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36 What Do Folklorists Do 8 This word isn t used here in the FBI ratting outthemob sense it simply refers to the person you re interviewing 9 People like Anya s grandfather people who are known to be ready with a story joke or song are known as active bearers of tradition Many more people are passive bearers people who know the stories customs and songs but who don t regularly offer them up or perform them for others You can collect folklore from both types of tradition bearers but it s always easier to draw out a passive bearer s knowledge if it s someone you know well This is a pragmatic thing to keep in mind if you re asked to do a collection project for class 10 We haven t talked in depth about different genres yet but take my word for it that these are in there 11 And his appearances on Letterman 12 Jan Harold Brunvand 7 Study ofAmerz mn Folklore An Introduction 4th ed New York Norton 1998 25 13 William Bascom The Four Functions of Folklore journal of American Folklore 67 no 266 1954 333 49 Chapter 3 Types of Folklore HERE S WHAT THIS CHAPTER WON T D0 this chapter isn t here to give you numerous examples of folklore in the sense of giving you stories to read customs to try beliefs to learn about or any thing like that You can go Google that stuff if you re interested in it or hit the library and nd an interesting collection of folklore to peruse What this chapter is here to do is tell you about some of the main types of folklore that folklorists have studied and give you one or two cool examples of how each one has been approached or analyzed Sound boring It s not As I ve said in earlier chapters folklorists study a variety of genres or types of folklore After reading this section you should be able to identify many of the most common ones and to under stand how they re different from each other What distinguishes a legend from a myth A calendar custom from a rite of passage You ll nd out You ll also discover how the differences in genres can affect the way the folklore functions in society There are hundreds if not thousands of ways to approach each and every genre of folklore but after reading this section you ll have at least a few analytical tools in your folklorist tool belt right off the bat If nothing else you ll come away with some solid examples of what a close exami nation of different types of folklore can reveal While there are more genres of folklore than can possibly be listed in one place one easy way to divide them initially is into these four basic categories DOI 107330978087421 9067c003 37 38 Types ofFoZklore things we say like jokes songs folktales myths and legends things we do like calendar customs rituals games and rites of passage things we make like handmade objects collections and assemblages and folk art things we believe like superstitions supernatural crea tures and folk religion1 It s probably already obvious that there s a good deal of over lap here especially when it comes to the things we believe For example a legend is something we say about something we believe a friendship bracelet is something we make that reflects something we believe and a rite of passage is something we do to indicate something we believe But as with all the not so clear cut divisions we ve made so far this one is a useful tool for conceptualizing the breakdown of folklore even if it s an oversimpli cation This chapter is going to walk through these four main catego ries of folklore describing the main identifying characteristics of each and offering some initial examples of analysis2 Unfortunately or fortunately depending on how tired of reading you are at this point there s not enough space in this short handbook to address all or even most of the subtypes included in each general category of folklore Instead each section below will focus on one or two major genres of folklore within that category as an illustration of the possibilities THINGS WE SAY The category of things we say encompasses all the folklore that comes out of our mouths or through our ngertips and onto a piece of paper or a screen That means jokes slang proverbs riddles mnemonic devices rhymes songs oaths toasts greetings leave takingsm basically tons and tons of forms of folklore but the most famous the most wellknown and the most studied forms of verbal folklore are stories3 It s probably not something you ve ever thought about con sciously but there is a big difference between beginning a story with Types ofFolklore 39 Once upon a time and beginning a story with You ll never believe what happened to my aunt s hairdresser s cousin s roommate last week The main difference is in how we expect our listeners to react to the story we re about to tell and this is an excellent illus tration of how important the distinction between genres is in the realm of folk narrative When it comes to things we say folklorists have mainly studied the longer forms of folklore the legend the folktale and the myth4 You probably can already guess that it s a folktale that begins with Once upon a time and a legend5 that begins with the friend of a friend connection6 80 what s the difference Well for one no one tells a folktale as though it actually happened Once upon a time in a land far far away clearly sets a story in an imaginary place Thus when we hear that something amazing or miraculous happens in the story we don t really have cause to doubt it it s ction For example when someone says to you Once upon a time in a land far far away there was a cat named Puss who wore a lovely pair of boots and went around making farmers into kings 7 you re not expected to react by saying Wait Hold on a sec Are you honestly telling me that this cat could talk much less wear human footwear By framing this story as a folktale or as a ctional story the teller makes it clear that we re supposed to just accept what is happening without question On the other hand if a friend turns to you and says You ll never believe what I just heard My mom s coworker s stepson just got this new pet cat and when he got it home it started trying on his shoes and offering to help him get a promotion at work we absolutely would be expected to respond with disbelief This illustrates one of the great distinctions between these two types of folk narrative folktales are told as ction and set in a c tional world while legends are told as true8 and are set in the real world A story told as ction is entertainment perhaps escapism for most people a story told as true is more of a commentary on con temporary life This gets at the function of these different types of folklore legends tend to highlight the stuff that we as a society are Stressed out about folktales tend to help us forget all that for a time 40 Types ofFolklare So if you were a folklorist out collecting stories it would be imperative to understand whether you were collecting a folktale or a legend especially since the content of the story might be the same in both something strange or unexpected like talking cats Let s say you collected a story about someone dining at a fast food restaurant and making the horrible discovery that what he thought was a piece of chicken was actually a rat If that story were told as taking place once upon a time then it wouldn t have much of a direct soci etal impact who cares if some ctional person ate something gross We might see symbolic metaphors in such a story but as with most fairytale content we wouldn t expect the story s content to directly impact our lives But if that story is told as We as having happened to someone who knows someone you know someone very similar to yourself perhaps maybe living very close to you and eating at the same res taurants oh horrori then suddenly that story is saying something more It s a direct warning about personal health and wellbeing it s a public condemnation of a particular business and it s a social commentary on the conditions of modern food production and con sumption The meaning of that particular story is very dependent on what type of folk narrative it is So we have folktales as fiction and legends as true though not necessarily believed what about myths Like legends myths are told as true but it s a different kind of truth it s a sacred truth Far from the popular use of the word myth to mean something not true folklorists use this word to refer to a sacred narrative Sacred to whom