Fairies Mythology: The Irish Banshee (Bean sidhe) and Leanan sidhe
The Irish banshee is a popular folkloric figure in Gaelic fairies’ mythology. You might have heard the term banshee before, such as in the band name Siouxsie and the Banshees or maybe in a horror movie. But the belief in the banshee isn’t modern, it’s ancient. Here we’ll explore the origins, characteristics, and frightening aspects of the Irish banshee and introduce a vampiric-fairy, the Leanan sidhe.
What or Who is the Irish Banshee?
In Celtic fairies’ mythology, the Irish banshee plays an important role. Her name the banshee, or originally bean-sidhe, means “woman of the fairy mound”. Sidhe translating to hill or mound. In Scotland, she’s the cointeach. In Ireland the sidhe were the people of the hills, also called the good folk. Or in layman’s terms – fairies. Fairies are depicted as small, winged and helpful in growing gardens and saving princesses. However, the true nature of the sidhe is much different. The Irish banshee is one example.
The Irish Banshee’s Scream
The banshee is well known in Ireland and parts of Scotland for her keening (wailing scream), which she employs before someone dies. In old Irish lore, this is typically a member of one of the old Irish families of Milesian descent. When the banshee’s scream is heard, it’s truly terrifying. Either of the banshee herself OR of the thought of a family member’s pending death.
Washer at the Fords
In Irish fairies’ mythology, the banshee is sometimes seen washing bloody clothing in the river, which gained her another name – the Washer at the Fords. This is another warning of imminent death. When seen, the banshee is described as either an old hag surrounded in an eerie mist, or as the most beautiful Irish noblewoman that ever lived.
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The Banshee in Scotland and Cornwall
In Scottish fairies’ mythology, she sits near the door of the dying. And in Cornish lore she’s seen outside the dying’s window. Some say she flaps her wings against the window, and this sound has been mistaken as a crow’s wings over the centuries. The fairies are known shapeshifters, so I believe the Banshee shifts into the form of a crow, connecting her to the Irish goddess of death The Morrigan.
Is the Banshee A Fairy or Something Else?
Most will say the Irish banshee is a type of fairy, because of her connection to the sidhe. However, we could argue that she might be something else, a ghost or demonized goddess perhaps. In the same breath, the sidhe, or ALL fairies, are actually ghosts or demonized gods and goddesses from ancient times. Fairies in Ireland are thought by some to be the Tuatha de Dannan, a race of godly beings who were driven into the hills prior to the Iron Age. So, is the Irish banshee actually a goddess of death or psychopomp who comes to warn the deceased’s family? Some say her scream isn’t to scare those who hear it, but is her way of mourning the individual’s death.
What or Who is the Leanan sidhe?
The Leanan Sidhe is another complex folkloric figure in Irish fairies mythology. Her name translates to fairy lover, as her purpose is to take a human lover as a mate. This beautiful fairy woman lives in sacred wells and streams, but unfortunately, you can’t trust her beauty. She’s vampiric in nature, because she sucks the life out of her lovers directly after gifting them with unbelievable musical talent.
The Leanan sidhe’s Red Cauldron
No one knows if there are multiple Leanan sidhe or if she’s one spirit, similar to the Irish banshee. Other legends talk of the Leanan sidhe drinking her victims’ blood and preserving it in a red cauldron. A cauldron that’s theorized to be the source of her beauty and power. Cauldrons are associated with witches and are the source of wisdom and rebirth, indicating the Leanan sidhe was once a wise, powerful goddess (similar to the Welsh Celtic Cerridwen).
In Irish fairies mythology, they say the only way to the only way to escape the Leanan sidhe’s allure is to call out to the Irish Sea God Manann.