I often write about Celtic Faerie lore from a point of view of that lore that migrated to the New World along with the people of Ireland and Scotland. There is very little academic literature on this topic and I have had to scratch and tear bits of data from what primary sources I can find... usually from a family's oral history. One of the most resilient and enduring entities that appears in the New World is the Banshee. This entity is known in both Canada and America from Colonial times to the present. As a young boy, I heard tales of the Banshee, and this back in the 1950s.
Banshee is a anglicised form of Bean Sí, which literally means Woman of Peace, and the inferred meaning is a Faerie Woman. Bean Sí is said like the phonetic anglicised form, Banshee. For you students of Gaelic grammar, Bean Sí is a non lenitied form. Bean (woman) is a feminine noun and normally would take lenition, i.e. An Bhean, but it is an exception to the rule in this case. A Faerie man is a Fear Sí.
In Gaelic lore the Bean Sí is a Faerie woman, one of the Tuatha De Danann, who appears with fore knowledge of some important event. Often the event is a death, but the Bean Sí can also be a portent of outrageous good fortune. While the term Bean Sí means Faerie Woman, it has taken on an additional meaning in lore. So a Bean Sí can specifically mean that female entity who is a harbinger of events or can just mean a generic Faerie woman.
The Bean Sí is fairly well known in the New World in areas where people of Celtic ancestry have settled. I am most familiar with them in the South and there are legends about them. Many people in the past, and the present, have seen or heard a Bean Sí. And, just in case you think a Bean Sí could not get any more spooky... there are legends of a Bean Sí going bad.
There is a type of Bean Sí who is called in Gaelic, a Baobhan Sí. The Baobhan Sí is a murderous, often blood sucking, Faerie woman. The Baobhan Sí appears as a beautiful, fair haired, woman, dressed in white. In the South, there are dozens of stories about The White Woman. She is charming and uses spells to render the victim defenseless. The Baobhan Sí uses her delicate hands, and sharp finger nails, to put deep cuts in her victim, and proceeds to feast on his blood. Hunters are especially vulnerable, it is said, because she smells the blood on their hunting clothes.
There are several variations of the lore concerning The White Woman, but they all involve the death of some unsuspecting man, lured to his demise, by a beautiful, young woman, dressed in white.
A famous Bean Sí, inhabits the banks of the Tar River near Tarboro, Edgecombe County, North Carolina. North Carolina was largely settled by Scots-Irish, Scots, and Irish, and it is no surprise to find a Bean Sí in that area. The Tar River Bean Sí first appeared in 1781. On this occasion she did so in the customary role as harbinger of a death, of Dave Warner, who was attacked and drowned, by British troops. After the murder of Dave Warner, the soldiers were haunted. The Bean Sí was heard keening (caoineadh to cry or weep) outside their quarters... and she told them that they would all soon be dead. This came to pass when they were indeed killed in a skirmish with North Carolina militia. The Bean Sí did not stop there, she was seen about the Tar River where Dave Warner had been killed and on occasion, her sorrowful wail has been heard.
|the Bean Sí|
Another well known Bean Sí incident happened in Marrtown, West Virginia. Thomas and Mary Marr with immigrants from Scotland and made a life for themselves in western Virginia, now in West Virginia. Thomas on several occasions noticed a robed figure riding a white horse. The face of the rider was obscured by the hood of a cloak, so that he never had a clear view of the rider's face. When he tried to approach the rider, the figure would disappear into the morning mists. In February 1878, the white horse and rider approached the house of Mary Marr while her husband was away. As the rider came close, Mary could see the face of a veiled woman, who spoke to Mary, 'I am here to tell you Mary Marr, that Thomas Mar has just died, Say your prayers, Lady, I bid you well.' The Bean Sí made one more appearance upon Mary passing. Mourners at the funeral heard the keening of a unseen woman.
A Bean Sí normally follows a family, from generation to generation. Occasionally, a Bean Sí will cross to water to follow the fate of her host family. There are Bean Sí sightings from specific families in both America and Canada. In the busy post modern world, with endless distractions devoid of heritage and culture... there are very few recent accounts of the Bean Sí. Sadly, many people do not even know their ancestors and have lost connections with them. For them, the continuum is broken. There are still families that have managed to keep their cultural continuum with their ancestors alive and for them the Bean Sí still lives.
© 2018 Barry R McCain