On psychology and folklore: I may not have made it clear, but in general, the psychological approach seeks the answer about origin with a perception that regardless of any "ur" moment when a story might have sprung to life, what is really important is that these stories spontaneously gain energy and leap from our shared humanity (Jung and Campbell especially) and/or from our shared human experience (Freud). I have tremendous respect for Jung and Freud; I spent two undergraduate years in independent study, readying Jung under the direction of one of Jung's students, but when I submitted to the authority of my mentor, Sven S. Liljeblad (1899-2000), he directed me to leave Jung for subsequent generations. I'm not sure I approve of all of his scorn, and Jung remains one of my guilty pleasures, but there is the problem I alluded to in my previous post, namely that Jung and the others require a certain amount of faith rather than offering proof.
Again, an excerpt from my Introduction to Folklore:
>The popularity of one approach among non-folklorists warrants a digression. In the last part of the twentieth century, Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) created a great deal of interest in mythology and folklore with a series of publications on the subject. This was followed by a 1980s series of television interviews, which propelled Campbell to popularity, but not necessarily with all folklorists. To a certain extent, Campbell was relying on an older approach that Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) developed. Jung was a Swiss psychologist who studied with Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) but later broke with his mentor’s teachings to form his own approach to the study of the human mind. Jung developed the idea of the collective unconscious, maintaining in almost spiritual terms that all of humanity is linked by archetypes that existed in an unconscious common denominator. Ultimately, Jung implied that certain themes are woven into the fabric of the universe. According to Jung, all of humanity shared a symbolic vocabulary which manifests in dreams, mythology, folklore, and literature.
>Jungian psychology was extremely popular during the upheavals of the 1960s when people looked for mystical explanations of life to unify all existence. Despite the faddish qualities of the late twentieth-century consumption of Jungian ideas, it is easy to regard Jung as an exceptional thinker with an extraordinary background of diverse reading. Campbell borrowed heavily from Jung, presenting many of these ideas in an easily consumable package that, in its turn, became something of a fad during the 1980s. Campbell drew not only on Jung, but also on Otto Rank’s 1932 publication, The Myth of the Birth of the Hero.
>There are clearly many good ideas in this literature, but there are problems with the approach of Campbell, Jung, and Rank from the point of view of folklore studies. The first is that they tend to present the concept of tale types in mythology and folklore as though it were a new discovery. In other words, they ignore the highly developed bibliography that the discipline of folklore offers. The second, more serious problem is that this line scholarship makes no distinction between the core of a story and its culturally specific or narrator-specific variants and variations. The Jungian-Campbell approach treats any variant of a story as an expression of the collective unconscious, regardless of whether its form is the product of an individual storyteller’s idiosyncrasies or of the cultural predilections of a region made irrelevant by traveling to the next valley. And with this process, all the other variants are ignored, including ones that may contradict the initial observation. This does not mean that there are no valuable insights in the work of Jung and Campbell. There are, of course, but folklorists regard their approach as removed from their own discipline and flawed, to a certain extent.
>[Alan] Dundes presented a similar critique of Freudian-based psychoanalysis of folktales. In his The Study of Folklore (1965), he wrote that “the analysis is usually based upon only one version…To comparative folklorists who are accustomed to examining hundreds of versions of a folktale or folksong before arriving at even a tentative conclusion, this apparent cavalier approach to folklore goes very much against the grain. How does the analyst know, for example, whether or not the particular version he is using is typical and representative.” (107) Dundes also pointed out that often the “variant” presented by the psychological analysis is from “a children’s literature anthology, rather than directly from oral tradition.”
This is a terribly difficult question to answer for several reasons. First, the "origin" of myths is deep in prehistory since every literate society stepped onto the historical stage with mythology in full blossom. It is likely that one should not even think of it as a question of origin, since storytelling seems intrinsic to humanity, and one can imagine stories interweaving, becoming traditional while being in constant flux until they became something that we might call "myth." The problem about finding the origin of all this finds analogy in the question of the origin of humanity itself. When did the first man and woman step onto the stage? How would we even define those individuals. It was a blurred, gradual process that we now understand was made even more complex by the interaction with other subspecies of humans. So, too, myth likely had blurred origins with creation, change, blending, etc., occurring over hundreds of generations.
Then there is the question of the term "myth" and what that means - a second problem when it comes to answering your question. In my Introduction to the Folklore, I address some of the issues associated with this word:
>People use this term [i.e. myth] awkwardly. In a European context, myths tend to be the artificial constructs of ancient and Classical-era priests or literate people who sought to weave folk traditions into a comprehensive whole. The exercise often had political purposes, designed to provide diverse people with a single set of beliefs and stories. By reconciling similar traditions, the shared culture of these groups could be seen as more important than the differences, justifying the central rule of the king and his priests. Myth is also a way of organizing and reconciling folk traditions, which by their nature can be contradictory and highly localized. Myth tends, however, to make gods of supernatural beings, giving those powerful entities a status – for modern readers – similar to the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God, even when this comparison is not justified. Of course, it is also important to point out that myths were stories that were told – and then written down – and they were different from religion itself. Many myths were simply the shared cultural inheritance of a group of people.
