Banshees and Other Harbingers of Death

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Some death omens are simple signs from nature such as an unusual cloud formation or unexpected storms in the presence of an ill person. Some are household symbols such as strange shapes within the melted wax dripping from a candle or coffin shaped cinders in a fireplace.

Some of the most common death omens is the appearance of certain animals, birds and insects. In many cultures both birds and insects are seen as harbingers from the underworld, which is the reason that they are seen as unwanted omens in many cultures. Dark coloured and nocturnal birds, such as rooks, owls, ravens and crows, are widely regarded as death omens when they appear in a village or continually appear near a particular house.

The dog has always been viewed as the guardian of the underworld and a guide to the souls of the dead, so there is no surprise that howling dog is seen in the same unfriendly light as the rook or the raven. The Black Shuck is one of the common dog-like death omens. It is a large black spectral dog which is widely seen in British folklore. The legend of the Black Shuck dates back as far as Viking times and is believed to be based upon the black war hound of Odin. The Black Shuck is described in many tales an all black beast the same size as a calf. It has monstrous fiery yellow or red eyes that burn into its victims. In some tales it is one eyed like the legendary Cyclops. In other tales it is headless but its eyes still appear where they should be and it may wear chains which rattle as it moves. If seen it is believed that misfortune or death will occur within a year.

Death omens also include supernatural and paranormal phenomena. The most common of these is the belief in the Irish banshee. The banshee is a female spirit which is normally found in Ireland and Scotland. She attaches herself to families, particularly those with surnames beginning with “Mac” or “O”. She would then manifest to herald the death of the members of her chosen family. There are many variations in the appearance of the banshee or Bean Si in Scottish and Irish folklore. Some stories describe her as a beautiful woman with long flowing white hair, and wearing a grey cloak over a green dress. In other tales she appears in a white or red gown.

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