers were sent down to the shore to look for
them. But no tidings came until, precisely at the exact hour of the
night when the spirit-cry had been heard the previous evening, a crowd
of men were seen approaching the house, bearing with them the dead
bodies of the father and the son, who had both been drowned by the
accidental upsetting of the boat, within sight of land, but not near
enough for any help to reach them in time.
Thus the Ban-Sidhe had
fulfilled her mission of doom, after which she disappeared, 'and the
cry of the spirit of death was heard no more.
At times the spirit-voice is heard in low and soft lamenting, as if close to the window.
long ago an ancient lady of noble lineage was lying near the death-hour
in her stately castle. One evening, after twilight., she suddenly
unclosed her eyes and pointed to the window, with a happy smile on her
face. All present looked in the direction, but nothing was visible.
They heard, however, the sweetest music, low, soft, and spiritual,
floating round the house, and at times apparently close to the window
of the sick room.
Many of the attendants thought it was a trick, and
went out to search the grounds; but nothing human was seen. Still the
wild plaintive singing went on, wandering through the trees like the
night wind--a low, beautiful music that never ceased all through the
Next morning the noble lady lay dead; then the music ceased, and the lamentation from that hour was heard no more.
was a gentleman also in the same country who had a beautiful daughter,
strong and healthy, and a splendid horsewoman. She always followed the
hounds, and her appearance at the hunt attracted unbounded admiration,
as no one rode so well or looked so beautiful.
One evening there was a ball after the hunt, and the young girl moved through the dance with the grace of a fairy queen.
that same night a voice came close to the father's window, as if the
face were laid close to the glass, and he heard a mournful lamentation
and a cry; and the words rang out on the air--"In three weeks death; in
three weeks the grave--dead--dead--dead!"
Three times the voice
came, and three times he heard the words; but though it. was bright
moonlight, and he looked from the window over all the park, no form was
to be seen.
Next day, his daughter showed symptoms of fever, and
exactly in three weeks, as the Ban-Sidhe had prophesied, the beautiful
girl lay dead.
The night before her death soft music was heard
outside the house, though no word was spoken by the spirit-voice, and
the family said the form of a woman crouched beneath a tree, with a
mantle covering her head, was~ distinctly visible. But on approaching,
the phantom disappeared, though the soft, low music of the lamentation
continued till dawn.
Then the angel of death entered the house with
soundless feet, and he breathed upon the beautiful face of the young
girl, and she rested in the sleep of the dead, beneath the dark shadows
of his wings.
Thus the prophecy of the Banshee came true, according to the time foretold by the spirit-voice.
Extracted from "Fairy Faith in the Celtic Lands" by Wentz.
the banshees and all the human figures, white women, and so forth, who
are seen in raths and moats and on hill-sides, are the direct
descendants, so to speak, of the Tuatha De Danann or the Sidhe. Of
this, I think, there can be no doubt whatever.
According to our
next witness, Steven Ruan, a piper of Galway, with whom I have often
talked, there is one class of fairies ‘who are nobody else than the [Pg
40]spirits of men and women who once lived on earth’; and the banshee
is a dead friend, relative, or ancestor who appears to give a warning.
‘The fairies’, he says, ‘never care about old folks. They only take
babies, and young men and young women. If a young wife dies, she is
said to have been taken by them, and ever afterwards to live in
Fairyland. The same things are said about a young man or a child who
dies. Fairyland is a place of delights, where music, and singing, and
dancing, and feasting are continually enjoyed; and its inhabitants are
all about us, as numerous as the blades of grass.’
of the Macleod Family.—‘There is a legend told of the Macleod
family:—Soon after the heir of the Macleods was born, a beautiful woman
in wonderful raiment, who was a fairy woman or banshee (there were
joyous as well as mourning banshees) appeared at the castle, and went
directly to the babe’s cradle. She took up the babe and chanted over it
a series of verses, and each verse had its own melody. The verses
foretold the future manhood of the young child, and acted as a
protective charm over its life. Then she put the babe back into its
cradle, and, going out, disappeared across the moorlands.
many generations it was a custom in the Macleod family that whoever was
the nurse of the heir must sing those verses as the fairy woman had
sung them. After a time the song was forgotten, but at a later period
it was partially recovered, and to-day it is one of the proud folk-lore
heritages of the Macleod family.
There are two hills in the
Highlands of Aberdeenshire where travellers had to propitiate the
banshee by placing barley-meal cakes near a well on each hill; and if
the traveller neglected the offering, death or some dire calamity was
sure to follow. It is quite certain that the banshee is almost
always thought of as the spirit of a dead ancestor presiding [Pg
438]over a family, though here it appears more like the tutelary deity
of the hills. But sacrifice being thus made, according to the
folk-belief, to a banshee, shows, like so many other examples where
there is a confusion between divinities or fairies and the souls of the
dead, that ancestral worship must be held to play a very important part
in the complex Fairy-Faith as a whole. A few non-Celtic parallels
determine this at once. Thus, exactly as to fairies here, milk is
offered to the souls of saints in the Panjab, India, as a means of
propitiating them. M. A. Lefèvre shows that the Roman Lares, so
frequently compared to house-haunting fairies, are in reality quite
like the Gaelic banshee; that originally they were nothing more than
the unattached souls of the dead, akin to Manes; that time and custom
made distinctions between them; that in the common language Lares and
Manes had synonymous dwellings; and that, finally, the idea of death
was little by little divorced from the worship of the Lares, so that
they became guardians of the family and protectors of life. On all
the tombs of their dead the Romans inscribed these names: Manes,
inferi, silentes, the last of which, meaning the silent ones, is
equivalent to the term ‘People of Peace’ given to the fairy-folk of
Scotland. Nor were the Roman Lares always thought of as inhabiting
dwellings. Many were supposed to live in the fields, in the streets of
cities, at cross-roads, quite like certain orders of fairies and
demons; and in each place these ancestral spirits had their chapels and
received offerings of fruit, flowers, and of foliage. If neglected they
became spiteful, and were then known as Lemures.