The Ancient Science of Folklore

Originally written for The Crying Clown Zine (c. 1998)

Folklore is not an old wives tale, mere superstition or fairy tale. It is more than that. Folklore is a way of doing things not based on scientific fact. People relied on folklore before the invention of science. Those who want to practice magick should begin with the study of folklore.

The word folklore literally means “the learning of the people”. W. J. Thoms coined the term folklore in 1846 replacing the old term popular antiquities. My definition of folklore is a habit or tradition based on knowledge from a less than official source, such as modern science.

Folklore covers a wide area including traditional beliefs, customs, stories, songs and sayings. Beliefs concerning nature (animal, plant and mineral), human nature and inanimate objects, magick, charms, luck and disease and death. Customs and rites such as marriage, childhood and adult life, festivals, warfare, hunting, farming, and fishing. Old myths, legends, folktales, ballads, songs, proverbs, nursery rhymes and riddles keep folklore passed along in cultures all over the world.

Folklore comes from every culture on the planet, current and extinct. However, folklore must be taken with a grain of salt. Look it with a slightly suspicious mind and a practical, scientific nature. Explore each custom and belief. Dig deeper and find the mechanics of the idea, what made it work, if it really worked at all. Some customs may have worked once and then just been taken as truth.

Pagan and Wiccan magick are rooted in folklore. Read about herbs, divination, tree magick, astrology, animal guides, weather magick and you are reading folklore. Any magick you look at will be full of old ideas which science is only recently looking at. Do some research and find which old wives tales are having a second wind and are already available at a drug store near you. Not enough for you? Look at a modern wedding ceremony and list the customs that do not seem based on logical scientific thought. Start with throwing rice or catching the bride’s bouquet. Does rice guarantee children? If it did over population would be a much bigger issue!

So, why throw rice? How and why did that custom start? Find out! To really understand and work your own magick you will need to know the thoughts and theories behind it, its roots. To step in and attempt to create magick without studying the how and why is like skipping the whole beginning of a book.

Divination is a good place to start looking at folklore. Divination is a belief/ custom based on folklore, early ideas of science. Every tradition from tarot, dowsing, crystal gazing, scrying to reading the bumps on a head can not be proven to work by science. Still, divination in all its varied forms is a very popular form of magick.

Of course, some folklore is truly a fable or superstition. It will be up to your own explorations and common sense to dig deeper and decide which are fable and which are facts. Don’t be afraid to get a little dirty when you get your feet wet, most of all, have fun!