banshee n : (Irish folklore) a female spirit who wails to warn of impending death
EtymologyFrom bean sídhe, from ben síde, literally ‘woman of the fairy mound’. The term banshee entered English in 1771.
- In Irish folklore, a female spirit, usually taking the form of a woman whose mournful wailing warns of an impending death. Originally a fairy woman singing a caoineadh (lament) for recently-deceased members of the O'Grady, the O'Neill, the O'Brien, the O'Connor, and the Kavanagh families, translations into English made a distinction between the banshee and other fairy folk that the original language and original stories do not seem to have, and thus the current image of the banshee.
- Finnish: Banshee
- German: Banshee
The Banshee (), from the Irish bean sí ("woman of the síde" or "woman of the fairy mounds") is a female spirit in Irish mythology, usually seen as an omen of death and a messenger from the Otherworld. Her Scottish counterpart is the bean shìth (also spelled bean-shìdh).
The aos sí ("people of the mounds", "people of peace") are variously believed to be the survivals of pre-Christian Gaelic deities, spirits of nature, or the ancestors. Some Theosophists and Celtic Christians have also referred to the aos sí as "fallen angels". They are commonly referred to in English as "fairies", and the banshee can also be described as a "fairy woman".
EtymologyThe term banshee is an anglicization of the [Irish bean sídhe or bean sí, or the Scots Gaelic bean shìth, - both meaning "woman of the fairy mounds" or "woman of peace". Both names are derived from the Old Irish ben sídhe: bean: "woman", and sídhe: "of the mounds". Some consider the bean nighe ("washer-woman") the Scottish counterpart of the Irish banshee. However, bean shìth is the linguistic and mythological equivalent, appearing in a number of different roles and situations in folklore and mythology. The bean nighe is a specific type of bean shìth. In Scottish Gaelic, bean shìth can also be spelled bean-shìdh. Síd in Irish, and Sìth in Scots Gaelic, also mean "peace", and the fairies are also referred to as "the people of peace" - Aos Sí or Daoine-Sìth.
Banshees in history, mythology and folkloreIn Irish legend, a banshee wails around a house if someone in the house is about to die. There are particular families who are believed to have Banshees attached to them, and whose cries herald the death of a member of that family. Traditionally, when a citizen of an Irish village died, a woman would sing a lament (in Irish: caoineadh, [ˈkiːnʲə] or [ˈkiːnʲuː], "caoin" meaning "to weep, to wail") at their funeral. These women singers are sometimes referred to as "keeners" and the best keeners would be in much demand. Legend has it that, for five great Gaelic families: the O'Gradys, the O'Neills, the O'Briens, the O'Connors, and the Kavanaghs, the lament would be sung by a fairy woman; having foresight, she would sing the lament when a family member died, even if the person had died far away and news of their death had not yet come, so that the wailing of the banshee was the first warning the household had of the death.
In later versions the banshee might appear before the death and warn the family by wailing. When several banshees appeared at once, it indicated the death of someone great or holy. The tales sometimes recounted that the woman, though called a fairy, was a ghost, often of a specific murdered woman, or a woman who died in childbirth.
Banshees are frequently described as dressed in white or grey, and often having long, fair hair which they brush with a silver comb, a detail scholar Patricia Lysaght attributes to confusion with local mermaid myths. This comb detail is also related to the centuries-old traditional romantic Irish story that, if you ever see a comb lying on the ground in Ireland, you must never pick it up, or the banshees (or mermaids - stories vary), having placed it there to lure unsuspecting humans, will spirit such gullible humans away. Other stories portray banshees as dressed in green, red or black with a grey cloak.
They are common in Irish and Scottish folk stories such as those recorded by Herminie T. Kavanagh. They enjoy the same mythical status in Ireland as fairies and leprechauns. Banshees continue to appear in modern fiction that deals with mythology, folklore or the supernatural.
References and footnotes
banshee in Asturian: Banshee
banshee in Bulgarian: Банши
banshee in Catalan: Banshee (Fada)
banshee in German: Banshee
banshee in Spanish: Banshee
banshee in Esperanto: Banŝio
banshee in French: Banshee
banshee in Irish: Bean sí
banshee in Scottish Gaelic: Bean-shìdh
banshee in Italian: Banshee (creatura leggendaria)
banshee in Lithuanian: Banšė
banshee in Dutch: Banshee (fee)
banshee in Japanese: バンシー
banshee in Norwegian: Banshee
banshee in Polish: Banshee
banshee in Portuguese: Banshee
banshee in Russian: Баньши
banshee in Finnish: Banshee
banshee in Swedish: Banshee (mytologisk varelse)
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