One of the prompts from Cricket’s Slice Of Life this week is family superstitions.
The Irish side of my family are a very superstitious lot.
Image : Banshee by Traumknabe from Deviant Art
In traditional folklore the banshee was a woman of the fairy who possibly was an ancestral spirit appointed to forewarn members of a family of their time of death. My grandmother, all her sisters and brothers, and my great grandmother and all her family, believed the banshees walked on dark and moonless nights, searching endlessly for the next human soul to pass into the afterlife. They locked all their doors and windows and stayed indoors on such nights.
Great Gran Min called the banshee the White Lady of Sorrow. She wore a long, white winding sheet, had long, pale hair which she tidied with a silver comb, and sometimes rode a white horse. Her wail was so piercing it could shatter glass.
It is said that the cry of a banshee foretold the death of Great Gran Min’s father, Seamus McGonagle.
It was midwinter. In the sky ten thousand shadows blocked the light of the moon. It was so dark the nightbirds fluttered nervously in the trees. A wind, a lament, rose from the winter sea, spiralling upward to the hills.
The wind became a wail, touching everything, the air was alive with mournfulness. The banshee paced the fields surrounding Seamus McGonagle’s house, her long, silver hair sweeping the ground like a cloak; the white, gauzy sheet she wore, bright in the darkness.
All night long she cried. All night long the inhabitants of the house cowered in their beds. A shudder passed into the house, a trembling greater than terror.
In the morning Seamus McGonagle’s bedroom floor was grimy with broken glass. His window stood wide open and shattered, looking out to the hills. In the morning, Seamus McGonagle was dead.
This story has always filled me with an unspeakable fear. Logically, I am forced to question the very existence of the banshee, but on dark, moonless nights, I wonder……
I love, love this. I love your words and how they so effortlessly spring forth a mood…light and airy as a vapor. I love folklore and I love ghost stories. I love how the lines between reality and lore fuse and mesh like oil paints. Did you ever see the movie, “The Secret of Roan Inish”?
Once again, very well written Selma. I have heard the phrase, “cry of the banshee”, before but never knew the story behind it. And putting logic aside, I totally understand your apprehension.
The banshee is one of my favourite legends as well…
Gee I wish I hadn’t read THAT at 2am on a dark and windy night. You write these stories so well Selma.
There’s something about the dark that brings out irrational fears. Perhaps this comes from our being diurnal animals. The expression “by the light of day”, as in, “the problem didn’t look as bad by the light of day” expresses the overwhelming emotional quality that the night brings. Hitler used to hold rallies at night because he knew it was a more emotional time.
I remember a Night Gallery episode about another Irish folk tale. It was about “the sin eaters”. These were people who would attend funerals and eat a meal that symbolized the sins that the deceased had committed in his life.
and i for one have great expectations of seeing the banshee for myself one moonless night… this was first class selma.. i loved it…
Oh man Selma! Your banshee story gave me goosebumps and it made me think of a particular episode of Charmed, where one of the sisters had turned into a banshee. Again very well written – every time I read your stories its as if I open a tv in my head and all those beautiful words come alive into an amazing show in there! It is so hard to explain how your stories come alive to me when I read them. Does it make sense to you when I try to explain it?
That is an incredible story, Selma. Now I have a better sense of why an Irish fiddle tune that I play is entitled, Wail of the Banshee.
BRENDA – That is a great movie. I am a huge fan of celtic mythology. So many wonderful stories. Thank you so much for your lovely comments.
CRICKET – I say to myself that story can’t possibly be true, but the rest of the family seem so convinced. Occasionally when I think of it the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. So many family superstitions are scary. Your story unnerved me too.
NAT – it is a good one, isn’t it ?
GYPSY – talk about setting the scene. I would have been looking over my shoulder every five minutes. The last time that happened to me, it was about 3AM, I couldn’t sleep and ‘The Blair Witch Project’ was on TV. Never again. I was a wreck.
RWHACKMAN – I didn’t know about the ‘sin-eaters.’ I’m going to have to research that because I’d love to write a story about them. Thank you so much!
PAISLEY – I have a secret desire to see her too. I hope if I ever do though, that she isn’t coming for me…..
TBALL – that is just the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me. A writer’s dream is to incite a reaction like that. You have completely made my day!
KATE – if you play Irish fiddle you must be very good. A classical violinist I know says it is very difficult. How wonderful that you play a tune about a banshee. I think that is amazing!
Here you are, friend:
I was thinking that Night Gallery might have made the whole thing up, but then I seemed to remember hearing that the “sin eaters” were real. I was prepared to admit it if I was passing on false information, but it looks like I was right.
That’s a good feeling to have once in a while.
RWHACKMAN – oh, thank you so much. I am really going to enjoy writing a story about them. You are brilliant!
What a beautifully, well-written but chilling story! You have a real gift, Selena! Thank you for the opportunity to read this, I really enjoyed it!
I’d almost forgotten about this story. So glad you liked it. I really appreciate you taking the time to read it!