Gods and Monsters: The Banshee

Eve Volungeviciute


Another instalment of the mythological creature deep dive series has arrived. This time we are looking at a fairly well-known – however, not as mainstream – entity, the banshee. I will keep the same format where possible when it comes to discussing the origins, appearance and portrayals of the being. Let’s begin!




One of the main sources of origin for a banshee is an Irish myth. It outlines a lament that is sung by the creature, which often would be the first sign for someone that their loved one has passed away. Banshees can also predict death if a person is about to enter a situation from which they might not exit alive. This is why she has also been named ‘the wailing woman’.

There are slight variations to this in the Irish folklore, banshee being a young girl who died a brutal death and stayed behind as a warning spirit for her family. In Welsh accounts, a similar creature is referred to as a cyhyraeth.


‘The Banshee Appears’ (1862, R. Prowse)


The size of a banshee differs depending what account one reads. Some describe her as unnaturally tall while others swear her height is anywhere between one to four feet. She is depicted as having long hair and wearing a cloak over a dress. Her eyes are also red from continuous weeping. It’s said banshees would use combs to maintain their hair and to some this comb would be a good gift to an important person.

A more menacing version of a banshee features her as an old woman with rotten teeth and long fingernails. Her eyes are so hateful that looking into them would cause immediate death.



The description of the banshee’s voice greatly varies. Some describe it as low and pleasant in order to make people feel comfortable, while others say it was used as more of a hypnotic tool. There was even singing involved, although this is not the most common account.



While most myths portray banshees as more akin to predictors of death rather than actively causing mayhem, there are exceptions. Some banshees are depicted as evil, finding pleasure in seeking out victims and wailing at them until they either commit suicide or go insane. Some of them can even tear people to shreds, which has been an inspiration for modern day horror movies.



Modern day portrayal

The depictions of this entity in popular culture have been surprisingly scarce and, when featured, they are not at the forefront of the story. Probably one of the most prominent examples would be Lydia Martin from MTV’s Teen Wolf; however, despite her being a main character, her banshee side is underutilised with the writers making up mythology as they went along.

A couple more examples would be ‘monster of the week’ storylines in Charmed and Supernatural. Charmed explored an interesting possibility of a banshee, with it not just announcing death but sensing people’s pain and killing them over it. Supernatural also goes a more evil route with the Winchester brothers up against a banshee who forces people to shatter their own skulls with her screams. There is a glimpse of the creature in one of the Harry Potter books as well, it being the biggest fear for one of  Hogwarts’ Irish students.



Overall, there is definitely room for exploration when it comes to modern folklore of the banshee. It would be interesting to see more pieces of media where they are not outright villains. Who knows, perhaps something of the sort is being thought up as we speak?