Myth and Legend


The banshee is a terrifying female spirit of Celtic legend, whose appearance or call is a warning of death.

The banshee mostly occurs in Scotland and Ireland. When seen, she sometimes appears as an old woman with long streaming hair, dressed either in white, or a grey cloak. Alternatively, the banshee is seen as a young woman with red hair, weeping.

Her wailing scream, heard at night outside the house is believed to foretell the death of a member of the family of anyone who hears it. In Ireland, banshees were believed to warn only families of pure Irish descent.

The Scottish novelist Sir Walter Scott also mentioned belief in a kind of banshee or household spirit in certain Highland families in his book Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft, 1830. Several noble families reckon they have a particular banshee.

There is also a tradition of the banshee as a washerwoman, washing the clothes or armour of those about to die in battle. In the ancient Celtic epic The Ulster Cycle, when the hero Cúchulainn rides out to war, he encounters the banshee as a hag washing his bloody armour in a ford. From this omen he realises this battle will be his last.

The name of the banshee is connected to the mythologically important tumuli or "mounds" that dot the Irish countryside, which are known as síde (singular síd) in Old Irish.

Further reading

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