Welcome to the Dark Dorset Folklore Gazetter
Catalogued in the menu is our archive of selected sites around the county of Dorset, which is associated with a particular, folklore, legend or curiosity mentioned in our publications.
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What is Folklore?
|William John Thoms|
Thoms is credited with inventing the term under the pseudonym Ambrose Merton in a letter to the London literary magazine ‘Athenaeum’. He invented this composite word to replace the various other terms used at the time including (1803-1885)"popular antiquities" or "popular literature" to describe people’s traditional beliefs, ballads, , proverbs, customs, popular superstitions and legends.
During the 1800's, scholars like Thoms, believed that folklore in ancient times had been shared by all members of a society. Most ancient peoples lived in rural communities. Over the centuries, large numbers of people moved to cities and gradually lost touch with so-called "authentic" folk uneducated peasants called ‘folk’, whose way of life had changed little for traditions. According to the scholars of the 1800’s, those traditions were preserved by hundreds of years.
|The Brothers Grimm|
Amongst the most notable leading folklore scholars were two German brothers, Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm. From 1807 to 1814, they collected folk tales from peasants who lived near Kassel, in Germany. The Grimms believed that by collecting the tales, they were preserving for all time the heritage of all Germans. The stories they collected became famous as Grimm’s Fairy Tales.
But some versions of these tales are found throughout Europe, the Near East, and Asia. Today, scholars consider folk to be any group of people who share at least one common linking factor. This factor may be, Geography, as in folklore of the English Countryside, Religion, as in Jewish folklore, Occupation, as in Fisherman folklore, Ethnic background, as in French-Canadian folklore. Some scholars believe that even a family can be considered folk because many families have their own traditions and stories.
Characteristics of folklore
Folklore can be short and simple or long and complicated. Brief proverbs, such as "Time flies" and "Money talks," are famous examples of folklore. On the other hand, in other parts of the world, some folk plays begin at sundown and end at dawn. It is extremely difficult to make up folklore.
The songs, stories, and other material that became folklore were, of course, thought up by various people. But those individuals had the rare ability to create a subject and a style that appealed to others over the years. Folklore survives only if it retains that appeal.
People would not bother to retell tales or continue to follow customs that had no meaning for them. This is the reason people keep on using the same folklore over and over. To be considered authentic folklore, an item must have at least two versions.
For example, scholars have identified more than 1,000 versions of the fairy tale about Cinderella. These versions developed over hundreds of years in many countries, including China, France, Germany, and Turkey. Changes in folklore often occur as a story passes from person to person. These changes, called variations, are one of the surest indications that the item is true folklore. Variations frequently appear in both the words and music of folk songs. The same lyrics may be used with different tunes, or different words may be set to the same music. For example the nursery rhymes "Baa, Baa Black Sheep" and "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" have the same melody.
Kinds of folklore:
Myths are stories that explain how the world and humanity reached their present form. Myths differ from most types of folk stories because myths are considered to be true among the people who develop them. Many myths describe the creation of the earth. In some of these stories, a god creates the earth. In others, the earth emerges from a flood. A number of myths describe the creation of the human race and the origin of death.
Folk tales are fictional stories about animals or human beings. Most of these tales are not set in any particular time or place, and they begin and end in a certain way. For example, many English folk tales begin with the phrase "Once upon a time" and end with "They lived happily ever after." Fables are one of the most popular types of folk tales. They are animal stories that try to teach people how to behave. One fable describes a race between a tortoise and a hare. The tortoise, though it is a far slower animal, wins because the hare foolishly stops to sleep. This story teaches the lesson that someone who works steadily can come out ahead of a person who is faster or has a head start. In many European fairy tales, the hero or heroine leaves home to seek some goal. After various adventures, he or she wins a prize or a marriage partner, in many cases a prince or princess. One popular kind of folk tale has a trickster as the hero. Each culture has its own trickster figure. Most tricksters are animals like the wolf, fox and the cunning hare who act like human beings.
