A Book Of Folk-Lore
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Pages (PDF): 138
Publication Date: 1913
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From the Preliminary: 'In some instances we can trace scraps of folklore back to whence they came. In the legends of several of the Irish saints we have them represented as floating over the sea on leaves. The idea is so odd and so preposterous--as there are in Ireland no leaves of any size that could be serviceable--that we are constrained to look back and see whether this be not an adaptation of a much earlier myth. Now, in an old Flemish poem on Brandaein, or St Brendan the Voyager, he meets on the ocean with a Thumbling seated on a leaf, floating, in one hand a pan, in the other a style.' Note: In the chapter 'Sacrifice', there is some text missing at the end.
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In the early days of exploration of prehistoric relics little care was bestowed on discriminating the several layers of deposit through which the spade cut, and what was found was thrown up into a common heap, and little account was taken as to the depths at which the several deposits lay.
I had the chance in 1892 of visiting La Laugerie Basse on the Vézère in company with Dr Massénat and M. Philibert Lalande, who conducted the exploration after MM. Christy and Lartet had abandoned the field. They had to carry on the work with very limited means, but they arrived, nevertheless, at conclusions which had escaped the earlier explorers. Dr Massénat had driven a shaft down beside the bed of the peasant who lived under the rock, and who, when I saw him, was bedridden. His children, pretty brown-eyed boys and girls, bare-footed and bare-legged, were there, and I gave them some sous. As the dwelling was under the rock and the floor was earth, the refuse of the meals of the family went to raise the deposit along with particles of chalk falling from above. One of my sous, bearing the effigy of Napoleon III, fell, and in the scuffle that ensued disappeared under the soil. By the sick man's bed, as already stated, was a shaft driven down to the virgin soil, and this passed through a layer very modern, in which to this day my sou lies, then through fragments of Medieval crockery, next Merovingian relics, then Roman scraps of iron and coins, below that remains of the Bronze Age, below that again those of the Polished Stone Period. Then ensued a gap--a tract of sterile soil; and then all at once began a rich bed of deposits--this time distinct from the rest in that they pertained to a people who were contemporary with the mammoth, the cave--bear, and the reindeer in France. Finally in this lay the skeleton of a man whose thigh had been crushed by a fallen mass of stone from the rock that arched over it, and who had been clothed in skins ornamented with shells from the Atlantic coast.
From this it may be seen how important it is to differentiate the strata at which lie the remains of ancient man.
The same may be said with regard to folklore. A great amount had been collected into heaps, but no attempt had been made on a large scale to sift and sort out what had been found, and determine to what layer in our population they belong. The grouping is of the crudest. Birth, marriage, death lore go into their several piles, so do ghost and witch stories, and tales of dwarfs. What we really want to know is, Whence came the several items found?
Here, in Great Britain, we form an amalgam of several distinct races, and each race has contributed something towards the common stock of folklore. In my own neighbourhood we have two distinct types of humanity: one with high cheekbones, dusky skin, dark hair, full of energy, unscrupulous as to the meum and tuum, moneymaking, by every conceivable means. The other is fair-haired, clear-skinned, slow, steady, honourable, with none of the alertness of the other. I can point out a family: the eldest girl, illegitimate, is wild, indisciplined, dark-haired and sallow-skinned. The mother, of the same type, married a fair-haired man, and the children are of mixed breed.
Through intermarriage there is an importation of the superstitious beliefs of the lower type into the higher. This has been going on for a long time. A dominating race absorbs some of the convictions of the race it has subdued; and we generally find that the former regard the latter with some awe, as possessed of magical and mysterious powers beyond its own range of acquisitions.
We cannot say that a certain bit of folklore is Celtic and not pre--Celtic because picked up where there is fusion of blood, any more than we can say that a piece of granite strewed upon alluvial soil or lying on limestone belongs to that on which it rests.
Mr Tyler and Mr Fraser, the great students in Comparative Folklore, have devoted their attention to the development and expansion of certain primitive beliefs and practices, but Mr Gomme, in his epoch-making book, Ethnology in Folklore (London 1892), was the first to my knowledge who pointed out the necessity of classification according to the beds whence the items of folklore came.
In this volume, which does not pretend to be more than a popular introduction to the study of the science, I have confined myself as much as possible to the beliefs of the peoples who occupied the British Isles, and have not gone like other writers to the usages of savages for explanation of customs and traditions, except very occasionally.
In some instances we can trace scraps of folklore back to whence they came. In the legends of several of the Irish saints we have them represented as floating over the sea on leaves. The idea is so odd and so preposterous--as there are in Ireland no leaves of any size that could be serviceable--that we are constrained to look back and see whether this be not an adaptation of a much earlier myth. Now, in an old Flemish poem on Brandaein, or St Brendan the Voyager, he meets on the ocean with a Thumbling seated on a leaf, floating, in one hand a pan, in the other a style. This latter he dipped into the sea, and from it let drops trickle into the pan. When the vessel was full he emptied it and renewed the process, and this he is condemned to continue doing till he has drained the ocean dry. Whence came this fantastic conception? It was brought from the original seats of the Aryan people in the East, for there Brahma is represented as floating over the deep on a lotus. And after the death of Brahma, when water overflowed the whole earth, then Vischnu sat, as a small child, on a fig-leaf, and floated on the wild sea, sucking the toe of his right foot.
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