you might ask Well to whatever folk group regularly shares it Calling a particular story a myth is making no claim on the factual reality of that story it s simply saying that for the people who share it the story articulates a sacred or at least fundamental truth Myths like legends are set in the real world but often take place in an earlier version of it umour world as it was coming into being quotso that simi lar to folktales we aren t intended to readily question the strange or amazing things that we hear in myths So where we might see strange or miraculous events described here just as in a folktale or a legend again the meaning of the story is unique to the type of narrative In a myth we re looking at deeply held fundamental beliefs of a people Yipes qualHore 4 1 So in summary we have folktales which are told as ction set in a ctional world and which are only symbolically true if pre sented or perceived as true at all We have legends which are told as literally true though not necessarily believed and set in the real world And we have myths which are told as a sacred truth and which are set in a sort of prototype of our world As you can see knowing which genre you re dealing with when you come across a story is enormously helpful when it comes to analyzing the mean ing and function of that folk narrative Imagine that you re visiting with a friends family and during a discussion of the family s immigration to the United States your friend s mother interrupts to say You know back when great grandma was a little girl in Sweden she once saw a jam in the forest Further explanation reveals that a jatte is a giant and that your informant s family regularly tells the story of their ancestor s sighting of one with pride The mother s language tells you that this is a legendmthe story is pitched as historical taking place in the past but in the knowable past not an ambiguous past of long long ago and in a particular place Sweden rather than a land far far away When you ask if the story is true however your informants demure saying that they don t know for sure that it s always been toild that way in the family that it s maybe possible because things like that happened in the past but they can t be certain Consider what you know about the context of this telling of the story it came up right as discussion was turning to the time when the family left Sweden for America and it brought the con versation back to the topic of Swedish culture Your friends family evinces a clear pride in their heritage and you learn through dis cussion that the sighting of a jiitte is a special thing it s a marker of genuinely being a Swede You get the distinct impression that your friend s mother wants her great grandmother to have seen a jiitte to have this uniquely Swedish experience be a part of her fam ily history It s not enough to simply tell the story abstractly or to have heard about the jatte the use of the legend genre ties it to the family s reality in a way that clearly matters to the family s percep tion and presentation of its own identity The genre of the narrative clearly supports the story s function within the folk group 42 Yipes of Folklo re Interestingly we see the different types of folk narrative rise and fall in popularity over time9 Currently legends are the most actively circulating form of narrative folkloreIO We rarely encoun ter folktales or myths in oral form they tend to come to us in print What does this mean for these stories Are they still folklore if they re printed in books Yes they re certainly still folklore but since folklore is so largely de ned by its process they can t really be considered living folk lorewthey re more like a record of oncevliving folklore Think of it this way when an archaeologist digs up an arrowhead and puts it in a museum is it still an arrowhead Sure But to be in its most genuine context of use that arrowhead should really be at the tip of an arrow aimed at an animal during a hunt or in a toolmaker s hands being carefully shaped and honed We can learn a lot about the arrowhead by looking at it in the museum but we re missing a major aspect of its true cultural existence as an object an aspect we can only guess at or imagine from the museum display We re also left to wonder if this arrowhead is representative of all arrow heads Was it made using a common technique or one unique to a particular toolmaker We would be hesitant to consider this one arrowhead as representative of all arrowheads or of a whole group of people who used arrowheads without knowing the ways that it was similar to or different from other arrowheads Another good analogy is the study of a dead bee pinned to a card We can learn an enormous amount about that bee the struc ture and systems of its body its size shape form color and so on And if we had lots of bees to look at we could get a sense of the general range of these qualities what s considered typical of bee form and physiology But what we don t learn a whole lot about is ight And how can we really say that we fully understand bees if we don t watch them y This true for stories too Just as with the bees and arrowheads we can learn a whole lot about a folktale or a myth or a legend by examining printed texts We can scrutinize a single printed version of a story Ideally we ll be able to compare many versions assuming we have many printed versions of a story side by side and learn the breadth of variation in form length content and so on We can Types ofFolklore 43 study the structure of the story the dynamic qualities that change and the conservative qualities that remain consistent But to truly understand a folk narrative we have to watch it y We have to be there when it s told so we can observe the teller and the listeners we have to pay attention to the reactions of the audience and the actions of the performer Only then can we truly grasp the full pic ture of a folk narrative1 This is why many folklorists prefer to study contemporary actively circulating folklore rather than the folklore of the past it s easier to get the full picture But of course this isn t always pos siblemsometimes the folklore that one wants to study simply isn t actively circulating anymore Ideally even if a piece of folklore isn t in active use the folklorist who documented it will have used the techniques we discussed in chapter 2 documenting not only the text but the context and texture as well so that future researchers could approximate the experience of watching the bee in ight Unfortunately that concentrated focus on context and texture is somewhat new and not many folklorists of the past took the time to document those details That doesn t mean that the folklore isn t worth studying no archaeologist would say that we might as well give up studying arrowheads just because we can t go back in time to watch them in usewbut it means that we re limited in how far our contextual analysis can go Want to Know More William Bascom The Forms of Folklore Prose Narratives Journal ofAmerz cen Folklore 78 Oanuary March 1965 3amp20 This is the quintessential article that delineates the differences between folk narrative types and here s where you ll nd a full elaboration of the distin guishing characteristics of folktales legends and myths Kirin Natayan Mondays or the Darla Night oft9e Moon f melayon Footgill Folk tales New York Oxford University Press 1997 This is a collection of folktales from the Himalayan foothills presented alongside ethnographic descriptions of the contexts within which they were collected This is a great attempt to get away from the bee on a card type of story collection it really works at describing ight as well Readers get to know the stories but they get to know the teller and the collector too and better understand their relationship with each other and with the stories Jan Harold Brunvand Too Good to Be True Wee Colossal Book of Urban Legends New York Norton 2001 44 Types afFalkZore Jan Brunvand has written a number of books about urban legends and any one of them makes for a fun read This one is a compendium of many stories included in his earlier books each documented with historical background and information to help in the debunking and occasional proving true of the legends William G Dory Myer9 A Handbook Westport CT Greenwood 2004 A lor of books out there about myths aren t written by folklorists and as you now know folklorists