Burning of Marzanna as a symbol of winter duri...
Burning of Marzanna as a symbol of winter during the spring equinox is one of remains of pre-Christian beliefs in Polish culture (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The term folklore was coined in 1846 by W. J. Thomas to replace the previous notion of popular antiquities. Difficult to define, folklore is now understood as the knowledge, customs, beliefs, rituals and orally transmitted information of a given culture.

According to professor T. Henighan,1 the Freudian child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim makes a distinction between folklore and fairy tales. Fairy tales are a type of folk tale in which:

  • The names of heroes and heroines are absent or ordinary
  • Supernatural but not divine beings are mentioned
  • Positive outcomes are the norm
  • Childhood and adolescence figure prominently
  • The actual content (i.e. Oedipal material) is obscured through elaborate symbolism

Some suggest that the definition of folklore must also include the academic study of folkloric data, because by studying folkloric content from of a different set of cultural assumptions (those held by an academic), the original content is necessarily interpreted and altered.

Folklore is often associated with the marginalised or popular dimension of a given culture, in contrast to the written stories of orthodox religious organizations. Some scholars limit folklore to so-called primitive cultures, while others extend the concept to apply to modern social formations—e.g. the destructive folkloric beliefs and practices of the Nazis (i.e. Aryans as the ‘master race’).

The line dividing primitive folklore and contemporary belief is blurred and cannot always be easily discerned. The psychologist C. G. Jung discusses this in connection with the Nazis and their disturbing beliefs and practices. For Jung, this exemplified an entire race engulfed by the destructive power of an archetype, in this case, the Wotan archetype.

¹ The Meanings of Myth (

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