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What is Folklore and Mythology?
There are many definitions and interpretations of the words “folklore” and “mythology.”
Per Webster’s Dictionary, folklore is the “traditional customs, tales, sayings, dances, or art forms preserved among a people; a branch of knowledge that deals with folklore; an often unsupported notion, story, or saying that deals with folklore”
Per the American Folklore Society, folklore is the ”traditional art, literature, knowledge, and practice that is disseminated largely through oral communication and behavioral example.”
For our purposes, we are going to narrow our focus of folklore to include traditional tales that have informed a people’s understanding of the world. Mostly this will be from oral tales handed down from grandmother to granddaughter and grandfather to grandson; tales like the “Little Match Girl” or “1001 Arabian Nights.” We’ll look at how the Grimm Brothers collected their fairy tales to try to demonstrate that Germany was an old culture with its own unique history. We’ll include some stories that were intended to be written rather than oral, because what child in the west doesn’t know some version of Hans Christian Andersen’s, “The Little Mermaid?”
Per Webster’s Dictionary, mythology is “an allegorical narrative; a body of myths - as the myths dealing with the gods, demigods, and legendary heroes of a particular people,” and myth is defined as “a story that was told in ancient culture to explain a practice, belief or natural occurrence; a usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief or natural phenomenon.”
Bernard Doyle, in an article for The Encyclopedia Mythica, adds that at some stage in the creation of a certain set of myths, a group of people believed that the myths were true, such as the ancient Greeks believing that Zeus ruled the sky, Posiedon ruled the oceans, and that they would find Hades in the underworld after they died.
For our purposes, we are going to stick to the idea that mythology includes stories that are a people’s attempt to explain the natural world. These stories have a supernatural element (meaning that they are not explained by the laws of science; they are based on gods, demi-gods, spirits, etc.), and they were initially told as true stories. While we will not dwell much on modern religions (there are many other options here at BellaOnline for those discussions), when we do talk about modern religions, it will always be as an outsider looking in; an anthropologist studying how the mythology of these religions informs the culture.
My hope for us all is to share the folklore and mythology of different cultures and compare them to see what they teach us about the human story. We’ll not just share the stories themselves, but we’ll talk about scholars who have spent their careers collecting, analyzing and sharing their research. We’ll talk about how this rich cultural history has informed our lives today. And hopefully we’ll all have fun doing it.
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