Page:The Grateful Dead.djvu/198

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.

The Folk-Lore Society.

Objects of the Society.

This Society was established in 1878 for the purpose of collecting and preserving the fast-perishing relics of Folklore. Under this general term are included Folk-tales; Hero-tales; Traditional Ballads and Songs; Place Legends and Traditions; Goblindom; Witchcraft; Leechcraft; Superstitions connected with material things; Local Customs; Festival Customs; Ceremonial Customs; Games; Jingles; Nursery Rhymes; Riddles, &c.; Proverbs; Old Saws, rhymed and unrhymed; Nick-names, Place-rhymes and Sayings; Folk-Etymology.

Foreign countries have followed the example of Great Britain, and are steadily collecting and classifying their Folklore.[1] It is most gratifying to this Society to observe that one great result of its work has been to draw attention to the subject in all parts of the world; and it is particularly noticeable that the word "Folklore" has been adopted as the name of the subject in foreign countries.

Scope of the Society.

Since the establishment of the Society great impetus has been given to the study and scientific treatment of those crude philosophies which Folklore embodies. Hence the place now accorded to it as a science, to be approached in the historic spirit and treated on scientific methods. The meaning for a long time given to the term Folklore has thus been greatly enlarged, and the definition which the Society has adopted will illustrate the importance of the new departure:—The science of Folklore is the comparison and identification of the survivals of archaic beliefs, customs, and traditions in modern ages.

Characteristics of Folklore.

It may be well to point out the essential characteristics of Folklore under the terms of this definition. It was found by observation that there exists, or has existed, among the least cultured of the inhabitants of all the countries of modern Europe, a vast body of curious beliefs, customs, and story narratives which are handed down by tradition from generation to generation, and the origin of which is unknown. They are not supported or recognised by the prevailing religion, nor by the established law, nor by the recorded history of the several countries. They are essentially the property of the unlearned and least advanced portion of the community.

Then it was noted that, wherever any body of individuals, entirely ignorant of the results of science and philosophy to which the advanced portion of the community have attained, habitually believe what their ancestors have taught them, and habitually practise the customs which previous generations have practised, a state of mind exists which is capable of generating fresh beliefs in explanation of newly observed phenomena, and is peculiarly open to receive any

  1. The French Société des Traditions populaires was founded in 1885, and an additional French Follt-Lore Society, the Sociéte des Traditionnistes, in 1886; the American Folk-Lore Society in 18S8; the German Verein für Volkskunde in 1 890; the Swiss Gesellschaft für Volkskunde in 1 896; the Hessische Vereinigung für Volkskunde in 1901.