take a very speci c view of what makes a story a myth This book both acknowledges the folklorist s purist view and goes beyond it to give a comprehensive understanding of how the word is used in other fields as well THINGS WE DO When it comes to things we do we re entering an incredibly broad area of folklore studies Customs like holiday traditions gestures like a thumbs up or ipping someone off parties like costume parties or tea parties rituals like fraternity or sorority initia tions or bar mitzvahs celebrations like sixteenth or twenty rst birthdays dances like the two step the Macarena the electric slide the chicken dance games like kick the can tag capture the flag and four square these are all things we do and since many of them exist in forms that we learn informally from our experiences in regular everyday life they fall under the pur view of folklore The quality these things all share in common of course is that they all require some kind of action some type of body movement or physical participation in the tradition Thus the modes of transmission for this kind of folklore are largely observational Unlike a legend which can be e mailed as easily as told in person it s not so easy to e mail someone a Thanksgiving dinner celebration Maybe you could e mail someone an aspect of the custom like a photo of the turkey or a copy of the toast someone gave but not the whole experience This necessary level of engagement makes customs and events a super fun form of folklore to study Try asking different members of your family to describe a typical holiday celebration you ll be surprised how much meaning different people can place on dif ferent aspects of a holiday In fact it s in traditional celebrations of holidays that we can see one of folklore s biggest impacts on Types ofFalHore 45 the lived experience anyone who has married or moved in with someone who decorates a Christmas tree differently blinking lights Who would do such a thing or who bakes the wrong kind of pie at Thanksgiving pumpkin is I m sure we all agree the only acceptable kind or who never made green pancakesbeer milk on St Patrick s Day blasphemy has likely experienced the surprising impact that deeply ingrained customs can have on a relationship It can be hard to determine clear cut boundaries for many examples of customary folklore When does a meal begin with the cooking or the eating Does parry prep or cleanup count as a traditional part of a traditional celebration What aspects of the custom are dictated by tradition foods words actions and which are nontraditional or up to individual choice dress contri butions arrival time These questions can make the documenta tion and analysis of customary folklore quite tricky Imagine that a classmate is describing to you a weekly tradi tion he participates in where a number of people gather each week to sing folk songs together You may assume that you re about to hear a lot of folk songs that your classmate sings but when you initially ask him to tell you about it he begins by explaining the group s history which predates his participation in it Then his descriptions of the actual events don t really seem to focus only on the singing there are desserts made and shared beverages contributed inside jokes told and retold and the criss crossing relationships of the people in the group many of whom know each other from different overlapping associations often determine the shifting topics of discussion When you ask directly about the songs they sing there seem to be some unspoken rules at work your classmate perceives that some songs belong to certain people while others are more general He describes a few times when someone clearly stole someone else s song and there was notable tension in the group but when pressed he claims that no one really owns any of the songs but that they re just sometimes so tied to a particular singer that it might as well be a different song altogether when sung by someone else He suggests that you join him one week and you nd yourself wondering 46 Yipes ofFolielore how successfully you d navigate the unspoken undercurrents of appropriate interaction How would you go about collecting and documenting that weekly custom from your classmate If you were transcribing his words at what point in his explanation would you choose to start the text section of your documentation When he described the group s history When he detailed his initial participation How would you account for the numerous other folkloric elements of the event the foodways the jokes the folk songs that emerge from within the overall custom What contexts would you need to describemthe general context of the weekly gathering or the individual contexts of each singer s age gender skill repertoire prior relationships and longevity in the group If the same song sung by two different people is so different as to be perceived as a separate song would you document it twice Just from this one example it should be clear that the realm of things we do is quite excitingly complicated When we talk about customary celebrations we can divide them into two main types calendar customs and rites of passage These two forms of custom are distinguished mainly by the way they relate to time14 Calendar customs are cyclical they happen over and over again following a regular pattern within the year or the seasons That can mean a custom happens every year Hanukkah Valentine s Day Flag Day every quarter solstice and equinox every month date night book club or even every week Pancake Sundays your classmates weekly folk song gathering Rites of passage in contrast happen linearly over the course of a lifetime like baby showers getting a driver s license buying a drink at twentyone marriage divorce remarriage retirement and death We can envision the temporal difference like this with the calendar cus toms on the left and rites of passage on the right 7313335 ofFOZklore 47 v Fig 51 Along with the difference in temporal movement there s an equitable difference in function Calendar customs serve to remind us of the consistencies in life while rites of passage highlight the transitions Both of these types of custom can be purely cultural meaning that the subject of celebration is a human invention the Fourth of July or being able to drive at sixteen or they can follow a physical or biological reality meaning that the event would hap pen even if people didn t celebrate it solstices and equinoxes or the onset of puberty They can often appear in institutional forms that are celebrated in folk ways a family s Fourth of July BBQ tradition while observing the city s reworks display overhead or in entirely folk forms smallscale things like Pancake Sunday or rst day of school celebrations things that may not be celebrated outside of that group at all Rites of passage are especially interesting because throughout time a consistent pattern has emerged in the way that groups of people acknowledge these transitions in life Whether they re a bio logical reality or we ve just made them up the turning points in human beings lives often bring about a sudden change in social status or a shift in responsibilities As many teenagers have thought fully observed there s really very little difference between someone at fteen years 364 days and someone at sixteen And yet legally and socially that single day makes a world of difference There s a whole new realm of life to engage in and a whole new set of responsibilities that come along with it This is where rites of pas sage come into play the celebration can help transition birthday boys or girls by providing them with a physical enactment of their otherwise conceptual or abstract status change15 48 Types ofPolelore Rites of passage typically fall into three stages The rst is where the subject of the celebration is separated out from the rest of the crowd and identi ed as unique We can see this stage in everything from a birthday boy or girl being made to wear a funny hat to an initiate into a secret society being asked to wear ceremonial dress or abstain from normal activities The second stage is de ned by its in betweenness folklorists like to use the word limimzlz39ty as c liminal means in between and as it sounds more academic than in nerweermess which isn t actually a word anyway This is where we see crazy fun stuff happening all conventions go out the win dow We spank people for their