>In general, the word myth is best set aside when discussing more recent folk traditions, recognizing its proper status as a literary genre. Nonetheless, ancient documents recording myths can assist in understanding the history of various stories and beliefs. The authors of these texts were, after all, the first folklorists, and they were the only ones coming close to practicing the craft at the time.
>Some folklorists carelessly use the term myth to denote those legends that deal with a fantastic, remote time. This primal era saw the creation of many familiar things such as day and night, fire, animals, people, mountains, and all other aspects of the present world. Folklorists properly refer to these stories as etiological legends explaining the origin of things. Sometimes, however, people interchange etiological legends with the word myth. The problem with this is that “myth” can imply something that is inherently wrong, linked to “primitive” superstitious beliefs. When the term “myth” is used for the folklore of existing cultures or for the traditions that were viable only a generation or more ago, it can take on an insulting, derogatory tone. It is best to reserve the word “myth” for ancient and Classical-era texts.
The core problem here as it relates to your question is the idea that we are talking exclusively about some sort of religious texts. Likely, pre-literate people did not think in those terms. They told stories about a variety of things, some to be believed and some for pure entertainment. Of those that were told to be believed, some were about culture heroes and others were about fantastic supernatural entities, some of which were feared, and some of which became woven with more hopeful adoration.
How did these stories originate? People might speculate about eating drug-laden plants or other things, but we don't know if that's the case, and we have no reason to imagine that sort of thing.
The thing that is clear is that many of the mythologies are related: a group of Indo-European stories diffused during prehistory with the language (sometimes carried my migrants, and sometimes just travelling on their own). Other ancient stories seem less likely to be related, and this points to several points of origin. This means that these stories were welling up somehow in several places and then diffusing through time and place.
With the rise of Urban Legends, several folklorists attempted to track down the origin of several of these stories. This presented an opportunity to answer your question in modern terms, since these Urban Legends seemed to appear spontaneously and then to disappear. Again, an excerpt from my Introduction to Folklore:
>The answer to this question [that is, the question about origins] is somewhere between "we don't know" and "it's just what people do" – that is, they invent these sorts of stories. Several folklorists, including the late Alan Dundes and Jan Harold Brunvand, recognized an opportunity with recent urban legends to finally track down "the source," the point of creation, to better understand how stories originate. For the most part, they were unable to find the point/person of origin to any general degree of satisfaction. It is a maddening question, and much like the proverbial chicken and the egg, it isn't likely to be resolved.
>People tell stories. People repeat stories. And as they repeat them, people modify stories, which sometimes results in the birth of new stories. There might have been some highly imaginative, creative people who invented stories at some point, but that sort of person has yet to be identified in the annals of folklore studies. Folklorists often asked renowned storytellers to tell a new story, to invent something that they had not heard. Without exception, these requests were refused by the storytellers who explained that while they repeated stories, they did not invent them. In general, it may be best to consider the possibility that the process of repetition and transmission is the source of much of the creativity that is evidenced in the international library of oral tradition.
>One example may help shed light on the creative process: the Cornish droll tellers were known for their wild adaptation of the material they heard. Their counterparts in Ireland were the seanchaithe, professional storytellers who prided themselves in the faithful recitation of stories they had heard, as close to the original as possible. Perhaps in this, we can see the opportunity for new stories to be born, and indeed, Cornish oral tradition includes more than its fair share of distinct subtypes (i.e. variants) of legends and folktales, perhaps offering a hint as to how these things may come into existence.
If someone had been able to give me a clear - and believable - answer to your extremely important question, I would not have spent the subsequent four decades attempting to understand all the nuanced insights embedded in our inability to understand this issue. We can attempt to understand what we know and the vast number of things we don't know with psychological and historical/folkloric paths.
First, we can assert that all cultures have traditions. Three decades ago, I would have written "oral" traditions, but with the internet, much of our commonly-held, "popular" (i.e. folk), traditions are transmitted via the internet, so the media can change, but the fundamentals are still there. Also, since one of the first thing writing does in virtually any culture is to document the stories that were being told orally in each society, we know that the "myths, legends, and folklore" of your question have prehistoric/pre-literary roots, so the primal origin of that aspect of cultures can only be approached through speculation. Throughout, I'll offer excerpts from my Introduction to Folklore, which I used for my classes over three decades of teaching this subject. Here is some text on how fundamental folklore is to our humanity:
>In all, the various forms of contemporary folklore are reassuring. They clearly indicate that folklore is alive and well in the modern environment. Disruptive changes over the past two hundred years have extinguished lifestyles and vast amounts of oral tradition, customs, and beliefs, but the folk are tenacious. People will create folklore, no matter the circumstance.
