Date of this Version
Studies in Aggadah and Jewish Folklore
The concept of folklore emerged in Europe midway in the nineteenth century. Originally it connoted tradition, ancient customs and surviving festivals, old ditties and dateless ballads, archaic myths, legends and fables, and timeless tales and proverbs. As these narratives rarely stood the tests of common sense and experience, folklore also implied irrationality: beliefs in ghosts and demons, fairies and goblins, sprites and spirits; it referred to credence in omens, amulets, and talismans. From the perspective of the urbane literati, who conceived the idea of folklore, these two attributes of traditionality and irrationality could pertain only to peasant or primitive societies. Hence they attributed to folklore a third quality: rurality. The countryside and the open space of wilderness was folklore's proper breeding ground. Man's close contact with nature in villages and hunting bands was considered the ultimate source of his myth and poetry. As an outgrowth of the human experience with nature, folklore itself was thought to be a natural expression of man before city, commerce, civilization, and culture contaminated the purity of his life.
Originally published in Studies in Aggadah and Jewish Folklore © 1983 Magnes Press. Reproduced with permission.
Ben-Amos, D. (1983). "The Idea of Folklore: An Essay." In Ben-Ami, I. & Dan, J. (Eds.), Studies in Aggadah and Jewish Folklore, pp. 11-17. Jerusalem: Magnes Press.
Date Posted: 22 September 2017