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  • Writer's pictureMacabre Emporium Pod

Episode 37 - A Banshee and a Revenant Walk Into a Bar...

SARAH:

Banshees

Banshee, Fairy woman
Early depiction of a banshee

When you hear the word Banshee what do you think of? Most think of women spirits floating around and screaming being scary for no good reason. I hear banshee and think Siouxsie - we are not the same.


Banshees have been long intertwined in Irish culture and fairytales. I don’t see the fairytale part of it, but that’s just me. The first stories of banshees appeared in the 8th century, and were seemingly based on the tradition of women that sang a sorrow filled song to grieve someone's death. Back then, these women were known as keeners. They were known to accept alcohol as a form of payment for their songs. The Irish church had considered this as bartering - which was a contradiction of God. Therefore, they were often said to be sinners as well, and their punishment for their sin was being doomed to become a banshee upon their own death.


So what exactly IS a banshee? Based on Irish folklore, she is a disembodied spirit and an omen of death that screams, which they call keening, and that scream is to let you know that there is an imminent death in the family ahead. It’s also said that each Irish family has its very own banshee. According to mythology, if you spot one, she will vanish into a cloud of fine mist or smoke. That action also has a sound with it. It’s been recorded that when they vanish, it makes a noise like a bird flapping its wings.


They roamed the Irish countryside, seemingly being pulled towards the person that is dying. They often hovered above the ground, they would glide over terrain like fog. They are said to peer into the windows of the person who is going to die and scream.


A banshee can appear in numerous forms. Some of the forms that one has claimed to take are:

  • A headless woman that carries a bowl of blood while wearing nothing from the waist up

  • A pale woman with long red hair wearing a white dress

  • An old woman with red eyes and long white hair wearing a green dress

  • A beautiful woman wearing a shroud

  • An old woman with long gray hair wearing all black with her face covered by a veil

  • A woman with long silver hair wearing a long silver dress

  • The height of banshees differed, but most of the tales regarding them said they were short - between one and four feet at most. If they were very short, they were considered the old ones, and those around 4 feet were considered the young ones. But the old small ones are what made people refer to them as fairy women for so long.

  • They were also said to appear as weasels, hares and crows. Some feel as though this was due to witchcraft and witch familiars in Ireland.


Obviously, banshees symbolize doom and gloom. However, not ALL of them are fateful beings. There are some that had such close ties to their family that they just stuck around to watch over their loved ones. When these particular banshees appear, they are beautiful and alluring. They still sing their songs, but it’s less like screams, and more like a soft weeping. The songs are filled with love for their families, and are heard a few days prior to a loved one's death. Most of the time, the song is only heard by the person who is to die. So basically, if you hear it, you’re fucked.


Now for the doom and gloom banshees, they are often described as scary or angry - and these are the ones that we have come to think of. When these banshees were alive, they had reasons to hate people, their family included, which is why they often appear distorted and terrifying. The screams from these banshees are just that…blood curdling screams. They are still singing, but instead of mourning a death, they are reveling in the fact that someone that made them mad is near death.


If there were a bunch of banshees together, this was associated with the impending death of someone holy, or of great importance... like a wealthy clan member.


They are also sometimes referred to as washerwomen, since there were stories of them washing the clothes of those near death so that when they did pass they would have something clean to wear for their burial. Some sources said it was the person’s everyday clothing that was washed, while others have stated it was a death or burial shroud. But they go hand in hand I think.


In the middle ages, Irish people believed that the presence of banshees were there solely to watch over the families of Emerald Isle. More notably, they were there to protect the descendants of the original Milesian families. The Milesians were the final race to settle in Ireland, as they were descendants from an older Irish race. The Milesians took death above ground, and the Gods took the ground below. They started burial mounds and fairy trees, which were said to be a portal to the Otherworld.


Those from Ireland that moved to the US long ago are said to have brought their banshees with them. Which makes me wonder, if the folklore is true, and they usually stick to their families, or the people they hated - once all of their descendants are gone, do they finally get to rest?


At any rate, the banshee was, and still is, a highly believed-in creature in Ireland. I say still is, because the older generations still living in Ireland regard this entity as truth. They still tell the tales, they still try to live a good, sinless life so as to not anger the Gods so they don’t turn into one themselves.


 

DAVID:

Revenants

Skeleton, Revenant
Depiction of a revenant

Imagine you are a student at West Virginia University in Morgantown, West Virginia, and it's late, it's dark and you are just trying to return to your dorm as quickly as possible. As you pass Woodburn Hall as you, the clock tower gives you a slight fright as it rings out the hour. After collecting yourself as the bells ring and echo through the night a new sound that is much closer sends a chill down your spine. That sound is a faint ghostly moo, even being in the middle of the campus you know there are no cows in the area.


This could be the sounds of the revenant cow of Morgantown, WV you just heard. As the story goes, a group of students at WVU wanted to play a prank and place a cow inside the clock tower of Woodburn Hall. After acquiring said cow from a University barn they then broke into the building and led the cow upstairs to the clock tower painting the cow purple and leaving a nursery rhyme on bed sheets sewn together.


“I have never seen a purple cow, I hope I never see one, but I can tell you I’d rather see one than be one.”


With their prank in place, they quickly rushed to ground level to see the reactions they would get for their prank. As most laughed and looked on at the helpless cow mooing in distress, staff probably didn’t find it as funny. Because cows and many farm animals can walk upstairs but not back down. Stairs don’t exist in nature and with the position of their eyes, they wouldn't be able to see the stairs that are made for humans to climb up and down.


