A modern bestiary should certainly include one of the oldest forms of the Fae – the Bean Nighe. Not my favorite, I’m sure, but I’ve been told I am overly sensitive to issues involving body odor.
But that is neither here nor there, since a laptop cannot convey the aroma. Something of a butcher shop odor, shall we say? One that’s none too well-kept.
So, um… what, you may ask, is a Bean Nighe?
The Bean Nighe is also known as the Washer Woman.
Or sometimes as the “Washer at the Ford.” She’s most often seen near waterways in deserted areas, where she likes to settle in and wail a lament while washing blood from the shrouds of those who are about to die. If you’ve got more than one, the plural form is mnathan nighe, and you’re in a world of trouble. That usually means there are going to be more shrouds needed than one of them can wash.
Technically the mnathan nighe are one type of bean sídhe, which the English-speaking human typically renders as “banshee.”
On the other hand, some say they are the spirits of women who died in childbirth and are now driven to doing this work until the day their lives would have normally ended. If that were true, this world would be overrun with the mnathan nighe, for not so long ago, childbirth was one of the most common causes of death amongst female humans. I think this tale is told in an attempt to render them more sympathetic to the very same folk they so love to terrorize.
And if you think they SMELL bad…
You should try to avoid a closer look at them. A Bean Nighe of the older kind is something of a redneck Fae. She has but one large bucktooth in her mouth and is utterly unacquainted with the toothbrush.
The Washer Woman also has only one nostril, which may be why she does not seem to notice her own halitosis. She will also sport webbed feet and she’ll have an old woman’s long-hanging breasts. So long, in fact, that she frequently slings them back over her shoulders while she works, to keep them from getting wrung out along with the shrouds.
A mortal man or woman who is bold enough to sneak up behind her while she is washing and suckle at one of her withered breasts can claim to be her foster child. The mortal can then gain a wish from her. But be careful! She is Fae, after all, and therefore inclined to play the trickster. Also, should you bite down at the wrong moment, there will be dire consequences.
This color scheme is all wrong, too. The Bean Nighe wears a green dress, not blue!
If you merely approach her and ask politely, however, the Bean Nighe will name those who are going to die. The names may well include your own or those of your loved ones. If so, some have succeeded in postponing death by snatching up the shrouds and interrupting the washer’s work.
Beware! The Washer Woman may strike back!
The Bean Nighe involuntarily transplanted here from Faerie by the catastrophe may be much harder to recognize. Like many another among the Fallen, the mnathan nighe have now been exposed to modern human advertising. Some have taken it to heart. Thus the old school type will generally appear to mortals as a hag, but she can also manifest as a beautiful young woman in designer jeans and cause other sorts of trouble.
Their behavior is not currently considered criminal by humans or the Fae, although this may be something of an oversight. The mnathan nighe have never been accused of actually killing mortals, merely of foretelling their doom. But the question arises… Why is there blood on those shrouds before they’ve been used? Before they’re even needed? And where, or whom, did that blood come from?