birthdays eat and drink in copious quantities act silly and out of charactermall the stuff we typically associate with celebration Because this middle stage is so often equated with normalcy being turned upside down folklorists will often use the word carnivalerque to describe the types of things that go on16 The nal stage is when the subject is reincorporated back into regular everyday life but with a greater ability to accept the new role or new responsibilities that come with the new stage of life The rite of passage helps the transition feel less arbitrary It s important to note that the middle stage the liminal stage is really the most interesting This is where folklorists get to jump in and apply all sorts of cool theoretical ideas about the ways that humans function in groups One particularly cool idea is that in the liminal middle stage of a rite of passage not only are norms and conventions set aside but all cultural identi ers are dropped things like class and gender and relationship status So during these times we may see children ordering their parents around we may see dressing down dressing up or cross dressing we may even go around kissing strangers Polklorists have theorized that this loss of identity is what allows a new identity to be donned when the celebration is over w we have to be undressed before we can put on new clothes Some folklorists also think that the occasional release afforded by rites of passage helps maintain order the rest of the time Knowing you can cut loose and go crazy once in a while makes it easier to maintain order on the whole We can see this three part structure on both large and small scales even for the same transition point Take engagement for Yipes cy Folefore 49 example On its own the entire period of engagement could be seen as the middle stage of the rite of passage of marriage the point where the couple is in between singledom and marriage Or we could look at a speci c celebration during this time such as a bachelor or bachelorette party and consider the three phases of that event when the person is singled out as the focus of the party the bride or groom to be may be made to wear silly clothing or identifying accessories followed by the carnivalesque celebration itself which may include excessive consumption of food and drink flirtatious or licentious behavior or the purpose ll embarrassment of the bride or groom and then the reincorporation into normal life better prepared socially for the upcoming change An interesting thing to consider is the way in which this often unconscious pattern once recognized is used by groups that want to consciously create a new identity for someone Whether it s a fraternity or sorority bringing in new pledges an of ce bringing a new employee into the fold or even a family welcoming a new inlaw there are often rites of passage that consciously follow this pattern incorporating symbols that reflect the group identity into the custom When I was a student I attended MemorialUniversiry of Newfoundland a good school for folklore studies Newfoundland is an island off the eastern coast of Canada and Newfoundlanders a culture with a wonderfully strong and self aware sense of group identity have developed a rite of passage that they employ to turn visitors and outsiders to their culture into honorary Newfoundlanders The process referred to as getting screeched in involves a number of activities that use many stereotypical markers of Newfoundland identity kissing a dead cod sh eating local food like cods tongues wearing a sherman s coat or hat standing in a bucket of seawater18 drinking a locally made rum19 and reciting a complicated sentence in an extreme local vernacular speech and accent The symbolism of Newfoundland identity that s employed in the screech in is completely over the top and isn t necessarily representative of all or even many Newfoundlanders just as the stereotypical American love of apple pie and baseball doesn t neces sarily apply to most individual Americans The screech in has been 50 Types ofFolklore criticized by many Newfoundlanders as offensive and demeaning and yet the tradition persists This is an excellent example of a rite of passage that is not what it seems to be on the surface It consciously uses all the tropes of a rite of passage to transition a person from one state to another from a nonaNewfoundlander to a Newfoundlander though all parties involved are fully aware that the honoree has not in any way become a true Newfoundlander even at the end of the ceremony And while the symbolism appears to play to a potentially offensive stereotypical image of a Newfoundlander a cod sherman who eats questionable food and speaks unintelligibly the undercurrents of offense are more complicated them simple mockery A fellow stu dent of mine explained her opinion that the screech in isn t offen sive by observing First Newfoundlanders in general can take a joke Secondly we can laugh at ourselves along with others Third we know that the way in which the Newfoundland screecher is portrayed is not at all representative of Newfoundlanders or of the province as a whole The joke thus falls on the outsider 20 So despite appearances we have neither of the two most obvious possi bilities for analyzing or understanding this custom It s not a genu ine initiation nor is it an offensive mockery of the local culture It s a complicated mix of purposes and meanings and the goals and outcomes are likely different for insiders and for outsiders As simple as the idea of a rite of passage may be there s typically more going on than meets the eye Here s a fun thing to try take a moment and consider what a rite of passage to make someone an honorary person who sfrom whereryou re from would entail What foods would you make someone eat what clothing would they wear what would they have to say or do to embody a generalized local identity How much do you yourself conform to the stereorypical identity that you d con struct for your hometown or school or region or state How much more accurate would the representation be if you were creating a ceremony to induct someone into your family versus your city or state Considering these questions highlights thelevel of complex ity that goes into any analysis of customary folklore Types ofFolklore 5 1 Want to Know More Arnold Van Gennep 7796 Rite ofParmge London Routledge and Kegan Paul 1 960 This book rst written in French in 1909 is the one to read if you re inter ested in rites of passage almost all other studies written since reference it If you nd the threepart breakdown interesting this is where you ll nd a full elaboration of the concept Jack Santino Halloween and Other Festival ofDmtJ and Lay Knoxville Univer sity of Tennessee Press 1994 If calendar customs interest you then this is a good resource to check out The focus of the collected essays is obviously on Halloween but hey it s one of the most fun holidays and there is good generalizable information on the concept of seasonal festivals as well THINGS WE MAKE When most people think of folk objects often referred to as mate rial culture by folklorists they usually think of handmade goods furniture tools clothing quilts decorative crossstitching and the like Handcrafts are indeed one of the most studied forms of material culture For a long period of history if you wanted some thing you had to make it one result of this isthat the qualities of folklore variation and tradition were easily found in many of the objects that people had in their homesmthey had learned the gen eral form and style of furniture from those around them tradition and through varied levels of ability and creativity they d add their own individual touches variation These days we get most of the necessary goods in our lives from commercial rather than social processes and so any obvi ous folk qualities in things like furniture tools and clothing are diminished As much as you want to claim that your IKEA chair is based on a traditional Swedish form it was still produced if not put together in a factory somewhere identical to all other chairs produced the same way The stuff that the majority of us tend to make by hand these days is usually though not always the unnecessary stuff paper airplanes crafts yard art and so on and it s in these types of cre ations that we can still nd a lot of folk variation Interestingly the materials used for these kinds of objects