The Inclusion of Folklore as Exclusive

By Omri J. Luzon

Our Children’s Folklore?

Nobody’s talking about Folklore anymore. After all, who cares about a collection of outdated stories and children’s tales? There’s nothing serious about them, and if there ever was, then shame be on the person who thought so. Shame indeed, I argue, shame that we care so little of the things that we are made of.

We mostly know Folklore as an art form. We tend to assimilate Folklore into a bigger and more “respectable” field – Literature, Sociology, etc. By and by, Folklore has turned from a form of, as Herskovits said, Oral Art[1] into a subdivision of art – Poetry or Prose, or Essays, etc.  That subdivision of art is also a subdivision of Humanities Studies, which is a subdivision of… and it goes on and on. The point is that there is no individual field called Folklore anymore. So, is Folklore a form of art, or is it a subcategory of a subcategory?

Another question that rises, if we say that Folklore is an art form, is how come it tends to be assimilated, in some places, into the Sociology field, or the History field, religious practices, etc.? Well, folklore has a huge role in History or Religion, but then again, is it not also literature? See, the problem with Folklore is that it mixes both literature and culture, it is not only about the stories, there’s something more, a tradition of a kind.

Folklore, unlike poetry for example, is not just a collection of personal notions, thoughts, emotions and morals, for it also has to do with practices, tradition, religion and culture. And that last world –”culture” – is not only reflected through folklore, but also shaped by it. A very good example of that would be the Irish revival of the 18th-19th centuries, where folklore was used to bring back to life an entire cultural tradition. That crucial capability of folklore is not something Prose, nor Poetry, could create on its own, because it lacks the cultural legacy of religion or history. Folklore touches the people at the core of their spiritual essence. People are moved by folklore, in ways that outsiders to their community might never grasp. This outsider-asymmetric relation is similar to reading a few verses of the New Testament by a non-Christian reader, in comparison to a Christian reader, even if the latter may not be a religious one. The very fact that you are a part of that legacy, changes the reading experience, especially if you’re living in a time that is against said culture, as it was with the Irish. Also, if you have an oppressor, a contrasting force that pushes you against your origins, it instantly intensifies the connection to whom or what you associate yourself with, and here the effect of folklore kicks in even stronger.

Folklore is not just a collection of children’s stories; it is much more than that. It is a capture of an essence, the essence of legacies which baffles and intrigues us; we are curious creatures and hold a gleam of pride in our heritage. We are possessed with questions regarding who we are, what our heritage is, and therefore folklore too, is part of the drug we so obsessively crave.

Most of society still resorts to some sense of tradition, as is evident by the educational system, the media, and even the bare-boned schedule (i.e. holidays, events, ceremonies, etc.). Some of the self-proclaimed “non-traditional” activities still maintain an aspect of an earlier tradition, especially where children are involved. Most of that tradition is in relation to the culture’s folklores, which its children are exposed to through the aforementioned media. Society, as a whole, is mostly pro-tradition, and although we do see some growing movement toward anti-religion, or atheism, the less-transcendental core of tradition is still kept, and most of it relates to our folklores.

But we saw already that our interest in folklore is not only a social one – we do have the very fundamental aspect of its literary value, and that value is accepted by both religious and non-religious people. The texts of folklore are not the same as the Bible, Quran or the New Testament, because they are outside religious practices, but they still participate in the belief system as a whole. It goes to show that a somewhat religious text, such as folklores, allows for non-religious interpretations. We are allowed to take our tradition and see it in a modern point of view, folklore shows us that it is not only possible, but also good.

Folklore is a complex system of constant contrasts, and therefore it should not be viewed as a non-independent field. Because it is so multi-dimensional it is so unique and fascinating a subject. Our folklores allow us to unite, be interested in who we are, but also to grow, evolve, adapt to the new and modern world. Therefore Folklore is not a subcategory, but a field of its own. I leave you with these thoughts and this question: what are your folklores?

The author is an articles editor for The Missing Slate.

[1] Herskovits, Melville.  1946. Folklore After a Hundred Years:  A Problem of Redefinition. Journal  of

American Folklore 59:89-100.