Banshee: Ireland’s Screaming Harbinger of Death


She’s known for her dramatic screaming and
crying, and her seemingly dark power to predict death, the Banshee is seen as a terrifying
female spirit in Irish mythology. But is she really all that terrifying? Although some of today’s pop culture has
weaponized the Banshee’s screams and made them an object of fear, the
first banshees weren’t evil or even dangerous. She not only predicts your death, but helps
you prepare for it. This is one monster you might actually want
on your side. Going back to at least the 8thcentury, Irish
folk tradition depicts the Banshee as the spirit or ghost of a once living woman. Banshees appear in two different forms: as
a withered, tiny crone with white hair; or as a tall, thin, beautiful woman. The typical banshee has long, flowing hair
and appears dressed in white. Many times the woman’s spirit becomes a
banshee because of some injustice in her life, because of bad or “improper” things she
did as a living woman, or was a victim of violence. Banshees only appear alone and don’t do
much of anything besides warn the living when death is coming. They forewarn the living of death by crying,
screaming, and clapping. The Old Irish word “Bean sí” directly
translates to “fairy woman,” but etymologists and folklorists agree that “sí” originally
meant ‘Otherworld’ so the name actually means ‘Woman of the Otherworld.” What’s especially unique about the banshee
is that they are only devoted to certain people; the ancient Gaelic nobility. Most often, people who have a surname that
begins with an “O,” “Mc,” or “Mac” . A different banshee belonged to each noble
family and would forewarn deaths, sometimes appearing to the families’ servants. She is said to be an ancestor of the family
herself. In many ways, the banshee is a protector of
the family and its noble land, even a symbol of the family. If any part of the ancestral home is still
standing, even if it’s a ruin, she will appear. Side note: Although my mom’s ancestors came
from the Munster province in Ireland, which is full of banshee myths, her family name
is Welsh, so unfortunately, no banshees for me. Banshee legends became less common in the
16th and 17thcenturies—possibly because this is when the British government confiscated
Irish land. The English families who moved to Ireland
couldn’t have a banshee since they did not have Irish ancestry—even if they did seize
a noble title. You can take my title, but you can never take
my banshee. Many old banshee stories are even classified
by the name of the family they are loyal to. A famous author, Thomas Crofton Croker, includes
“The Bunworth Banshee” and “The Mac Carthy Banshee” in his book of Irish folklore. In both stories, the male heir’s death is
preceded by the wailing and clapping of a banshee. So, the banshee’s appearance warns of impending
death. But why the screaming and moaning? These expressions of mourning come from Irish
religious and cultural history. Women have played a crucial role in the Irish
culture of death from the very beginning. In their mythology, the ancient Celtic battle
goddess Catabodva is also known as Badb. A variant of her name, just happens to be
the south-eastern Irish name for banshee. Badb was said to not only influence battles,
but predict the deaths of notable warriors—by a loud, wailing cry. She could also shapeshift into a crow, an
ability some banshees have as well. Another goddess, Brigit, was said to be the
first in all of Ireland to cry and lament a death, that of her son—yet another connection
between women, death, and crying…or rather keening. In the Irish tradition, keening is a rhythmic
wailing and mourning performed by women as part of the death ritual. Keening was seen as necessary for the dead
to pass safely into the next world. Keening women were respected professionals
and performers who guided mourners through grief with crying and singing. They were viewed as in-between worlds, the
link between the living world and the Otherworld. Oh, and did I mention that yet another name
for the banshee is bean chaointe—which in Gaelic literally means “keening woman.” Since their actions were seen as necessary,
they were allowed to ignore social customs while performing. Keening women might walk barefoot, traveling
not on the roads, but through untamed countryside. They would appear disheveled, in torn clothes,
and unpinned and uncombed hair. They were outsiders, and these physical attributes
only served to emphasize their otherworldly responsibilities. Despite the supernatural air surrounding keening
women, they served a very practical function. In times of grief they acted as a catharsis. Since they were paid professionals, for a
time only wealthy members of society could afford one, including those old noble families. So it makes sense that the banshee, who are
in many ways the ghost form of the keening woman, would only be associated with the upper
class. Goddesses, keening women, and banshees. It’s pretty easy to see that women controlled
the voice of death in Ireland. But I also have another theory, one that I
think explains the accounts of banshees “shrieking.” Barn owls. Hear me out. Barn owls make a truly terrifying screaming
sound. While they are currently endangered in Ireland,
they used to be widely spread across the country. Barn owls are nocturnal, hunting (and screeching)
at night. In the stories that I read, banshees only
appear at night. The owls horrifying screeching could have
made its way into the Banshee myth. Maybe someone heard a barn owl’s cry in
the darkness the night before a death in the family and connected it to the keening Banshee
that also marks death. The banshee legend not only links Irish people
to their ancestors but emphasizes their belief in the supernatural. The Otherworld is important to the creation
of their literary and oral histories. With elements of mythical ancient goddesses
and real-life keening women, she connects other worlds as well: fact and fiction.