are often appropriated 52 Types of Folkiore or found objects jewelry or accessories made from food wrappers yard sculptures made from bottles or old machine parts notebook paper transformed into airplanes or cootiecatchers21 Rather than the romantic idea of harvesting and hand hewing the goods we need from the natural landscape our contemporary material cul ture re ects our contemporary reality we re nding creative ways to use junk and excess and make it an expressive component of our lives This is absolutely a form of traditional material culture just as much as a handmade object made from natural substances Not only do massproduced objects become folk objects when they are turned into something else but even when they are used in an unexpected traditional way we can start to identify them as a part of folklore Ever gone on a trip and taken a small toy or gurine with you to photograph in different places Ever seen all the pictures online of garden gnomes on vacations in different spots This tradition of travel mascots22 is another way in which a mass produced object can become a folk object and some institu tions have even picked up on the process The Flat Stanley proj ect23 in which schoolchildren draw a picture of a flat boy and then mail him to faraway family and friends with a request for photos of Stanley in different spots is basically the commodi cation24 of the folk travel mascot model Collections of objects or to use a fancier term assemblages25 are another example of this phenomenon Since people rarely go around designing and making their stuff by hand anymore we see people expressing their material individuality through the tra ditional practice of collecting things souvenirs spoons magnets shot glasses and even more unusual things like colorful socks or midcentury lamps Anything that involves the bringing together of a set of like objects can qualify as a traditional collection whether the likeness is found in theme function source or whatever We also see group collections compiled not by an individual but by a bunch of people together like the collection of candles gurines notes and owers that appears at spontaneous shrines to memorial ize accident victims In addition massvproduced items can become traditional in the way they are passed on items of family history that are handed Types ofFolhore 53 down generationally prank pass around gifts that regularly go back and forth among families or between two friends bookcrossing books26 that are passed from reader to reader This emphasizes one of the more important aspects of resituating a mass produced object as a folk object there needs to be some kind of repeated pattern Keep in mind that an object can be important and meaningful without being a folk object we re going to need some evidence of both tradition and variation in order to call it a folk object and looking for a repeated pattern can help us do that The pattern that helps us identify a meaningful object as spe cifically a folk object can be a pattern of use an object is repeatedly used at certain times and in certain ways like a travel mascot or a special platter brought out for every holiday dinner a pattern of creation a type of object that is created regularly over and over again like a paper airplane or bubblegum wrapper chain or a col lection that s always growing or a pattern of passing on an object that has been continually handed on shared or circulated among a group of people like a family heirloom or a pass around gift Once there s a pattern there we start entering into the realm of tradition and open the door for the possibility of variation Imagine that you re planning to collect material culture from your own family members and after you explain the concept to them they deliver to you a variety of objects a friendship bracelet made by your sister a necklace that once belonged to your great greatvgrandmother that your mother wears every year at the holi days and a small dog gurine that your nephew bought with his allowance and gave to your brother for his birthday Clearly you ve got a variety of meaningful objects in front of you but determin ing whether or not they re folk objects isn t the easiest thing All three of these things are clearly very personally meaningful within your family and if you interviewed the donors you d get some really great explanations of how the objects came into their lives and what makes them meaningful In order to determine if you re dealing with folklore though you ll want to consider each object with regard to the patterns of use creation or passing on that they all entail The friendship bracelet is pretty straightforward right There s obviously a pattern of creation this object is handmade using a 54 Yipes ofFolklore technique that your sister learned from her friends on the swim team and this individual bracelet like all the others she s made uses a common and easy to produce design that your sister has enhanced with her own creative embellishments and color choices Other girls on the swim team make similar but not identical bracelets on a regular basis There s tradition in the style and tech nique and variation in the color choices and unique pattern of knots Clearly a folk object What about the necklace It once belonged to your great great grandmother and now it belongs to her great granddaugh ter your mother It s not handmade it probably came from a jewelry store though no one knows for sure There s the possibil ity that you can nd a pattern of passing on here since the neck lace once belonged to an older family member and now belongs to a younger but your mother admits that her great grandmother didn t necessarily set the necklace aside for her and neither did any of the generations in between It was simply kept in the fam ily and when your mother discovered it in her mother s things she kept it for remembrance That leaves us with a possible pat tern of use His this object used in a way that makes it traditional It seems it is your mother wears it at the same time every year at the holidays She doesn t wear it all the time or even often but she subscribes to a repeated traditional use of this object as part of her celebration of a calendar custom The necklace through its pattern of use has become a folk object27 Which leaves the dog gurine Initially this one may seem similar to the necklace it s not handmade so there s no pattern of creation and while it was given as a gift there s no pattern of passing on regularly Is there a pattern of use Let s imagine that your brother tells you that ever since he got the dog gurine from his son he s kept it on his bedside table This isn t really a pat tern of use it s more an issue of consistent display the object may be meaningful but there s no pattern that involves any action or intent on your brother s part not in the creation use or passing on of this object Survey says not a folk object Now this is a very ne distinction right It wouldn t take much to add in an element that would instantly transform this Yipes quolkZo re 55 meaningful nonfolk object into a meaningful folk object Perhaps your brother decides he likes the gift so much that he s going to start a collection of dog gurines Every time he nds one he ll add it to the collection and the family will quickly learn of his interest and start buying them as gifts for him thus starting a pattern of creation Or perhaps your brother begins a tradition of taking the dog with him whenever he travels for work and reporting back to his son all the adventures the dog has while away thus creating a pattern of use Or perhaps your brother will wrap the small dog up in a giant misleading box for Christmas and return it to his son or pass it on to anotherfamily member with the expectation that it will continue circulating through the family thus creating a pattern of passing on In these ways the dog gurine could easily become a folk object As should be clear now folk objects are different from the word and actionbased genres in several ways the variation and repetition that we look for as markers of folk status don t manifest in the same way since objects have physical permanence in ways words and actions don t This lingering quality while it may make it harder to witness dynamic variation does offer a signi cant bene t When someone nishes telling a story it s gone when someone nishes using a piece of jewelry compiling a collection