Today, most people believe the dreaded banshee is exclusively Irish and is always malevolent. This is not the case. The banshee has been a common element of life for centuries, in several countries, and her origins are relatively unknown. This is the A.O. collection of lore and legend associated with the banshee. It will be continually added to as time allows.
Historically speaking, the banshee is always represented as a tall woman. She has long, flowing hair and dresses in flowing white fabric. Sometimes she weeps while she combs her hair.
She is known by many names, here are a few:
- Lady of Death
- White Lady of Sorrow
- Spirit of the Air
- White Lady of Ireland
Sir Walter Scott stated banshees only visited families of pure Milesian (people in Irish folklore) stock. He stated she was never ascribed to the Normans or the Saxons. However, we can go back even further.
The banshee was not always a harbinger of death. She was also known to be a benevolent entity that foretold joyous occasions. She was welcome to families she visited, she reassured both her victim and the family, she sang with a tender voice. Her songs were soft, chanting melodies.
Then her demeanor began to change in folklore. If she liked the family during her life, she became a wonderful companion to the descendents. If the family mistreated her, or if she didn’t like them, she became the foreboding spirit we know today.
One family from Mayo (Ireland) was believed to have her worst side. Like Pearlin’ Jean in Scotland, she fell in love with one of the ancient lords. He seduced her and deceived her. When it became clear she wouldn’t just go away, he murdered her. With her dying breath, she cursed him and all his years. He reformed later on, but she didn’t forget. She came for him with screams and shrieks. She also followed his descendents from that point forward.
The O’Brien family of Tuamhain (Ireland) had similar history. One of the family chiefs in ancient times seduced a young woman. Whatever means he used to seduce her led to her death. She returned as the family banshee.
Pearlin’ Jean was a Scots banshee. Her lover was a Stuart ancestor. She lived with him for a time on one of the family estates. Stuart became tired of her and longed to return to his family. He killed her. As soon as he arrived back at the family estate, she waited for him atop the entrance gate arch. She is said to follow his family from that point on.
Other families known to have a banshee:
- The Stanley family’s banshee warns them of death with inhuman screaming.
- The Campbell family is warned of death by a spiritual presence.
- The Forbes family has a banshee who could be called “Greensleeves.” She appears in a white dress with green sleeves when death is near.
- One family of English nobles is blessed with 2 banshees: a spectral hand or a black dog will appear before a death.
- The Middleton family, in Yorkshire was warned by a phantom Benedictine nun.
- The Arundel family was warned of approaching enemies. Two massive, phantom owls sat atop the battlements of Wardour Castle.
- One noble family in east England are warned of death by a ghostly black dog.
- Another family sees a spectral head, particularly when a chief is about to die.
- The Treville estate was originally held by the Vingoe family. They were believed to have came to England with William the Conqueror. The Cornish estate was vast, and came with its own set of cliffs. One was titled Treville cliff and a cairn (massive pile of stones, such as a grave marker) was nearby. A chain of fire formed over this formation, it ascended and descended over it, to announce a death in the family. Loud, unearthly sounds accompanied the display. The phenomenon foretold the death of every head of the house until the line became extinct.
- In Gloucestershire, the White Lady of Talks-hill screams to miners if danger is imminent.
- The extinction of a clan is foretold by a somber, dark gray man.
- One family sees a woman in brown clothes before someone dies.
- The Hag of the Mist, is another figure who warns of death by her screams.
- Another banshee is Bodach Glas, who appears on the eve of a family calamity, a spirit of someone murdered by a family ancestor.
- The White Lady of Avenel appeared to the family and told them their future by the width of her golden girdle. If her figure was portly, prosperity and success was coming. If her figure was lean, they could expect bad luck or even death.
- The Ghost of the Hill is a common banshee-like presence in Scotland.
- Kincardine Castle, in Auchterarder, near Perth, has a lady in green who appears beneath the a certain tree on the grounds. She is always weeping for there’s soon to be a death in the Graham family.
- A ghost of the hill, named Bodac au Dun, warns the Scottish Rothmurchas family when death approaches.
- The Lady of Waldeck, a water nymph, may appear for the unfortunate few. If she appears to you, it signals the end of your life is approaching.
- At the Castle of Orlamunde, in Thurngia, a white lady makes the sounds of little birds chirping during the night. If residents hear such sounds, they know that either death or misfortune is approaching.
- The Royal family has a white lady. She follows them and her appearance always foretells a death.
Napoleon was visited by a spirit in red who warned him of coming misfortunes. Ironically, the “Little Red Man of Tuileries,” appears on the eve of a great national disaster in France.
- Wales has water nymphs that foretell what is coming. These harp players manifest on the surface of lakes and play beautiful, mournful songs. They tell of calamity to some lake neighbor.
- Generally, most people of Wales can expect a death upon witnessing, “fetch lights.”
Other Nations and Families
- The family of Donatis, in Venice, Italy, is visited by a phantom head of a ghostly man when death is imminent.
- Pontias Pilate has been known to appear annually upon Mount Pilate. Whoever sees him will die within the year.
- In Madagascar, the term “Antama” was used for their banshee.
- There is also a house demon named “Alastor,” claimed in both Greek and Roman lore. This is where the adage “Skeletons in the closet,” is believed to originate. This demon was believed to torment the family, especially the patriarch of the house.