Folk-lore. Folk-lore is a modern and apt term adopted to designate the scientific study of popular antiquities. That there was anything of value in the traditions, suggestions, and customs of the people was hardly surmised till this century, when attention was drawn to them by the brothers Grimm - notably by the Deutsche Mythologie of Jakob Grimm, in 1835, which may be termed an epoch-making work, as it opened the eyes of men to the vast amount of material to be gleaned from the people which elucidates the ancient religious beliefs and customs of the race. Before this date the Grimms had published their collection of folktales, Marchen, in three volumes. The last volume was itself a revelation, as it showed how that a common stock of household tales was to be found widely dispersed through the Aryan race. The Volkesmdrchen were published in 1812-1822, and the Sagen or collection of traditional tales in 1816-1818. In England, H. Bourne, in his Antiquitates vnlgares, 1725, and J. Brand, in his Popular Antiquities, 1777, and Hone, in his Every Day Book, 1826, had collected much that wets interesting; but no attempt was made in England to treat English folk-tales, superstitions, and legends in a scientific manner till Thomas Keightley took the matter up, and wrote his Fairy Mytltology in 1828, and his Tales and Popular Fictions in 1834; both were written under the influence of the research of the brothers Grimm. "Folk-lore is often the only possible means of penetrating to the prehistoric past of nations, and it is certainly the only means of tracing out many of the landmarks in the mental development of man." By means of folk-lore we are able to explore extinct religions, cosmogonies, social organisation, of a time long past, and concerning which historians have left us hardly a word.
Folk-lore is divisible under five main heads - (1)
Superstitious beliefs and practices; (2) Traditional customs; (3) Traditional narratives; (4) Folk sayings, proverbs, etc.; (5) Folk music.
1. Under the first head are comprised all the superstitious usages or beliefs relative to natural objects, plants, and animals, the phenomena of earth, sea and sky; also all such as relate to the spirits of the dead and to supernatural beings, as fairies, dwarfs, and ghosts. Also beliefs having reference to witchcraft, divinations, the evil eye, things and seasons that are lucky or unlucky. It is found that the ancient deities of a race, or the deities of a conquered race, became the demons of the victorious religion and people. Thus Baal, the great god of the Canaanites, was regarded as Beelzebub, a demon, by the Jews. So also the Dusii of the Celts, woodland spirits, became to us the Deuce. Bog, the Slavonic great god, is degraded into a Bogie. Uggr, one of the titles of Odin or Woden, the over-lord of the Norse and Teutonic peoples, has sunk to be the Ogre of nursery tales. Skrati, a forest hairy spirit, is now Old Scratch - the Devil. Consequently, by a study of superstitious beliefs and practices, we are able in part to reconstruct the religion of our forefathers before St. Augustine landed in Kent.
2. Traditional customs represent not only the ritual of a displaced religion, but reveal to us many of the social usages of a condition when civilisation was only dawning. Thus the casting of an old shoe after a bride is a reminiscence of the time when the authority for life and death over the woman was made over by the father to the husband; and the salutation by raising or touching the hat is a far-off reminiscence of the period when no man but the chief could have his head covered, and the bared head was an acknowledgment of feudal dependence.
3. Traditional narratives in prose or verse are of the highest importance. They comprise nursery tales, historic legends, stories attaching to places and families, also ballads.
Some of the household tales enable us to reconstruct the mythology of lost religions; others elucidate early customs. For instance, in folk-tales the youngest son is usually the successful one of the family, and this points to the period when the family estate and house went, as it still does in the Black Forest in Germany, not to the elelest, hut to the youngest son. [Borough English.]
Children's games are also of much more importance than could have been supposed; they often are an after-glow of lost religious ceremonials.
4. Folk sayings and proverbs reveal to us the powers of observation of nature among those living in the country, also give the measure of their experience of life and their solution of its mysteries.
5. Lastly, folk music is deserving of collection, as it furnishes us with much fresh and fine melody, often set in ancient modes, in which no music has been composed for over a century, perhaps two. As the modern ear is accustomed to music in one of the eight modes only, it cannot understand and appreciate music which does not belong to the modern conventional form; but much of the ancient music of Europe was composed in the seven other modes, and was not committed to writing, unless it were ecclesiastical. Consequently, it can only be recovered traditionally. None of it goes back, indeed, to prehistoric times, but a good deal dates from before the reign of Henry VIII. Scotland is justly proud of its magnificent store of ballad poetry. This treasure was at one time diffused over all England as well, but was never collected in England from the people, as it was in Scotland, by Herd, Motherwell, Scott, etc. All our collectors went to printed broadsides - comparatively recent compositions; it never occurred to them to go to the people; consequently we in England have not more to show than a few specimens of what was once as rich a, growth among our people as in Scotland.
For the collection of popular antiquities accuracy is essential; and no better guide can be recommended than The Handbook of Folk-lore, edited by Mr. Gomme, for the Folk-lore Society (published by Nutt, London, 1890). Many a well-intentioned work on traditions and folk-tales has been rendered worthless by unscientific treatment, or through inaccuracy in the taking down of particulars.
An admirable scheme of analysis of folk-tales was proposed by Hahn in his Gricchische u. Albanesische Marchen (1864), in which he showed how all such stories could be reduced to skeletons, and then grouped.