Myth Monday: The Banshee (Irish Legend)

Myth Monday: The Banshee (Irish Legend)

By Kara Newcastle

Banshee by Michelle Monique

After the leprechaun, there is no mythological creature more closely associated with Ireland than the banshee. Lately more the stuff of plotlines for horror movies and shows such as Supernatural and Teen Wolf, the banshee is an ancient spirit, with versions of the creature dating back to well before the Roman invasion of the British Isles … with reports of her occurring even to this day.

The word “banshee” is the Anglicized spelling and pronunciation of the Irish Gaelic word bean sidhe, which generally translates as “woman of the fairy mound.” (A fairy mound is an old earthwork, typically a tomb or the remains of an old fort, said to be the dwelling place of the fairies.) In Irish mythology, the fairies, also called the Fair Folk, the Light Folk, the Bright Ones or Gentlefolk (the term “little people” is actually more of an American invention—the Irish would never dare call the fairies something so derogatory) are human-like entities that exist in a dimension parallel to our own. Typically fairies are invisible, but when they do choose to be seen or are accidentally noticed by people, they look like tall, slender, beautiful human beings. The nursery stories and movies would have you believe that fairies are whimsical wish-givers, but in truth, the fairies are capricious; they don’t care much for humans, finding them to be typically destructive and dishonorable. Most times, fairies would rather cruelly trick, kidnap and enslave or even outright kill humans than have anything to do with them.

However, exceptions have happened, and there are many stories of the Fair Folk being kind to and even falling in love with human beings. One example is the fairy Cliobhna, who fell in love with a man from Cork. After her lover drowned at sea, Cliobhna attached herself to their family. Other times a fairy seems to become attached to a family of great renown; the fairy queen Aoibheall of Craig Liath (Gray Rock) in County Muenster aligned herself with the famous hero Brien Boru (Brian the Blessed), the progenitor of the O’Brien clan.

Stories like this are frequently cited as reasons why certain Irish families (and certain Scotch-Irish families) have a banshee, while others suggest that the banshee was a virgin woman who died because having a family of her own, and has been allowed by some greater power to remain with her relatives in spirit. In County Antrim, the O’Neill family has a legend that Kathleen O’Neill was taken to the bottom of the lough (lake) as punishment for her father interfering with a fairy cow (yes, the fairies have cows, horses, pigs, dogs and cats) and was permitted to visit her family only when someone was about to die.

The Bunworth Banshee

Generally, banshees attach themselves to prominent families, but there are also stories of banshees attaching themselves to the poor inhabitants of workhouses, a woman in County Dongeal becoming a banshee after going insane with grief when her husband drowned, and the banshee of Duckett’s Grove, created as a curse by a woman whose daughter died in an accident while out riding with her lover. Banshees are known to appear beside streams, along lonely roads, in abandoned locales, and have traveled all over the world along with their chosen family members … there are lots of stories of American banshees.

Because the banshee maintains such a close guard over her ancestors or chosen family, when a member dies or is about to die, she is overcome with intense grief. Sometimes she will physically manifest, sometimes she will remain invisible, but she is always heard, singing, crying, screaming in distress, or keening. “Keening” is an ancient funerary art practiced by the Celts and Gaels and performed by one or more women. The keening woman would lament loudly over the dead person, saying things such as listing their accomplishments in life, how much they would be missed and so on. Families would often hire professional keening women, called bean chaointe, and this likely had an influence on the banshee legend as well. (Or could it be the other way around?)

While it’s always agreed that a banshee would make herself heard, it’s not always agreed upon what she looked like when she did manifest. Different families and different regions of Ireland seem to have their own version of the banshee’s physical appearance, but it could be that of a beautiful young woman with white or red hair dressed in white or silver, a withered old hag with red eyes in a green cloak, or even a headless woman who was naked from the waist up—that one might cause anybody to drop dead of fright. Among the Scottish and several other northern European cultures, the banshee appears at a fjord or river, and is seen washing the often-bloody clothes belonging to the person who was about to die (this version is called the bean nighe.)

Sometimes the women are seen sobbing, tearing at their hair (though a few reports say that she’s actually combing her hair), or rush towards people with their mouth agape in a horrific shriek. There are some stories of the banshee standing beside the dying person, singing to them softly, as if to comfort them. They are seen in the bedrooms of the dying, pacing the hallways outside their rooms, walking the road towards the dying person’s home, or standing just outside the house. One contributor on a Reddit subboard told how their grandmother told them that their great uncle was walking home from the pub one night when he found a sobbing old woman outside his house. Feeling bad for the stranger, the man tried to invite her into the house, but when he turned back she had vanished. The commentator’s grandmother realized what had happened and hurried her brother to his bed. Three days later he passed away.

You’ve probably heard the story that if you hear a banshee then you were sure to die. This isn’t one hundred percent true, actually; nearly every version of the banshee legend says that almost anyone can hear a banshee, whether they’re the victim or not. The banshee is thought to cry out to let relatives of the dying person know that someone in their family was about to pass away. And as it turns out, the dying person didn’t have to be a family member—it could be a well-loved friend. A great example of this comes from the book Passing Strange by folklorist Joseph A. Citro. In the book, Citro documents the experiences of a wealthy Boston businessman (who asked to be kept anonymous) and a banshee who haunted him. The first time he heard the banshee in was early on a sunny morning when he was a boy, dozing in bed. A bizarre shriek startled him awake. He looked outside his window to see if an animal might have made the noise, but saw nothing. When he went downstairs to ask his parents, the boy was shocked to see his father in the kitchen, weeping. His mother took the boy aside and told him that his paternal grandfather had just died.