of objects or making a candy wrapper chain it remains It may be dropped perhaps considered lost but it s not gone Material culture can exist separately from the people who create it and that makes it an excel lent record of the past Want to Know More Henry Giassie Material Culture Bloomington Indiana University Press 1999 This is a wonder ll comprehensive approach to the study of material culture Glassie covers the methods of material culture study and then provides exam ples of his own work to illustrate his ideas and includes picturesl James Deetz In Small Things Forgotten An Archaeology ofEarZy American Li New York Anchor Books 1977 This book is written by a historical archaeologist who aims to illustrate how paying attention to everyday material culture can illuminate an understand ing of the past Especially useful to students of history Deetz s book covers everything from pottery remnants to vernacular architecture You ll never look at all the Stuff in your house the same way again 5 6 Types of Folklore Michael Owen Jones The Handmade Oojeet and Its Maker Berkeley and Los Angeles University of California Press 1975 This book presents an interesting portrait of a single folk artisr a maker of Appalachian chairs and his creations It shows the depth of understanding that can be gained from a single focused case study and stands in contrast to the more comparative method that folklorists often employ THINGS WE BELIEVE As I explained earlier the category of things we believe overlaps with all the other forms of folklore quite regularly As a discrete form of folklore however the phrase folk belief is commonly understood to refer to superstitions legends28 and beliefs about the supernatural Now there s one very important thing to note at the outset of any discussion about folk belief and that is that folklore can no true It certainly isn t always true despite often being believed but the classi cation of something as folklore does not mean that it s speci cally not true This is one of those preconceived notions that folklorists are constantly working against folklore is a word that in common use is dismissive Oh that s just folklore Think back to what we said about legends just a few pages ago they re told as true right Well some of them are true and some of them aren t29 Whether they re true or not isn t the reason folklorists are interested in them all folklorists care about is that they are shared among a group via word of mouth transmission prompting us to ask why they remain popular Rarely does the answer have to do with the literal truth or untruth of the story So while it s a popular pastime to test or try out various folk beliefs and legendsfquotO the nal determination is mostly just an interesting side note next to the social and cultural forces within a group that keep a story custom or belief a oat For a long time in the history of folklore scholarship super natural folk beliefs were one of the forms of folklore that allowed scholars to see themselves as superior to the folk clearly any one who believed in such ridiculous things as good luck charms curses fairies ghosts Bigfoor vampires werewolves and the like were simply uneducated and deluded by the traditional beliefs of their equally misguided communities right Wrong as it turns out Types of Folklore 57 Just as we now understand that everyone is folk we also understand that everyonemteven scientistsl has folk beliefs Whether they re to do with luck the supernatural the nature of the universe reli gion or whatever all people have folk components to their beliefs systems components that work in tandem with their more of cial beliefs tocreate a functioning and complex system People often assume that as scienti c understanding increases folk belief in the supernatural will decrease This seems to make sense as we come to understand the scienti c mechanisms behind natural phenomena we ll no longer need supernatural explana tionsmbut this isn t borne out in fact Supernatural belief hasn t declined much at all in the past century despite incredible advances in science and as with all folklore it s the job of folklorists to show up and start asking why The eld of folklore studies offers two alternative explanations for supernatural belief the cultural source hypothesis and the expertquot entz39al source l aypothesz s31 According to the rst a person who sub scribes to a particular supernatural belief does so because his or her culture has said that it s true In other words if you grew up in a family or community or culture that tells you that Bigfoot roams around in the forest on the edge of town then you ll believe in Bigfoot Perhaps in the woods one day you might imagine that you see a mysterious gure or hear a strange noise and you ll assume it s Bigfoot whom you ve been culturally prepped to believe in The other option is that instead of culture being the source for a belief actual experience is Let s consider Bigfoot again32 If you have grown up never having believed in Bigfoot or Sasquatch or the Yeti or the Skunk Ape you may still nd yourself out in the woods one day encountering or observing something that you can t explain You go through the possibilities could I be hearing and seeing a regular kind of animal Could I be disoriented somehow Could I be mistaken If you can t nd another explanation you may conclude that you may have seen Bigfoot or if you ve never heard of Bigfoot you may decide that you ve seen some other crea ture that you have heard of or perhaps an unnamed monster and in that case it might actually be more reassuring to be able to put a name like Bigfoot to it 58 Types of Folklore The difference between these two hypotheses is clear accord ing to the rst the source of supernatural belief is cultural according to the second the source of supernatural belief is an actual experience Often there s a bit of both in any given belief scenariowculture supplies the name Bigfoot and the expecta tion of that creature s habitat and activities while a genuine unex plainable sight sound or sensation leads to the application of that cultural info to a speci c experience but there are some important implications of both approaches that we need to be aware of For a long time the cultural source hypothesis was all that folklorists had to work with it was assumed that people believed in supernatural things because their culture told them to believe in them While there is undeniably an element of culture in many supernatural beliefs this unfortunately carries the implication that the people in question aren t very smart that they re deluded or led astray by their traditional beliefs Thus the experiential source hypothesis has had a huge impact on folklore studies for two main reasons One it shows that people who believe in supernatue ral things aren t just dumb or deluded or crazy Sometimes they are rationally perceiving a mad situation even if their interpretation of that perception can t be veri ed In addition to giving people some credit for being thoughtful and rational the experiential source hypothesis also shows that sometimes folk beliefs are actually onto somethingm when a belief exists crossculturally and the sources of the beliefs are largely experiential there may be a real thing happening This has been borne out in a number of studies most notably folklorist David Hufford s work with the Old Hag tradition33 There is a traditional belief in Newfoundland and in other places but Newfoundland is where Hufford started studying it of a frightening creature called the Old Hag who comes into people s rooms at night slowly approaches the bed and then sits either on the bed or on the person crushing or suffocating them Hufford interviewed lots of people who believe in this creature and they reported that when they see the Old Hag they are de nitely awake and not dreaming and that they can t move they re totally Yipes quoZelore 59 paralyzed Only when they re nally able to make even the slight est movement twitching a nger maybe do they break free Now here s the thing Hufford started giving lectures on this Newfoundland folk belief at different universities and colleges and it wasn t long before students began coming up to him and saying thing like ccIlve never heard of this Old Hag you re talking about but I ve totally had that happen to me This is where we start to see that the cultural source hypothesis isn t enough to