1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Folklore

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FOLKLORE, a term invented in 1846 by Mr W. J. Thoms as a designation for the traditional learning of the uncultured classes of civilized nations. The word has been adopted in this sense into many foreign languages; it is sometimes regarded as the equivalent of the Ger. Volkskunde. But folklore is, properly speaking, the “lore of the folk,” while Volkskunde is lore or learning about the folk, and includes not only the mental life of a people, but also their arts and crafts. The term folklore is also used to designate the science which deals with folklore; the study of survivals involves the investigation of the similar customs, beliefs, &c., of races on lower planes of culture; consequently folklore, as interpreted by the English and American societies, concerns itself as much or more with savage races as with the popular superstitions of the white races.

History.—The scientific study of folklore dates back to the first quarter of the 19th century, but folklore was collected long before that date. The organized study of folklore is a thing of recent growth. The first Folklore Society was founded in London in 1878; similar bodies now exist in the United States, France, Italy, Switzerland and especially in Germany and Austria. The folk-tale makes its appearance in literature at a very early period; Egyptian examples have come down to us from the 28th century B.C. In Greece the Homeric poems contain many folk-tale incidents; for India we have the Jatakas and Panchatantra; and for the Arabs the great collection of the Thousand and One Nights. Another type of folk-narrative is represented by Aesop’s Fables. Not unnaturally beliefs and customs received less attention; our knowledge of them among the ancients is as a rule pieced together. Among the oldest professed collections are J. B. Thiers (1606–1703), Traité des superstitions (1679), Aubrey’s Miscellanies (1686) and H. Bourne’s (1696–1733) Antiquitates vulgares (1725); but they belong to the antiquarian, non-scientific period.

The pioneers of the modern scientific treatment of folklore were the brothers Grimm, by the publication of their Kinder-und Hausmärchen (1812–1815) and Deutsche Mythologie (1835). They were the first to present the folk-tale in its genuine unadulterated form. They differed from their predecessors in regarding the myth, not as the result of conscious speculation, but of a mythopoeic impulse. They were, however, disposed to press modern linguistic evidence too far and make the figures of the folk-tale the lineal representatives of ancient gods, as the folk-tales themselves were of the myths. This tendency was exaggerated by their successors, J. W. Wolf, W. Rochholz and others. At the outset of his career, W. Mannhardt (1831–1880), the forerunner of the anthropological school of folklore, shared in this mistake. Breaking away eventually from the philological schools, which interpreted myths and their supposed descendants, the folk-tales, as relating to the storm, the sun, the dawn, &c. (see Mythology), Mannhardt made folk-custom and belief his basis. To this end he set himself to collect and compare the superstitions of the peasantry; but his health was always feeble and he never completed his scheme. For a time Mannhardt’s researches bore fruit neither in his own country nor abroad. In 1878 the foundation of the Folklore Society marked a new era in England, where the philological school had had few adherents; and the anthropological school soon produced evidence of its vitality in the works of Mr Andrew Lang, Dr J. G. Frazer and Professor Robertson Smith.

With the growth of our knowledge of European folk-custom and belief on the one hand, and of rites and religions of people in the lower stages of culture on the other hand, it has become abundantly clear that there is no line of demarcation between the two. Each throws light upon the other, and the superstitions of Europe are the lineal descendants of savage creeds which have their parallels all over the world in the culture of primitive peoples.

Subdivisions.—The folklore of civilized peoples may be conveniently classified under three main heads: (1) belief and custom; (2) narratives and sayings; (3) art. These again may be subdivided. The first division, Belief and Custom, includes (A) Superstitious beliefs and practices, including (a) those connected with natural phenomena or inanimate nature, (b) tree and plant superstitions, (c) animal superstitions, (d) ghosts and goblins, (e) witchcraft, (f) leechcraft, (g) magic in general and divination, (h) eschatology, and (i) miscellaneous superstitions and practices; and (B) Traditional customs, including (a) festival customs for which are set aside certain days and seasons, (b) ceremonial customs on the occasion of events such as birth, death or marriage, (c) games, (d) miscellaneous local customs, such as agricultural rites connected with the corn-spirit (see Demonology), and (e) dances. The second head of Narratives and Sayings may be subdivided (A) into (a) sagas or tales told as true, (b) Märchen or nursery tales, (c) fables, (d) drolls, apologues, cumulative tales, &c., (e) myths (see Mythology), and (f) place legends; (B) into ballads and songs (in so far as they do not come under art); and (C) into nursery rhymes, riddles, jingles, proverbs, nicknames, place rhymes, &c. The third head, Art, subdivides into (a) folk music with ballads and songs, (b) folk drama. Any classification, however, labours under the disadvantage of separating items which properly belong together. Thus, myths are obviously the form in which some superstitions are expressed. They may also be aetiological in their nature and form an elaborate record of a custom. Eschatological beliefs naturally take the form of myths. Traditional narratives can also be classified under art, and so on.