>American psychologist Walter Fisher (b. 1931) has proposed with his “narrative paradigm” that people tell stories because the device is essential to human communication. He suggests that this aspect of our species is sufficiently significant that we should be referred to as “Homo narrans.” The degree to which this idea is valid may be open to debate, but the observation – that storytelling is indispensable to people – is at the heart of why there will always be folklore.
The field of psychology has provided one means to speculate on the origin of this body of story and belief, but no matter how enticing the various avenues of speculation may be, they remain speculation that cannot be verified. In fact, they are usually so far removed from anything that can be dealt with in analytical terms that one must approach that line of thought with more faith than deduction. That doesn't make the work of Freud, Jung, or Campbell wrong; it merely makes it difficult to address or evaluate when it comes to the subject of the origin of folklore and its various aspects. I'll add a separate reply on the psychological avenue to folklore.
Then there is the matter of what the fields of folklore and history offer in this context. Beginning with the Brothers Grimm, who published in the first half of the nineteenth century, folklorists were consumed with the question of origins. They recognized that folktales and legends (reflected in many Classical myths) fell into "types" - repeated plots that varied over time and space, but nevertheless "held together" with a core of repeated plot devices (i.e. "motifs"). This seemed to imply that these types had survived for centuries or even for millennia, but regardless of how long they lived, the question of a point of origin was either recent or pushed back in time. Either way, that point of origin remained elusive. Finnish folklorists advocated a systematic means of analysis that could answer the questions related to diffusion, change, and point of origin with a method that came to known as the Finnish Historic Geographic Method. This approach has come into criticism, but it was and remains the best means to attempt to answer your question. Criticism takes the form of those who say that even this exact method does little to explain the where and especially the "how" these stories came to exist. Other critics suggest that the "type" is an illusion and that stories are not as traditional as they seem. I take up this last criticism in my recently published The Folklore of Cornwall: The Oral Tradition of a Celtic Nation (2018) and we can discuss this further, but in general, I believe we can set aside this second concern. The first criticism, however, remains valid: we remain at some imagined "first telling" of a story, and that moment remains extremely difficult to fathom.
With advent of modern "urban legends" some folklorists hoped they had an opportunity to track down the "first telling" of these modern stories, which seemed to flash into existence and often lived short lives. Here, again, from my Introduction to Folklore:
>The answer to this question is somewhere between "we don't know" and "it's just what people do" – that is, they invent these sorts of stories. Several folklorists, including the late Alan Dundes and Jan Harold Brunvand, recognized an opportunity with recent urban legends to finally track down "the source," the point of creation, to better understand how stories originate. For the most part, they were unable to find the point/person of origin to any general degree of satisfaction. It is a maddening question, and much like the proverbial chicken and the egg, it isn't likely to be resolved.
There is more to add - and I will - but this first post can start the discussion.
I am genuinely happy to help - no time was stolen; it was going to roll along with or without something intellectually stimulating for me!
I still have a soft spot in my heart for Jung. These are the things that are fun to think about. When I met my mentor Sven S. Liljeblad (1899-2000), he asked me what I had been reading, and I told him I was working on Jung. He told me to leave that behind - that it was not something to be pursued for my generation (he would say that of every generation - it was his polite way of shutting the door).
I address Jung and Campbell in my Introduction to Folklore, and the issues they present. The text may be of use to you:
>Dundes presented a similar critique of Freudian-based psychoanalysis of folktales. In his The Study of Folklore (1965), he wrote that “the analysis is usually based upon only one version…To comparative folklorists who are accustomed to examining hundreds of versions of a folktale or folksong before arriving at even a tentative conclusion, this apparent cavalier approach to folklore goes very much against the grain. How does the analyst know, for example, whether or not the particular version he is using is typical and representative.” (107) Dundes also pointed out that often the “variant” presented by the psychological analysis is from “a children’s literature anthology, rather than directly from oral tradition.”
Thanks to /u/hillsonghoods for the link. The Wild Hunt is widespread and ancient (consider the ancient Greek Hecate which comes close to this motif). Folklore is a methodology that was initially designed to describe distribution by understanding diffusion and change over time and space. It was not necessarily good at describing meaning in a literary sense. For that sort of thing one can go to Jung or Campbell, for example (although I'm not sure that either specifically discussed the Wild Hunt!), but their asserting meaning is more musing than anything akin to careful analysis. Theirs may be extraordinary musings, but they can't be verified by analysis; they can only be accepted or rejected on their own terms.
