The Banshee – Ghost, Faerie or Something Else?

Banshees are unique in paranormal research.  The following is from an article I wrote in 1999.

When someone mentions a ghost, most of us think of cemeteries, haunted houses, and transparent figures draped in sheets.

Likewise, the word “faerie” is usually linked with cute little figures with wings, and merry mischief… like Tinkerbell.

However, mention a Banshee, and people squirm.

The Banshee, like a ghost, can represent death, but that is not her actual role in folklore or in our lives.

She can appear transparent, usually the size of a living person. Nevertheless, like her fae counterparts, she is associated with a more magical Otherworld.

She reminds us that the Otherworld is a vast place, inhabited by many kinds of beings, including faeries and ghosts.

The Banshee — in Irish, the Bean Sidhe (pronounced “bann-SHEE”) — means “spirit woman” or sometimes a spirit (perhaps a faerie) dressed in white. She is usually described as a single being, although there are many of them.

Your Irish Family’s Banshee

According to legend, one Banshee guards each Milesian Irish family. These are the families descended from the “Sons of Mil” who emigrated to Ireland long ago. Often, those families’ surnames start with O’ or Mac, and sometimes Fitz. Remember, many of those prefixes have been dropped, particularly by American families.

In other words, if your ancestors lived in Ireland for a couple of generations, your family — and perhaps your household — probably has its own Banshee.

There is a Banshee for each branch of these families, and the family Banshee can follow the descendants to America, Australia, or wherever the Irish family travels or emigrates.

The Banshee protects the family as best she can, perhaps as a forerunner of the “Guardian Angel” in Christian traditions. However, we are most aware of her before a tragedy that she cannot prevent.

Traditionally, the Banshee appears shortly before a death in “her” family.

The Banshee is almost always female, and appears filmy in a white, hooded gown. (The exception is in Donegal, Ireland, where she may wear a green robe, or in County Mayo where she usually wears black.)

However, if she is washing a shroud when you see her, she may merely signal a major life-changing event in your future. The way to determine this is to go home and burn a beeswax candle after seeing her. According to folklore, if it burns in the shape of a shroud, her appearance does foretell death.

The Banshee’s Wail

The night before the death, the Banshee wails piteously in frustration and rage. Her family will always hear her. Many others in the area will, too. For example, Sir Walter Scott referred to “the fatal banshi’s boding scream.”

One of the largest reports of this wailing was in 1938, when the Giants’ Grave in County Limerick, Ireland, was excavated and the bones were moved to a nearby castle.

The crying was heard throughout central Ireland. People said it sounded as if every Banshee in Ireland was keening.

That collective Banshee wail was unusual but not unique. When a group of Banshees are seen, they usually forecast the dramatic illness — and perhaps death — of a major religious or political figure.

In Irish mythological history, the Banshee tradition may link to the fierce Morrighan as the “Washer at the Ford,” a legend of Cuchulain. In that story, the Morrighan appeared as a young woman who prepared for an upcoming battle by washing the clothing — or perhaps the shrouds — of those who would fight and lose.

Does the Banshee Cause Death?

Despite her grim reputation, seeing or hearing a Banshee doesn’t cause the death. Traditionally, the Banshee is a very kind woman. As poet and historian W. B. Yeats commented, “You will with the banshee chat, and will find her good at heart.”

Perhaps her appearance and wailing before a death are efforts to protect her family from a death. or other tragedy that she foresees.

This is the clearest link to what are popularly called “ghosts.” In many stories, the spirit appears to warn the living about danger, illness, or death. Many gothic novels feature a ghost whose appearance forecasts death.

Likewise, in the Sherlock Holmes story, the Hound of the Baskervilles howled before a family death.

In real life, my maternal grandmother and her siblings were individually visited by the spectre of their mother, to warn them of her imminent death in a hospital many miles away, and to say good-bye.

This level of concern for the living is consistent with many ghosts, as well as the Banshee.

Whether the Banshee is a “ghost” or a “faerie” may never be resolved. However, the Banshee provides clear evidence that the lines separating ghosts, spirits, and faeries are vague at best.

