THE Banshee means, especially, the woman of the fairy race, from van, "the Woman--the Beautiful;" the same word from which comes Venus. Shiloh-Van was one of the names of Buddha--"the son of the woman;" and some writers aver that in the Irish--Sullivan (Sulli-van), may be found this ancient name of Buddha.
As the Leanan-Sidhe was the acknowledged spirit of life, giving inspiration to the poet and the musician, so the Ban-Sidhe was the spirit of death, the most weird and awful of all the fairy powers.
But only certain families of historic lineage, or persons gifted with music and song, are attended by this spirit; for music and poetry are fairy gifts, and the possessors of them show kinship to the spirit race--therefore they are watched over by the spirit of life, which is prophecy and inspiration; and by the spirit of doom, which is the revealer of the secrets of death.
Sometimes the Banshee assumes the form of some sweet singing virgin of the family who died young, and has been given the mission by the invisible powers to become the harbinger of coming doom to her mortal kindred. Or she may be seen at night as a shrouded woman, crouched beneath the trees, lamenting with veiled face; or flying past in the moonlight, crying bitterly: and the cry of thus spirit is mournful beyond all other sounds on earth, and betokens certain death to some member of the family whenever it. is heard in the silence of the night.
The Banshee even follows the old race across the ocean and to distant. lands; for space and the offer no hindrance to the mystic power which is selected and appointed to bear the prophecy of death to a family. Of this a well authenticated instance happened a few years ago, and many now living can attest the truth of the narrative.
Abranch of the ancient race of the O'Gradys had settled in Canada, far removed, apparently, from all the associations, traditions, and mysterious influences of the old land of their fore-fathers.
But one night a strange and mournful lamentation was heard outside the house. No word was uttered, only a bitter cry, as of one in deepest agony and sorrow, floated through the air.
Inquiry was made, but no one had been seen near the house at the time, though several persons distinctly heard the weird, unearthly cry, and a terror fell upon the household, as if some supernatural influence had overshadowed them.
Next day it so happened that the gentleman and his eldest son went out boating. As they did not return, however, at the usual time for dinner, some alarm was excited, and messengers were sent down to the shore to look for them. But no tidings came until, precisely at the exact hour of the night when the spirit-cry had been heard the previous evening, a crowd of men were seen approaching the house, bearing with them the dead bodies of the father and the son, who had both been drowned by the accidental upsetting of the boat, within sight of land, but not near enough for any help to reach them in time.
Thus the Ban-Sidhe had fulfilled her mission of doom, after which she disappeared, 'and the cry of the spirit of death was heard no more.
At times the spirit-voice is heard in low and soft lamenting, as if close to the window.
Not long ago an ancient lady of noble lineage was lying near the death-hour in her stately castle. One evening, after twilight., she suddenly unclosed her eyes and pointed to the window, with a happy smile on her face. All present looked in the direction, but nothing was visible. They heard, however, the sweetest music, low, soft, and spiritual, floating round the house, and at times apparently close to the window of the sick room.
Many of the attendants thought it was a trick, and went out to search the grounds; but nothing human was seen. Still the wild plaintive singing went on, wandering through the trees like the night wind--a low, beautiful music that never ceased all through the night.
Next morning the noble lady lay dead; then the music ceased, and the lamentation from that hour was heard no more.
There was a gentleman also in the same country who had a beautiful daughter, strong and healthy, and a splendid horsewoman. She always followed the hounds, and her appearance at the hunt attracted unbounded admiration, as no one rode so well or looked so beautiful.
One evening there was a ball after the hunt, and the young girl moved through the dance with the grace of a fairy queen.
But that same night a voice came close to the father's window, as if the face were laid close to the glass, and he heard a mournful lamentation and a cry; and the words rang out on the air--"In three weeks death; in three weeks the grave--dead--dead--dead!"
Three times the voice came, and three times he heard the words; but though it. was bright moonlight, and he looked from the window over all the park, no form was to be seen.
Next day, his daughter showed symptoms of fever, and exactly in three weeks, as the Ban-Sidhe had prophesied, the beautiful girl lay dead.
The night before her death soft music was heard outside the house, though no word was spoken by the spirit-voice, and the family said the form of a woman crouched beneath a tree, with a mantle covering her head, was~ distinctly visible. But on approaching, the phantom disappeared, though the soft, low music of the lamentation continued till dawn.
Then the angel of death entered the house with soundless feet, and he breathed upon the beautiful face of the young girl, and she rested in the sleep of the dead, beneath the dark shadows of his wings.
Thus the prophecy of the Banshee came true, according to the time foretold by the spirit-voice.