Legends, like myths, are stories told as though they were true. But legends are set in the real world and in relatively recent times. Many legends tell about human beings who meet supernatural creatures, such as fairies, ghosts, vampires, and witches. A number of legends are associated with famous people who have died. Others tell of holy persons and religious leaders. Some legends describe how saints work miracles. The action in myths and folk tales ends at the conclusion of the story. But the action in many legends has not been completed by the story's end. For example, a legend about a buried treasure may end by saying that the treasure has not yet been found. A legend about a haunted house may suggest that the house is still haunted. A number of legends tell about the Loch Ness Monster, a lake monster in Scotland; and the Beast of Exmoor, a large cat that haunts the Somerset moors. Some people believe these creatures actually exist. From time to time, various expeditions have tried to find both of them.
Folk songs have been created for almost every human activity. Some are associated with work. For example, sailors sing songs called ‘shanties’ while pulling in their lines. Folk songs may deal with birth, childhood, courtship, marriage, and death. Parents sing folk lullabies to babies. Children sing traditional songs as part of some games. Other folk songs are sung at weddings and funerals. Some folk songs are related to seasonal activities, such as planting and harvesting. Many are sung on certain holidays. The English Christmas folk song " I saw three ships " is a popular example. Some folk songs celebrate the deeds of real or imaginary heroes. But people sing many folk songs simply for enjoyment.
Below: Folk Songs at the Wassail celebrations of Faggot Burning at The Shave Cross Inn on the Old Twelfth Night on the 17th January 2007.
Superstitions and Customs
A large number of superstitions and customs supposedly help control or predict the future. The people of fishing communities may hold elaborate ceremonies that are designed to ensure a good catch as in the custom of the Abbostbury Garland. Many people try to foretell future events by analysing the relationships among the planets and stars.
Superstitions and customs are involved largely in marking a person's advancement from one stage of life to another. For example, one such superstition concerns the Cerne Abbas Giant's powers of fertility and the belief that childless couples who made love on a phallic part of the figure would soon be blessed with children. While young women wishing to keep their lovers faithful would walk around the hill figure three times.
Holidays are special occasions celebrated by a group, and almost all of them include some elements of folklore. Christmas is especially rich in folklore. A national group may celebrate this holiday with its own special foods and costumes. Many groups have variations of the same folk custom. In a number of countries, for example, children receive presents at Christmas. In Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, Father Christmas or Santa Claus brings the presents. In Italy, an old woman named La Befana distributes the gifts. In some countries of Europe, the gifts come from the Christ child. In others, the Three Wise Men bring them.
Folklore and the arts
Folklore has made a major contribution to the world's arts. Many folk stories and folk songs are beautiful works of art themselves. Folklore has also inspired masterpieces of literature, music, painting, and sculpture. The English poet Geoffrey Chaucer used a number of folk tales in his famous Canterbury Tales. William Shakespeare based the plots of several of his plays on folk tales. These plays include King Lear, The Merchant of Venice and The Taming of the Shrew.
Certain legends and myths have attracted artists, composers, and writers for centuries, most recent revival has been made by Seth Lakeman in his songs that have been inspired by legends and folk stories of the south west of England like Childe the Hunter, Kitty Jay, The White Hare and The Hurlers.
One legend tells about a medieval German scholar named Faust who sold his soul to the devil. This legend has been the basis of many novels, plays, operas, and orchestral works. Faust, a drama by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, is perhaps the greatest work in German literature.
Folklore and society
Folklore reflects the attitudes and ideals of a society. For example, much folklore reflects how a society regards the roles of males and females in real life. In many examples of Western folklore, women are depicted as passive and uncreative. A society that produces such folklore considers men superior to women.
This attitude appears in a 18th century Scottish proverb “A crooning cow, a crowing Hen and a whistling Maid boded never luck to a house”. According to the proverb, a girl who whistles like a boy and a hen that crows like a rooster are unnatural. The proverb implies that women should not try to take part in activities traditionally associated with men, an idea that has become outdated in modem society.
A common wedding custom calls for the groom to carry his bride over the threshold of their home. This custom suggests that the woman is weak and must be carried through the doorway - and presumably through life - by the strong male. In many Western fairy tales, a female is captured by a villain and waits quietly until a heroic male rescues her.