Beware the Banshee! I don’t mean the new hit show on Cinemax.In Ireland, the Banshee is the spirit of a female fairy who is a messenger of death. Sometimes, only her wailing is heard. Other times, a wailing woman is seen, wearing clothes of mourning. Either way, it is a sign of impending death.
Death isn’t always violent or immediate. Usually, the one who encounters the Banshee will lose a family member or friend in the near future.
The story of the Banshee reminds me of the Wampus Cat in American lore. The story says it is the spirit of death and its cries mean death within three days. For a fun, fictional look at a Wampus Kitty, I recommend DemonHunting in a Dive Bar by Lexi George.
Another creature of Irish lore is the Pooka (Puca). It is said to be a type of fairy or goblin that can shape shift but usually appears dark in color. They have a bad reputation for appearing in the form of a horse and tormenting their riders with jumping, running, and generally tearing stuff up.
Pookas also speak with the voice of a human, even if in animal form, which is a little unsettling to the hearer. In Ireland, it is said that if the sun is out while it is raining, that the Pooka will be out that night.
In the Southeastern US, we say that if it is raining while the sun is shining, that means the devil is beating his wife over the head with a frying pan. We also have a Pooka-like creature called a Haint.
A Haint is a spirit or ghost that often appears in the form of a black animal. While the Irish Pooka is said to be neither benevolent nor malevolent, the Southern Haint is bad news. I have a fictionalized family story that may explain it better.
Near dusk one crisp, autumn evening, three brothers were on their way home from a hunting trip. The eldest brother, Finn, carried a flour sack containing two dozen quail. They were laughing and talking when suddenly, the horses spooked and each man struggled to maintain control of his mount.
Ahead in the distance, they noticed a small cat exit the wooded area beside the road and stop in front of them. As a cold chill danced across Finn’s nerve endings, he held out his hand to slow his brothers.
The black cat stood on its hind legs and grew to the size of a horse, its eyes were glowing red embers. The youngest brother, Garr, drew his pistol but before he could squeeze off a round, Finn wrapped his hand around Garr’s arm, slowly pushing it down. The creature vanished before their eyes.
“What in the world was that?” Garr asked.
“That was a haint– pure evil,” Finn explained. “If you would have shot it, the bullet would have come back and killed you.”
Garr swallowed audibly as Finn spurred his horse forward. The brothers followed and they rode home swiftly, keeping their eyes peeled for trouble that never came.
For more on Irish lore, please visit Your Irish.
Have you ever heard the cry of a Banshee or Wampus Cat? Did someone die? Have you ever taken a wild ride on a Pooka or encountered a Haint? I’d love to hear from you.