For more information about the Banshee, one of the best studies is The Banshee: The Irish Death Messenger by Patricia Lysaght (paperback, © 1986, Roberts Rhinehart Publishers, Colorado).

Note: Most of this article originally appeared as “Banshee – Ghost, faerie or something else” – in October 1999 at Suite 101, when I was one of their consulting editors, writing about paranormal topics.

Photo credit:
Menlo Castle, photographed by dave gilligan, Limerick, Ireland (Eire)

Banshees and Ghost Hunting

Ancient tower with crowsBanshees… should ghost hunters look for them?  In my opinion, the answer is no, but not for the reasons you might expect.

A March 2011 episode of Destination: Truth focused on a Banshee, or a “hotbed” of Banshees at Duckett’s Grove Castle in County Carlow, Ireland.

Looking for a Banshee is like looking for a Guardian Angel.  (The spiritual kind, not the Guardian Angels organized by Curtis Sliwa and his wife.)

A Banshee will find you, not vice versa.

I began writing about Banshees in 1999:  Banshee – Ghost, faerie or something else?

The Banshee’s cry

I have heard a Banshee, and it’s not something I’d want to hear again.  Others’ first-person descriptions of the Banshee’s wail — described as keening, from the Irish word caoine — are equally chilling.

In many modern-day reports, the Banshee cries through someone living.  It’s similar to something in science fiction and horror movies: The person (usually female) opens her mouth and a terrible cry emerges.  It sounds nothing like the person’s actual voice.  It’s more like the worst combination of fingernails on a blackboard, mixed with someone dragging a bow across a squeaking violin string.

That’s worth repeating: It sounds nothing like the person’s actual voice. If you think, “Oh, he (or she) must be faking it,” you’re probably not hearing a Banshee.  The sound isn’t even close to human.

Death and the Banshee

Banshees protect families with Irish ancestry.  Generally, they’re not seen or heard when they’re quietly successful with their protection efforts.

The only time you’re likely to hear or see a Banshee is if she’s anguished because she can’t prevent a tragedy in “her” family.

Banshees, ghosts, clones and quantum theories

Almost every family with Irish ancestry has their own Banshee.  That’s the theory, anyway.  (I explained more about that in my 1999 article, linked above.)

However, those who see the Banshee and know their family history… they always describe her as a known ancestor, usually from before the 1700s.

That’s where this becomes odd:  It appears that every household with Irish ancestry has a Banshee… but within one family line, they’re all the same ancestor.

That leaves just a few possibilities.  These are among the most likely:

  1. It’s one spirit but she’s protecting thousands of households.
  2. The spirits are different (and may or may not be spirits of ancestors), but they choose a common ancestral image that the family may recognize.
  3. It’s one spirit and she’s cloned herself as a spiritual protector.
  4. From her own time,  she’s able to visit multiple times & places (parallel realities) and — as a time traveller — try to change future outcomes.
  5. Something’s paranormal is occurring, but the Banshee stories influence how the encounter is perceived and told to others.

Ghost hunting for Banshees?

Banshees are ghosts only in the sense that — according to many reports — each one looks like someone who was once alive… a real person.

So, they could be called ghosts.

However, this isn’t a spirit that you can help to “cross over.”

If you hear or see a Banshee

Banshees don’t cause death or tragedy.  They’re simply able to see the likelihood of tragedy, and they’re already mourning.

This is important: Even if you see or hear a Banshee, the tragedy can still be avoided. As any good psychic will tell you: The future isn’t set in stone.

The Banshee can’t prevent whatever-it-is, but you (or someone else) might be able to.

At the very least, immediately leave the site where you encounter the Banshee.  Tragedy is imminent.  If the Banshee remains behind,  it’s not your tragedy and you can avoid being part of it.

On the other hand, hearing or seeing multiple Banshees at once usually indicates a tragedy involving someone with a high profile… a politician or a church leader.  You’re less likely to prevent that from occurring.

Nevertheless, if you’re looking for a Banshee, you’re looking for trouble.  At best, it’s a waste of time to launch a paranormal investigation to encounter a Banshee.

At worst, you could be putting yourself in harm’s way.  An encounter with a Banshee usually means that something very bad is likely to happen.

