We have a better understanding of folklore (which took far too long), but what is the difference between folklore, mythology, and all the rest? Well, this is actually simpler. All mythology is folklore, but not all folklore is mythology. It’s like those logic problems from the SAT: All squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares.
Myths are stories, and while stories can and do accompany the majority of folklore in the world, they are not the absolute limits. Some aspects of folklore do not come from a culture’s mythology, but from practical necessity. A specific festival might have a mythological story behind it, explaining the cultural reasons for the festival, but specific traditional dishes served at the festival might not be part of that story.
However, stories can arise from traditions and become mythology quite easily. If we go back to that football game, a particularly interesting game might create a good story where the match was close and several good plays near the end of the game, the team achieved victory. Or the referee had it in for the team, so they lost, explaining their defeat. This metaphor could just as easily be the Trojan War instead of football, one of the definitive sources of Greek mythology.
Myths explain the why behind much of the folklore, and, I would argue, are the best method of preserving and understanding a given culture. Gaining entrance to football culture cannot be guaranteed through the assimilation of information. Like the episode of The Big Bang Theory where Leonard attempts to fit in with Penny’s football friends, all he ends up doing is spewing facts, which demonstrates he is not part of the culture. However, if he had come to know the stories, understanding them the same way he understands his comic books and science fiction, he would have had a much better chance at gaining acceptance.
The story elements provide context and insight about the people, even after they have disappeared, so that the culture can be rediscovered. Without the stories, we can still appreciate what remains at an aesthetic level—such as admiring the craftsmanship and artistry of a Navajo rug—but we can never fully appreciate what it means to the people. We know the piece of lore is important to the culture, but we won’t know why it was important to them.
Consider Stonehenge. Obviously, the stone structure was significant to the builders, but without the story to go along with it, we can only guess at its purpose and significance. Is it a solar observatory? A calendar? A mathematical puzzle? A map? A site for religious ritual? A marketplace?
Contrast this with the Trojan Horse. We know that it was a gift serving to deceive the Trojans. The Greeks hid inside it in order to gain entrance to the city in order to let their own army in, conquering the city. We know this because of the stories that were passed down surrounding the war. We don’t have to guess, though the guesswork would be as far ranging as that of Stonehenge.
Up next Fairy Tales and Urban Legends