Finding a Folklore
In 1996, the author published a history of seasonal festivities and rituals in Britain, which opened by questioning the view of the subject most commonly propagated by folklorists for most of the 20th century. It identified four main components to this. First, it characterized the only interesting calender customs as rural, different in quality to the observances of towns and cities. Second, it regarded them as essentially timeless and immemorial, relics of a distant, often pagan, past, surviving like living fossils in the static world of English country people. Third, those people were themselves treated as inarticulate, having long lost or distorted any sense of the meaning of their customary behaviour, which could be recovered only by the research of scholarly outsiders. Fourth, this perception was infused with a wider sense of the countryside as a place of charm and of mystery, resistant to the changes of the modern epoch and representing to some extent an antidote to their more troubling aspects. This construction of calendar customs has been rejected by folklorists since the 1970s. In response the author has suggested that further study was needed to answer the obvious question of why it was that so many English scholars between 1870 and 1970 were disposed to view the countryside as a timeless place in which immemorial practices were continued from a blind sense of tradition, and in particular practices that were held to be authentic traces of ancient pagan religion. This chapter attempts to provide such an answer.
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