So what actually brought you to folklore? What got you interested in myth, legends and all things superstition based? Why do you love folklore? That was actually a question that I posed on Twitter a couple of weeks ago. The massive response amazed me, especially when you added Instagram and Facebook replies.
So I’m curious! What is it that brought you to an interest in/love for folklore? Which legends first drew you in? What do you love about it?— Icy Sedgwick (@IcySedgwick) August 4, 2021
I ended up collating the responses. Looking at them together, it became clear they fell into six broad categories. Those six categories also dovetail together quite nicely.
In this short blog post/podcast episode, we’re going to have a look at the answers to see what they tell us! Keep reading, or hit ‘play’ to hear the audio version of this post.
How did I come to love folklore?
I wondered what brings people to folklore and what interests people about it. Everybody has a unique perspective on what it is that constitutes folklore, but they all have their own path to a love of folklore.
I’ve talked before about some of the ways that I came across folklore. I usually date it to when I was around about 10. We’d gone to one of the castles or stately homes in the north east, of which there are several. My mother bought me this little pamphlet called More Ghosts and Legends of Northumbria. It told some of the legends of Northumbria, including tales like the Laidley Worm, or the ghostly bridal party of Featherstoneheugh.
Every time we went somewhere else, my parents would then buy me the next book. I ended up with the first one in the series, Ghosts and Legends of Northumbria, before amassing a collection of books of Northumbrian folk tales. I picked up books from elsewhere in the country when we went on holiday. I’ve got books from Norfolk, Dartmoor, York, and Edinburgh.
I’ve even got one from the Rhine Valley from when we went to Germany or another collection from Venice. Every time I’ve gone somewhere, I’ve ended up buying a book or folktales, or ghost stories associated with that place. So if that’s my story…what got other people into folklore?
1 – Folklore was Shared by the Family
The first category was folklore shared through or within the family. As an example, someone said,
I just remember always growing up with the stories and being enchanted by them. The idea of our past and how these places still rub against ours, it’s captivating.
There were other cool answers which were along the same lines. People grew up in a family that shared stories, their grandparents told them the stories, or their parents told them stories while they were out in their local area. In other cases, grandparents passed on superstitions, and so on. People talked about the way that their families passed on these traditions, fairy tales, folklore and wider myths.
So ultimately, people encountered folklore because it was just part of their family tradition to do so. One person said,
I can’t remember ever getting into it. My mom always told me stories of my local area as a tiny kid.
In that case, it was just always part of her family space. This idea also connects nicely with the second reason.
2 – Connecting with Heritage
One reason people love folklore is that it provides a way for them to connect with their heritage. Indeed, one of the responses was,
Part of it, for me was a connection to a part of my heritage.
Her father was Jamaican, so learning about Jamaican legends provided a way for her to connect with him, but also that part of her heritage.
Other people replied to talk about how it was a rite of passage in their village to listen to older kids passing on ghost stories and so on. There was very much this sense of it being part of your heritage to consume these stories and have them passed on to you. It fits in with the connection through the family but expands it for those people who heard stories from those outside of their family.
The concept of hearing ghost stories from your own village connects nicely with the third reason.
3 – Connecting with Place
There was of course some crossover in the answers. Some people mentioned a connection with place since the folklore shared by their family related to their local area.
Yet for others, ‘place’ gave them their first route into folklore. One respondent said,
It’s something I actively seek out if I travel somewhere to find out what the local tales are, I feel like you get to know the culture and the people by understanding the folklore. It’s fascinating to me
Somebody else also pointed out that it’s important to actually connect to the stories in their place, and they really do make the landscape actually come alive for you in a very different way. Other people said that they ended up reading about other places to see if they had similar legends to where they grew up.
Another one that I thought was a really interesting one said,
Researching the paranormal, oftentimes has a connection to local legends and lore.
I can agree with this because I found it to be the case when I used to do paranormal investigations ten years ago. A lot of the time, the legend and the lore in the local area supplemented the ideas of haunting. You do tend to find that different areas end up coalescing into this one central amorphous mass that we call folklore.
4 – A Love of Reading
I love this reason and I adored how many people listed books that acted as their ‘gateway’. For this one we had,
Reading about them as a child, Reader’s Digest books on folklore and strange stories, the Unexplained magazine, Usborne, Roman and Greek gods, browsing the library
A lot of the responses involved the library, which is awesome to hear. I’m a big fan of libraries. I do think that they’re important to how we function as a society. A common theme was that people came across these folklore books after they’d read the other books in the children’s section.
One respondent said that she’d read all the books in her mobile library, and the mobile librarian used to bring her a different folklore book on every visit. I was like, “go, mobile librarian!” We need more people like that.
So it was fascinating how many replies referred to people coming across folklore in books. For another respondent, their family had bought a job lot of books and it happened to contain a lot of folklore books. So they ended up reading them. Other people talked about ordering books out of the Scholastic book catalogue.
The one type of book that it does seem to have been most popular, other than the Reader’s Digest folklore tome, was the Greek myths. I honestly think that the Greek gods would be thrilled to bits to think that people still read their myths and passed them on.
5 – Inspired by Popular Culture
Interestingly, there’s quite a lot of overlap between a love of reading and ‘being inspired by popular culture’. One person replied and said that,
Growing up I saw Ray Harryhausen films and Bagpuss and Robin of Sherwood.
Other people talked about having seen a lot of folklore in kids’ television in the 1970s, or hearing folklore in folk songs. Another respondent said that they absolutely loved things like Star Wars. They started to get to grips with folklore since a lot of popular culture is originally based on these older stories.
Somebody else said that they were really into King Arthur because they’d seen him on a kid’s TV programme when they were seven. Other people said that they’d watched Merlin when they were younger and wanted to know more. A few people also said that they read a lot of fantasy books as a teenager. This further got them interested in fairies and folktales, and they visited historical sites associated with these stories.
Popular culture is often based on folklore in some shape, or form, or is an adaptation of a lot of these tales. So it’s quite interesting that seeing the adaptations then inspire people to go and seek out the original stories as well.
6 – Folklore as a Part of Life
I really like this reason to love folklore because it encapsulates the idea of folklore as being a part of daily life. As one respondent said,
I think it was always in the background of my life. So there was never an aha moment.
I think that was such a cool thing to realise that you couldn’t pinpoint when your interest in it started because it had always been there. Another respondent said that folklore was the “background hum of life”, which I think really sums up how I think folklore can, and perhaps does, underpin communities as a whole.
Somebody else replied to say that,
Folklore felt and continues to feel truer to me than the contemporary world, it’s home.
Other people talked about the fact that they felt that they were more connected to ancestors through folklore. For others, their love of folklore came from their love of magic and the sense that magic was still real in the universe. Respondents talked about the fact that these stories contain old truths. So while we may have forgotten the stories, the truth still remains. I really liked the idea of folklore as being this background, tissue, fabric and tapestry behind our lives.
What do we make of all this?
What came out of looking at these answers together is the way that all these reasons dovetail together. People want to connect with their family and their heritage through the stories that are passed on. In some cases, it may be family traditions, both within their own family, but also stories and legends that their family loved.
This then fits into the idea of connecting to place. People pass on stories about the places where they grew up. Other people want to get to know the places they visit. This is certainly one that I can empathise with, the idea of getting involved with the stories, learning more about where you are, and learning about what’s been there before you. I think this is really important for everybody to bear in mind. If you’re a visitor to a place, it is a nice thing to do to get to know the land and what’s happened there before you arrived.
Next, we’ve got this idea of people developing their love of folklore through a love of reading. It’s critical how many times libraries were! mentioned. I also think this ties in with how many people got into folklore via popular culture. A lot of the popular culture that people referenced wouldn’t exist without folklore. That ‘back and forth’ is really crucial to the continuation of these stories. It’s also important that the popular culture led people to go and investigate these original tales.
Finally, I think the idea of folklore as sort of a part of the background hum of life is one of the reasons why folklore is important. It’s the lore of the people and something that tends to be generated by a community or a group. It’s not owned by any one person, or any one group. We all share in it in some way, shape, or form. This is why I think it’s wonderful what Mark Norman’s doing over at the Folklore Library and Archive to preserve a lot of this folklore for everyone’s benefit. We can continue to share these stories and pass these traditions on.
If you didn’t answer the question about why you love folklore, and you’d like to, then feel free to drop me a comment below! Or let me know which one of these resonated with you the most.
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