At that time, the boy knew nothing about banshees, and the whole event slipped from his mind until much later, when he heard the tale. He wondered about it, but put it out of his mind … until one morning in 1946. By now he was a young man in the Air Force, stationed somewhere in Asia when it happened. This time, he was dead asleep with the horrible howl jarred his awake, around six in the morning. Sitting up, he was suddenly overcome with grief and instinctively knew that his father had passed away, which was exactly the case.

The last time the man reported hearing the banshee’s cry was about seventeen years later, while on a business trip to Toronto. Again, the sound happened in the morning, but this time the man was wide awake and reading the paper when it happened. Recognizing the sound, the man was struck with fear and called home. He was assured that his wife, their son, and his brothers were all perfectly safe and healthy, but he still felt worried.

Later that day, he found out why; a good friend of his had been murdered. The date was November 22, 1963. His friend? It was John F. Kennedy.

Did a banshee foretell JFK’s death?

Another story goes that the banshee only comes for men, or that only men are able to hear her. Again, this doesn’t seem to be the case, at least for some families; there are many stories of the banshee crying at the death of a female member of the family, and of women hearing her long before any of the men did. In the 1600s, English memoirist and cookbook author Lady Ann Fanshawne was staying with the O’Brien family when she claimed to have seen a banshee (this one said to be the soul of a drowned housemaid) floating outside her two-story bedroom window the night one of the O’Briens died. In her book Memoirs of Lady Fawshawne, she described the banshee as “a woman in white … with red hair and pale and ghastly complexion: … to me her body looked more like a thick cloud than substance, I was so much frightened, that my hair stood on end …”  In the book True Irish Ghost Stories by John Seymour, the author collected a story from a woman whose family had several encounters with a banshee. When the woman’s mother was dying, the woman, her sister and their maid (and the next-door neighbors!) all heard the banshee, but her father, who was sitting in the room below, didn’t hear a thing.

To be sure, the legend of the banshee is creepy as all get-out, but it should be understood that the banshee does not cause death; she only sadly predicts it. Movies and urban legends like to spread the idea that the banshee is actively looking for people to kill, but in fact the banshee is a psychopomp figure—in other words, a protective entity that safely ushers the departed souls to the afterlife (much like Hermes, the Grim Reaper, etc.), but with the added benefit of giving the family a heads-up. And while no one who has a banshee in their family wants to ever hear it, there are a good deal of Irish people who are quite proud of the fact that they have one.

Siouxsie and the Banshees by Paulus1, Wikimedia Commons
Whoops! Wrong Banshees.

The only time a banshee seems to act out violently is when someone steals her comb; on occasion a banshee might accidentally drop her comb, and if a human walks away with it, she’ll chase them down and haunt them until they give it back. The offender will have to offer the comb back at the end of a pair of iron tongs, because the banshee will be so angry she might grab the thief’s hand and break it in retaliation. That’s why if you’re ever in Ireland exploring ruins where a banshee is said to reside, the locals will tell you not to pick up any lost combs!

As with a great many other once-obscure legends, the banshee is growing rapidly in popularity. She or versions of the banshee have appeared in shows like The Chilling Tales of Sabrina, Supernatural, Teen Wolf  and Charmed, a slew of movies, and have popped up in comic books and video games too. In the paranormal investigative world, research has been conducted by Josh Gates in his former show, Destination Truth, by Ghost Hunters International, by our favorite dude-bros on Ghost Adventures (they visited the Hellfire Caves AND Leap Castle, which is stupid on oh so many supernatural levels), and by Amy Allan on Dead Files, though interestingly she found that one in a restaurant in New York State. With the renewed interest, we’re also seeing more and more reports of banshees and banshee-like spirits interacting with human today.

Oh, uh, and if your last name happens to be O’Brien, O’Neill, O’Grady, Kavanaugh, or O’Connor, you might want to pay attention to any weird screeching sounds you might hear. Just so you know.

Banshee by Michael1010, Wikimedia Commons

Myth Monday: The King o’ Cats (Scottish Folktale)

Myth Monday: The King o’ Cats (Scottish Folktale)

By Kara Newcastle

The sun had barely disappeared over the horizon by the time Keir MacRae got home. The gravedigger burst through the door so suddenly that his two children, his daughter Gunna and son Earvin nearly leaped out of their skins with fright. Hearing the children screech in alarm, Bradana, their mother and Keir MacRae’s long suffering wife, came racing out of the pantry to see what the fuss was about. Discovering it was only her husband, Bradana scowled. “Well, well … look what the cat dragged in.”

“For God’s sake, don’t say that,” Keir hissed as he bolted the door. Swallowing hard, he ran a hand through his oddly mussed hair and minced over to the front window, peering out into the settling dark. “Ye would not believe the night I’ve had.”

“Oh, do tell,” Bradana sniffed, arching an eyebrow as she watched her husband look this way and that. “It must be a good story if it’s kept us all waiting an hour for ye to get home so the little ones can eat supper.”

“Oh, a good story it is, all right.” Keir grabbed each of the window curtains in either hand and yanked them shut. “The house is all locked up, aye?”

“What’s this all about?” Bradana demanded.

“Just tell me the house is locked up!”

“Aye, ‘tis!” Bradana felt her ire draining away as Keir finally turned to face his family. His face was as white as the driven snow, and his eyes darted wildly about. “Mr. MacRae, what’s gotten into ye?”

“I …” His shoulders sagging, Keir ran a hand over his face, his wide, rough palm hovering briefly over his eyes for a moment. He drew in a deep breath, but it shuddered the whole way in and out. “Earvin, lad, fetch yer da an ale, aye?”

Bradana frowned as Keir shuffled towards his chair before their fireplace. “I don’t know if ale’s the right thing for ye at the present.”

“Well it can’t hurt me none.” Waving for his bewildered son to hurry on, Keir came around his chair—and stopped dead.

Mystified, Bradana hurried towards her petrified husband, following his huge eyes down to the seat cushion of his favorite chair. Seeing the black lump, Bradana slowly raised her eyes to Keir. Keir continued to stare down at the shape, his mouth slack, a gleam of sweat forming along his brow.

He looked terrified.

Hesitating, Bradana slowly reached out and gently pressed the tips of her fingers against Keir’s forearm. “Keir,” she whispered, “’tis only the cat.”

For a moment, Keir didn’t stir a muscle, didn’t respond to her touch or her voice. He stared down at the big, sleeping black cat, looking for all the world as though he were staring down the mouth of hell itself. The cat itself was unperturbed, half twisted onto its back, its neat paws tucked up in front of the white blaze on its chest.

Confused by her father’s rigid state, little Gunna edged around him, closer to the chair. “Would ye like me to move him, Da?”

Keir jerked violently at the question, his body whipping from the soles of his feet to the top of his head, as though he were fighting free of a nightmare. “No!” he shouted, the ferocity of his voice causing Gunna to gasp and Bradana to shoot a hand out, catching her daughter by the shoulder and wrenching her away from her father, pushing her behind her skirts.

“Keir, what has gotten into ye?” Bradana cried, feeling Gunna quaking even through her petticoats. “Ye’re frightening the children!”

“I—?” Blinking, Keir snapped his head up. He looked at Bradana, bewildered. His eyes fell to Gunna, who scurried further behind her mother, then up to the pantry door where Earvin stood, a stein of ale clasped in both hands. His father’s roar had startled the boy so bad that he had jumped and sloshed the ale onto his shirtsleeves.

Seeing the shock on the faces of his wife and children, Keir grimaced, looked down at the cat—who, as usual, hadn’t batted so much as a whisker in his direction—and slowly backed away. “No … no dear, leave him be. I’ll just sit myself here at the table. Earvin, the ale if ye would?”

Earvin looked as though he’d rather chew his own hand off than go near his suddenly lunatic father, but the boy summoned up a bit of courage and tiptoed forward, hastily shoving the tankard across the rough table as Keir slumped into his usual chair at the head. He sat there looking almost boneless, his neck too weak to support his head.

Bradana knotted her hands into her apron. “Well, Mr. MacRae …? Will ye tell us what happened to ye tonight?”

Keir shook his head. “Ye’ll nay believe me.”

“I’ll believe anything at this point,” Bradana snapped, motioning for bewildered Earvin to back away. “I’ll believe anything if it explains why ye’ve gone out of yer senses!”

Keir frowned. He lifted his head, gazed into the worried and furious face of his wife, then sighed. “Aye. All right, so I had just finished digging a grave—for Mr. Fordyce, ye recall—and I right difficult time I had of it too. Moving all that dirt, the stones, cutting through the roots, I wore myself out so much that when I sat down to rest inside, I dozed off.”

Bradana frowned, resisting the urge to say she wasn’t surprised.

Not noticing her sour look, Keir went on. “I fell asleep. I woke up just as the sun was almost gone. A cat’s meow woke me.”

From the chair by the fire, the MacRaes’ big black cat opened one sage green eye, stretched and said, “Meow.” It was a soft, little sound, but it was enough to make Keir MacRae jolt as though he had been struck by lightning.

Keir swallowed hard. “Aye … l-like that.”

“Ignore the wee thing,” Bradana said, waving her hand to draw Keir’s terrified face back to hers. “Ye said a cat’s meow woke ye?”

“Uh … a-aye.” Shaking his head, Keir noticed the stein of ale on the table and grabbed it, taking a deep gulp before continuing. “So, aye, I heard a meow. It struck me as odd, so I stood up and looked over the edge of the grave, and what d’ye think I saw?”

“I haven’t a clue.”

“I’ll tell ye what I saw—nine cats! Nine black cats, all with white marks on their chests, much like …” Keir faltered. His eyes flicked back to their cat, who now was fully awake, rolled over onto its paws, watching Keir through half-lidded eyes.

Keir licked his lips. “Like our cat there,” he whispered.

“All right, ye saw nine black cats like ours,” Bradana said, barely sparing their own feline a glance as she spoke. “What of it? Ye’ve seen cats in the graveyard before.”

“Not like these!” Pausing to take another fortifying swallow, Keir ran the back of his hand over his upper lip. “Nay, these cats—can ye believe it?—these cats were walking on their hind legs, like people! One big one was in the lead, and eight of them, they were carrying a coffin!”

Silence settled over the household as Keir stopped for breath. Their big black cat’s eyes widen as young Earvin asked haltingly, “A coffin?”

“Aye!” Keir exploded, making Bradana and their poor children leap with fright. “A coffin! And not just any coffin—it had a black velvet pall on it. And on top of the pall was a golden crown! A golden crown, did ye hear me? A golden crown, and every third step these cats took, they’d say ‘meow’­—”

The MacRaes’ cat sprang up onto its feet. “Meow!” it cried.

His fear forgotten, Keir jabbed a finger at their cat. “Like that exactly! That’s what they did! They said meow, and their eyes were glowing green, I swear, like lanterns … Look at the cat, it’s like he knows what I’m talking about. Look at the way he listens to me!”

“Never mind that!” Bradana spat. “What happened next?”

“I’ll tell ye what happened next,” Keir exclaimed. He pointed to himself. “The big one, the one in front, he saw me, and he walked over to me and said—I swear on everything that’s holy, this is what he said—‘Tell Tom Tildrum—‘”


“I’m getting at it! The big cat said, ‘Tell Tom Tildrum that Tim Toldrum is dead.’ That’s what he said! He spoke to me like a man and told me to tell this Tom Tildrum blighter that Tim Toldrum is dead. I don’t know any Tom Tildrum, and I have no way of finding out, and I was right afraid to tell them all that, so I just nodded and lit out of there. Came straight here.” Keir flung his arms up in the air. “That’s the night I had! What d’ye all say to that?”

“I’ll tell you what I have to say!”

 Her head whipping around at the voice from the chair, Bradana’s eyes flew open and she screamed in horror, grabbing her two shrieking children to her. “God in heaven—look at the cat!”

Keir was looking. They all were—they were all staring in disbelieving terror as their big black cat with the white blaze on his chest rose up on his back legs, his tail excitedly lashing through the air. Grinning in delight, the cat threw his front paws up in the air.

“Tim Toldrum is dead?” the cat cried. “By Jove, that means I’m King o’ Cats now!”

Meowing in glee, the MacRaes cat—Tom Tildrum, the new king of the fairy cats, the cat sith—sprang off Keir’s favorite chair and leapt headlong into the fireplace, scrambling up the flue and disappearing from sight forever. To be sure the creature was gone, Bradana MacRae swatted around the inside of the chimney with her broom, while her beleaguered children tried to slap Keir Macrae awake, as he had fainted away at the sight.

Myth Monday: Cat Sith, the Fairy Cat (Scottish Legend)


Myth Monday: Cat Sith, the Fairy Cat (Scottish Legend)
By Kara Newcastle


I’m sure a great many of you are somewhat familiar with fairies. They’re small (not
always), they’re beautiful (usually, but looks can be deceiving), they have gossamer wings (occasionally), and they have their fairy pets.

Aha! I see the surprise on your faces. “Pets?” you’re asking. “Fairies have pets?” Yes, they do. They have fairy horses, fairy cows, fairy dogs … and fairy cats, called the Cat Sith (pronounced cat shee, and no, not the character from Final Fantasy VII.) Fairy animals abound in various mythologies of Great Britain and Europe, but the Cat Sith is best known
in Scotland, as you’ll soon see why.

The Cat Sith was said to be huge, the size of a large hunting dog—or even bigger. It was solid black, save for a white patch on its chest, and had intense yellow eyes that held intelligence that seemed to go beyond the range of any ordinary cat, big or small. It was frequently seen with its back arched and fur bristling along its spine, its ears laid back and huge fangs bared. It was not a friendly kitty.

Unlike some fairy folk, the Cat Sith was always ferocious, and while it didn’t actively seek out humans to harass, it was known to go after humans who had hurt other cats. A Cat Sith will never give an offender a warning—it will launch immediately into a vicious attack as soon as it is provoked because it is always ready for a fight. This made it the perfect heraldic animal for many Scottish Highland clans, such as the MacBains and the Mackintoshes. Please, no Simpsons or Brave jokes here.

At Samhain (the original name for the festival we now call Halloween), the Cat Siths were known to roam the land at night (this is why black cats are associated with Halloween!) If a family wanted to make sure that they were on the Cat Sith’s good side, they would leave a bowl of milk out in front of their door on Samhain. Like all cats, fairy and otherwise, Cat Sith loves milk and will bless the family that left them the treat. If a family neglected to leave milk out, the Cat Sith would curse them so that all their cows would stop giving milk.

However, in the Scottish Highlands, Cat Sith was known particularly for stealing the souls of the recently dead and carrying them away to the fairylands. All the Cat Sith had to do was spring over the corpse and snatch the soul straight out of the air as it hovered there, waiting to move on to the Otherworld. To prevent their loved ones’ spirits from being forced to eternally serve the fairies, Highlanders would hold a wake called the Feill Fadalach, or Late Wake, to make sure the Cat Sith didn’t jump over the dead body. Unlike
other wakes where sad people gathered to mourn, the Feill Fadalach was held all day and night until the body was buried, and it was essentially a party. The Highlanders would try to divert the lurking Cat Sith with riddle contests, music, and dancing, wrestling, not lighting any fires because the Cat Sith (like all cats) loved warmth, and—get this—spreading catnip throughout the house.

Apparently, even fairy cats are not immune to the ‘nip.

As Christianity took hold in Britain and the isles, the Cat Sith’s identity began to change, especially when the savage witch hunts began. Instead of being a fairy cat, Cat Sith was now believed to be the form a witch could shapeshift into to either cause chaos in the community or escape pursuers. It was believed that a witch could transform into a black cat eight times, but if she turned into a cat for a ninth time, then she would be stuck in that form forever. This is partly where the myth that a cat has nine lives comes from (nine was considered the perfect number by many pagan/pre-Christian cultures, because,
once broken down, it was three equal groups of three, and three was associated with Triad goddesses—I could go into it more, but that would make this blog way longer) and why  cats—especially black ones—are linked with witches.

Sightings of actual Cat Siths were reported in Scotland for years, but most people dismissed the reports out of hand—no way could there be that big of a black cat with a white chest patch roaming around the highlands and moors. There had never been any proof of anything larger than the native wildcat (sometimes called the Highland Tiger, with good reason) living in Scotland, and even then those cats looked like hefty striped tabby cats. Anything that was found had to be a hoax. The Cat Sith existed only in legends …

And then one was captured.


Kellas cat found in Aberdeenshire on display in the Zoology Museum University of Aberdeen by Sagaciousphil wikimedia
Kellas cat on display at Zoology Museum, Aberdeen, Scotland

In 1985, Ronnie Douglas, a gamekeeper in Kellas, Moray, was stunned to find a large, black cat with a white chest patch in one of his snares. About a year later, a live one was caught by the Tomorrows World team. Soon, a total of seven additional specimens were collected by alien big cat (in this case, “alien” as in “not supposed to be from around here,” not as in, “extraterrestrials made a pit stop here so their pets could go to the bathroom”) researcher Di Francis, who gave them all to the National Museum of Scotland. There, studies revealed that some of the “Cat Siths” were actually a cross between a domestic cat and a Scottish wildcat. They were then named the Kellas cat by cryptozoologist Karl Shuker after the village where the first one had been found.

While the Kellas cat might not be supernatural, they are BIG. The snared Kellas cat measured fifteen inches tall at the shoulder and was forty-three freaking inches long! That cat was roughly the height of, and longer than, a typical cocker spaniel. Can you imagine a cat that big getting the zoomies in the middle of the night? Yeah, and whatever it howled for, you would give it without a second thought … and if you’re thinking about getting one as a pet, lemme put a stopper in that idea right now: just like its mythical counterpart, the Kellas cat is fierce, more than ready to attack, and can never be tamed. And I don’t think you want a four-foot-long wild cat getting pissed at you for any reason. Or no reason at all.

Now that it was proven that these cats were real, many researchers have gone back and reexamined depictions of the Cat Sith in legend and pagan art. One scholar, Charles Thomas, theorizes that the cat depicted standing triumphantly on a salmon in the 1,000-year-old Golpsie stone in Dunrobin Castle Museum actually depicts one of these hybrid cats. Elsewhere in England, where sightings of unusually large black cats sometimes pop up, it has been suggested that the Kellas cat might account for a few of the sightings.

With less than 400 Scottish wildcats remaining in the wild, conservation efforts are being made to limit crossbreeding with domestic cats to preserve the species. You might see a few Kellas cats in zoos now, but if the conservation is successful, the Kellas cats, like the Cat Sith, made fade away into legend once more.

Myth Monday: Vampires from Around the World (World Mythology)

October 31, 2018

By Kara Newcastle



Everybody knows about the traditional European vampire: thin, pale, red lips, piercing eyes, sleeps in a coffin, survives on blood drawn from a victim’s throat which has been punctured by a pair of fangs, blah blah blah. Fortunately, that’s not the only kind of vampire out there—there are hoards of them all over the world, each more unique (or weirder) than the last. Take a look, and keep the garlic handy!

Oh, and fair warning … some of these can be a little gross.

  1. Bakeneko (Japan): Before the arrival of Europeans, Japanese people believed in vampires, but their versions weren’t reanimated human corpses out looking for blood; typically, a Japanese vampire was an everyday, run-of-the-mill animal that had developed nefarious powers. One famous story tells of how a bakeneko (ghost cat) sought revenge for the unfair death of her owner’s son by Nabeshima Mitsushige, a local daimyo (feudal lord.) The bakeneko killed Mitsushige’s favorite concubine and then took on her appearance so that she could drain the life from him at night. After noticing how Mitsushige seemed well during the day but increasingly weak and frail after spending the night with his concubine, the daimyo’s retainer Komori Hanzaemon hid in their bedchambers one night and caught the bakeneko attacking the prince. He drew his sword and slew the blood-drinking cat vampire.

  2. Chiang-shih/jiangshi (China): The Chinese vampire is one of the more unique reanimated human bloodsuckers in mythology. Why? Because it gets around by hopping! Long ago if a person died far from their home, their grieving relatives would hire a Taoist priest to bring the body home. The priest would go to the corpse, bind its arms and legs together, then attach a magic spell to its forehead to make it stand up and hop its way home—naturally, it only moved along at night when the roads were deserted, since the sight of a corpse bouncing along a road would surely give living witnesses heart attacks. In time the myth evolved, and a chiang-shih was thought to be the reanimated  or demon-possessed body of a dead person who had not been buried properly. They grew fangs and claws and attacked people for blood—all while still hopping around. If a chiang-shih was not disposed of quickly, it would move through seven stages of evolution (sort of like the worst Pokemon imaginable), growing increasingly more mobile, more powerful, and eventually gaining the ability to fly and transform into wolves. They were almost impossible to kill at that point. Salt, garlic and iron were effective tools against a chiang-shih.

  3. Chupacabra (North and South America, Mexico, Central America, Caribbean): The most modern of all vampires, the Chupacabra (“goat sucker”) is a creature that apparently comes in two different species: the half-ape-half-reptile-kangaroo-like-usually-fairly-large-and-may-or-may-not-be-winged variety most often reported in Mexico, South and Central American and certain places in the Caribbean, or the hairless, blue-eyed dog-like creature seen (and killed and taxidermized!) in the Southwest United States. The reptilian version gained notoriety in the early 1990s, particularly in Puerto Rico, when an unexplained rash of pet and livestock killings occurred. The animals—particularly goats, hence the name—were found dead and largely intact, save that they appeared to have been completely drained of blood. Sightings of the fanged kangaroo-lizard-monkey thing quickly followed, giving rise to a new legend. More recently, similar livestock deaths in the United States, particularly Texas, have been blamed on a highly unusual-looking canine-like animal seen lurking around. The dog thing is gray, hairless, has front legs shorter than the back, weird knobs on its hind end, only two mammary glands (unlike a dog’s typical six), piercing blue eyes and long white fangs. The animal has been sighted by hundreds of witnesses, including a sheriff’s deputy who caught it on her dashboard camera. Several have been shot and killed, and the body of one that was hit and killed by a car was rescued by Dr. Phylis Canion, who had it stuffed and mounted. DNA tests suggest that it’s probably a mix of coyote and wolf, but it sure is weird looking. See it here!

  4. Langsuyar and Pontianak (Indonesia): The langsuyar is a woman died either while pregnant or during childbirth, and a Pontianak is a baby that was stillborn (though some other regions believe that pontianak is an even more vicious version of the langsuyar.) The langsuyar appears as a beautiful woman with ankle length black hair (though sometimes she can be a detached head), long claw-like nails, hands that drag down by her feet, and wearing green robes. She hunts infants and especially likes the blood of newborn boys. The langsuyar can be recognized by a hole in the base of her neck, and she can be cured of her vampirism if you cut off all of her hair and fingernails and stuff them into the hole—good luck with that. To prevent the creation of either a langsuyar or a Pontianak, the mouths of the corpses must be filled with beads to keep them from screeching, eggs must be placed under their arms and needles in their hands to keep them from flying. As recently as 2013, villagers in Kelantan, Malaysia, reported a langsuyar flying over their houses, cackling.

  5. Leanan Sidhe (Ireland): Interestingly, while most of Europe west of Romania had never heard of the blood-drinking vampire, Ireland had a wealth of tales about fairies that would feast on the blood or life energies of human beings. One such fairy vampire was the beautiful leanan sidhe, who was highly attracted to poets and artists. If a leanan sidhe found and fell in love with a poet or artist, she would act a as their muse, granting them inspiration to created fabulous works of literature or art. However, there was a cost; the poet may gain inspiration, but he would slowly wither and die as the leanan sidhe fed off of his energy. Once the victim had passed away, the leanan sidhe would move on to find new prey.

  6. Manananggal and Aswang (Philippines): Perhaps the grossest of all the vampires, the manananggal is a woman who can either detach her head from her body or her upper torso from her lower torso (depends on the story). The detached part of her body then flies through the air, trailing its intestines behind it. The manananggal loves to prey on pregnant women and, upon finding one, will perch on the roof of the woman’s house and lower its needle-like tongue down inside. The tongue pierces the woman’s stomach through her bellybutton and sucks out the heart of the baby, resulting in a stillborn child. The manananggal can be defeated if the lower part of its body is found and filled with salt or garlic, preventing the upper half from rejoining the rest of its body, and then dying in the rising sunlight. Another way to defeat the manananggal is to cut its tongue; one popular story (I might be getting it confused with another similar vampire) tells of an expectant mother who was sitting in a chair sewing, and noticed a long dark thread on her lap. Annoyed that she couldn’t find the end of it, she snipped the thread with her scissors, then jumped in fright as she heard something yelp, fall off her roof and crash into her yard. The next morning a dead manananggal was found in her yard, and was recognized as a local woman. A similar creature, called the aswang, is male, doesn’t detach any part of his body but can shapeshift into an animal, and is impervious to sunlight. It feeds on babies and small children, but would never harm anyone in its village and can actually be a good friend. They are driven off by salt, garlic and holy items and can be killed by decapitation. In the 1950s, the CIA helped to curb an uprising in the Philippines by killing a rebel soldier and staging his body to look like he had been killed by an aswang (it worked—the rebels fled the area.) An episode of Destination Truth featured a hunt for an aswang near a mosque in the Philippines.

  7. Obayifo (West Africa): Here’s a interesting vampire for you: the Dahomey and Ashanti people of West Africa believed in a creature called an obayifo, a black-magic user who was so constantly hungry that they were known to steal children to eat (hence the Ashanti word obayifo, “child-snatcher”) and not only sucked blood out of living people but also the juice out of fruits and vegetables. They appeared as ordinary human men or women, and sometimes could leave their bodies and travel as balls of light. In their human forms, they were pretty easily identified as vampires: they glowed from their armpits and anuses.

  8. Penanggalan (Malaysia): Much like the manananggal, the penanggalan is a woman who detaches her head from her body and flies around at night with her organs trailing behind her like the world’s most disgusting kite tail. How the woman becomes a penanggalan varies from story to story, though frequently she’s cited as being a woman who died in childbirth or a midwife who has made a pact with the devil. When she needs to return to her body, she soaks her entrails in vinegar to shrink them down for easier insertion (hey, I don’t make this crap up, I just report it.) The penanggalan uses her long tongue to feed on the blood of pregnant women and infants, all of whom die from a wasting disease. She can be deterred by wrapping thorny branches around windows or planting prickly pineapples beneath the stilt legs of the woman’s house, where the penanggalan will be snagged and can be hacked to death with a machete. If the body is found it can be burned or filled with crushed glass, preventing the head from rejoining. The head will then be killed by sunlight.

  9. Rakshasas (India): Most often described as being infernally beautiful women, rakshasas are blood-thirsty demons that haunt Indian cemeteries and crematoriums, and are known to follow in the wake of Kali, the goddess of destruction. Travelling by night, these fanged beasts liked to prey on pregnant women and infants, and a hero who could kill a rakshasa was a powerful warrior indeed. Like many vampires, rakshasas could be killed with fire.

  10. Red caps (Scotland): Red caps are hard to miss; they’re Scottish dwarves that tramp through the roads and fields at night, brandishing axes and halberds as they go. The second they spy a human being, the chase the hapless person, hack him to death, and then soak their caps in his blood. No, they don’t drink the blood—they just like the color of it. That’s all.

  11. Sasasabonsam (West Africa): A freaky vampire, this thing had iron teeth and hooks for toes. It would sit in tree branches that extended over a trail and dangle their legs down, waiting for someone to pass by. When a human made to mistake of crossing under their tree, the sasasabonsam would grab them with their hook toes, haul them up into the tree and drain them dry.

  12. Soucouyant/loogaroo (Caribbean, United States): A soucouyant (often known as a loogaroo in the United States) is an old, black magic-wielding hag who peels off her skin at night, hides it, transforms into a fireball and then flies through the air seeking victims. She worms her way through a gap in a person’s house and then proceed to drink their blood from their limbs. If she drinks too much, her victim will die and possibly become a soucouyant as well. Like many vampires, the soucouyant is very OCD, and if you scatter rice around your bedroom, around the outside of your home or at a crossroads, she has to stop and count every single grain; if she doesn’t complete the task before dawn, the sunlight will burn her and she’ll rush screaming back to her skin. If you should find the soucouyant’s skin, you should coat the insides with salt and put it back in its hiding place. When the soucouyant tries to put the skin back on, the salt will burn and kill her.

  13. Tlahuelpuchi (Mexico): An interesting and unusual vampire from ancient Mesoamerican myth, the tlahuelpuchi is a person, most often a woman, who is cursed to become a vampire when they reach puberty. They feed largely on the blood of infants, and if they don’t consume blood once a month they will die of starvation. Tlahuelpuchi maintain their own hunting territories apart from one another, though the are in communication with other supernatural entities and magic workers. The tlahuelpuchi hunt by leaving their legs behind in their home, transform into a turkey or a vulture, then fly in a cross pattern above the house of their intended victim as part of a ritual (north to south, then east to west.) When a tlahuelpuchi is discovered, they have to be destroyed immediately, though if a family member kills them the curse can pass on to them. Garlic, certain metals and onions can protect people against the tlahuelpuchi.

  14. Vrykolakas (Greece, Bulgaria, Slavic folklore): Ever had a hard time deciding if you want to be a vampire or a werewolf? Well, you’re in luck, because if you’re a vrykolakas, you can be both! A vrykolakas is a person who lived a sinful life, was excommunicated, ate the meat of an animal killed by a wolf or was a werewolf in life. When this person dies, they can return to life as a vampire. The vrykolakas then roams through their hometown, killing villagers, spreading disease and terrorizing their surviving family members. Burning or dismembering the body, piling rocks atop the body, decapitation and staking were effective ways at killing the vrykolakas. Like a surprising number of vampires throughout the world, vrykolakas are obsessive-compulsive, so if you spread seeds of grains of sand over the grave, the vampire is compelled to count each grain—at a rate of one grain a year, so you’ll be pretty safe.

  15. Yara-ma-yha-who (Australian Aboriginal legend): Among the weirdest of vampires, this one takes the cake: the yara-ma-yha-who is a frog-like humanoid with red hair that sits in fig trees, waiting for humans to stop by. When a human does pause at the tree, the yara-ma-yha-who drops out of the tree and attaches its fingers—each tip of which has a sucker on it—to the victim, draining them of blood. Once the human is dead, the yara-ma-yha-who swallows them whole, drinks some water, sleeps for a little while, then spits the person back out. The victim is alive, but a little shorter than before, and their skin now has a red tint. The yara-ma-yha-who does this over and over again until their victim is turned into a yara-ma-yha-who. Interesting, the yara-ma-yha-who hunts exclusively during the daytime and will only go after living prey, so if you see one coming at you, drop to the ground and play dead until sunset; once it gets dark the yara-ma-yha-who will return to its tree and you can make a run for it.

Myth Monday: Melusine (French Legend)

August 2, 2018

By Kara Newcastle



Now for a mermaid of a slightly different sort; Melusine!

A long time ago, not long before the Crusades, King Elinas of Scotland was riding through the forest when he came upon a natural spring, which was tended to by the extraordinarily beautiful fairy Pressyne. Elinas was immediately lovestruck and asked Pressyne to be his wife. Pressyne agreed, but under one condition; Elinas can never visit her while she was in labor with her children, or when she was bathing them. Elinas saw nothing wrong with the request and they married. Pressyne soon became pregnant with triplets, and when the time came she secluded herself in the castle and gave birth to three girls: Melusine, Melior and Plantina. As Elinas waited for news of the birth, his son from a previous marriage began to worry, wondering why his stepmother had insisted on such secrecy. Fearing that the fairy woman was perhaps committing some diabolical act, he pressured their father to check. Swayed by fear, Elinas barged into the birthing room. Pressyne was devastated that her husband didn’t trust her enough to keep his promise, so she gathered up her infant daughters and fled to a fairy island.

Many years later after the triplets had grown to be young women, Melusine heard the story of her father’s betrayal and was incensed. Plotting with her sisters, Melusine lured King Elinas to a cave and they sealed him there as punishment, wanting him to suffer the way their mother had suffered. Proud of having gotten their revenge, the triplets ran off to tell their mother, but Pressyne was horrified at their cruelty. She scolded the younger two sisters but Melusine, the eldest, she held most responsible, and she cursed the girl to turn into a dragon-like water monster every Saturday for eternity. She then banished Melusine to another spring in a forest far away.

Grief-stricken but unrepentant, Melusine accepted her fate, becoming the guardian fairy of the spring. She lived there in solitude for decades, never seeing another living soul aside from the forest-dwelling animals that would come to drink from her waters. Melusine mourned that she would never have a family.

But then that all changed.


One day Raymond, the Duke of Anjou, separated from his hunting party and lost in the woods, chanced upon Melusine’s spring. Relieved to find water, he dismounted his horse, then jolted back in shock as he glimpsed a beautiful woman leaping into the waters, swimming fearfully away from him. Stunned speechless, Raymond watched as the woman reached the middle of the pool and paused, turning to get a look at him. The nobleman was instantly smitten, and he beseeched the young woman to return to him. The woman refused and vanished beneath the water’s surface.

Raymond returned every day, pleading with the young woman to speak with him. Eventually, the woman, intrigued by the desperate and handsome man, grew to trust him, and told him that he name was Melusine. Raymond declared that he was in love with Melusine and would not rest until she was his wife. Melusine replied that she could not be his wife, as she was bound to the fountain. Raymond declared if Melusine could not leave, then he would build a castle there for her. Astounded by his vow, Melusine agreed to marry him, but under one condition: he must never see her on a Saturday, and never ask what she did during that day. Raymond found the request strange, but, deciding that he would get to see his beautiful wife the other six days of the week, he agreed.

The duke made good his promise and built a castle by Melusine’s spring. The two married happily, and Raymond never visited Melusine on a Saturday, and never questioned what she was doing inside her private chambers during that day. The pair quickly produced children, and while their first few sons were handsome babies, their next few came out increasingly ugly and deformed. Melusine was heartbroken to see her children so disfigured, but she loved them regardless.

However, Duke Raymond was increasingly alarmed at his children’s appearance, and those in his court began to whisper loudly about the cause. Many thought that these ugly children were not actually the nobleman’s sons; they must have been the products of Melusine’s dalliance with a demon. She must have been a witch. After all, she hid herself away every Saturday and never told anyone what she was doing. What better time to practice dark magic?

Raymond paranoid. What if his wife really was a witch? What if these hideous boys were half demon? Eventually he couldn’t stand not knowing what Melusine was doing on those Saturdays, so just before midnight on a Friday, Raymond slipped into her private chambers and hid himself behind the tapestries to wait. Shortly before the bells tolled, Melusine entered her chambers, bidding goodnight to her ladies in waiting then closing and bolting shut the heavy door. Disrobing, beautiful Melusine approached her huge bathtub, filled with water from her fountain, and lifted one long leg …


From his hiding place, Raymond watched in horror as Melusine’s leg warped, the shapely foot growing wider, sprouting claws. Overlapping iridescent green scales burst forth on Melusine’s white skin, climbing up her legs, stopping just before her navel. A long, sinuous tail grew out of her back as a pair of leathery, spiny wings suddenly tore free from her back. Wrapping her tail around her and folding her wings back, the half-dragon woman sighed as she eased herself down into the water, sinking up to her neck …

Unable to bear the shock of it, Raymond screamed and leapt out from behind the tapestry, causing Melusine to shriek in fright and spring up in the water, her wings flaring out over her head. She stared in disbelief as the duke edged past her, pointing a shaking finger at her as he called her a demon, a witch, a succubus, claiming that she bewitched him and damned their children. His cruel words ignited a grieving fury in Melusine, and as tears sprang to her eyes she shouted, “How dare you! You betrayed my promise! We would have lived in love and glory forever, but now you have lost me!”

Sobbing, Melusine sprang from the tub and raced to the nearest window. Raymond felt a scream of horror building in his throat as his beautifully hideous wife threw herself out into the open air, but as he ran to watch her fall, he jumped back in terror as Melusine fully transformed herself into a winged dragon and took flight. Circling the castle three times, the dragon Melusine bellowed out her despair and flew back into the forest.


Raymond never saw Melusine again, and was forever conflicted about spying on her that fateful Saturday. He soon remarried, but had no idea that Melusine in her half-fairy, half-dragon form regularly snuck back into the castle at night to nurse and care for her sons. Her sons all grew to be great kings and mighty warriors, and to this day it is said that when one of their descendants passes away, the fairy-mermaid-dragon Melusine is heard wailing in grief.





duke of anjou