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Folklore (or lore) consists of legends, music, oral history, proverbs, jokes, popular beliefs, fairy tales, stories, tall tales, and customs included in the traditions of a culture, subculture, or group. It also includes the set of practices through which those expressive genres are shared. The study of folklore is sometimes called folkloristics, and people who study folklore are sometimes referred to as folklorists. The English antiquarian William Thoms introduced the word "folklore" in a letter published in the London journal The Athenaeum in 1846. In usage, there is a continuum between folklore and mythology. Stith Thompson (1885–1976) made a major attempt to index the motifs of both folklore and mythology, providing an outline for classifying new motifs within which scholars can keep track of all older motifs.
Folklore can be divided into four areas of study:
These areas do not stand alone, however, as often a particular item or element may fit into more than one of these areas.
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. Ancient Roman religion, for instance, is called "myth" today.
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 around Saint George or Saint Christopher. In this case, the term "folklore" is being used in a pejorative sense.
"Folktales" is a 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.[clarification needed]
On the other hand, the term "folklore" can label 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 may or may not have components of the fantastic (such as magic, ethereal beings or the personification of inanimate objects). Folktales may or may not emerge from a religious tradition, but nevertheless speak to deep psychological issues. The familiar folktale, "Hansel and Gretel", offers an example of this fine line. The manifest purpose of the tale may primarily be one of mundane instruction regarding forest safety and 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".
A folk narrative can have both a moral and psychological scope, 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. Many forms of folklore occur so commonly that most people do not regard them as 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. 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" (Such as Mayor, 2000).
Vladimir Propp's classic study Morphology of the Folktale (1928) became the basis of research into the structure of folklore texts. Propp discovered a uniform structure in Russian fairy tales. His book has appeared in translation in English, Italian, Polish and other languages. The English translation was issued[by whom?] in the USA in 1958, some 30 years after the publication of the original. It was met by approving reviews and significantly influenced later research on folklore and, more generally, structural semantics. Though Propp based his analysis on syntagmatic structure, it gave the scope to understand the structure of folktales, of which he discovered thirty one functions. Derrida's concept of archewriting does not obey the distinction between writing and speaking.
Folklorist William Bascom states that folklore has many cultural aspects, such as allowing for escape from societal consequences. In addition, folklore can also serve to validate a culture (romantic nationalism), as well as transmit a culture's morals and values. Folklore can also be the root of many cultural types of music. Country, blues, and bluegrass all originate from American folklore. Examples of artists which have used folkloric themes in their music would be: Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs, Old Crow Medicine Show, Jim Croce, and many others. Folklore can also be used to assert social pressures, or relieve them, for example in the case of humor and carnival.
In addition, folklorists study medical, supernatural, religious, and political belief systems as an essential, often unspoken, part of expressive culture.
Many rituals can sometimes be considered folklore, whether formalized in a cultural or religious system (e.g., weddings, baptisms, harvest festivals) or practiced within a family or secular context. For example, in certain parts of the United States (as well as other countries) one places a knife, or a pair of scissors, under the mattress to "cut the birth pains" after giving birth. Additionally, children's counting-out games can be defined as behavioral folklore.
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