Bean Nighe means “washer woman” in Scottish Gaelic, and is pronounced Ben-neeya.
It is a female spirit from Scottish folklore who sometimes can be seen at the edge of a desolate lake or stream, washing the bloody clothes of those who are about to die.
It is believed that these spirits are of women who died whilst giving birth, and are doomed to keep performing their tasks until the day that they normally would have died. They are sometimes described as having webbed feet, a protruding front tooth and having just one nostril. They sometimes like to sing too.
What to do if you encounter a Ben-Nighe
Apparently if you approach one with caution, and grab her before she flees, she may reveal who is about to die, allowing you to save them or let them die, and she may even grant you a wish or three.
Unfortunately though, if you happen to live on the Isles of Mull or Tiree, things are a little bit more awkward, for the Bean-Nighe in those parts are said to have unusually long breasts that get in the way as they’re washing, causing her to throw them over each shoulder out of the way, leaving them to hang down her bony back.
And it gets worse, for unfortunately if you want your three wishes or the knowledge of who is about to part ways with this world (you can save them by interrupting the washing) then here is what you have to do..
Very carefully and quietly sneak up on her until you are right behind her, then take hold of one of those long dangly breasts, put it in your mouth and tell her that you are her foster child. How you are meant to talk I do not know but apparently she will then impart the knowledge on you, allowing you to either save a friend, or let her continue washing should the clothes belong to an enemy. The choice would be yours, and let’s face it, you’d have earned it!
And for those living on the Isle of Skye, if you get seen be her first, you’ll unfortunately lose the use of all your limbs, so tread very carefully indeed.