100 thoughts on “Banshee: Ireland’s Screaming Harbinger of Death

  1. First "Long Video" is a list off of monsters of local regions, like loch ness and the jersey devil

  2. Owls are seen as harbingers of death in many cultures, makes sense to connect them with the Ban Sidhe. ❤

  3. Wonderful, fascinating channel. I just learned about keening women. I think it’s interesting that female spirits and deities often guide the recently deceased to their afterlife. Valkyries, Hecate, Vanth. I would infinitely prefer to go with them when I die than meet cranky old St Peter reading “My Life, the Book”

  4. I’m not sure about the banshee being owned by families with certain surnames because at least O and Mac are all kind of like a description of someone so my name in English is brion silke but my name in Irish would be Bríon O sioda which means brion son of silke

  5. Dear Emily,

    could you please make a video about brownies and their fellow versions around the world? Helping humans in their household if they are treated well by them.

    Thank you!

  6. I would like to point out that in some regions, the banshee was tought to be a type of dark fairy.

  7. Guys I already experience this one time.. before the death of my late uncle..

  8. How about the Japanese shi shi?
    If I remember correctly they are like earth spirits and such.

  9. My favorite banshee is the one in Ancient Magus Bride. Although in her case, she turned from a banshee into a brownie.

  10. I have a last name associated with an Irish Sea island people who usually think of themselves as Scottish. The name is now most common in Northern Ireland, so I suppose we became Protestants and joined up with William's war to get land to grow potatoes instead of subsisting on clams and seaweed.

    Rest of the family is mostly Swabian on both sides, with a little English and a wee bit African.

  11. WoW drop trailer on Sylvannas betraying again

    0:40 "you'd actually want banshee on your side"

  12. I still pronounce it as Ban-SHEE like they did in Gargoyles. LOL, oh that show will influence everything in me forever.

  13. I just discover my favorite YouTube channel ❤❤ ,, I hop to see more great video from you

  14. You have a point, in Vietnamese culture, we're also see the appearance of the barn owl as the sign of death too

  15. The only thing i hate about this video is it's only 7 mins long. 🙁

    I love this Channel.

  16. I would like to hear about this OTHER WORLD that apparently all mythical being can be found & relate/tie theme to together

  17. LOL! Again, I've spent more time poring over your book collection than the video lasted! I've read most of those as well. It would probably be quicker to say which ones I haven't read. Which Kafka is that, I can't make out the title? Oh, and a killer video, too. Thanks.

  18. Whenever I'm hanging out in my backyard at night, one of the local barn owls will screech like ten feet above my head and it startles me every time.

  19. Who immediately Youtubed 'barn owl scream' after this video, like I did? XD

    Yeah, it is truly terrifying.

