You will probably have heard of folktales or traditional stories. They are usually about real life events or imaginary creatures who live in nature. But they are not all that folklore is about.
Folklore encompases all the traditional beliefs, customs, tales, dances and sayings of a group of people. It’s passed down through generations and is often handed down orally.
- folklore as history
- the truth behind the stories
- folk tales
- folk music
- folklore and our modern lives
- keeping folklore alive
Folklore is part of human history
Folklore helps us understand our past, how people think and feel, and how they interact with each other. Learning about folklore can help us learn more about our culture and understand why some things are the way they are.
Folklore can also help us learn more about other cultures, no matter how near they may be. You don’t need to travel far to see the the power of folklore. Travelling abroad will, of course, help you experience different traditions and come across ideas and beliefs you would never find locally. But something as common as visiting a nearby town or city can show you how much local folklore can vary.
This is what makes learning about folklore so interesting. There is always more to discover, even an expert in folklore will never be able to know all there is to know.
The truth behind the stories
Folklore can also help us learn about nature and our local environment. Most people have heard stories about a local animal or local ‘legends’ that they may or may not believe to be true, but are still passed to younger generations.
You have probably heard of the big popular stories, like the yeti or the chupacabra. But all places have their own stories. I recently learnt that a road near my house got it’s name from an old Celtic word for river, even though the river that used to go through there dried over 2 centuries ago. I am quite new to my area, but that’s a story that most locals know about.
Folklore is often rooted in truth, even outlandish stories like chupacabra, but it isn’t always correct in its details. For example, some people might say that there was once an evil spirit living in the woods near their house; however, this may not actually be true—the real explanation could be something like ‘there was once an escaped convict who ate wild mushrooms’.
Folktales are another important part of folklore
Folktales an important part of folklore. They are stories that have been passed down through generations, often with a moral or lesson attached to them. They can be about animals, people, or supernatural beings and they tell us about cultural values and beliefs.
They can be told in any language because they’re meant to be passed on from person to person so that everyone knows how to tell the story properly even if they don’t speak your language. In fact, it’s quite normal for people to know folktales from places far away. Especially as global culture expands.
Folklore can also be songs, dances, or music
Folk music, folk dances and folk songs are also types of folklore. These forms of traditional music can be passed down from generation to generation by word-of-mouth. The words sung are often simple and repetitive and may refer to everyday events or experiences that everyone is familiar with, or they could relate to specific lifestyles (such as sea shanties).
Folk songs often have religious overtones, But they can also deal with more mundane topics like love, agriculture, historical feats, and semi-fantastic topics.
The lyrics of folk songs are usually simple in form and content and often refer to other aspects of folk culture. Most folk songs are accompanied by small instruments that are easy to carry around, like guitars, drums, and fiddles.
Folklore in our everyday modern lives
All common modern traditions can be considered folklore. For example, the Christmas tree is one of the most popular customs in Western culture and it’s been around for centuries. However, while it may not be traditional in every sense, it still qualifies as folklore because it’s a custom that has been passed down through generations and remains part of our collective consciousness today.
On the other hand, many customs were around for hundreds or thousands of years but are no longer practiced by anyone (or only by reconstructionists). Many people would call these folklore, when in reality they are considered either historical or cultural rather than folkloric.
Keeping folklore alive so that it doesn’t fade away
Folklore is a living part of our culture. It’s easy to think of folklore as something you only see on TV, read in books, or only ‘old people’ care about, but it goes deeper than that.
Folklore is passed down through generations and lives on in everyday life. Folktales, folksongs and traditions have been shared over and over again for centuries, and we are only one part of the chain.
Something as simple as singing a nursery rhyme to a kid, learning a traditional craft, or making a local recipe are easy ways to keep folklore alive and not lose our local culture in a world that is slowly becoming more and more homogeneous.