I wrote this with the lore of the banshee in mind. When many mnathan-sìthe (pl of bean-shìthe, or “woman of the fairy folk”) are heard wailing and keening at once, it’s to warn us that death is near for somebody of great importance, whether a ruler or religious leader… or Life as we know it, or Mother Earth Herself.
The bean-sidhe is not a malevolent spirit; she is effectively a messenger sent to warn a family that one of them will soon die. She is heard wailing and sobbing through the night to warn the family and to guide the dying to the realm of the dead. If the family (and everyone in the community but the one who will soon die) hears her crying three nights in a row, they know that they should begin planning a funeral.
She can be likened to the professional mourners (“keening women”) of traditional Gaelic society; women were hired and paid handsomely to keen (sing a lament and wail and grieve for the dead) at funerals, as a means of helping the soul of the dead reach the spirit world and to give the surviving family and community a chance for emotional catharsis. Keening is also a means of protest against some form of social injustice.
I have been absolutely haunted by this piece by Loreena McKennitt, “Ancient Pines”: www.youtube.com/watch?v=NlyQbS…
McKennitt said that it represents Earth’s yearning for release from human oppression. And indeed, her vocals sound not just like the despair of the Earth, but like the sobs and wails of the bean-sí.
Na Caoinibh, a Mhnathan-Sìthe
Ged chan eil sibh olc, is gun tig sibh
‘San fheasgair ‘thoirt ur rabhadh dhuinn gu
Bheil bàs dlùth air luchd-dàimh ar cridhe,
Nì mise ùrnaigh nach cluinn sinne
Ur caoineamh ‘s cràdh-ghal anns a’ ghaoith fhuair
Na h-oidhche; coirimh seo crith orm ‘nis…!
Nì mise ùrnaigh nach cluinn sinn sibh
‘S ur peathraichean, ur còisir mhórain
Ban-sìthe ‘caoineamh mar-aon, rabhadh
Gu bheil bàs dlùth air duin’-eigin a
Tha cudthromach thar chàch: Ar Máthair-sa
Fhéin, Danu; ‘s e an Talamh a th’Innt’…!
Tha beist air smachd a ghabhail, beist anns
A’ chumadh chaodachain bhrais luainich
Sa’ bhodhaig dhaoidh shin, bhollsgant’, dhraosda,
Fhéin-spéisich, dhrùisich ‘s lomhainn mhèirleach
Droch-bheusach breugach gun nì prothaid
Á tuairgneamh, ás a’ chreach na Cruinne…!
Chan urrainn dhomh a bheirsinn ‘shaoiltinn
Air còisir chaointichean ‘seinn caoineamh
Airson an aon t-Saoghail àlainn air a
Tha sinne eòlach; na luchd-caoidhe
Airson na Beatha ‘th’ Ar Máthair-s’ air
A bhith a’ toirt ri h-uile bith ‘s linn…!
O, tha fios agam gun caoin sibhse
Na teaghlaichean as sine Gáidhealach;
A-nis, an caoin na mnathan-sìthe
A h-uile theaghlaichean na Cruinne?
‘Nis caoinimh mnathan-caoidh’ gach teaghlach
Airson a’ bhròid ‘s an t-sannta choma.
Och, m’ùrnaigh nach cluinn sinn e, ur seinn,
Ur caoineamh, glug a’ chaoinimh, och òin,
Och òin och, och òin, och òin, geallaibh
Oirnn nach eil déidh-làimh air ar son-sa
A shabaid ris an sabaid trom mór
Airson na Beatha ‘s Danu Is’ Fhéin…!
‘Bheil bodhar na daoidhean cealgach Stàite
Don chaoineamh nam ban-sìthe airson Ar
Máthar no a bheil ead suarach uime?
Ma cluinnimh sinn an caoineamh rabhach
Co-dhiù cha bhi sinn leinn fhéin, ‘s chithear
An cogadh ris an sgriosamh Dhanann-!
Don’t Weep, Banshees
Although you are not evil, and that you come
In the evening to warn us that
Death is dear for our beloved kin,
I pray that we will not hear
Your wailing and anguished sobbing in the cold wind
Of the night; this frightens me now…!
I pray that we will not hear you
And your sisters, your chorus of many
Fairy-women grieving in concert, a warning
To warn us that death is near for somebody who
Is of paramount importance: Our own
Mother, Danu; ‘t is the Earth that She is…!
A beast has taken power, a beast in
The form of an impetuously volatile toddler
In the body of an old, bullying, smutty,
Self-important, lecherous reprobate and his gang of
Morally bankrupt lying thieves that will profit
From chaos, from the plunder of Earth…!
I cannot bear to think about
A chorus of wailing women singing a lament
For the one beautiful Life which
We have ever known; the mourners
For the Life which Our Mother
Has given to every life and era…!
O, I know that you keen for
The most ancient Gaelic families;
Now, will the fairy-women keen
For all the families of the World?
Now mourners will keen for every family
Because of reckless greed and arrogance.
Och, my prayer that we will not hear it, your singing,
Your lament, your sobs, och òin
Och òin och, och òin, och òin, promise
For us that it’s not too late for us
To fight against this heavily vast fight
For Life and for Danu Herself…!
Are the deceitful reprobates of State deaf
To the lament of the banshees for Our
Mother or do they simply not give a damn?
If we will hear their warning wail
At least we will not be alone, and the war
Against the destruction of Danu will be seen-!