In Scotland she was called the bean-nighe, or "washing woman." Small and squat - sometimes even childlike in appearance - the bean-nighe was seen by travelers passing distant ponds and rivers. She continually beat bloodstained shrouds on the river stones and wrung the water from the cloth, sometimes she would sing a funeral song to herself. It was said that if the traveler dared to talk to her he would hear the names of those about to die and would also hear - if he wished - his own fate foretold.

The bean-nighe was often described as a ghost herself - usually the ghost of a woman who had died in childbirth. This was an untimely death, a shortening of normal life. The dead mother was doomed to be a beckoner of the living, washing the shrouds of those among them who were about to join her, until the date of what would have been her natural death had been reached.

There was another beckoner, much less obtrusive than the banshee, one not attached to Celtic countries: it appeared in every land and in every walk of life. It was a quiet creature, but its demand was unchangeable, and those who saw it knew its purpose. A 17th century tale shows it at work.


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