Though some have speculated that a Banshee is related to the faerie called “the little woman of the hearth” or to the Green Lady traditions, the Banshee is more likely to be a distinct kind of entity… and not appropriate for ghost hunting.

Irish travel tips for ghost hunters

Duckett’s Grove Castle is a great location for ghost hunting.  The location is tremendous and picturesque… and a little eerie.

The castle has an amazing history that includes money, power struggles and tragedy, and more than one family curse. Several incidents from the castle’s past could lead to hauntings.

Ireland is a wonderful place to explore if you’re a ghost hunter or a paranormal researcher.  Banshees are best avoided, but Ireland’s rich history and haunted sites offer more active ghostly encounters than most countries.

Photo credit: Steve Ford Elliott, Mountshannon, Co Clare, Ireland Eire

Ghosts – Why Do Banishing Routines Work?

Earlier this week, a writer asked me why people use banishing techniques (sea salt, sage smudges, etc.) to get rid of ghosts.

Here’s part of reply to her:

Of course, people don’t actually “get rid of” ghosts.

The ghosts (or things that seem like a haunting) just stop bothering them so much.

In other words, I don’t think anyone kills or banishes a ghost… not completely.  (I don’t believe that a spirit can be completely destroyed or eliminated.  I think the energy continues in some form. Views vary among religions.)

Tools such as sea salt, smudging, rice, turned shoes, etc…?  I have no idea why these techniques work. Maybe we’ll figure it out once we better understand quantum mechanics.

For me, this subject is lumped into the same category as why “correspondences” seem to work.

In other words, I think something taps into quantum laws that transcend reality (and worlds) as we perceive them from our side.

My other theory regarding sea salt, smudging and — weirdly, using a loud vacuum cleaner — relates to filling the environment with a sensory experience that the spirit doesn’t like. Or, perhaps the sensory elements push the undesirable energy out…?

It’s just a guess, and far from anything scientific.

Those methods have been documented (some, for centuries) as effective, and I’ve seen some of them work in real life.

Use shoes to repel ghosts
Set your empty shoes, heel to toe.

Turning my shoes in opposite directions worked at The Myrtles Plantation. To me, that’s even weirder than its ghosts.

A lot of these getting-rid-of-ghosts practices are rooted in mythology. Perhaps these tried-and-true methods have been around long enough to appear in really ancient tales.

Note: They seem to work with ghosts, full stop.

As far as I know, salt and sage smudges won’t help with UFOs/abductions. Also, I’ve found no record suggesting that these methods banish good energy from spiritual sites or churches.

Logic..? I won’t pretend that any exists.  Proof…? Ditto.

All I know is that these things keep getting rave reviews from people who try them.


Salt photo credit: bruno sersocima, Brazil

Ghosts – Residual Energy Solutions

Lately, many people have asked me about hauntings that — to me, anyway — sound like they’re dealing with residual energy.

Remember: Many ghost hunters believe that emotionally charged events leave an imprint or energy residue on the physical objects nearby.


That energy residue can manifest as an odd feeling, or an overpowering emotional flood, and it can even trigger EMF spikes.

These hauntings can be triggered by certain personalities. They can also happen on anniversaries (such as when a battle happened) or even on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.  (Gilson Road Cemetery in NH seems to become active every day starting at about 11:30 a.m.)

Residual energy hauntings don’t involve ghosts.  I’m not sure that residual energy hauntings can cause EVPs, but if the voice is always the same and saying the same things over & over again, it might be residual energy.

Residual energy hauntings will usually decrease over time.  That time period may be days, months, years or hundreds of years.  It all depends on the original event that left energy there, and how much the energy has been recharged.

However, if you’d like to disperse the energy sooner, we seem to have the best luck using alternative sensory approaches.  I use a Feng Shui “singing bowl” while others often like sage smudges or incense.

If that’s too weird or woo-woo for you, try a vacuum cleaner instead.  The louder the vacuum, the better.  Vacuum every part of the room, especially the corners that are often overlooked, including the corners at the ceiling.

Or, use a radio or CD player and turn the music up so it’s really loud.