explain this belief whow could someone who d never heard of the Old Hag experience it Hufford began interviewing tons more people those who d heard of the Old Hag and those who hadn t and found that an enormous number of people had had this terrifying experience The ones who were familiar with the tradition could easily clas sify their experience but those who had no cultural explanation simply lled in the blanks with their own interpretation of what had happened demon attack haunting evil spirits very realistic nightmare and so on What Hufford found in the end is that people experiencing the Old Hag are experiencing a sleep disorder called sleep paraly sis with hypnagogic hallucinations And not only were his infor mants genuinely experiencing something they were also describing it almost as accurately as modern medicine has been able to do though some people were using cultural language rather than medi cal language35 What can we take from this That sometimes folk beliefs represent a rational intelligent assessment of reality While culture plays a role in belief so does real experience This is a far cry from the days of assuming that people believe in stuff because they are uneducated or simple The giant squid once a legendary creature from sailors tales and now a marine museum curiosity is another great example of the role that rational experience plays in the formation and propa gation of supernatural beliefs By listening to the stories of giant squid sightings and by paying attention to the consistencies in timing weather and oceanic conditions marine biologist Fredrick Aldrich was able to obtain fteen specimens quotof a creature that many people thought didn t actually existquot6 Clearly there is value in con sidering the possible experiential sources of folk beliefs 60 Types ofFoZr elore Now does this mean that every single folk belief is just waiting to be proven scienti cally true at some later date Probably not But what it does mean is that we can t dismiss these things and we can t assume that people who subscribe to supernatural beliefs are somehow less intelligent or less rational than others If you re out in the world collecting folklore and you run into people who begin telling you stories of ghosts they ve seen aliens they ve encountered demonic possessions they ve witnessed or creatures they believe are living on the edges of their community the single worst thing you can do is scoff at them For one it s insulting and folklorists should never be rude But more than that you stand to miss out on something really interesting It s very easy when you encounter supernatural folk beliefs to dismiss them espe cially if you yourself aren t inclined to believe in such things But it s imperative that you remember that people can be rational without being correct You don t need to agree with their conclusions about what they witnessed or experienced in order to accept that they may be accurately describing what they witnessed or experienced They may use terminology that is speci c to their cultural background but that doesn t mean that their culture is the only possible source for their belief Despite what many people think few people jump to super natural conclusions it s much more common that people consider natural or scienti c explanations for unexplained events before deciding that it must have been supernatural Giving your infor mants the bene t of the doubt that they are being rational intel ligent human beings is one of the best ways to approach the collec tion of supernatural folk beliefs You ll probably also run into people who classify what they feel is supernatural in ways you don t many people who scoff at the notion of aliens and vampires may fully believe in ghosts and angels because in their perceptions those are aspects of religion not the supernatural It can take careful investigation to parse through an individual s belief system It also appears that when it comes to basic things like luck superstitions you know the ones black cats ladders mirrors rabbits feet etc humans may actually be hardwired to buy into them Behavioral psychologist BF Skinner famed creator Yipes ofFolefore 61 of the Skinner Box aka the operant conditioning chamber found that even the humble pigeon gives into the urge to re create ritu ally a situation in which a random lucky occurrence happens37 When researchers would randomly drop food on the pigeons they d observe the pigeons later attempting to re create whatever it was they were doing when the food appeared apparently in the hopes of making it appear again Apply this to sports fans and you ve got the brain mechanism behind never washing your lucky socks since your team won its rst game when and maybe because you were wearing them I am not in any way intending to pejoratively connect sports fans to pigeons in psychological functioning the fact is that we all give in to the desire to control the uncontrollable through traditional means Even while our rational brains are scold ing us for being ridiculous many of us still nd ourselves backing out from under ladders knocking on wood forwarding that chain letter and tossing salt over our shoulders just in case Want to Know More David Hufford The Terror That Comes in the Night An Experience Centered Study of Supernatural Assauit Traditions Philadelphia University of Penna sylvania Press 1989 This is an incredible illustration of the importance of paying serious attention to folk beliefs Hufford s work combines careful eldwork with insightful interpretation and is one of those books that makes you look at the super natural in a different light It also has lots of fun scary stories about the Old Hag in it so it s an enjoyable read Wayland Hand ed Popular Beliefs and Superstitions from North Carolina vols 6 and 7 of The Frank C Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore Durham NC Duke University Press 1964 You may be able to nd this collection only in the reference section of your library but it s worth the search It s a classic example of old style folklore collecting superstition after superstition listed and numbered and occasion ally attributed to a person or region You ll be amazed at what you ll learn Diane Goldstein Sylvia Grider and Jeanie Banks Thomas Haunting Experiences Gloom in Contemporary Folklore Logan Utah State University Press 2007 With a focus on contemporary ghost beliefs this readable collection of essays highlights the fact that supernatural belief is here to stay Topics range from science to gender to haunted real estate did you know that some states require you to alert buyers to the fact that your house may be haunted 62 Types ofFaZelare NOTES 1 William A Bert Wilson rsr suggested this division You can read more about it in his collected essays The Marrow afHuman Experience ed Jill Terry Rudy Logan Utah State University Press 2006 2 Remember the tworpart job of a folklorist to colleCt folklore and then to analyze it This chapter offers some concise examples of this process 3 Folklorists prefer the term narratives as it sounds more academic 4 So much so that these are often referred to as the major genres of folklore while the shorter forms are the minor genres this is not because the major one are more important but simply because they ve been studied more 5 An urban legend or as folklorists prefer a contemporary legend speci cally 6 Folklorists have shortened friend of afriend to FOAF It s a fun word 7 This version of AT 545B is highly abridged And FYI AT is short for AarneaThompson an aweinspiring classi cation system for folktales Look for a book called The Types qfn ae Foiktale and prepare to be impressed And to start referring to stories by number Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson 7713 Yipes aftye Folemit A Clari cation and Bibliography FF Communications 75 no 184 Hel sinki Academia Scientarium Fennica 1961 8 It s very important to note that told as true is not the same as believed to be true The legend derives its impact from being presented as literal truth but that same presentation also invites doubt questioning and criticism This is exactly what we re supposed to do with legends it s folktales that we re not meant to be skeptical of 9 At least when it comes to folk transmission We don t tell folktales orally to each Other much anymore but they re incredibly popular subjects for books lm and television these days 10 Aside from jokes