There is nothing quite so terrifying as the cry (or keening) of the Banshee, for to hear her cry is an omen of death. She is known throughout Scotland and Ireland by many names, including Badbh, Cyoerraeth, the Washer Woman, the Bean Nighe and Bean Sidhe. The Banshee, which literally means fairy woman, has been portrayed as both a frightening old woman with glowing red eyes and a beautiful woman with a veiled face. She is always in mourning and wailing for those about to die.
The Banshee has been linked with specific families throughout the Celtic lands whose surnames start with “O’” or “Mac.” The Banshee is not limited to one area, but rather she migrates with her family, no matter where they may choose to relocate.
As the Bean Nighe, or the Washer Woman of the Scottish Highlands, she is a terrifying creature. If one happens upon her while she is washing the bloody clothing of those about to die, and she happens to see them, she will lash out at them with her laundry and break both of their legs. However, if one hides at the spring where she comes to wash, and surprises her, they can demand three wishes. For those even more daring, it is said that to sneak up on the Bean Nighe and to nurse from her breast will make them her foster child. She will then be obligated to give gifts such as second sight or the ability to prophesize.
In Wales she is known as the Cyoerraeth, and will tap on the windows of those about to die. Rarely seen, (which is a blessing, as she is quite frightening) she has long black hair and black teeth, and cries in mourning for those about to die.
It is said that the origins of Banshee lie with the celtic goddess, the Morrigan, who was known to stand in a river and wash the entrails of those about to die in battle while singing a most enchanting and mesmerizing song. Warriors in battle, who could hear her singing, were destined to die. The Morrigan, who has been portrayed as both a beautiful, yet deadly, warrior goddess, and an old hag, is one of the goddesses of the Tuatha dè Danaan.
Though her appearance can be frightening, the Banshee does not bring death with her, she is only in mourning at the loss of a loved one.