Guest Author - Mary Ellen Sweeney
Many people are fascinated with tales from "the other side," and hope to hear news from a loved one who has passed on. The Banshee of Irish legend is a wailing woman who brings news of an impending death. The cry of the Banshee is known all over Ireland, and indeed once heard, is never again disbelieved, especially when someone local is known to be dying. Many people claim to have seen the other side or communicated with loved ones from beyond, but have they heard the Banshee cry? I have, and I believe.
Banshee comes from the Irish words "bean," woman, (ban) and "sidhe," fairy, (shee.) Supposedly from the mythical race of the Tuatha De'Dannan, or fairy folk, who, though elusive, are felt to be present in Ireland to this very day. (And who among us who has spent time in Ireland hasn't felt the frisson of connection with the Tuatha de' Dannan at one time or another?)
Banshees wear many disguises, and indeed are seldom seen but more often heard wailing in the middle of the night. It's a high, keening sound that is well-duplicated by the keening at the country wakes...and by the wind in a high gale on the northwest coast, where the lights are few and far between and people more likely to pass from this life from home than the hospital. Banshees, when they are spied, take on many forms: one version is that of a beautiful young woman combing her long, flowing hair while she wails for the soon-to-be-departed. Other visionaries have seen the Banshee as older, white-haired women in rags or shrouds or as washing women. It is said that the Banshee will tell for whom she keens if she is asked directly.
Sometimes it is just one person in the house who hears the cry of the Banshee, but at other times she is heard by all, even the neighbors. In all respects the Banshee is seen as a bearer of bad fortune or death, but in actuality she is foretelling the inevitable and paying her respects, softening the blow so to speak. Many have seen her as she goes wailing and clapping her hands. The keen (caoine), the funeral cry of the peasants, is said to be an imitation of her cry.
In shadows and unseen the Banshee attends the funeral of those families with whom she is connected---and indeed, she is well-known to certain Irish families, and has travelled with them when they emigrated---her voice blending in with the cries of the other mourners.
If you hear the cry of the Banshee, count your blessings, because the person for whom she cries is said never to hear her...but who is it she welcomes into the afterlife?