The legends about hunters who are compelled to pursue an ever-evasive prey (sometimes flying through the air) are widespread, and they frequently become attached to various notable figures, but the specific alignments of the motif with notable figures in local tradition is less significant than the widespread nature of the motif.
As indicated in the link, various natural phenomenon likely put wind in the sail of the legend complex: the nighttime of some large birds could provide an eerie, extraordinary sound that could be taken as evidence that the Wild Hunt had just passed.
In my Introduction to Folklore, I note that this is part of a larger complex of belief in souls that have been condemned for eternity - not to hell, but to some other limbo-like status. Most (but not all) wander the world without a place to rest:
>Europeans were fascinated by the idea of condemned souls, either of individuals or groups of people, who could not find rest. These unfortunates were forced to exist in a nether world, appearing occasionally before the living as evidence of their hideous or peculiar plight. Such motifs have been favorites with artists and writers. It is possible to identify six types of these beings.
>The “Wild Hunt” is probably the oldest, occurring in ancient Greek sources and Scandinavian mythology. A cluster of stories refers to ghostly riders who race across the landscape or the night sky, questing for some phantom quarry that they can never catch. Legends tell of people seeing this eerie phenomenon. There are occasional references to the leader as being the god of death.
>The “Sleeping Army” is a motif that appears in a variety of stories telling of a group of warriors killed in combat, who haunt the battlefield or wait inside a mound for some future conflict. People often believe such an army serves as a matter of last resort, a supernatural force that will awaken if their country is threatened with destruction. King Arthur’s knights are often regarded as sleeping in this way, waiting for the return of their king, healed from his wounds after recuperating in the western island of Avalon.
>The “Flying Dutchman” is one of the better known and often used motifs of the condemned souls. This motif describes a phantom ship of ghostly sailors who travel the seas but never find harbor or rest. Their only respite comes once every century, when they are allowed to anchor at a legendary port. Their ship is seen in bad weather. The story seems to be of medieval origin.
>The “Wandering Jew” is also a motif belonging to this class. Like the Flying Dutchman, the Wandering Jew appears to be of medieval origin. The legend tells of Ahasverus, a shoemaker of Jerusalem who refused to allow Jesus to sit while carrying his cross to Calvary. His fate is to wander the world, longing for rest.
>The Will-’o-the-Wisp is described in Chapter 4. The character was not good enough for heaven and made himself feared by the devil, and so he was exiled from hell. He carries a burning ember, a relic from the time when he briefly entered the abode of Satan, and with this phantom light, he lures nighttime travelers away from their destination. This character is common in Britain.
>There are also various legends of medieval origin about cities that sank underground or into the sea because of some collective sin committed by the inhabitants. These towns return to earth every hundred years for a few hours, only to sink back to their eternal existence in perpetual limbo.
I hope this helps.
These words are used in various was by different people, so no matter what definitions are imposed, one will see the terms used in wildly different ways.
The easy ones to talk about are folktales and legends because Europeans - and most people international - make a distinction between two types of narratives that happen to be reflected in these words.
A folktale is a story that was/is told as fiction. In Europe, these were usually told at night, typically in winter (when the nights were longer). Folktales were usually multi-episodic, cast in a fanciful place and/or time, and they ended happily.
Legends are narratives that were usually told to be believed. They were typically brief, sometimes with only a single episode. They usually dealt with the extraordinary and they often ended horribly. They were typically told during the day, especially when dealing with the supernatural that people feared could be summoned by the telling (you wouldn't want to talk about supernatural beings at night for fear of having them lurking about!). There were also etiological legends and historical legends that told about the origin of things or about culture heroes - George Washington chopping down a cherry tree or stories about Robin Hood. These could be told at night, because the subject did not present a danger.
"Fairy tale" is a difficult term. Folktales are often referred to as fairy tales, particularly when fairy-like entities are part of the plot. In modern times, however, "fairy tale" took on connotations that don't suit the noble folktale: when folktales were abridged and "sweetened" for publications for children, they became the type of stories that adults could dismiss: we often say "Oh, that's just a fairy tale" to dismiss something someone has said, to describe it as an account of no consequence. Because of this, I prefer to reserve "fairy tale" to describe published, diluted folktales or stories that have been invented to mimic the genre of the folktales.