Literature.—The literature of the subject falls into two sharply defined classes—synthetic works and collections of folklore—of which the latter are immensely more numerous. Of the former class the most important is Dr J. G. Frazer’s Golden Bough, which sets out from the study of a survival in Roman religion and covers a wide field of savage and civilized beliefs and customs. Especially important are the chapters on agricultural rites, in which are set forth the results of Mannhardt’s researches. Other important lines of folklore research in the Golden Bough are those dealing with spring ceremonies, with the primitive view of the soul, with animal cults, and with sun and rain charms. Mr E. S. Hartland’s Legend of Perseus is primarily concerned with the origin of a folk-tale, and this problem in the end is dismissed as insoluble. A large part of the book is taken up with a discussion of sympathetic magic, and especially with the “life index,” an object so bound up with the life of a human being that it acts as an indication of his well-being or otherwise. The importance of children’s games in the study of folklore has been recognized of recent years. An admirable collection of the games of England has been published by Mrs G. L. Gomme. With the more minute study of uncivilized peoples the problem of the diffusion of games has also come to the fore. In particular it is found that the string-game called “cat’s cradle” in various forms is of very wide diffusion, being found even in Australia. The question of folk-music has recently received much attention (see Song).

Bibliography.Introductory works: M. R. Cox, Introduction to Folklore; Kaindl, Die Volkskunde; Marillier in Revue de l’histoire des religions, xliii. 166, and other works mentioned by Kaindl.

General works: J. G. Frazer, The Golden Bough; E. S. Hartland, The Legend of Perseus; A. Lang, Custom, and Myth, Myth, Ritual and Religion; Tylor, Primitive Culture; Liebrecht, Zur Volkskunde.

British Isles. England: Burne, Shropshire Folklore; Denham Tracts (F.L.S.); Harland and Wilkinson, Lancashire Folklore; Henderson, Folklore of Northern Counties; County Folklore Series (Printed Extracts) of the F.L.S. Wales: Elias Owen, Welsh Folklore; Rhys, Celtic Folklore. Scotland: Dalyell, Darker Superstitions; Gregor, Folklore of N.E. of Scotland; the works of J. G. Campbell, &c.

Germany: Grimm, Deutsche Mythologie, English translation by Stallybrass; Wuttke, Der deutsche Volksaberglaube; Meyer, Deutsche Volkskunde; Tetzner, Die Slaven in Deutschland; Mogk in Paul’s Grundriss der germanischen Philologie, and the works cited by Kaindl (see above).

France: Sebillot’s works; Rolland, Faune populaire; Laisnel de la Salle, Croyances et légendes.

On the Slavs see the works of Krauss and v. Wlislochi; for Bohemia, Grohmann, Aberglaube; for Greece, Abbott, Macedonian Folklore, and Rennell Rodd, Folklore of Greece; for Italy, Pitré’s bibliography; for India, Crooke’s works, and the Indian Antiquary. For questionnaires see Handbook of Folklore (Folklore Soc.); Sebillot, Essai de questionnaires; Journal of American Folklore (1890, &c.); and Kaindl’s Volkskunde. For a bibliography of folk-tales see Hartland, Mythology and Folk-tales; to his list may be added Petitot’s Légendes indiennes; Rand, Legends of the Micmacs; Lummis, The Man who Married the Moon; and the publications of the American Folklore Society. For other works see bibliographies in Folklore and other periodicals. On special points may be mentioned Miss Cox’s Cinderella (Folklore Society); Kohler’s works, &c. (see also bibliography to the article Tale). For games see Gomme, English Games; Culin, Korean Games; Rochholz, Alemannisches Kinderlied; Böhme, Deutsches Kinderlied; Handelmann, Volks- und Kinderspiele; Jayne, String Figures, &c.; and the bibliography to Doll. See also Sonnenschein’s Best Books.

The following is a list of the more important Societies and publications:—

England: Folklore Society; Folksong Society; Gipsy-lore Society.

U.S.A.: American Folklore Society.

France: Société des traditions populaires.

Germany: Verein für Volkskunde; Hessische Vereinigung für Volkskunde; and minor societies in Saxony, Silesia and other provinces.

Austria: Verein für österreichische Volkskunde.

Switzerland: Schweizerische Gesellschaft für Volkskunde.

Italy: Società per lo studio delle tradizioni popolari.

In addition to these, the anthropological societies devote more or less attention to folklore. Besides the publications of the societies mentioned above, minor societies or individuals are responsible for the following among others: Belgium, Wallonia; Poland, Wisla; France, Melusine (1878, 1883–1901); Bohemia, Cesky Lid; Denmark, Dania, &c.; Germany, Zeitschrift für Völkerpsychologie (1859–1890); Am Urquell (1890–1898).  (N. W. T.)