Folklore and Paganism

Dec 11th, 2016 | By | Category: Articles, Books, Books for Pagans

nimmy2By Nimue Brown

It doesn’t help us at all as modern Pagans that the early folklorists had some curious ideas about folk. As far as I can make out (and I’m no scholar) collectors and commentators on British folk customs went out amongst the ‘natives’ with much the same kind of superior, colonial attitude that was a norm for the period. Their starting assumption was that the rural working class probably wouldn’t have changed much over thousands of years and thus that ancient Paganism could be discovered by reading into what was then contemporary folk practice.

If you go out expecting evidence of ancient Paganism, and interpret everything in line with that expectation, you will have an uncannily high success rate when it comes to finding evidence for ancient Paganism! That’s the power of circular logic.

Folklore is a living, evolving thing. People at all times in history have made up stories to explain things and to amuse themselves, and shared them around. It’s what we do. It was evidently hard for the middle class collectors to imagine that the working class people they were dealing with could innovate, and play, and imagine, but that says more about class assumptions in the UK than is does about ancient Paganism.






I think it pays to pause and ask what Paganism really is. For me, Paganism isn’t about being able to prove something is ancient. The age of a thing has never mattered to me. Instead, what I look for is a felt response to the experience of being alive, being human, being in the world. Lights at the dark point of the year, celebrating the first shoots of spring, or the crops – these things are Pagan. Not because they replicate ancient Pagan practice but because any human could go outside and recognise the importance of these things and feel a need to celebrate them. Anyone can reinvent or rediscover these festivals at any time.

Folklore is full of wonderful things, fantastical magical stories, and a fair helping of traditional wisdom. No doubt some of it really is ancient, but it’s not easy to tell which bits come from where. There’s a wealth of Pagan inspiration to be found in folklore. However, we don’t have to follow in the footsteps of our more recent ancestors and assume that the people who live on the land are just stupidly repeating things they don’t understand generation after generation because they’re too dull witted to make up anything new. Tradition bearers are not museum pieces, and traditions do not stand still.


More about Druidry and the Ancestors here –

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One Comment to “Folklore and Paganism”

  1. Katie says:

    I feel intuitively (and the intuition is as important as reason) that a lot of folklore has ancient roots it something I feel as soon as I read an old custom from the Hebrides etc nd that it’s very important to retain spiritual traditions that are ancestral and ancient.

    Again unlike the obsession of modern times I’m not giving any reasoning for this, its just something many people feel intuitively is important and true.

    intuition used to be prized and venerated in women from veleda to volvas,and I feel it’s still very belittled and suppressed by constant talk of logic and constant reasoning.

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