"Myth" is a tougher term because it is loaded with meaning that is not always intended or appropriate. People say "oh, that's just a myth," to suggest that "ignorant, superstitious" people believe in it. It has acquired a derogatory connotation, and so I prefer to see it reserved for ancient, extinct belief systems and their narratives. Many classical myths were etiological legends, narratives about culture heroes or legends that explained the origin of things. Classical myths could also be the testimonial legends that described how their supernatural beings behaved and how one should avoid offending them or how one should seek their favor. In addition, we occasionally find full-blown folktales lumped together with compendiums of classical myth, so clearly, this was just a catch-all for the folklore of ancient peoples. When "myth" is used in a modern context to describe "American Indian myth," for example, it can be hurtful, just as it would be to describe the Christian Easter narrative as the "Resurrection Myth." That is why I prefer to reserve the term for ancient people who cannot be offended by modern connotations that are now associated with the term.
Following are the definitions for these terms that I present in my Introduction to Folklore, which I used when I taught "mythology and folklore" at the university level:
>European folklorists, following the lead of the folk themselves, have long recognized two forms of oral tradition, Sagen and Märchen, legends and folktales. While there are many other forms of oral tradition, legends and folktales stand in opposition to one another, yet share a great deal. In reality, lines can blur.
>Legends – or Sagen as the profession often prefers – are generally short, single-episodic stories told chiefly in the daytime. More importantly, the teller intended the listener to believe the story. Legends often have horrible ending to underscore the story’s important message. Many of them are, after all, meant to be instructive, to serve as warnings in some way. These types of stories are not necessarily long-lived. Their point is to reinforce and prove the legitimacy of a belief. Nonetheless, some legends take on a traditional character, can become multi-episodic, and migrate over considerable spans of time and space.
>Folktales – or Märchen, again using the German, technical term – are longer stories with more than one episode. They are restricted, in theory at least, to evening presentation. A folktale is not to be believed, taking place in a fantastic setting. The European folktale also requires a happy ending, the cliché of “happily ever after.” Any given folktale can be told with considerable variation, but they are traditional in basic form, and folklorists have spent decades tracing the history and distribution of these stories.
>A word here about the term “fairytale” is appropriate. At the end of the eighteenth century, various writers, most prominently the Grimm brothers, began publishing children’s stories based on folktales. These collections became extremely popular, particularly among the urban and increasingly literate emerging middle class as it found itself removed from the peasant soil that served as home to the stories. Fairytales often cause misunderstandings. In a culture that knows more about fairytales than Märchen, people assume that the folktale was intended for children. This is certainly not the case since the stories were often violent or sexual in ways thought inappropriate for children. Indeed, the telling of a folktale was usually delayed until the children had gone to bed. While fairytales provide the modern reader with the easiest access to the many stories that were once told internationally, one should always realize that they are removed from the primary inspiration. The original stories and their content provided serious entertainment for adults and they were part of an oral tradition, not something that was fossilized in writing.
>The evolution of published fairytales had a profound effect on the popular idea of fairies, elves, trolls, and similar entities. Because fairytales became the literary domain of children, many people – including later writers – assumed the same was true of the supernatural beings. In their original context, nothing could be further from the truth. These were not cute, diminutive creatures whose sole purpose was to delight children. They were powerful, dangerous, and capable of great harm. The European peasantry feared and respected them, and their stories underscore this, conveying in uncompromising terms the code of ethics and behavior that one must employ to survive an encounter with the dangerous world of magic and power.
>The definition proposed here for “fairytale” does not necessarily coincide with how people – and even some folklorists – use the term. Some scholars regard “fairytale” as appropriate for the more fantastic expressions of folktales as they were told by the folk. The reason why the term is not used in that capacity here is because the folk did not refer to these stories as fairytales and because the term implies a degree of innocence that is inappropriate; again, “fairytale” is most suitably reserved for the published children stories that gave literary expression to the adult oral fictions of the folk.
>Besides the legend and the folktale, there is also the folk ballad, a specialized form of oral tradition that, like the others, incorporated a wide range of beliefs. The ballad had roots in medieval Europe, combining narrative and song. The ballad usually focused on a single incident, and it almost always emphasizes action.
>Something also needs to be said here about myth. People use this term awkwardly. In a European context, myths tend to be the artificial constructs of ancient and Classical-era priests or literate people who sought to weave folk traditions into a comprehensive whole. The exercise often had political purposes, designed to provide diverse people with a single set of beliefs and stories. By reconciling similar traditions, the shared culture of these groups could be seen as more important than the differences, justifying the central rule of the king and his priests. Myth is also a way of organizing and reconciling folk traditions, which by their nature can be contradictory and highly localized. Myth tends, however, to make gods of supernatural beings, giving those powerful entities a status – for modern readers – similar to the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God, even when this comparison is not justified. Of course, it is also important to point out that myths were stories that were told – and then written down – and they were different from religion itself. Many myths were simply the shared cultural inheritance of a group of people.
