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GODDESS, FAIRY MISTRESS, AND SOVEREIGNTY: WOMEN OF THE IRISH SUPERNATURAL

ROSALIND ELIZABETH CLARK, University of Massachusetts - Amherst

Abstract

Supernatural women were important in Irish literature from earliest times to the present, but their literary portrayal altered with changing societal values and literary taste. Society shaped the roles of goddess, fairy mistress, and Sovereignty both in early Irish literature and in the Irish Literary Renaissance.^ The Morr(')igan, goddess of war and fertility, originally had a central role in the literature. She acted as an agent of fate, bringing order and prosperity in Cath Maige Tuired, and chaos and destruction in the Ulster cycle. During the Irish Renaissance she was relegated to a less central role. She remained the tutelary goddess of the hero CuChulainn, but lost her role as arbitrator of life and death, order and chaos, regaining it only partially in Yeats's The Death of Cuchulain.^ The fairy mistress was never influential in the mortal world. Her power was over the souls of men. She tempted the hero away to an Otherworld dangerous to the psyche, and to a socially unacceptable love. The fairy mistress was easily adopted by the Anglo-Irish writers because they, like the early Irish, came from a society with strict rules about the governing of emotions and the repression of asocial love. The fairy mistress's occult and psychological powers increased in the Irish Renaissance. The fairy maiden in Echtra Connla Cha(')im took Connla to the Otherworld in her crystal boat; Yeats's Fand could draw CuChulainn into a whole new phase of existence with a kiss.^ By her union with the king, the Sovereignty bestowed fertility, victory, and political stability on the people. Her power was destroyed in the colonial period, when there was no longer a kingship for her to bestow. Instead she took on the psychic powers of the fairy mistress, gaining power over the souls of the poets who adored her. Later, in the Irish Renaissance, she used these powers to lure, not poets to the Otherworld, but patriots to death. In the twentieth century Cathleen N(')i Houlihan the aspects of war goddess, fairy mistress, and Sovereignty were combined, but the destructive powers of the war goddess had become dominant. ^

Subject Area

Folklore|Literature, English

Recommended Citation

ROSALIND ELIZABETH CLARK, "GODDESS, FAIRY MISTRESS, AND SOVEREIGNTY: WOMEN OF THE IRISH SUPERNATURAL" (January 1, 1985). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. Paper AAI8509533.
http://scholarworks.umass.edu/dissertations/AAI8509533

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