The Banshee is just one of the many terrifying superstitions surrounding death and dyring in the UK and Ireland, says guest writer MATTI BEAL
For hundreds of years, people have looked for signs of imminent death.
A bat entangling itself in your hair, a dog howling outside your house or a cow lifting its head to smell the air, are all supposed signs of your impending doom.
Of course, in these times, we know better.
Thanks to the advances of modern medicine, death no longer has quite the same dominion over us as it did when life expectancy was significantly decreased by catching a cold.
However, there are a few, more unnatural omens still demand our attention.
For example, the Banshee, probably the most popular omen in British and Irish folklore is still discussed and feared by many to this day.
She is known in Welsh as Gwrach-y-Rhibyn and in Scotland she is Bean Nighe, seen washing the clothes of those about to die.
Norse and American folklore also have similar creatures.
The legends supposedly originate from the traditional lament that would be sung by a woman at funerals.
Everyone and their mother knows the Banshee.
A lesser known, but superbly grand omen can be seen stories of The Wild Hunt.
This horde of spectres was said to be seen racing across the night sky, gathering souls of the departed.
The huntsmen said to be bearing the wounds that killed them, are accompanied by spectral dogs, similar to the Black Shuck, and fierce horses and raging winds.
Those who set eyes on the procession were said to soon suffer a great misfortune or death.
Although traditionally said to be led by Celtic spirits, fairies, or Pagan Gods, towards the end of the Middle Ages, the association was made to Witchcraft, and the Hunt’s leader was branded as demonic, or as Satan himself.
Now I don’t know about you, but if I had to encounter a Death omen, I’d rather it be something like that, rather than a poxy little bird bloodying my window.
These and countless others are said to be foreshadowing the shadow of death, but why do they hold such a deep fear and fascination?
Why do we search for such macabre meanings in such simple things?
Maybe, it’s an attempt to prepare ourselves of the inevitable. If we read these signs in the same way as our ancestors, we are warned, and have time to make peace with the world before Mr. Grim comes a’knocking.
And if it turns out that the dog howling outside was just hungry, and was not, in fact, lamenting the coming loss of its owner?
Then we think ourselves lucky, and remind ourselves that we are alive.