I spent two years reading Jung from a student of Jung - before meeting my mentor Sven Liljeblad (1899-2000) who directed me away from Jungian studies. I retain a tremendous amount of respect for the Jungian approach, but it is problematic, particularly how it is often used.
The following is an excerpt from my Introduction to Folklore which I used over the decades when teaching the subject at the university level. It describes my reservations about psychological approaches, but that does not mean they are invalid. I hope this helps - or is at least of interest:
The approach you seek was advanced in the 4th century, BCE by the Greek writer Euhemerus. One finds the idea that there is some truth/actual events behind Greek (and other) myth advanced throughout history - and in many questions on this subreddit! In fact, the question has come up so frequently, I arrived at a set answer, which I then incorporated into my Introduction to Folklore. The following is an excerpt (pp. 123-4 - if you want to cite it). This does not put you in the direction you seek; rather it discounts it, as Euhemerism is not highly regarded among folklorists. That said, if you direct your research toward Euhemerus, that should help you. Feel free to ask questions if you wish. Here is the text:
>When I see the posts like this asking about whether there were real people or events behind legends, myths, and/or the ancient gods, I respond with several observations. First, the idea that the gods and heroes of legend are based on real people had an early proponent in the Greek, late-fourth-century BCE writer, Euhemerus, giving his name to this approach to myth and legend: Euhemerism. Folklorists generally regard the idea that there was an actual basis for most oral tradition as barking up the wrong tree, because the original “real” event behind a story is usually elusive and searching for that core is a futile exercise. In addition, research into how stories began usually concludes that they emerge in a rather spontaneous way, typically without an actual incident to inspire them.
>A few examples: the Classical Greek story of Perseus is an early manifestation of a widespread folktale, catalogued by the twentieth-century folklorists Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson as AT 300, “The Dragon Slayer.” Was there a proto-Perseus who rescued a maiden from some sort of extraordinary threat or perhaps from some sort of human sacrifice? It is hard to answer that question, but it is not hard to imagine how far back in time that proto-incident would have had to occur: AT 300 is spread throughout Eurasia. It was collected from cultures that could have no conceivable literary connection with ancient Greece, and yet the shared assortment of motifs in the numerous variants clearly show some sort of genetic, that is, historically connected relationship. Would we need, therefore, to go back thousands of years before the first recordation of the Perseus story to find this proto-Perseus? It is much easier to understand that the folktale simply diffused and that one of its manifestations was in ancient Greece.
>Now, let’s consider another example that has inspired a lot of spilled ink. A simple Google search for the “origins of King Arthur” provides more websites than one could easily read in a week. Was there a proto-Arthur? Perhaps. Maybe there were several. But what does that prove? Every society has remarkable characters, and it may be a natural process for these sorts of individuals to attract all manner of traditional stories that have nothing to do with the original inspiration of the cycle of legends.
>So, what do we have with Arthur? Was there a core source (or sources) for this legendary character? Let’s concede for the sake of argument that the answer is yes. Now, did this individual have a great warrior at his side who became ensnared by the leader’s wife in the fashion of Lancelot and Guinevere? That is more problematic since this type of story is also associated with Diarmuid and Grainne in the Irish court of King Finn and with the Cornish stories of Tristan and Isolde in the court of King Mark. One could even argue that it is the story behind Helen of Troy. In fact, it appears that this was a widespread type of story that became associated with various courts of historical legend. We cannot conclude that every great king had a queen who was attracted to one of his warriors and coerced him to take her away. This is simply a story that was attached to cycles involving great courts. In short, the further one goes back to find the “real Arthur,” the less the candidate (or candidates) look like the King Arthur who has been beloved for centuries. The proto Arthurs are not really King Arthur. They may be seeds but they look nothing like the tree that would grow over the centuries. We do not hold an acorn and say “Ah, I have in my hand a mighty oak tree.” It is not yet a tree. It is a seed. And the two look very different even if they are genetically linked.
>One more example: there is a widespread legend told by countless families of the ghostly appearance of a loved one in anticipation of news that the individual died. This became a popular tradition in post-Famine Ireland because so many relatives lived in North America or elsewhere. But it is frequently told by all sorts of people internationally. So, we can ask, are there real-life, actual inspirations for this legend? That is, do the spirits of the dead actually come to visit loved ones? Well, how the hell should I know? To paraphrase a famous line from the television show “Star Trek,” “Damn it Jim, I’m a folklorist, not a ghost hunter.” And I have no intention of becoming a ghost hunter. It doesn’t matter what is behind stories so much as it does that people tell these stories. I’m in it for that part of the game; I consider stories as they are told over time, to gain from that material some insight into the past, into culture, and into the human condition. I am a folklorist. And with that, my plate is full.
