Les Lavandières

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From Celtic mythology, Les Lavandières, also known as the kannerezed noz in Brittany, the Bean Nighe (in Scottish mythology), or the Midnight Washerwomen in English, are three old washerwomen. The three old women go to the water's edge at midnight to wash shrouds for those about to die according to the myth and folklore of Brittany; or to wash the bloodstained clothing of those who are about to die according to British folklore. The story of three old women may be due to the old Celtic tradition of the triple goddess of death and slaughter.

The washerwomen are small, dressed in green and have webbed feet. Their webbed feet may be the reason they are also sometimes called the cannard noz (meaning "night ducks") in Breton folklore.

  • In Ireland and Brittany they are an ominous portent, foretelling death, either one's own or a death in the family. The washerwomen wash either graveclothes (Brittany) or the bloodied shirts of those about to die (Ireland).
  • In Scotland, however, if one can get between the washerwomen and the water, they are required to grant three wishes in exchange for three questions answered truthfully. There is also a tradition in Scotland of a single washer at the ford, the goddess Clotha, who gives the River Clyde its name.
  • In Wales and Cornwall a passerby must avoid being seen by the washerwomen. If they do get seen however, they are required to help wring out the sheets. If they twist the sheets in the same direction as the washerwomen, the individual's arms will be wrenched from their sockets and they will get pulled into the wet sheets and killed instantly. If, however, they twist in the opposite direction, the washerwomen are required to grant the person three wishes.
  • The washerwomen rarely appear in England, although lonely pools are often haunted by some supernatural creature, which may have derived from the same original root.