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

Scottish Ghosts – Where to Find a ‘Green Lady’

Where to find a Green Lady ghost - ghost huntingThe Green Lady is a unique spirit. She’s more often described as a faerie rather than a ghost.

I’m not sure that’s the best description.  She’s certainly not someone lightly categorized with all brownies or Gruagachs.

Every woman who appears as a ‘Green Lady‘ wears a rich green gown that usually reaches the ground.

In other words, her skin isn’t green; her dress is.

Other than that, it’s difficult to generalize about the appearance of a Green Lady.

DARK TALES OF THE GREEN LADY

In darker legends, the Green Lady is a demon and the gown covers her hairy, goat-like body. In other stories, she is cursed with hooves for feet, and the gown hides them.

In my opinion, those descriptions are about the Green Women, who may be dark, demon-like faeries.

The goat’s body tradition relates to another category of Highland spirits: the Glaistig. In fact, the Green Lady can be called a Ghlaistig uaine, ‘the Green Glaistig.’ Glaistigs are spirits who were once women of title, or at least the mistress of a house.

Each of them has been put under an enchantment. They dislike dogs, prefer to be alone, protect houses, and favor fools and people ‘of weak intellect.’

Of course, that’s another area in which the traditions blur between ghosts, spirits, and faeries.

The Green Glaistigs are rarely seen, but there are stories of the Glaistigs of Ardnacaillich (home of the Macquarries), Donolly Castle, Mernaigh, Dunstaffnage, and many other locations.

In most cases, she is simply called the Green Lady.

FAMOUS GREEN LADY GHOSTS

One of the most famous is the Green Lady of Skipness Castle, by Loch Fyne. She has protected her home and the family in it for centuries. Several times, she created a supernatural confusion among enemies who’d planned to attack the castle. After they left Skipness, their wits returned, but as they marched back towards the Castle, they became confused again.

One Green Lady appears today at Crathes Castle, about 15 miles southwest of Aberdeen City in Scotland. This Green Lady is usually called a “ghost,” and she appears by the fireplace to pick up a ghostly infant. Then they vanish together.

Centuries ago when the castle was renovated, her bones, and those of the baby, were found buried beneath this spot in the castle.

Here’s one authentic story about Crathes’ Castle’s Green Lady.

That YouTube video about the Green Lady of Cathes Castle is at: https://youtu.be/I5jvCZX20aw

Another reliable place to see a Green Lady, is at the ruins of the castle at Caerphilly, just north of Cardiff in Wales.

That YouTube video of Caerphilly Castle is at: https://youtu.be/ewwqbTCpmSk

Like the Green Man of the forest, she hides herself as ivy around this castle. However, if you watch very closely, she will reveal her presence by moving slightly. Once she knows she has been seen, she will emerge as the gracious and lovely woman that she is, extend a hand in welcome if she likes you, and then she vanishes.

MORE GREEN LADY LOCATIONS

There are no formal reports of a Green Lady outside of the British Isles, but there are some similar tales. We suspect that the Green Lady is a category of ghosts, similar to the Banshees (Bean Sidhe) of Ireland.

For example, there is Ocean-Born Mary, an 18th-century spirit who haunts Henniker, New Hampshire. She wears a green gown, and she had Scottish ancestry. (Trivia: She even named one of her sons William Wallace.)

Likewise, 18th-century ghost Judith Thompson Tyng has been seen in a green gown, in the houses she haunts around Nashua, NH. (See my related articles, including The Haunting of John Alford Tyng.)

However, the Green Lady is most frequently found at castles and homes in Scotland. In fact, ghost hunters can plan vacations to encounter at least one Green Lady.

Additional castles that report Green Lady ghosts include Castle of Park, Banff and Fernie Castle, Fife.

Scotland also boasts castles and homes with other “lady” ghosts, including Grey Ladies and White Ladies.

LINKS: WHERE TO ENCOUNTER A GREEN LADY GHOST

Scottish castle entrance

  • A Green Lady appears at Caerphilly Castle in Wales.
  • Another Green Lady protects her baby, and the home, at Crathes Castle.
  • Scotland’s Dunstaffnage Castle, is the home of a Glaistig. And read the legend of this Green Lady, by Margaret Campbell.
  • Additional Green Ladies are seen at their respective castle homes: Fyvie Castle, near Muchalls Castle (now an hotel), Huntingtower Castle, and probably dozens (hundreds?) of others.
  • If you’re planning a trip to Scotland and want to increase your chances of seeing a Green Lady or other spectre, see the list at Travel Scotland’s Haunted Hotels.
  • One haunted hotel in Scotland, Tulloch Castle Hotel, even has a painting of the Green Lady who protects it.Thanks to Adam W. for suggesting the subject of The Green Lady for this article. (The hotel’s link – TullochCastle.co.uk – seems not to be working in March 2017. For now, the best source of information may be travel websites, or Wikipedia.)

Read Next: Scottish Ghosts – The ‘Green Lady’