In this article:
- The bean-nighe is a creature in Scottish folklore that can be seen washing bloody clothes in lakes and streams. If you see her, it means someone in your community will die soon.
- According to one story, one woman in Scotland saw a bean nighe and, later, the roof of an abbey collapsed and killed over 30 people.
- The only way to avoid this fate is to sneak up on the bean-nighe and suck on one of her exposed breasts, thereby tricking her into thinking that you’re her foster child.
In most folklore across the world, you’ll hear of an omen that appears when someone is about to die.
In some cultures, seeing a collection of crows can be a warning sign of impending death. It is perhaps for this reason that a group of crows is called a “murder.” In Irish culture, it’s magpies rather than crows that foreshadow your final hours.
In other folklore, mostly Irish and German, seeing your doppelganger (someone who looks exactly like you) means that you’re going to die very soon. Even if a friend or relative sees your doppelganger, things don’t bode well for your fate.
In Scottish folk culture, one omen of death is seeing the bean-nighe. However, there is a way to cheat fate if you see her.
Encountering the Bean-Nighe in Scotland
The origins of the legend of the bean-nighe are unknown. However, this story has terrified the countrysides of Scotland for centuries. And, while the bean-nighe herself is not actually dangerous, she is a forewarning of imminent death.
Imagine that you’re walking through a town in the Scottish Highlands at night. You’re making your way along a nearby stream when you suddenly hear a distant wail. You look around to find the source of the noise but see nothing, so you continue down the stream.
A few minutes later, you hear the wail again, but this time it’s louder. You look around once more. You see the silhouette of a woman leaning over the bank. It looks as if she’s washing clothes.
As you approach, you can see that the clothes are all stained with blood.
The woman also doesn’t look quite right. She has only one nostril, one jagged tooth, and her feet are webbed.
Terrified, you run as fast as you can back to the nearest Scottish pub and tell everyone there what you’ve seen. Their faces all turn sullen as they tell you that you’ve just had an encounter with the bean-nighe, and that means someone in the community will die soon.
The Washer at the Ford
The name of the bean-nighe comes from the Scottish Gaelic word for “washer woman” and she is sometimes referred to as “The Washer at the Ford” by those that believe in her.
She is known to dwell near rivers and streams in Scotland and wash the bloodstained clothes of those who are about to die. So, if you approach the bean-nighe and you see a shirt that looks a lot like one of yours in hand, you’re in some serious trouble.
Depending on who you ask, she is usually wearing green and has red webbed feet. She’s often described as very small and slender. Her hooked nose has just one large nostril, and she has one jagged tooth in her mouth.
She is also often described as having very long breasts that interfere with her washing, so she throws them over her shoulders and lets them hang down her back.
According to legend, the bean-nighe is a woman who died during childbirth. Thus, she has been cursed to complete her daily tasks as a mother until the day when she would have died naturally.
She lets out a mournful cry as she washes the clothes of the soon-to-be-dead.
Tricking the Bean-Nighe
If you do run into a bean-nighe, all hope is not lost. According to folklore, there are several ways to avoid the fate that the bean-nighe has brought about. Depending on who you ask, you either have to capture the bean-nighe or you have to suck on one of her breasts.
If you see her first, you can sneak up on her from behind and start sucking on her breast. (Remember: you can suck her breast from behind her because she slings them over her shoulder as she works.)
This will trick the bean-nighe into thinking that you’re her foster child and she will tell you whatever you desire. In some versions of the story, she will even grant you three wishes.
Usually, people will want to ask the bean-nighe who the person is that will soon die. If the person in question is an enemy of theirs, they can let the bean-nighe continue her washing and the person will die as planned.
However, if the person in question is a friend of theirs or themself, then they can stop the bean-nighe from completing her task to avoid that fate.
However, be careful how you approach her because if she sees you first, you will lose the use of your limbs. Then, you’ll just lie there paralyzed until she’s finished washing. In some versions of the story, the bean-nighe is a bit more malevolent and she’ll actually drag you into the river and break your arms if she sees you approaching.
Sightings of the Bean-Nighe
In one popular story from the Scottish Highlands, a woman from Cromarty was walking along the nearby body of water Loch Slin “on a Sabbath morning.” As she turned a corner, she saw a tall and slender woman washing clothes over a stone by the lake.
She then turned to see more than 30 articles of clothing lying out on a nearby patch of grass, all of them covered in blood.
Shortly after the woman witnessed the bean-nighe (known in this story as the “Mermaid of Loch Slin), the roof of Fearn Abbey collapsed during a worship service. The stone roof buried the congregation and killed around 36 people.
While no one can confirm whether or not this woman actually saw a bean-nighe, there are historical records confirming that the roof of Fearn Abbey collapsed in 1742 and killed as many as 50 people.
According to another well-known folktale, a man named Gille-cas-fliuch was walking along a lake when he encountered the bean-nighe.
He snuck up behind her and grabbed her by the wrist, rendering her incapable of escaping. When she asked him to let her go, he said that he would only do so when she granted him three wishes.
The first of his wishes was to know whose “death shroud” she was washing (which would tell him who was fated to die). She said that the death shroud belonged to a man named Clanranald, the leader of a great Scottish clan.
At once, Gille-cas-fliuch flung the death shroud in the lake with the point of his spear and ran to Clanranald to tell him the news.
Clanranald sprang into action at once and ordered that a cow be slaughtered and that a small boat be prepared. The cow was killed as instructed and Clanranald took the small boat, crossed the lake to the mainland, and never again returned to his homeland.