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Female Voices from the Otherworld: The Role of Women in the Early Irish Echtrai

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Chapter Summary

The Irish saw their land and sovereignty as feminine, the marriage of the king to the sovereignty/territorial goddess, also called banais righe was a prerequisite for the latter's successful rule. However, the fairies in most echtrai have undergone a more or less drastic transformation. This chapter illustrates their original role as sovereignty goddess is still intact in Echtrae Chonnlai and Immram Brain but already somewhat compromised in Echtrae Nerai. In spite of their supernatural powers, the women in the three tales are made subordinate to human and supernatural males who determine their fate. The most straightforward manifestations of the sovereignty goddess occur in two of the earliest witnesses to the tradition.

Keywords:Echtrae Chonnlai; Echtrae Nerai; goddess; Immram Brain; Irish Echtrai; supernatural power; women

10.1163/9789004258235_005
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