Monday Monster Profile: Banshees

I think it’s a bit unfair to call banshees a ‘monster’ – they don’t hurt anyone and are just doing their jobs… Nevertheless they are a supernatural critter and are the focus of this week’s Profile:

What are they?

Banshees, originating in Ireland and Scotland, are either spirits or fairy women who are prophets of death. Their name derives from the conjunction of ‘bean’ (woman) and ‘sidhe’ (fairy). They are known for turning up in the dead of night and keening or screeching at the homes of people who are about to die. It has been said that banshees can become attached to certain Celtic families (those whose surnames begin with O or Mac/Mc). There have been suggestions that banshees ‘feed’ on the grief of families, but this is not part of the traditional folklore.

What do they look like?

Ahh. Well there’s the problem. Often they appear in the guise of an ‘old hag’. But they have also been known to take the shape of a beautiful young woman, or various animals, particularly crows. Their cry is said to resemble that of a mixture between a human and a night bird (like an owl) or a hollow wind. You tend to identify a banshee by their actions and call rather than their appearance.

What should I do if a banshee starts screaming outside my house?

I’d suggest putting your affairs in order. Usually the person for whom the banshee cries will be dead within a week. You can try and be very careful – but the banshee is simply giving you pre-warning of your fate, she is not responsible for it.

I want to know more!

Banshees are not terribly common in popular fiction (but I’m working on a YA banshee novel – so stay tuned!). You can find one in Terry Pratchett’s ‘Reaper Man’, they turn up occasionally in games and RPGs, and a good non-fiction text is: Patricia Lysaght (1986). The banshee: The Irish death-messenger. Boulder, Colorado: Roberts Rinehart.

Does your family have a banshee? Would you like one? Share your thoughts!


4 Responses to “Monday Monster Profile: Banshees”

  1. In a Lovecraft story whose title I’ve forgotten, the harbingers of death are birds called Whipporwills (IIRC).

    Death being a great unknown – mostly because the causes of it were often mysterious, rather than the “what happens next” which is a more recent invention – superstitions about opens and causes are numerous. Including a bird trapped in your house signifying a family member dying and others.

  2. I first came across Banshees when I was reading Christina Noble’s ‘Bridge Across My Sorrows’, which given that most of it is set in Ireland wasn’t all that uncommon.

    Now, the creepy part…the water pipes next door just moaned, and I mean MOANED. o.O I don wanna has a banshee next door!!!!!

  3. Hey 🙂

    The whippoorwills were in The Dunwich Horror, and described as “psychopomps”. Not quite sure what that means! Perhaps something like the crow in… The Crow – carrying souls over to The Other Side. So, couriers of the departed rather than forewarners of death.

    They would cry in time with the breathing of the dying person and wait to catch the soul as it departed the body. If they caught the soul, they would cry louder in celebration, but if the soul got away they would die down into disappointed silence.

    There were three deaths in the story – the whippoorwills lost the soul from the first, fled in terror from the second, and dropped dead from the sky in horror at the third. (yay for Lovecraftian families!)


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