Folklore is the body of expressive culture, including tales, music, dance, legends, oral history, proverbs, jokes, popular beliefs, customs, material culture, and so forth, common to a particular population, comprising the traditions (including oral traditions) of that culture, subculture, or group. It is also the set of practices through which those expressive genres are shared. The academic and usually ethnographic study of folklore is sometimes called folkloristics.

History

The concept of folklore developed as part of the 19th century ideology of romantic nationalism, leading to the reshaping of oral traditions to serve modern ideological goals; only in the 20th century did ethnographers begin to attempt to record folklore without overt political goals. The Brothers Grimm, Wilhelm and Jakob Grimm, collected orally transmitted German tales and published the first series as Kinder- und Hausmärchen (“Children’s and Household Tales”) in 1812.

The term was coined in 1846 by an Englishman, William Thoms, who wanted to use an Anglo-Saxon term for what was then called “popular antiquities.” Johann Gottfried von Herder first advocated the deliberate recording and preservation of folklore to document the authentic spirit, tradition, and identity of the German people; the belief that there can be such authenticity is one of the tenets of the romantic nationalism which Herder developed. The definition most widely accepted by current scholars of the field is “artistic communication in small groups,” coined by Dan Ben-Amos a scholar at the University of Pennsylvania, and the term, and the associated field of study, now include non-verbal art forms and customary practices.

While folklore can contain religious or mythic elements, it equally concerns itself with the sometimes mundane traditions of everyday life. Folklore frequently ties the practical and the esoteric into one narrative package. It has often been conflated with mythology, and vice versa, because it has been assumed that any figurative story that does not pertain to the dominant beliefs of the time is not of the same status as those dominant beliefs. Thus, Roman religion is called “myth” by Christians. In that way, both myth and folklore have become catch-all terms for all figurative narratives which do not correspond with the dominant belief structure. Sometimes “folklore” is religious in nature, like the tales of the Welsh Mabinogion or those found in Icelandic skaldic poetry. Many of the tales in the Golden Legend of Jacob de Voragine also embody folklore elements in a Christian context: examples of such Christian mythology are the themes woven round Saint George or Saint Christopher. In this case, the term “folklore” is being used in a pejorative sense. That is, while the tales of Odin the Wanderer have a religious value to the Norse who composed the stories, because it does not fit into a Christian configuration it is not considered “religious” by Christians who may instead refer to it as “folklore.”

Folk tales are general term for different varieties of traditional narrative. The telling of stories appears to be a cultural universal, common to basic and complex societies alike. Even the forms folktales take are certainly similar from culture to culture, and comparative studies of themes and narrative ways have been successful in showing these relationships. Also it is considered to be an oral tale to be told for everybody.

On the other hand, folklore can be used to accurately describe a figurative narrative, which has no sacred or religious content. In the Jungian view, which is but one method of analysis, it may instead pertain to unconscious psychological patterns, instincts or archetypes of the mind. This lore may or may not have components of the fantastic (such as magic, ethereal beings or the personification of inanimate objects). These folktales may or may not emerge from a religious tradition, but nevertheless speak to deep psychological issues. The familiar folklore, “Hansel and Gretel,” is an example of this fine line. The manifest purpose of the tale may primarily be one of mundane instruction regarding forest safety or secondarily a cautionary tale about the dangers of famine to large families, but its latent meaning may evoke a strong emotional response due to the widely understood themes and motifs such as “The Terrible Mother”, “Death,” and “Atonement with the Father.” There can be both a moral and psychological scope to the work, as well as entertainment value, depending upon the nature of the teller, the style of the telling, the ages of the audience members, and the overall context of the performance. Folklorists generally resist universal interpretations of narratives and, wherever possible, analyze oral versions of tellings in specific contexts, rather than print sources, which often show the work or bias of the writer or editor.

Contemporary narratives common in the Western world include the urban legend. There are many forms of folklore that are so common, however, that most people do not realize they are folklore, such as riddles, children’s rhymes and ghost stories, rumors (including conspiracy theories), gossip, ethnic stereotypes, and holiday customs and life-cycle rituals. UFO abduction narratives can be seen, in some sense, to refigure the tales of pre-Christian Europe, or even such tales in the Bible as the Ascent of Elijah to heaven. Adrienne Mayor, in introducing a bibliography on the topic, noted that most modern folklorists are largely unaware of classical parallels and precedents, in materials that are only partly represented by the familiar designation Aesopica: “Ancient Greek and Roman literature contains rich troves of folklore and popular beliefs, many of which have counterparts in modern contemporary legends” (Mayor, 2000).

Categories of folklore
Genres

  1. Ballad
  2. Blason Populaire
  3. Counting rhymes
  4. Costumbrista
  5. Craft
  6. Custom
  7. Folk play
  8. Epic poetry
  9. Festival
  10. Folk speech
  11. Folk art
  12. Folk belief
  13. Folk magic
  14. Folk metaphor
  15. Folk poetry and rhyme
  16. Folk simile
  17. Folk song
  18. Folk tale
  19. Animal tale
  20. Fairy tale
  21. Jocular tale
  22. Games
  23. Holiday lore and customs
  24. Joke
  25. Legend
  26. Urban (or Contemporary) legend
  27. Material culture
  28. Medical folklore
  29. Memorate
  30. Myth
  31. Proverb
  32. Riddle
  33. Superstition and popular belief
  34. Taunts
  35. Weather lore
  36. Xerox lore

National or ethnic (see romantic nationalism)

  1. Arab folklore
  2. Alpine(Austrian and Swiss) folklore
  3. American folklore
  4. Australian folklore
  5. Brazilian folklore
  6. Caribbean folklore
  7. Chinese folklore
  8. English folklore
  9. Estonian folklore
  10. Dutch folklore
  11. Finnish folklore
  12. French folklore
  13. Germanic folklore
  14. German folklore
  15. Indian folklore
  16. Iranian folklore
  17. Irish folklore
  18. Italian folklore
  19. Jewish folklore, which incorporates the Aggadah
  20. Japanese folklore
  21. Korean folklore
  22. Kosovar folklore
  23. Latin American folklore
  24. Laz folklore
  25. Norse folklore
  26. Olrig folklore
  27. Pakistani folklore
  28. Philippine folklore
  29. Portuguese folklore
  30. Russian folklore
  31. Scandinavian folklore
  32. Scottish folklore
  33. South American folklore
  34. Slavic folklore
  35. Swiss folklore
  36. Turkish folklore
  37. Venezuelan folklore
  38. Welsh folklore

LINKS:

North America
American Folklore Society
American Folklife Center
Western States Folklore Society
Folklore Studies Association of Canada
Indiana University’s Folklore Program
The Ohio State University Center for Folklore Studies
Folklore Program at the University of California at Berkeley
Memorial University of Newfoundland’s Folklore Program
Folklore Program at Western Kentucky University
Folklore Program at Utah State University
University of Oregon’s Folklore Program
Folklore Program at the University of North Carolina
World Arts and Cultures Program of the University of California at Los Angeles
Folkstreams.net-video streaming films on American traditional culture and folklife
Ukrainian Folklore Centre, University of Alberta
Ukrainian Traditional Folklore, University of Alberta
Slavic and East European Folklore Association
The Center for Studies in Oral Tradition, University of Missouri
Oral Tradition Journal

United Kingdom
The Folklore Society, founded 1878 – very extensive links list among much else

Readings:

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