I must apologize, again, for my tardiness in completing these notes. I am preparing to return to the US, and will be spending a month or more with a friend who is having her first child. Times are hectic!
The next presentation of the first day was by Joanne Findon, of Trent University. I was excited to hear her based solely on the title!
Medieval Irish stories in which a mortal hero forms a liaison with a ‘fairy mistress’ have been much discussed, particularly in connection wit the theme of the ‘sovereignty goddess.’ However, not all such relationships work out well; in a few cases (tales in which the encounter or its aftermath are focalized through the perspective of the Otherworld female herself, even if only briefly) the meaning of the encounter is destabilized. The presence of the Otherworld woman’s speech shifts the ground of interpretation and opens up the interaction to more complex social and cultural implications. Fand in Serglige Con Culainn, Macha in Noínden Ulad, and Becfhola in Tochmarc Becfhola are examples of such women whose mortal-therworld remances end badly. Fand gets the man she desires, but ultimately loses him to the hero’s determined wife Emer. Macha chooses her mortal mate and seems to live happily with him until he foolishly boasts about her racing skill. Becfhola forms an unsatisfying union with a mortal man who does not appreciate her, and eventually leaves him for an Otherworld man who is a much better match for her. In each case, the woman’s words open a window onto the female perspective regarding the perils of such mortal-Otherworld relationships. This discussion will consider the significance of these women’s words and the effects of female subjectivity in light of the larger social and literary contexts of these tales.
She began the talk by offering the idea that the theme of ‘Otherworld’ girl and ‘mortal’ boy may have a possible connection with an increase in men / women relationship [discussions, cultural /religious changes, problems, issues] during Early Medieval Ireland. A few of her points include:
Fand and Emer believe a man can not love two women.
‘Ah, youth,’ she said, ‘we were together with honour once, and we would be again if you still desired me.’ ‘By my word,’ he said, ‘I do desire you, and I will desire you as long as you live.’ “Leave me then,” said Fand. (Dillon, ll. 722-26)
Are these tales seek to discuss the outcome of ‘erotic’ love vs the ‘traditional’ marriage structure?
There was a demand of secrecy, in order for the ‘Otherworld’ relationship to continue.
‘You shall not go,’ the woman said, ‘ lest danger dog you from mentioning us, for our union will be at an end if you mention me in the assembly.’ “I shall not speak there at all,” Crunnchu said. (Hull, ll. 21-23, trans p. 37)
The tales may indicate conflict between ‘women’ and the ‘warrior class’. Woman speaking truth to power.
“The shame that you have inflicted upon me,’ [she said,] “shall be indeed a disgrace to you from now on. When things shall be most difficult for you, all those of you who guard this province shall have only the strength of a woman in childbirth; and as long as a woman is in childbirth, so long shall you [likewise] be, namely to the end of five days and four nights, and moreover, it shall be on you unto the ninth [generation], that is to say, for the lifespan of nine persons.” (Hull ll. 59-63, tran p. 38)
Liminal boundaries, edges.
“They beheld a woman coming from the west across the ford in a chariot. She wore rounded sandals of white bronze, inset with two jewels of precious stone; a tunic covered with red-gold embroidery about her; a crimson mantle on her; a brooch in fully-wrought gold with shimmering gems f many hues fastening the mantle over her breast; necklets of refined gold around her neck; a golden circlet upon her head.” (Bhreathnach, 72, trans. 77)
It seems, having the power to choose their own lovers does not mean happiness. This, more than anything, may have been the theme of these various tales and offers a social commentary on the changing landscape of relationships in the Early Medieval period.