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Reading the Bean Feasa

Gearóid Ó Crualaoich
Folklore
Vol. 116, No. 1 (Apr., 2005), pp. 37-50
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/30035237
Page Count: 14
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Reading the Bean Feasa
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Abstract

Legends of the bean feasa, the "woman-of-knowledge" or "wise-woman," are numerous in Irish Gaelic tradition. Here a corpus of such legends, from the archive of the former Irish Folklore Commission, at University College Dublin, is examined with a view to revealing the significance of the figure of the bean feasa and the role that the narration and transmission of legends about her plays in Irish vernacular cultural tradition. Presenting itself as historical truth, the lore of the beanfeasa has a character nearer to religious faith. It is suggested here, on the basis of the evidence examined, that the oral narrative tradition of the bean feasa functioned as a communal, psychotherapeutic device that operated so as to enable its hearers to cope with their individual misfortunes and afflictions. Stories of the resort of people to the "wise-woman" in the face of such misfortune and affliction, and of her oracular and often relieving diagnosis and ministration, can be seen as representing, in the arena of public discourse, a source of imaginative creativity that could be brought to bear by individual listeners on the private circumstances of their own individual afflictions and misfortunes. Bean feasa legends thus constitute a valuable cultural resource.

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