The Real Reason People Used To Think Banshees Existed

The world is full of people who are believers in Something More — an ill-defined other existence, other way of being, maybe even other dimensions. And then there are those who cry "Pigspittle!" at the merest suggestion of any form of mysticism. There are different ways to express that same thought, but maybe the 13th Century scholastic philosopher Thomas Aquinas said it best: "To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible." Is there something else out there, after this? Peter Pan might have said that death "will be an awfully big adventure," but most of us are quite satisfied with leaving it well enough alone. And the mystery persists. How might we understand it without actually, so to speak, participating? Could we at least get a warning? Maybe? (Hello? Is anybody listening?)

Every land and people have their folk tales — attempts to teach, attempts to understand a mystifying world in days before a scientific process. Those circles in the grass are caused by fairies dancing. A rainbow will lead you to the leprechauns' pot of gold. And speaking of the Irish, it isn't all Darby O'Gill and lucky charms. What's up with those banshees? Buzzkill, for sure.

The origin of banshees is a real hoot

The banshee is a female spirit, as The Irish Post explains; a sort of bridge between this world and the next, fairy folk, "linked to the realm of the dead." The banshees flew, and cried, and wailed, and keened, and if you heard them coming, be prepared for grief, because their specific role was to presage death. (Their cries can also shatter glass, so maybe close the shutters if you have the chance.)

They aren't limited to the Irish — banshees have relatives in Welsh and Scottish mythology as well, says The Post. Their eerie warnings were especially unnerving to armies, gathering in the pre-dawn hours, preparing for battle. Aye, and there's the root, perhaps. Ancient Origins proposes that the legend of the banshees is actually hearing the shattering cry of a barn owl. Imagine an army moving through the woods before sunup — when owls would be active, and watching, and probably annoyed that humans are tramping around, disturbing the prey. You'd screech, too.

Attributing the noise to banshees has been known to give soldiers more than the shudders, with some panicking and fleeing, making them easy targets for the opposing forces — which often means death. See? Banshee cry, then death. Coincidence, or evidence? The existence of banshees was actually being debated in the "letters" section of the Irish Times as recently as the 1890s. There doesn't seem to be any conclusion to the discussion, one way or the other.

Probably just an owl. Unless it wasn't...