Now this is interesting. I was familiar with the wailing Irish harbinger of death, the banshee, but I’d also heard snippets of stories referring to them washing shirts, and I was wondering where those came from. This explains it. No surprise that there should be some cross-pollination between wailing spirits of death, though for the banshee it’s the wailing itself that’s the omen of death, while for the lavandières the wailing and singing is incidental to the washing, which is the actual omen.
I must confess myself surprised about one thing: I had no idea that the lavandières were so powerful. Banshee are generally satisfied to herald death; the washerwomen are willing and able to inflict it.
Perhaps there’s a story there…
Variations: Lavandière, Laveuse de Nuit (French); Kannerez Noz, Cannerez Noz, Gannerez Noz (Breton); Bean nighe, Bhean Nighe, Caoineachag, Nigheag Bheag a Bhroin (Gaelic); Washerwoman, Night Washerwoman, Washer of the Ford, Little Washer of Sorrow (English)
The lavandières de nuit (“washerwomen of the night”) are present in some form or other from Scotland to Provence. Their exact nature is uncertain; sometimes they are ghosts, other times members of the fairy kingdom. Their best-documented haunt is Brittany.
Lavandières are female, and can be seen washing laundry in the odd hours of the night. They usually take the form of tall, gaunt, and withered crones, but the Gollières a Noz of Romandie are as beautiful as they are cruel. Some of them sing as they wash, earning them the name of kannerez noz (night singers). Their song is sadder than a De Profundis. Those of Morbihan have had their song recorded as…
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