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  • Writer's picturePaul Jameson

What is Folklore? My Tuppence Worth...

What is Folklore?

This is a question I've seen discussed on social media many times. Efforts tend to try to distinguish why it's different (if at all) from myth, legend and/or history. Sometimes it can get quite heated, dull-eyed trolls and silver-wrought warriors do battle on keyboards, but this is thankfully rare and the date is healthy, fun and rewarding; afterall, there is no right answer, only what you choose to believe, and so this is my own two pence worth.

For me there are two broad definitions of folklore:

  • The Academic

  • The Magickal

I'll start with the easy one - 'The Academic' - and I lie; it ain't so easy.

You see, from an academic perspective folklore touches and plays o'er many disparate disciplines. It influences history, is myth - or myth is at least a subset of folklore - and it's a driver of art, literature, popular culture; an influencer on all forms of entertainment from the first story told in a cave to the widescreen, high definition tales of the cinema. It's a reflection of society over time too; the geography of people and place; the culture and beliefs of a people, clan, tribe, state, from 'right local' to nationwide and beyond. And in many cases it represents what was once religion, a means of societal and tribal control.

Only folklore isn't easily constrained by dogma.

It quickly becomes a means for the dreamers and wayward of society - the artists and rebels - to paint the darker sides of taboo and imagination; to tackle questions, fears and belief that might not otherwise be easily broached. Folklore is the past, the present and future, a topic without borders and always changing.

No wonder then that folklore's growing in popularity. A fledging subject - certainly where academia in the UK's concerned - it's gaining a foothold and attracting students. Why wouldn't it; the diversity of discipline and topic is wide, interesting, appealing, and with an opportunity to better understand our own hidden history, culture, magics and being.

I could go on. Indefinitely.

But that, for me, that is the academic topic of folklore. A chance to sift fact from fiction, explore old nature-based religions in a time of Pagan uplift, understand the influence of Fae and Otherwold on society and culture; become immersed in readings of legend and myth, history, religion; study where they hold hands with the people and dance. It's an academic's dream. A subject with no bounds. A mess to label and put in boxes.


Then there's'The Magickal' definition; where the Common Folk, you and me, others like us who care little for category and class, discipline or truth, get involved. This is where the stories of folklore, its words, are flexible. Meanings reinterpreted are told anew in the musty air of a local pub, the whispers of children in a playground. Over a cuppa, in the library and standing in queues for the bus, ghosts are real and the Gods still live, just out of sight. It's where shadows breathe, steps being hurried on the walk home at night, and it's in the woods and fields at the edge of town.

'Neath bridge,

Under root;

Drowned in dark waters that stand still and ne'er flow.By canals and rivers where heron scream and foxes laugh, where blue-painted tribes still hunt and trains now run. It's in the places where monsters live and people die, imagined or real.

That's folklore too.

It never stands still.

Sandy - Bedfordshire - 2018

Paul is an author and Masters student in Celtic Studies at the University of Wales, Trinity Saint David. Folklore is his passion - the art of it, the wonder - and it greatly influences the fiction he writes.

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