The purple cow of Woodburn Hall was stuck in the clock tower for an unknown amount of days until it either died or was killed by staff and brought down in pieces. Staff, students, and visitors have claimed to hear the mooing to this day when visiting WVU.


When I first heard this story I was curious to know what exactly is a revenant. Due to the success of Leo Di Caprio’s movie of the same name The Revenant, this might come to mind first. The term revenant is derived from the French word, revenir or to return.


Revenants are a type of ghost in folklore that return from the grave to seek revenge or complete an important task when they died suddenly. Earlier versions of revenants in medieval times it was believed that revenants only came from those that were quite wicked in life. Living this way could be what had left them open to corruption by evil forces or the wrath of a saint and, when they would return from the grave they would set out to spread disease and mischief. One of the other beliefs of this is that those who were buried near or on the day of significant dates for Christians can cause revenants to rise.


It wouldn’t be until much later would they take on developing a purpose or completing an important task, such as irritating me to no end in Diablo 4 when they shove their sword through my Druid to heal itself.


One of the stories of such behavior of revenants causing havoc took place in the 12th century in the writings of historian William of Newburgh. when a man who died in Buckingham was laid to rest on the eve of the Lord’s ascension after he died suddenly and in death would lay on top of his wife crushing her with his weight. This would go on for several nights until she would have her room guarded by others to scare him off by shouting. Now unable to reach his wife, he would turn to harass his brothers in a similar manner until they got fed up with it and guarded themselves the same way. And since the revenant couldn’t cause his mischief he would riot among the animals.


One of the abilities of revenants is they can reanimate a corpse which generally was their own to complete their task. Now you might think this now makes them a zombie but, zombies are typically under the control of a necromancer to complete what plans or tasks they might have.


Revenants would only appear at night even though there is one variation where a pair of them could be spotted during sunset carrying their coffins on their shoulders at sunset.


One tale of revenants I found comes from the Netherlands. In the 11th century, a priest in Deventer would be horrified to discover the dead attending mass at night in a church that had fallen into disrepair. Going to his Bishop for advice on what to do to stop them from going to mass, he instructed the priest to simply stop them from entering the church. Which didn’t work out so well for the priest and he was thrown out by the dead.


As most people wouldn’t want to lay a hand on a man of God but clearly the dead didn’t care and were going to attend their version of mass and nothing was going to stop them. The bishop would repeat his orders after hearing of the priest's failed attempt the first time.


The next night he would wait for the dead in hiding to come again for mass and the dead would discover him and this would bring him to his untimely end. You would think they would tear him from limb to limb and drink his blood as revenants are known to do but instead, they burn him on the altar of the church.


Even with revenants said to have superhuman strength and speed and the ability to shape-shift they can be stopped by removing the heart and burning the body in the grave along with dismembering all limbs or just its head. Also just like vampires driving a steak through the heart of the corpse the revenant would possess.


With so many tales of revenants and variations of their abilities, I came across what is said to be an eyewitness account from a monk of one of these revenants that we talked about in a previous episode. Since there was no name actually given so I am going to for the sake of clarity to tell this story


Albert who fled York after breaking the law would seek refuge in a castle named Anatis in Northumberland and make his home here. Albert would end up taking up work within Castle Anatis and instead of correcting his evil ways, it would only make them stronger. He ended up getting married and this soon would be the end of him. After hearing rumors of his young wife sleeping with another man from around the castle, being vexed with jealousy he would tell his bride he was leaving on a trip and would be gone for a few days. He would later return that evening and with the help of a chambermaid would sneak into their home and hide in the rafters to see if the rumors were true with his own eyes and if it was to bring shame to their marriage bed. As Albert watched his wife and a neighbor commit adultery and forget his purpose while he was hiding fell from the rafters hitting the ground next to him mortally injuring the unknown man.


His wife’s lover would leap up and escape his wife would help him up from the ground as he recovered from his fall he would berate her for adultery and threaten her with punishment for it but she blamed his jealousy on his injuries. Albert wouldn’t recover from his injuries and a monk was called to give the jealous husband to absolve his sins and take communion before he passed but refused to until the next day as he was still thinking of what just had happened to him and put it off until tomorrow. Well, tomorrow wouldn’t come for Albert as he died that night.


Even though not being made Christian by taking communion Albert was still given a Christian burial. The following night after his burial Albert would return from the grave while being followed by a pack of wild dogs as he spread disease among the ground of castle Anatis. Along with this pack of dogs, and spread disease in his wanderings of the courts around the homes in the castle walls.. if you were caught by Albert the revenant he would violently attack you.


The people of the castle would make sure their doors were locked and would not leave for any reason after dark until sunrise after Albert the revenant would return to his grave. Due to the nightly attack from Albert, the town would soon start to be deserted and something had to be done.


Two brothers decided to take matters into their own hands after their father became ill and died from the sickness the revenant assaulted the witch town nightly and dug him up after he returned to the grave. As they unearthed the corpse they would find it bloated and without fear pierced the body with their shovels as blood which was more so the liquified remains inside the body poured out.


The two brothers would take Alberts's body outside of the village as they quickly constructed a funeral pyre to burn the body on before he woke up. But first, they had to remove the heart as the current beliefs of revenants the body would not burn if the heart was still inside, using their spades again to break the chest open and pull the heart from Albert’s chest before setting him on fire bringing an end to the Vampire of Alnwick Castle in Northumberland.


Yes, the same Alnwick Castle that is home to the poison garden in episode 23.


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