Most of the history of the discipline of folklore, founded as it was by Jacob Grimm (1785-1863) has focused on European and then Indo-European studies. Other places have their own folklore studies, but things often tip into ethnography, which has a slightly different approach and a distinct bibliography. ATU refers to the work of the Finnish scholar Antii Aarne, who produced the first folktale type index in 1910. The American Stith Thompson then assisted Aarne, producing several new editions, so tale types for decades appeared as 'AT' (and often still do). In 2011, Hans-Jörg Uther published an expanded type index, so now types tend to appear as 'ATU'. Stith Thompson produced the definitive work on the Folktale, a volume titled 'The Folklore' (now didn't that take a lot of imagination!!!) in 1946. It is important, but it is also weighty, so it may be less than approachable.
I really like the collection of essays by Alan Dundes. He produced two collections, and they are both good, but his second one, International Folkloristics: Classic Contributions by the Founders of Folklore (1999) includes excellent introductions by Dundes, who wrote in a clean accessible way, so his introduction to each article is as valuable as the article. Unfortunately, many of the articles are inaccessible.
Your well-placed term, 'accessible', is the hitch here. Unfortunately, the discipline of folklore spent most of its decades in terribly inaccessible terms, conceiving of itself as a well-honed science removed from the 'folk' that it studied. The work of Jack Zipes is to be commended for being more approachable, and he has a lot of good writing on the history of the discipline, but that's not really what you want. There are also some modern works that explore the feminization of the folktale; that's fine if you want it, but otherwise, those works tend to create their own worlds.
Reluctantly, I put forward my own work, Introduction to Folklore. The roots of the text go back to the 1940s: my mentor, Sven Liljeblad (1899-2000) used a similar photocopied Introduction, but his vocabulary was technical and often not fluently English, so when I started to teach folklore in 1980, I began a process of adapting and then comprehensively overhauling his text for my students, attempting to keep in mind the need to be accessible. It might be of use to you. Perhaps it would work for you. If you have questions reaching beyond this thread, don't hesitate to PM me.
From the point of view of many folklorists, Campbell is an entirely appropriate as a topic in Tuesday Trivia! That is, his proposals boarder on the monstrous. That, of course, will get me in a lot of trouble with Campbell devotees.
I began life studying under a student of Jung - who was the master of writing the bewildering and unexpectedly difficult to read. Campbell softens Jung to a considerable degree. Both are grounded in the idea that many (or all) aspects of culture and human existence are expressions of archetypes, the mega symbols that are part of the hard-wiring of our brains and that can be taken even further as something of the hard-wiring of the universe. It is a wonderful idea that can only be taken on faith - like aspects of religion (it is a concept far removed from Freud). For Jung and Campbell, it is all about the stream-of-consciousness: you didn't miss the point at all; you hit it on the head.
Diverse people call themselves folklorists just as everyone from a professor to a bottle digger will be quoted in the local paper with the title "historian." There are some "folklorists" who are devoted to Campbell, but it would not be easy to write an article on how Campbell is correct about archetypes and get it published in an academic journal of folklore. When I met my mentor I told him I had spent two years reading Jung in private tutorial. He told me to stop it. It remains one of my hidden vices (I actually like Jung a great deal, but I trust you'll keep that between you and me).
Here is an excerpt from my Introduction to Folklore that deals with Jung, Campbell and Freud:
>There are clearly many good ideas in this literature, but there are problems with the approach of Campbell, Jung, and Rank from the point of view of folklore studies. The first is that they tend to present the concept of tale types in mythology and folklore as though it were a new discovery. In other words, they ignore the highly-developed bibliography that the discipline of folklore offers. The second, more serious problem is that this line scholarship makes no distinction between the core of a story and its culturally-specific or narrator-specific variants and variations. The Jungian-Campbell approach treats any variant of a story as an expression of the collective unconscious, regardless of whether its form is the product of an individual storyteller’s idiosyncrasies or of the cultural predilections of a region made irrelevant by traveling to the next valley. And with this process, all the other variants are ignored, including ones that may contradict the initial observation. This does not mean that there are no valuable insights in the work of Jung and Campbell. There are, of course, but folklorists regard their approach as removed from their own discipline and flawed, to a certain extent.
Excellent answer here by /u/senchae (and thanks for the summons!). There are several ways to answer your question. Not all universities have programs and not all programs and/or folklorists are created equally. I have taken four introductory folklore classes In Ireland and the US. They were wildly different. The English professor who pretended to know something about folklore was a disaster. If that were my only knowledge of what the discipline of folklore was about, I would be a very confused person. Then I took a class - and served as teaching assistant - when the class was taught by my mentor, Sven S. Liljeblad , cited with thanks by /u/senchae, for use in my classes, which I subsequently taught over the following three decades.