  20. The thing about the Goddess Screaming to pick the Slain on the battlefield and turning into a Crow Kinda Makes me think of the Morrigan, a specific-ish Celtic Goddess Tied to Fate, Battles and Death (Might actually be a Title for a Trio of Goddesses though, it's a bit unclear)…

  21. Please do indonesia mythology:
    1. Pocong
    2. Genderuwo
    3. Leak and Barong
    4. Nyi Roro Kidul
    5. Lembuswana
    6. Garuda

  22. hey could you do more irish monsters im irish and want to learn more about all those monsters

  23. Two really interesting Native American mythical creatures I’d love to see done are the Kushtaka and Pau’guk

  24. I thought the (Shee)/(Si) part in the word Banshee is referred to the Sidhe realm…spelling variation? 🤔

    Speaking of Barn Owls, that reminds me of the RedCap.

  25. I was about to suggest Baba Yaga, but a who bunch of other people got there first!

  26. Video on Cthulhu could be fun. And there are some interesting Slavic stuff: mavka/rusalka, kikimora, strzyga, poludnitsa, chuhaister/leshy

  27. My grandmother told me stories of our "beansidhe" who was apparently a living woman once. Take it with a grain of salt, but eh, it's interesting.

  28. I heard her when my great grandmother fell and broke her hip. I heard a woman scream. 2 days later she died and shes a Mckenzie her family stayed in ireland while she came over to be a pastor.

  29. The thumbnail just looks like Irish boys having nightmares of their pale mother waking them up for school. If they went

  30. Here in Brazil one of the names we give to the barn owl is "rasga mortalha" (shroud ripper). It's said that when a barn owl screeches when flying over a house someone in that house is going to die. Because of that superstition people have been killing not only barn owls but every owl they encounter.

  31. My paternal grandmother's maiden name is O'Keffe and she often combines it with her married name of Coen. If I see her again, I'll ask if she's ever heard of the Banshee myth.

  32. It's almost Halloween why not do the the Celtic god of Halloween Samhain and maybe some of his minions

  33. Love the first season! I wonder if the banshee story made it to Mexico with the influx of Irish settlers. There is a similar legend of a woman in white who foreshadows a death in the family. I would love to see a video on the lechuza/owl witches. There are tons of stories throughout the Americas about them.

  34. I have a video suggestion: I recently found out about the Norwegian "Huldra", which look like an ethereally beautiful woman from the front, but from the back look like a hollowed out, rotten tree trunk. It's fascinating and I'd love to learn more!

  35. Can you do an episode on werewolf’s and the legend of lycanthropy and Lycan
    That’d be awesome

  36. I was suggest this channels early today, already saw some videos, and what an amazing content!

    Congratulations for this fantastic work.

  37. i´m from Cuba and i love your videos!!!, i will love see if you can talk about the ¨Madre de Aguas¨ ¨el Guije¨ or something like that… keep doing this, your´e amazing!!!

  38. Huh. I always thought banshees warned of the death of a loved one rather than your own.

  39. Hey guys, in our country (Slovakia – google it where it is), we say "when you hear Little owl (Athene noctua in latin), someone dies". Some similarity as Barn owl in Ireland

  40. In Trinidad they say if you here a Barn owl scream over a house some body in that house is going to died.

  41. A short and uncomplete list of future videos I would love to see @Monstrum cover:
    – Baba Yaga
    – Kelpie
    – Nessie
    – Siren/Mermaid
    – Oni
    – Werewolf

  42. She's crying for us and are loss she's ther to prepare us of a soon to be death

  43. My 5y0 s0n is ab0lutely in L0VE with y0u! He wants t0 see a vide0 ab0ut the classic gh0st appariti0n that l00ks like a fl0ating sheet. "Why d0n't the gh0sts have any feet?"

  44. I just found out about your channel from the pbs survey. I’m super excited to start watching everything. I would also really love a video on Kelpies (or water Kelpies) as this video on banshees was awesome! Thanks for your channel!

  45. Emily: Barn owls
    Trey​ the​ Explainer: Wants​ to​ know​ your​ location

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *