All Souls Day: Day of the Dead

Despite growing up in a Catholic country, I have different beliefs when it comes to Catholic teachings. For a while, I considered myself a “Selective Catholic”, in other words, believing certain aspects but not others. Now I consider myself more of a spiritualist, in the sense that I believe in an afterlife (perhaps not in the way Catholics are taught to), I always have. And it is this belief that has made me fascinated by All Souls Day.

Catholicism teaches us that All Souls Day is a day to remember the dead, especially loved ones, by praying for their souls to be cleansed or purified so that they can enter heaven. Purgatory, it is essentially called, but which differs from the purgatory that leads to hell. Unless it falls on a Sunday, Catholics are not expected to go to mass, but instead they visit the graves of those they have lost, leaving flowers and perhaps sprinkling holy water. The souls must be purged of their sins and be in God’s good grace in order to enter heaven, and this is where the living come in. They pray for the souls.

My own theory of All Souls Day came from my mother, and which is also a pagan belief. I believe, or at least I like to believe, that All Souls Day is a day when the veil between the living and the dead is thinner. It sounds eerie, but I look at it as something special, the idea of seeing your deceased loved ones on one day of the year. The pagans believe that candles should be placed in the windows of houses in order to lead the dead to them so that they can share a meal together.

I have wondered why I believe so much in All Souls Day, perhaps it is to lessen my fear of death, or perhaps I live in hope of seeing my loved ones so I can say the things I wanted to say to them when it was too late. Will I be leaving a lit candle in my window? Probably not (fire hazard!). Who is it I hope to see? This may be against any belief system in All Souls Day, but I hope to see my pets that I have lost over the years.

We may never know for certain if the dead return to us, even just for a moment, but I choose to believe because, in simple terms, you have to believe in something. Don’t you?



Irish Folklore: The Banshee

The Banshee (bean sidhe) was probably the first creature of Irish Mythology, or Mythology in general, that I remember hearing about. All my friends at the time claimed to have seen her sitting on their back wall combing her hair. Their version was a haggard old woman with long grey hair and skeletal features under a long ragged grey dress. I was told that if I met the eyes of the Banshee, she would become enraged and throw her comb at my throat, slicing my head clean off. Naturally, as a 7-year-old, I was terrified!

As I grew older, I became less scared of the Banshee and more fascinated by the legend of her. I began researching, discovering what I could. I wasn’t surprised by just how many variations of the legend there are. In some she is seen in the guise I described above, in others she’s a beautiful young woman with long white hair and dressed elegantly in a silk gown. She is seen as an escort to the other side, or she is seen as a creature who relishes inflicting death on an individual. Whatever her purpose, what everyone can agree on (in Ireland, at least) is that she is always present before death.the_lady_of_shalott___banshee_by_tenshi_naelle-d3g8ahr

Her keening (an Irish word for wailing) is heard, usually at night, and can go on for several nights before the death. Some resemble her keening to the barn owl, the fox and the cat (if you’ve heard cats mating, you know what I’m talking about). Her keen is described as a soft sobbing sound, or as a piercing scream that is designed to torture the souls of the living.

According to legend, the Banshee attaches herself on to families with O and Mc/Mac in their names (eek!), but intermarriage may have extended her reach beyond those names.

Where did she come from? Legend has it that she is a victim of a violent crime e.g. murder, or she died in childbirth. Contrary to the assumption regarding the particular family names, she is said to attach herself to her own family, warning them of a pending demise.

Whatever her story, the Banshee, for me, is one of the scariest and most fascinating pieces of Irish Mythology.