Dr. Eileen Jankowski
A banshee, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “a female spirit in Gaelic folklore whose appearance or wailing warns a family that one of them will soon die.” This definition, while correct, barely scratches the surface of banshees in Celtic mythology. These lamenting spirits were once known as “keeners,” or women who sang sad songs at funerals in medieval tradition. Keeners were paid remarkably well, and some were so talented that powerful families claimed they were “bean sidhe,” or fairy women. Over time, banshees have been interpreted in many ways, and the women who were once paid to sing at funerals became omens of imminent death, simply because some keeners accepted alcohol as payment for their services and were therefore seen as “sinners.” Nowadays, banshees are depicted as either horrifying monsters who rip people to shreds or living teenagers with the power to predict death by shrieking, and their original role in mythology is often glossed over. The ever-changing portrayals of banshees, however, do an incredible job of reflecting that specific society’s view of women as a whole, due to their varying depictions in many different cultures and time periods. Through several articles and accounts of banshee sightings from earlier centuries, I hope to examine how these myths reflect on the women of those eras and how their societies held them, whether it be in high standing or the exact opposite.
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