which we unfortunately don t have space to address here 1 1 Or any kind of folklore really 12 The kind of four square you played as a kid with a ball not the kind you play on your phone 13 Or perhaps even with the shopping for ingredients 14 That s pretty neat right Makes folklorists seem like physicists 15 If at this point you re cleverly noticing that birthdays as a customary celebration are sort of both a calendar custom and a rite of passage good for you Birthdays are unique in that they happen yearly and yet are also a transitional point in one s life When it comes to the study of folklore however it s really only the culturally signi cant birthdays sixteen eighteen twenty one fty sixty ve etc that get treated as full rites of passage because the shift in social expectations is so much greater for those years And of course that list really only applies to contem porary American culture in cultures and times where other birthdays coincide with culturally or legally signi cant changes those would be the big years 16 Think of Carnival or as it s better known around here Mardi Gras and you ll get the idea Types ofFolklare 63 17 This kind of consciously created tradition is known as an invented tradi tion Invented traditions can easily become real or authentic traditions over time but the term implies an awareness that originally this was constructed with the intent of becoming folklore which often makes folklorists wary of assuming that the functions and implications of the event are genuinely representative of the folk group 18 Are you catching the emphasis on shing yet 19 The rum is called Screech after the noise an early taster made when samv pling it and provides the ceremony with its name 20 Alicia Cox Screech In or Screech Out Transmission Memorial Univer sity of Newfoundland 7 no 2 2005 6 21 Remember comic catchers Those little fortune teliing things you d make with paper They had four chambers to put your ngers in and you could open and close them in different directions and unfold different tabs to reveal different messages Those were fun 22 Do a Google image search for travel mascots or roaming gnomes if you don t know what I m talking about here An interesting aspecr of this tradition is how it s now being reappropriated back into mass culture movies television shows and commercials have all featured the roaming gnome tradition The travel company Travelocity s spokes gnome is now so ubiquitous that many people think the connection between gnomes and travel started there rather than the business having appropriated a folk tradition 23 Check out wwwflatstanleycom 24 When folklore is appropriated by the mass media or manufacturers folklor ists refer to that process as the commodification of folklore since a folk item is being turned into a commodity that can he bought or sold We can also see the opposite process taking place such as when we make a mass produced toy into a travel mascot or take movie lines and make them into inside jokes with our friends I like to call this process the de commodi cation of pop culture Share and share alike right 25 This term has slightly different meanings in different contexts There is the general understanding of the word in English to mean an assembled group of things and there is also the way the term is used in art where it is typically pro nounced in the French way which indicates a creative process that utilizes found materials to create a work of art Both uses of the word can apply to the folk process of compiling objects into an expressive collection 26 Check out bookcrossingcom 27 It can be tricky to reconcile the idea of an individual s customary wearing of a piece of jewelry with the understanding that folklore is by de nition shared among a group but take a step back and consider the bigger picture It s unlikely that your mother has never heard of anyone else in the world having a special item that is worn or used only on special occasionsmthisis a common type of behavior in our society It s similar to the way that an individual sports fan s wearing of a lucky shirt itself unique to the individual who owns it can still be classi ed as a folk belief or superstition The shared cultural expectation that individuals have 64 Yipes ofFolklore lucky items or special jewelry that are brought out at traditional times is what makes this process folk 28 This one is genuinely double booked as something we say and something we believe as evidenced by its de nition as a narrative that s told as true mthe pos sibility of belief is at the heart of a legend 29 A great example of a true urban legend is a story that circulated widely via ewmail and by word of mouth a few years ago about a pregnant woman who was stopped in a sporting goods store and accused of stealing a basketball The manag ers made her stop and show them her pregnant stomach before they were wiliing to accept that she wasn t smuggling a basketball under her shirt So she sued them True story 30 Mythbusters Snopescom and a ton of people on YouTube are all evidence of this 31 These opposing hypotheses have been described at length by a famous folk lorist named David Hufford Check out the Want to Know More list at the end of this section for a recommendation of some stuff of his to read 32 No I do not know if Bigfoot really exists sorry That s beyond the scope of my expertise as a folklorist 33 David Hufford 7hr Error Wm Comes in the MgatA Mariana Centered Study of Supernatural Assault Traditions Philadelphia University of Pennsylvania Press 1989 34 You ve probably noticed that lots of folklore work comes out of Newfound land you should visit sometime 35 Lots of people say that Hufford has explained away the supernatural belief with medical jargon but that s really not the case What he s done is show the con nections between the traditional and the institutional languages used to describe the same phenomenon and noted that bOth are equally accurate We should won der why we assume that the medical phenomenon explains the traditional belief What if the traditional belief explains the medical phenomenon Rather than say ing that someone experiences the Old Hag because they have sleep paralysis with hypnagogic hallucinations maybe people experience sleep paralysis with hypnagov gic hallucinations because the Old Hag has come to visit Think about that when you re falling asleep tonight 36 He did this partly by posung Wanted posters all over the place which nearly got him in trouble with his university Can you imagine a zoologist or a biologist today putting up posters saying Wanted Dead or Alive One Unicornl They d be fired 37 Skinner Superstition in the Pigeon journal ofEJgrlerz39menml Psychology 38 1 947 Chapter 4 Types of Folk Groups IT MAY SEEM A BIT ARBITRARY TO PLUCK just a few random folk groups from the vast array of possibilities to talk about here but too bad because that s what we re going to do There are some groups that folklorists have studied more than others and it s more likely that a student in a folklore class will have the opportunity to collect from some groups rather than others and the examples here re ect those realities In this chapter we re going to look at folk groups based on work age beliefs and interests considering some of the main types of folklore that crop up in them If you re interested in a folk group that s not discussed here that s okay it s likely that you ll still gain some insights that can translate Remember that a folk group is half the equation of folklore when folklorists looks at a given folk group they re seeking the folklore that exists within that group as a means to better under stand that group as a cultural unit While certain types or genres of folklore may exist more in one kind of folk group than another college students may be heavy on the legends while a workplace may have many customs it s important to note that any kind of folklore can appear in a given folk group to say that there s such a thing as occupational folklore or campus folklore is not to say that these are types of folklore distinct from other genres such as legends jokes and customs It s simply to apply a shared theme occupation education to all the legends material objects and customs that can be found in that group It s important to keep the distinction between folk the group of people and DOE 1073309780874219067c004 65
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