Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Eldritch: Halloween 027

And the calvary has arrived! (lead by someone who's likely a WoWtard)  Alas, there isn’t much to say, folklorically speaking.  Well, not much that I won’t cover next week.  So, today, I’m going to take some time to talk about what I see as the nature of folklore.
Folklore, frustratingly, is oftentimes rather unlike science. Should someone destroy the only copy of a scientific paper that explains how to perform a specific bit of say, chemistry, (though, we all know that no scientist would ever let that happen), the destroyed information is likely not lost forever.  Through study and experimentation, the same information can be rediscovered, and duplicated.  After all, even if the whole world somehow forgot that glycerin added to potassium permanganate would result in an exothermic reaction, it would be rediscovered the minute someone got curious and tired it. What is learned through science can be reproduced, meaning that it is hard to permanently loose something.

Folklore, however, is a combination of fiction, speculation, and social influences, and thus does not follow scientific laws.  So, once a piece of information is lost, it’s gone forever.  Kind of like how history is written by the victors, folklore is defined by the ideas that survive.  You cannot simply add moonlight to the son of a French priest to see if they’re compelled to become a werewolf and thus rediscover that bit of information, should it be lost.  And sure, based upon the striking similarity of myths across the world, folkloric elements that are very similar will undoubtedly spring up again, but the original specifics will be gone, or replaced with new specifics.

You see, folklore is much like a popularity contest, with all of the nitty gritty politics involved.  The most popular pieces are remembered, while the lesser tidbits are often forgotten and vanish. Of course, pieces become more popular through the use of the most easily consumable forms of communication, such as oral tales, books, or today, TV and the internet (which is why almost everyone will say that silver would kill a werewolf, even though that is very rare in older folklore). However, today I’m going to leave the audio-visual media out of this, and focus on oral tales and books.

It seems that while some information can be lost forever, thankfully, folklore evolves and changes on it’s own, ensuring that there will always be new tidbits to chew on.  These changes can be caused by a plethora of different things, many of which are results of the fact that human language, while beautiful, is also a little flawed.  Causes range from the natural variations that are produced when a tale is passed around orally (anyone here ever play the game “telephone?”), by different interpretations, by the author’s spin on things, by simple error on the part of the storyteller, or through variances in translation. 

I feel this would be particularly true for older books, which could have antiquated words that have fallen out of use, or words that have meanings that differ from modern definitions.  I mean, look at how the meaning for the word “gay” has changed over time.  On a more werewolfy note, today, a wolf can indicate a man who pursues beautiful women, sometimes paired with a wolf-whistle.  But back in the day, however, calling someone a wolf could mean that they were an outlaw. That’s a big difference. Such discrepancies can result in multiple interpretations within its original language, and when it’s translated into a different language, that means that multiple translations could have distinct differences, depending on how literally people translate things.  Two people can go to the same source and come away with very different interpretations, thus causing folkloric variation.

It is possible that any number of these variations will be equally accepted in the folklore popularity contest, or, that certain aspects or variants may be disregarded for any number of reasons. For some, they may simply choose to be concise and leave what they consider to be extraneous details out. For others, they may simply dislike the source of the variant, and denounce it. And sometimes, one bit of folklore merely catches the interest of more people, and they in turn continue to spread it more so than its conceptual cousins.  Or, they may wish to make a certain point, and thus disregard or not include a variant that supports another point of view. For instance, Montague Summers mentions in his book, currently printed under the title of <I>The Werewolf in Lore and Legend</I> that there are spells or mantas regarding shapeshifting that have been preserved, but Summers intentionally did not specify anything about them. Given that he was a holy man, he followed Boguet’s thinking that such ‘barbaric jingle’ was potent in regards to satanic pacts. Thus, he chose to withhold that information, and did not to include the incantations or even the books in which they were, because it goes against his specific wishes.  Because of this, I don’t know if the grimoires and the spells within that he mentioned are even still available.  They could have been lost, and since folklore cannot be scientifically rediscovered, they could be gone forever.  Thankfully for me, Elliot O’Donnell preserved several in his book, adding to folkloric diversity. 

At the end of the day, while earthquakes are caused by shifting plates in the earth’s lithosphere, varying pressures in air create wind, and the sun is powered by fusion, folklore has a far less scientific, but equally amazing source:  Folklore is powered by people.  While people have no influence over the sun or the weather, everyone takes part on the phenomenon of folklore, through the telling, and retelling of these tales.  The way I see it, the addition and loss of information is all part of the nature of folklore, and personally… While I think that it all makes folklore rather difficult to work with sometimes, it also makes it endlessly fascinating.

Just my two cents.


  1. Oh no, you went WoW on us. It was bound to happen... Oh well, at least you still showed your pro-nerdy side by giving me a page of writing to occupy myself with when I'm not completely worn out.

    Until that time,

    1. I have a few friends who play WoW (Though I don't have time for it myself) so they keep me pretty inundanted with WoWness... it's bound to rub off a bit ;3

      I hope you find the nerdy writing entertaining at least. It's largely opinion, to be honest.

  2. This is one of the things I love about folklore. There's been so much of it throughout history, and so much has become obscure or forgotten, that finding a piece you didn't know about before - especially if you weren't looking for it - feels like stumbling over buried treasure.

    I think this is one of my favorite recent pages, by the way. Dramatic lighting and an army of mythical creatures - it doesn't get much better than that.