You’ll need to experiment with this, as different sensory tools seem to work better in different environments.  In addition, your initial results may not be permanent, so you may have to repeat the vacuuming (or whatever) over and over again.

One warning: If you use sensory tools to disperse the residual energy and the haunting gets dramatically worse, you might be dealing with an actual entity such as a ghost.  So, if the problem gets worse, don’t repeat the sensory approach.

Salt as Protection – Ghost Hunting

In the past, I’ve talked about the power of salt to repel or block angry and malicious spirits.

I’ve only used salt a couple of times. I think it’s an extreme remedy.  However, I know people who rely on it regularly.

You’ve probably heard the saying, “sow the ground with salt.”

The origins of that phrase seem mixed.  In the past — according to Wikipedia, anyway –  salt was supposed to curse the location.

When I was growing up, I heard that salt was used to bless the ground.

So, those are opposite views of salt.

According to folklore from my childhood — as told to me by people I trusted — evil spirits can’t cross a line of salt.

When psychics and paranormal researchers use salt, that’s usually the intent: To create draw a line — a physical barrier — between the entity and the people it’s affecting.

(I don’t think salt is strong enough to block something at the demon level, or I’m sure more exorcists would be using it.)

In addition, I’ve recommended placing a bowl of salt near a bed where ghosts have been troublesome.  According to feedback from my readers over the past 15+ years, that’s been 100% successful.

In my research, I see many salt references in the Bible.

And he went forth unto the spring of the waters, and cast the salt in there, and said, Thus saith the Lord, I have healed these waters; there shall not be from thence any more death or barren land.

2 Kings 2:21 (KJV)

That’s clearly a healing reference, not a curse.  Similarly, the Bible describes a covenant of salt in 2 Chron 13:5 (KJV).

I’ve read other, very spiritual connections between salt and blessings:

There are frequent allusions to this practice (Jer 34:18). Such alliances were called “covenants of salt” (Num 18:19; 2Ch 13:5), salt being the symbol of perpetuity.—Easton’s Illustrated Dictionary

Salt was used when a baby was born, as well:

As soon as a child was born it was washed, and rubbed with salt (Ezek 16:4) —Easton’s Illustrated Dictionary

In other words, the connections between salt and spirituality are ancient, and most of them seem to indicate a blessed use for salt.  However, older records may emerge and shed a different light on this topic.

Which salt to use?

According to tradition, sea salt will work better than plain table salt.  Don’t feel as if you have to run out and buy sea salt.

In fact, from readers’ reports, table salt can be good enough for use in a haunted bedroom.

I’ve never compared the effectiveness of different salts.  Generally, I prefer to carry sea salt. It’s what I use in cooking, so it’s convenient.

For extreme cases, blessed salt is supposed to be more powerful than salt that’s simply bought at the store and used immediately.

However, if I needed salt in a hurry during an investigation, I’d use any salt that I could get my hands on, quickly.  Later, I might go back with blessed salt.

Blessed salt

Salt can be blessed in different ways, depending on your spirituality.

Start with salt you’ve bought at the grocery store.

If you’re working with a Christian context, you can bless the salt yourself.  Most people seem to gesture in the sign of the cross and use words that announce that they’re blessing the salt in the name of Deity. (Using holy water during the blessing is optional. )

You could also have the salt blessed by a priest or minister.  This usually takes about 30 seconds. A token donation for the blessing is nice but not usually required.  I usually donate between $5 and $15.

Not Christian? I’d still ask a priest or minister to bless the salt.

Are you working with an earth-based spiritual context?  Place a bowl of salt in the window so the light of the full moon shines on it for three consecutive nights.

If your beliefs are related to Voodoo, Vodun, or Yoruba-based spirituality, you may also add a small amount of black salt.  However, only do this if you are completely aware of what black salt does. (That’s imperative.)  If you’re not sure, leave black salt out of the mix.  (Frankly, if that’s your spiritual foundation, several floor washes may provide better protection than the salt, anyway.)

Remember, most of these beliefs about salt are based in folklore and in spiritual traditions.  I can’t promise that salt will work.

I keep salt in my investigation kit but rarely use it.

Even if all it does is act as a placebo — making me feel a little safer around something that troubles me — it’s worth having on hand.