Do you consider yourself a suspicious sort of person?
Have you been to see our new Folklore exhibition yet? If you venture into the Chapel, you’ll be able to see 1930s photographs of Molly Dancers, a witch’s bottle and a variety of other mysterious objects.
Preparing this exhibition started me thinking of how I think about folklore. I consider myself a pretty rationally minded person and yet on October 31st I slap on face paint, I adore fairytales (Sleeping Beauty, if I was asked to give a favourite) and I won’t open an umbrella indoors.
Folklore isn’t just old wives tales and witches but contains nuggets of our intangible heritage. Concurrent to religious traditions in Britain runs a deep seam of legend and ritual but why is this so?
It’s impossible to look into the minds of people from the past but perhaps we can try to look at the world through their eyes. For most of history there was little understanding of why disastrous events occurred and how they could be prevented. If a loved one fell ill perhaps it was the work of a witch? To prevent your crops failing you might offer a winter home to the spirit of the corn in the shape of a corn dolly.
What to us might seem like twee traditions or gift shop trinkets were considered powerful rituals or talismans against catastrophe. These beliefs may have become less powerful as time wears on and been replaced with a greater scientific understanding of events but folklore is still woven into our daily lives.
It is too easy to dismiss folklore as something of our past but it reaches deeply into our psyche and can even be seen in our language. We know that all step-mothers are evil, that crusts of bread make your hair curly and if the wind changes your face will stay like that!
Folklore is the stories we use to soothe our children to sleep, why we hunt for eggs at Easter and the explanation for our May Day celebrations. The reasons why these legends and traditions flourished may have become murky in the mists of time but their legacy runs on.
Where does folklore feature in your life? Perhaps you have a corn dolly hung up in your kitchen or maybe you dance naked under the full moon.
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