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The Transformations of Biddy Early: From Local Reports of Magical Healing to Globalised New Age Fantasies

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The literatures dealing with legends and vernacular narratives, on the one hand, and collective memory, on the other, are rarely brought to bear on each other. Following a discussion of the classificatory focus of the legend literature, and the lack of agreement about classification in that literature, this paper draws on the collective memory literature to suggest a focus on process. In particular, it suggests that we should pay attention to a historical process during which local reports of "known" people and happenings may be transformed, in the course of their incorporation into wider spheres of discourse, into legends, which may, through further chronological and spatial distancing from their original context, become fantasies. This tentative framework is used to analyse how the local reputation of Biddy Early, a well-known nineteenth-century "wise woman" of County Clare, Ireland, spread - originally through the work of Lady Gregory, in particular - to become first national, then international and, finally, in the age of the Internet, global. In the course of this long process, first-hand reports of her skills and powers eventually became transformed into free-floating marketing devices and New Age fantasies.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2007-08-01

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