Enter the Banshee...
In the Gaelic, "Ben Sid" or by either Boheentha or Bankeen-tha. She is described by some as very old, with white hair and black robes, by some as very yong, with light hair and blue eyes, and by some as a horrific haint, with hellish red hair and scathing green eyes. She is known to travel alone or with "The Headless Hearse, a mile high"*1 Whatever her (meta)physical description, her purpose is always the same; To fortell the impending passing of someone close, to the one she appears to.
The first tales surrounding her date back to A.D. 1014 and the Banshee belonging to the kingly house of O'Brien. Earliest legend has it that she was found only in the days before a battle, washing blood from the sheets, or limbs or in some cases, faces of the one to pass. Since then, however, the legend has evolved to depict her wailing and clapping her hands, or in some cases singing. The commonly used phrase "screaming like a Banshee" leads us to an incorrect image of the Banshee, however, for though she is fierce, most stories hold that she cries in true empathy for the family.
Upon her arrival, the Banshee will remain present, though not always visible, until the passing as occurred, at which time she escorts the deceased to the other-world. One tale tells the story of two brothers, waiting for an Uncle to die. As they sat in the kitchen outside his bedroom, an awful and chilling wail commenced, which both men recognized to be the cry of the Banshee. Suddenly, the back door was flung wide. Horrified, one of the young men jumped up and closed the door, fearing the enterance of Herself. He had only just regained his chair, when the door was flung open again. Three times this occurred, until finally, the his brother urged him not to close the door. When once more it was blown open, both brothers sat in silence until two minutes later when the attending doctor came out and told them their uncle had passed. This story signifies that the closed door was blocking the Banshee from retrieving the spirit of the uncle.
The Banshee is decidedly otherworldly, but there is much debate about whether or not she belongs among "The Good People", more commonly known as Faeries. Those that say she does would classify her, if you will, as Genus: Sidh Faerie, Species: Banshee. There are others who say she is related to Macha, the horse goddess, or Aine, goddess of the sea. She became associated with justice and revenge and is, according to this side the the argument, a "fallen goddess". Some stories allude to different families having their "own" Banshee, and many hold to the thought that the Banshees are a race. Several sroties even tell about a valley full of Banshees, singing their dirge in unison. This event, however, is only reputed to happen at the passing of someone very good and noble.
A common misconception about her is that the Banshee attends only to the old Irish and only in Ireland. This, according to lore, is not true. She has attened British, Dutch and Welsh, among others, and as far away as America. Herself will never appear to the one for whom she cries, so if you were to find yourself in a room full of people who see her, when you cannot... beware.
In some stories, the Banshee is percieved as vengeful, rebellious, and wild. A smattering of such legends consist of tales where a man mistakenly tapped her shoulders and she in turn slapped him. The man was left with her fingerprints upon is face until the day she wailed at his door. Another such story tells of a young expectant mother who mocked the Banshee. This angered the Banshee so much that while the mother gave birth, the Banshee wailed, and the child was born still.
The gravest warning given to those told about her is that when she travels the road with the Dullahan (The headless hearse's faerie coachman)do not open your door and look, or she will throw a bowl of blood in your face, an omen of your own sealed fate.
Whether she be kind or cruel, fallen or faerie, she is not one you would like to see at your door...
Exit the Banshee
*1"Meeting the Other CrowdThe Fairy Stories of Hidden Ireland" By Eddie Lenihan and Carolyn Eve Green.