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date: 16 April 2021

Folklore, Customs, and Civic Ritual 

The Oxford Companion to Local and Family History
Charles Phythian-AdamsCharles Phythian-Adams

‘Folklore’—a term coined in 1846 by William John Thoms to describe the ‘lore of the people’—is most usefully thought of as comprising that body of pre‐ (or nowadays ‘non‐’) scientific beliefs through which humanity seeks to explain (and, when need arises, to exploit) its place in relation to the forces of nature and the supernatural. The antiquity of such beliefs is not in doubt, but it is difficult precisely to prove their prehistoric origins in the way so much beloved of the earlier folklorists, beyond acknowledging the probability that belief in the existence of planetary influences and the worship of trees and wells antedated the conversion to Christianity. What matters more to the historian, however, is the continuities of popular beliefs and the ways in which these expressed a fusion of the pagan and the Christian. In Anglo‐Saxon charms, for example, frequent reference is made to the baleful effects of ‘elf‐shot’ on the health of farm animals. It is remarkable, therefore, that flint arrowheads or flakes were still being described in this way earlier in the 20th century. More broadly, it was the Church itself that, from the beginning, deliberately turned a blind eye to the overlap of the least objectionable pagan practices with Christian ideas. The pre‐... ...

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