folklore, the body of customs, legends, beliefs, and superstitions passed on by oral tradition. It includes folk dances, folk songs, folk medicine (the use of magical charms and herbs), and folktales (myths, rhymes, and proverbs). The study of folklore emerged significantly in the 19th cent., partly out of the rise of European romanticism, with its interest in the past, and partly out of nationalism, with its stress on the indigenous. Today most folklorists and anthropologists regard folk customs, legends, and beliefs as an imaginative expression by a people of its desires, attitudes, and cultural values. Folk heroes (e.g., Frederick Barbarossa in Germany, the Cid in Spain, Robin Hood in England, Cuchulain in Ireland, Paul Bunyan in the United States, and Yü in China) have been said to reflect the civilization from which they sprang. Many theories have arisen to explain folk tales—Max Müller, a philologist, interpreted the legends as linguistic corruptions; Jakob Grimm saw them as corrupted cosmic allegories; the German school considered them as personified elements of nature; Edward Tylor and Andrew Lang held them to be survivals from a savage society; Freud and the psychoanalytical school found them fraught with sexual symbolism. Folklore has become increasingly important in the study of primitive societies and in understanding the history of mankind. Almost every country has a folklore society which collects, analyzes, and publishes folk material (e.g., in the United States the American Folklore Society publishes the Journal of American Folklore). For further information, see games, children's; monsters and imaginary beasts in folklore; mythology.
See C. L. Daniels and C. M. Stevans, ed., Encyclopedia of Superstitions, Folklore, and the Occult Sciences of the World (1971); D. Emrich, Folklore on the American Land (1972); R. M. Dorson, ed., Folklore and Folklife: An Introduction (1972); T. P. Coffin and H. Cohen, Folklore from the Working Folk of America (1973); R. M. Dorson, America in Legend (1974); A. Dundes, Analytic Essays in Folklore (1975).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2023, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Folklore and Mythology