Banshees were the wailing women of Celtic belief. These faery women had cries that could pierce the ears of the listeners, and served to herald death. The goddess the Morrigan is considered the first banshee. Many television series have been inspired by the story of the banshee. In Ireland many families see banshees as being assigned to families. When the banshee cried so that you could hear, it was your family’s banshee, and she was letting you know that someone in your family was about to perish!
This means that she relates to the washer at the ford, who was seen by Celtic soldiers before a battle, and if she washed their battle clothes they would die in battle. Banshees also are share cries heralding death with the legend of Melusine. Melusine spent centuries looking over her descendants, and she would cry aloud for family members to hear before one of their own was about to die!
Banshee as a word is derived from ‘bean-sidhe’ which in ancient Ireland was a type of faerie. ‘Sidhe’ is a word that signified faeries of Ireland. It also referred to the places where faeries lived. Banshee is a word that has also made its way into the modern American idiom. Phrases such as “crying like a banshee” and “wailing like a banshee” are common language. Most people would use these words not thinking of their ancient pagan origins!
In season three of Charmed Phoebe gets turned into a banshee when she had her heart broken by Cole. In the mythos of the show banshees were witches that became demonic when they had broken hearts, and would use their screams to kill those in pain due to love. This is one of many instances of Charmed having one of the Halliwell sisters being turned into several different monsters and mythical supernatural beings! Phoebe does not stay a banshee, of course, because Cole confessed his love for her, and she returned to her human form! This particular episode, which aired when I was nine, was my very first introduction to banshees. I adore this late 90s and early 2000s series. Its use of supernatural beings of many cultures always gave me things to research, and therefore was a learning experience. Particularly I love all of the Celtic references within the show’s mythos.
The MTV television show Teen Wolf used banshees as a main supernatural being within the show’s mythos. Lydia was in fact a banshee, and she could therefore hear death, and predict it. Her screams could actually be used as a weapon, which I found very interesting. The idea of using death screams as a weapon to fight supernaturals that are trying to harm you or your loved ones is truly unique. The sequences where Lydia used her screams while in fights were really enjoyable to watch. Lydia as a character, also, had one of the most interesting character arcs on the show. She developed and grew more powerful, more so than most of the other characters on Teen Wolf.
In season three, the current season, of Legacies a banshee appeared as a monster who came out from Malivore. This banshee took on a similar tale to original Irish tales, and to the Charmed version. The banshee was a woman who was mourning her son being taken from her, and her cries drove everyone away from her. In her loneliness and misery a banshee spirit invaded her body, and she became the mythic Irish wailing woman! Ric Saltzman was able to get through to her by learning her name, story, and letting her know what happened to her son!
Over the course of the last two decades television shows have taken on a love of banshees. It is always fun to see the next way that these faerie women will be used by pop culture! I hope you have enjoyed learning a bit about banshees. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is Phoebe as a banshee. I found the image on pinterest.com via Julia Bell.
- Charmed (1998-2006) Season 3 Episode 21 “Look Who’s Barking” ~ This is also the episode Prue is turned into a dog in order to track the banshees!
- Teen Wolf (2011-2017)
- Legacies (2018-present) Season 3 Episode 10 “All’s Well That Ends Well”