Then I sat in on an intro class from a conservative folklorist in Dublin: he spoke with expert authority about Irish folklife and oral tradition, but he was careful not to step beyond the bounds of Ireland, and his approach was rigidly descriptive. It was an excellent way to start the study of Irish folklore, but not necessarily to begin studying folklore internationally. Then, on a lark, I attanded an intro class by a brilliant ethnologist who came from a completely different direction. He did not know the discipline of folklore, so what he taught was oral tradition and belief from the point of view of ethnology. What he taught wasn't wrong, but it was a step removed form the discipline of folklore. It was, nevertheless, full of insights.
The message here is that the discipline of folklore is presented in radically different ways in different places and by different people. The discipline is rather like the asteroid belt: it is a planet that never adequately formed. Most of the disciplines of the humanities have completely formed self identities with a set approach and bibliography. There are disputes within camps within each field, but each field is clearly defined. Folklore can be amorphous, and because it is often taught by a solitary professor at any given campus, the way it is presented is affected by the prejudices and limitations of that professor.
A folklorist friend of mine once pointed out that "there are many paths to folklore" and indeed that it true. The result is that there are many historians, ethnographers, psychologists, and others who dip into folklore from various directions. A folklorist from a full-fledged program like one finds at Indiana may look at scorn at these scholars from distant realms because they aren't "real" folklorists, and yet this cadre of emigrants to the world of folklore are also making contributions and are not to be discounted. But the result is a bit of a muddle, and the path you might take is going to be defined as much by geography and circumstance as anything else. Consider, for example, if you were asking about how one might become a historian. The answer would not be couched by a warning that history programs are radically different from campus to campus (one expects to find basically the same discipline taught everywhere), and yet variation and inconsistency is what one often finds with folklore.
Then to your second question about career: there are public folklorists. In the US each state has a folklorist employed by the state arts council (although these are under threat of elimination under the current federal administration). And of course, teaching is the other opportunity. Competition is fierce and an advance degree is necessary except in public schools. In general, I would suggest that to become employable a second field is probably key so that you can approach a national or state park or a museum, etc. and say "I'm a folklorist and a [fill in the blank] historian/archaeologist/ethnographer, etc.
As an aside, I recommend the two texts by the late Alan Dundes, who provides collections of important articles with excellent introductions. These are good ways to gain access to the history of the discipline: The Study of Folklore (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1965) and International Folkloristics: Classic Contributions by the Founders of Folklore (New York: Rowan and Littlefield, 1999).
I hope this helps; let me know if I can be of further assistance. And good luck!
The answer to your question is yes. Sort of. The problem is with terms and definitions. First a quick overview of the definitions of two terms - legend and myth (this is from my Introduction to Folklore that I use for my classes):
>People use the term "myth" awkwardly. In a European context, myths tend to be the artificial constructs of ancient and Classical-era priests or literate people who sought to weave folk traditions into a comprehensive whole. The exercise often had political purposes, designed to provide diverse people with a single set of beliefs and stories. By reconciling similar traditions, the shared culture of these groups could be seen as more important than the differences, justifying the central rule of the king and his priests. Myth is also a way of organizing and reconciling folk traditions, which by their nature can be contradictory and highly localized. Myth tends, however, to make gods of supernatural beings, giving those powerful entities a status – for modern readers – similar to the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God, even when this comparison is not justified. Of course, it is also important to point out that myths were stories that were told – and then written down – and they were different from religion itself. Many myths were simply the shared cultural inheritance of a group of people.
So, if we accept that a myth is something that is written - removed a step from oral tradition - then we can understand that the tradition that remains oral and fluid can and probably would accommodate extraordinary circumstances with much the same vocabulary, characters, and belief system that was for found in the written text, assuming that the myths were not describing fossilized traditions and beliefs that were no longer current.
The way people usually accommodate remarkable circumstances is to interpret them with the beliefs they have available. Of course, people experience life in the past, so if something current would soon be described and interpreted in the past tense, but that process is much the same for the recent past -"Did you see what happened yesterday? Certainly that was supernatural being A interacting with Supernatural being B." - that sort of thing, but all in a recent past tense. This description of a recent event may or may not make the transition into the local oral tradition in a permanent way. Often these observations and interpretations last only for a while, or if they are longer lasting, they don't survive past those who observed the incident. Folklorists refer to this type of legend as a memorate. These are the stories we all tell about remarkable experiences we have had. They are rarely repeated by anyone other than ourselves and so they do not become part of the larger oral tradition, but sometimes they do, and these would then fold themselves into the larger body of folklore.
I hope that helps.
This an answer I provided in another sub: