Thursday, December 25, 2014

To Drive the Cold Winter Away

All hayle to the dayes,
That merite more praise,
    then all the rest of the yeare:
And welcome the nights,
That double delights,
    as well the poore as the Peere:
Good fortune attend,
Each merry mans friend,
    that doth but the best that he may:
Forgetting old wrongs,
With Carrols and Songs,
    to drive the cold winter away .

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Ambrose, Myrddin Wyllt, and the Antichrist

Attempting to create the Antichrist and so bring about the end of days, Satan impregnated a virgin, but, wise to his designs, she ensured that the child would be baptized immediately after its birth. The child was thus a Christian and saved from the power of the Devil, but nonetheless inherited prophetic powers from his diabolical heritage.

So runs one version of the origin story of Merlin, from a text worthy of its own post later. But the Doylist origin of the Merlin character is even more intriguing.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Thomas Malory

The hoole booke of kyng Arthur & of his noble knyghtes of the rounde table, or, as its publisher rechristened it, Le Morte Darthur, is a Middle English compilation of stories about the Matter of Britain, written by Sir Thomas Malory. Derived principally from the Vulgate Cycle (a set of Old French romances about Arthurian subjects) and from earlier Middle English poetic works, it is one of the major sources for Arthurian legend today (in large part because it was a favorite of English Romantics in the 19th century). It was printed by William Caxton in 1485, a few years after its author's death.

It is a work which offers high ideals about chivalry - ideals that seem to be at odds with the life story of its author.

Friday, December 19, 2014

To the Queen

O loyal to the royal in thyself,
And loyal to thy land, as this to thee--
Bear witness, that rememberable day,
When, pale as yet, and fever-worn, the Prince
Who scarce had plucked his flickering life again
From halfway down the shadow of the grave,

The Ongoing Arthurian Revival

Nineteenth-century Romantics are a major source of our current understanding of the Matter of Britain. Their involvement has codified the versions of the stories now most often thought of as "canon" by enthusiasts of the legends, smoothed out the conflicts between different stories, and thus leveled off a lot of the detail of interest to the historical folklorist that's found in the early sources. But their interest is also why the Matter of Britain is well-known at all - today, few people other than enthusiasts of medieval history or French literature can tell the story of the death of Roland, few who haven't studied the classics could give you a summary of the life story of Alexander the Great or any part of the history of pre-Homeric Thebes, westerners know the Romance of the Three Kingdoms and the Journey to the West only if they study East Asian culture in at least a little bit of depth, but King Arthur has been on Broadway twice, riffs on the story can draw big box-office crowds in part by trading on how they differ from the classic story, and as much as it departs from the traditional plot, the BBC's Merlin can still expect the audience to feel like a significant moment just happened when an episode ends by revealing a child character's name to be Mordred.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Kings of Pre-Roman and Sub-Roman Britain

Nearly all of our knowledge of the history of the Britons during the Roman and Sub-Roman periods comes from chronicles written by historians writing during the medieval period. This is a problem, because these chronicles are laughable at best.

Friday, October 31, 2014


Editor's note: the conventions of the modern American fireside ghost story tradition are under-studied by academic folklorists, so far as I can discern, but have been in place since at least the middle of the nineteenth century. In honor of Halloween, I figured I'd tell one.

"Of course you all know the rules on how to pee in the woods. We've all heard them, and they're important, so let's not be too embarrassed to review."

There are instructions for a lot of things about camping. I knew them already, because this was not my first year at camp, but the refresher was always helpful. We were getting ready for the annual overnight backpacking trip where we would spend a few nights sleeping under a tarp with our sister cabin, and there were many things we had to know. We had a brief refresher in leaving no trace, and we learned the essentials of camping skills - like how to use the bathroom when you're out on the trail.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Michigan Dogman: a case study in myth-making

Where England has its Black Shuck and the pine barrens of New Jersey have the Jersey Devil, Michigan has the Dogman, a creature said to resemble a dog or a dog-human hybrid that is sighted in years ending in 7. Sometimes it is thought to change shape, like a werewolf. Like these other cases, it seems probable that cultural legends shape how people perceive the spooks of the darkness which the idle brain generates from misunderstood or imagined stimuli - but in the case of Michigan, we know precisely where the legend comes from, and so we can see the myth-making process in action.

There is no reality hiding behind the Dogman. The entire legend was created in 1987 as an April Fools' joke.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Big Bad Wolf

"The worst sort of wolves are hairy on the inside..." - Angela Carter, "The Company of Wolves"

Fairytales, as we know them today, hit their stride as a genre at the French court in the 17th century, coinciding roughly with the Maunder Miminum - a period within the Little Ice Age when sunspot activity pushed European temperatures to the coldest they have been in recorded history. As this is also an era when werewolves are often put on trial in France, and when German superstition holds that charms may be bought to repel wolf attacks, perhaps it is no surprise that one of the most famous and memorable folkloric villains to come out of the fairytale tradition is the Big Bad Wolf.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Dogs and Death in European Mythologies

Many pre-Christian European mythologies contain a dog or dog-like creature which is intimately associated with death, and in particular with the land of the dead. It is likely for this reason that a large black dog has often been claimed, in more recent centuries, as an ill omen, and they persist in similar forms in folklore to the present day.

Sunday, October 19, 2014


The death of a wolf in the French countryside in 1767 put an end to a town's fear that it was a victim of witchcraft, of a lycanthropic sorcerer, or of the depredations of a demon come out of Hell itself. But the three years of vicious attacks which spawned these theories remain a source of speculation and fear to this day. It's also one of the few examples of cryptozoology in the most literal sense - an animal whose true nature remains hidden to scholars.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Wolves and the Weather

In 1450, a pack of wolves entered Paris through a gap in the city walls and ate 40 of the citizens before they were killed. France records a number of prominent predatory wolf attacks on humans in the 18th century. In Germany, beginning in the late middle ages but reaching a zenith in the early modern period, we find records of the Wolfbann, a magic charm spoken to cause wolf wolves to attack a particular intended target, and the Wolfsegen, a charm to ward off such attacks. It is in the same period that werewolf trials are at their peak, and we find the character of the Big Bad Wolf developing in fairy stories from the seventeenth century.

It's almost as if something was making Europeans more concerned about wolves for a couple hundred years.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Werewolves of Early Modern Europe

As Marie de France tells us, a werewolf as traditionally understood is "a savage beast when the fury's on it" - and, if we follow the reading where his wife's powerful fear of angering him is a telling one, her werewolf meets this description as much in his untransformed state as in his transformed one. But part of the point of the folktales typed as AT449 (which includes both Marie's "Bisclavret" and the Arthurian tale of Melion, which it greatly resembles) is the fact that they present the werewolf as victim rather than as monster, whereas Marie's prologue makes it clear this is an unexpected reversal.

What did a medieval audience expect from a werewolf tale?

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Lai of Bisclavret

Since I'm making lais, Bisclavret
Is one I don't want to forget.
In Breton, "Bisclavret"'s the name;
"Garwolf" in Norman means the same.
Long ago you heard the tale told--
And it used to happen, in days of old--
Quite a few men became garwolves,
And set up housekeeping in the woods.
A garwolf is a savage beast,
While the fury's on it, at least:
Eats men, wreaks evil, does no good,
Living and roaming in the deep wood.
Now I'll leave this topic set.
I want to tell you about Bisclavret.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Witch Craze and Modern Penis Panics

It's a well-known fact that Early Modern Europe, most especially Britain and Germany, saw a wave of panicked trial and execution of an unexpectedly high number of people, mostly women, thought to be witches. What's perhaps more surprising is that this first seems to manifest, not from an attempt to destroy some subterranean magical cult as imagined by Margaret Mead, nor from a generic McCarthy-like fear of infiltration by the enemy as in Miller's famous theatrical depiction of witch trials in colonial America, but from a highly specific sort of hysterical panic on the part of men. Witch trials in sixteenth-century Europe seem, based on the writings of those involved in them, to have been about an unusual male fear which has prompted similar outbreaks of judicial or extrajudicial violence around the world, including in the present day.

The central idea of the witch panic, in its earliest days, was the fear of having your penis stolen. From this bizarre beginning, Europeans launched themselves into a frenzy of torture and execution of alleged witches which lasted centuries.

Friday, September 19, 2014

And most wickedly I did as I sailed

My name is Captain Kidd, as I sailed, as I sailed
Oh my name is Captain Kid, as I sailed
My name is Captain Kidd, and God's laws I did forbid
And most wickedly I did, as I sailed

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Let Friendship and Honor Unite

What's the Spring, breathing Jessamine and Rose,
What's the Summer, with all its Gay train;
What's the Plenty of Autumn to those
Who have bartered their freedom for Gain.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Inventiveness in Oral Music on the North Carolina Coast

Not long ago I acquired an album - I use the term slightly generously - from Smithsonian Folkways entitled Between the Sound and the Sea: Music of the North Carolina Outer Banks. It's a glimpse into the last generation of a lost oral tradition in coastal North Carolina, as captured by a modern folklorist without the prejudices that bedeviled the antiquarian tradition of prior decades of folklore studies, and so serves as a perfect case study for the role of authorship in at least some oral cultures.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Late Medieval Phallus

Shortly after François I was crowned king of France, a procession was held commemorating the new king, said to be a celebration of le vit de François I. This title is a pun on the near homophony of the sixteenth century French words vie "life" and vit "penis"; the artists responsible drew a cart through the streets of Paris on which they displayed a gigantic sculpted penis and invited the populace to come flagellate it.

The motivation for the demonstration is unclear, but it arose in a cultural context which had been filled with phallic art in all media for the past several centuries.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Medieval Tourist Kitsch

As the growing middle class in the late Middle Ages found themselves at leisure to travel for pleasure, a tourism industry arose in Europe for the first time. The travelers were pilgrims, choosing as their destinations holy sites across Europe (though the motivation for making a trip at all was not always purely a religious one). And, of course, people in the places to which they traveled excelled at profiting from the new arrivals.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


The Charlemagne who appears in the legendary Matter of France is not always on the side of the heroes, and there are those who stand opposed to him - not only the villainous traitor Ganelon, but heroic characters as well who, at least at times, stand in opposition to the king. They are the central figures of their own sub-cycle within the legends, recorded in folktales as often as in literary chansons de geste. Notably, though, folklore remembers these people more for their horse than for their specific acts of defiance.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Lockhart's "March of Bernardo del Carpio"

With three thousand men of Leon, from the city Bernard goes
To protect the soil Hispanian from the spear of Frankish foes
From the city that is planted in the midst between the seas
To preserve the name and glory of Pelayo's victories

Bernardo del Carpio, Spanish culture hero

In the earliest chronicles, Roland is said to have died at the hands of Basques. In later versions, the mythologized battle of Roncesvalles is between him as commander of Charlemagne's rearguard and the Saracens. But in Spain, the story is told slightly differently; the battle is the climax of a legendarium focused around a different character entirely. That story asserts the primacy of an independent Spain, and gained prominence as the notion of a united Spanish realm with its own national identity was coming to the fore. Naturally, therefore, it figures strongly in the romancero viejo.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Book recommendation: Snorri's Edda, Faulkes trans.

Snorri Sturulson's prose Edda is a textbook for poets in the classic Nordic style. It is three textbooks, in fact, for there are three subjects Snorri sees it as essential for the skald to master, and devotes a section to each of them. It is unclear whether Snorri Sturulson wrote the entire text or merely compiled it, but his editorial hand definitely unites the text, and scholars are generally in agreement that the final third (on verse-forms) is his own composition.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Literary License in the Italian Orlando Epics

A Tartar king and several French paladins fight for the love of the Princess of Cathay, the Saracen king of Spain has pushed north into France and laid siege to Paris, and the greatest champions of the Saracen and Christian kingdoms have fallen in love.

So ends Matteo Maria Boiardo's unfinished epic Orlando Innamorato, which takes its inspiration from the legends concerning Carolingian France but leaves both legend and history in the dust as it spins its own story of the madness of love. Written in the 15th century, and abandoned when Boiardo's native Venice was plunged into war with a Muslim enemy once again, the thread is picked up by Ludovico Ariosto in his continuation, Orlando Furioso. Both stories are set during an attempted invasion of France by the Saracens, perhaps inspired by that stopped by Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours in 732, but in neither case do the details of the story bear any resemblance to the earlier legends which seem to serve as their inspiration, nor to the true history which lies behind the myths.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Karlamagnussaga: the Scandinavian Matter of France

Whether it's a translation of lost sources or primarily a compilation of lore based largely in ones we know is unclear (it's most likely a little of both), but the Old Norse Karlamagnussaga, or "Saga of Charlemagne," is one of the best sources we have for how medieval legend portrayed Charlemagne - all presented in the way that legend was shaped for presentation to a Scandinavian audience.

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Twelve Peers Prepare for Battle

When Rollant sees that now must be combat,
More fierce he's found than lion or leopard;
The Franks he calls, and Oliver commands:
"Now say no more, my friends, nor thou, comrade.
That Emperour, who left us Franks on guard,
A thousand score stout men he set apart,
And well he knows, not one will prove coward.
Man for his lord should suffer with good heart,
Of bitter cold and great heat bear the smart,
His blood let drain, and all his flesh be scarred.
Strike with thy lance, and I with Durendal,
With my good sword that was the King's reward.
So, if I die, who has it afterward
Noble vassal's he well may say it was."

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

England's Broken Sword

Among the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom is a broken sword. Its blade is missing about six inches at the business end. There are several legends, but no known facts, about where this came from and how it came to be this way. Today, it's known as the "Sword of Mercy," and used in coronations because it is symbolic of a monarch's need to be merciful.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Roland and the Death of Heroism

After failing to gain control of the Spanish city of Zaragoza, Charlemagne brought his troops back across the Pyrinees to France. As they crossed through the mountain pass at Roncesvalles, the rearguard was set upon by Basques (who likely mistook the army for an attack on their homeland), and many men died. Among them was Hruodland, prefect of the Breton marches.

This is history. These events are known to have happened. Hruodland died on the 15th of August, 778. The facts known to us from the early ninth century, as they appear in one of the first biographies of the emperor. Nothing else at all is known about Hruodland, and little about the battle in which he was killed (though Islamic sources preserve a great deal of information about why Charlemagne and his army were in Spain at that time in the first place). But the memory of the battle persisted oral lore, so that by the twelfth century it was an especially famous moment in the French national memory.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Three Matters of Medieval Literature

There are three subjects within the sphere of European history with which every educated High Medieval European reader could be expected to be familiar, for they serve to provide much of the content for a wealth of literature in the period: Classical Antiquity, Arthur's Britain, and Charlemagne's France. In no case was the expected knowledge terribly accurate (in fact it's probable one of the the three matters is a complete fabrication), but it's likely the stories were widely taken as, if not strictly factual, at least rooted in true history. And, tellingly, many of the later literary works dealing with these subjects assume the reader's familiarity with the material. The skill of the Medieval author lies in presenting a story well, with novel details and artful presentation, even more than in telling tales wholly unfamiliar to the audience.

These three subjects were recognized as important literary genres by the poet Jean Bodel (1165-1210), but continue to be prominent in literature up through the Early Modern Period. For example, there is an abundance of material on each subject in the Romancero Viejo tradition, though an even greater selection deals with the history of Spain. In each case, themes prevalent in the literature of the time and space in which the work is produced are introduced into the depiction of the past; much as, today, Robin Hood stories remain popular but the newest presentations of the material have come to be very different in character from the oldest, early modern Spanish presentations of Carolingian material will fairly consistently be spun in such a way as to attach glory to Spanish identity while also often showing a certain battle-weariness, whereas a Middle English retelling of a Classical myth will introduce anachronistic themes of knighthood, chivalry, and courtly love. These stories retained their prominence not because their themes were timeless and universal, but, on the contrary, because they could adapt to present themes that were especially weighty in the minds of their tellers. It takes a talented writer indeed to tell an old story known to the entire audience, while giving it a renewed significance that grants it an impact beyond any it may have had for them previously.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Liar's Dice

Oral lore among those who play has it that the Hispano-American game of Dudo (Sp., lit. "doubt" or "I doubt [it]", but also the word used to call a bluff made by the previous player) is the oldest of the games in the family collectively known as "liar's dice." The game is also called Perudo, after its supposed origins in Peru. (It's certainly known there, as well as in Spain.) The story goes that the game was brought back to Spain by the conquistadores, and all other variants flow from there; many people say specifically that the rules were taught to Francisco Pizarro by his prisoner, the Sapa Inca Atahuallpa.


There's no evidence for this origin, and plenty of reason to find it highly improbable. But the traditional game family is well worth playing, and the diversity of customs surrounding its play is worth a look.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Special Characters in Folk Festivals

Around the world, across many centuries, traditional festivals feature the portrayal of traditional characters unique to the occasion. Many of these have ancient roots, though every one can be seen to have changed over time. Such characters are, in general, anonymous (or at least able to step out of their performers' everyday selves), tied to the context in which they are seen, and consistent from one instance of the event to the next (even if the performers change as years go by); most are associated with dance or other performance.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Bedlam boys are bonny

To see mad Tom o' Bedlam
Ten thousand miles I'd travel
Mad Maudlin goes on dirty toes
To save her shoes from gravel
Still I sing bonny boys, bonny mad boys
Bedlam boys are bonny
For they all go bare and they live by the air
And they want no drink and no money

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Concerning What Happened to a Sencschal of Carcasona

Another time, when Count Lucanor was conversing with Patronio, he spoke to him in the following manner:

"Patronio, as I know that death is unavoidable, I would now, while I have yet time, found some work of charity which may hereafter be applied for the benefit of my soul, and of which good act all the world may be cognizant. I pray you, therefore, to advise me how best to accomplish this end."

"My lord," said Patronio, "whatever you do, whatever may be your object, or whatever your intentions, act always with honour and justice. But, as you desire to know how a man should act so as to benefit his soul and increase his reputation, I should be much pleased by being permitted to relate to you what happened to a Seneschal of Carcasona."

Exempla, Don Juan Manuel, and the Medieval Conscience

The Libro de los Enxiemplos del Conde Lucanor et de Patronio ("Book of the Exempla of Count Lucanor and of Patronio", usually just called "El Conde Lucanor" for short) is a fourteenth-century book of stories in the medieval genre known as the exemplum. An exemplum is a short anecdote about people with an obvious moral, told to illustrate some philosophical point; El Conde Lucanor is full of examples of the genre which shed light on its grand diversity of sources.

In El Conde Lucanor, the eponymous count is presented as having some problem in his life, and going to his advisor Patronio for assistance. In each case, Patronio tells him an exemplum, and the count realizes how it applies to his situation; in each case, the story is then told to Don Juan Manuel (author of El Conde Lucanor), who sets it in writing and adds a rhyming couplet which states the moral.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Ballad of the Loss of Alhama

The Moorish king was passing
Through the city of Granada
From the gate known as Elvira
To the one called Vivarrambla
Ay de mi, Alhama!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Onfim and Children's Art

How do children draw? Schematically. Badly. And, as it turns out, a lot like how they did 800 years ago.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Cantigas de Amigo

The cantigas de amigo, or "songs of a lover," are a genre of lyric poetry written in Galaic-Portuguese (a language ancestral to modern Portuguese and Galician) during the 12th and 13th centuries in the northwestern Iberian, reaching its zenith during the reign of Alfonso X of Castile. Their structure and content contrasts with contemporary poetry from other regions, as well as with other Galaic-Portuguese lyric, making it probable that they reflect an indigenous Iberian tradition of love poetry. Indeed, the only obvious parallel is with the Mozarabic kharja tradition, also unique to the Iberian.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Do You Suppose That He Will Come Today?

Did you see, mother, when my friend
promised that he would come to speak with me?
Do you suppose that he will come today?

Friday, January 31, 2014

Knattleikr: the Hurstwic Rules

Hurstwic is a Viking-age reenactment group in New England which plays a reconstructed version of knattleikr at some of their events.

Unstated, but evident, in the Hurstwic reconstruction is the notion that knattleikr is a member of the football family. As in football games, a ball is to be transported to the end of the field to score; unlike most, the players are also equipped with sticks, which are used both to start the plays and to impede the progress of opposing players. Given their placement of knattleikr in relation to other games, it's a great reconstruction - simple, but with the essence of the family in place, and with rules that make sure the ball will periodically be struck with the sticks and fly across the field.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Pete Seeger and the Modern Folk Music Landscape

Pete Seeger broke folk music.

Born in 1919, Seeger was a communist, labor-rights activist, WWII veteran, folksong collector, singer, songwriter, banjo and guitar player whose best-known band, the Weavers, gave birth to the folk music boom of the mid 20th century. Were it not for Seeger, American traditional music would remain a niche interest, ever fading. Were it not for Seeger, American traditional music would not be politicized. Were it not for Seeger, the twelve-string guitar would be virtually unknown in America.

The Rock Island Line is a mighty good road
The Rock Island Line is the road to ride

Pete Seeger died yesterday at the age of 94. His legacy in American folk music will forever be complicated, for how he at once rescued it from perpetual obscurity and inadvertently distorted the entire tradition to match his own tastes and politics.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Scant Evidence Available to Would-Be Reconstructors of Knattleikr

The Sagas and other early sources about Viking-age Scandinavia make it quite clear what recreational activities the authors of those sources considered most typical, and we have enough evidence to make a stab at reconstructing each one. The popular board game hnefatafl is a matter only of debate about the precise details of certain rules, which likely varied from one group of players to another anyhow, and other forms of tafl vary from it primarily in the precise size and original layout of the board. The popular sport of knattleikr, on the other hand, has far less detail available to us today from which to attempt to discern the rules. We're quite able to come up with conjectural answers, of course - but doing so rapidly becomes a perfect case study in the application (and, likely, misapplication) of outside notions of what the range of possibilities even looks like, for the details provided to us are scant.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Burns, Modernity, and the Folk Process

We've seen examples many times before of artists who rework folkloric material in a literary manner, to suit their own preferences. I myself have done so many times, both in condensing the longer ballads I translate into performable versions and in taking things I know from multiple sources and deriving a version which I eager to perform. On this blog, we've seen at least two examples of one of the most prolific poets to make extensive use of this tactic: the 18th-century Scottish poet Robert Burns.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Jokes of the Ancient World

A student dunce, after dreaming that he stepped on a nail, is bandaging his foot. His colleague asks why, and upon learning the reason, observes, "No wonder they call us dunces! Why on earth do you sleep barefoot?"

 - Philogelos 15, 4th c., William Berg trans.

The "student dunce" is Berg's translation of scholastikos, a university student; by reputation, they weren't especially bright. These characters feature in many of the jokes in the book. Other translations give the term as "egghead" or, playing to modern stereotypes, "professor;" Berg uses "student dunce" throughout.

There are older references to books of jokes, and there are isolated jokes preserved in writing from earlier centuries, but the 4th-century Greek Philogelos, or "Laughter Lover," is the oldest jokebook text which still survives. Some of the jokes continue to amuse, while others serve only to shed light on what cultural commonplaces of the book's own era could be mined for humor. The aforementioned stupidity of students is one, and similar things are said about the people of Sidon. Here are a few more examples:

Monday, January 6, 2014

Dietrich von Bern

The German legends of Dietrich von Bern are known to us only through literary sources - epic poems about him, the Old Norse Thidrekssaga (itself drawn from German material), mentions of the character in the Nibelungenlied (best known through Wagner's operatic adaptation, in which Dietrich also appears), and a few other sources. But the differences between these, and their distance from the historical characters on whom the legends are very probably based, make it clear that there was a widespread oral mythos surrounding Dietrich long before they were committed to paper.

The legends tell us that Dietrich is the heir to a kingdom in Italy, centered on Bern (Verona), until he is deposed by his uncle Ermenrich. In exile, Dietrich has a great many adventures; in most of the extant material, these are quite fantastical in nature and often include battles with dragons and other beasts of myth. (The episodes themselves often seem to draw on Tyrolean folklore; in some cases parallels are known with stories that are otherwise told about characters other than Dietrich von Bern.) At some point in the process, he arrives at the court of a king named Etzel, and either swears fealty to him or arranges an alliance; Etzel's army then conquers Bern and restores Dietrich to his throne.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Prestidigitation and Culture

The methods of magical performance are not usually seen as examples of folklore, but they have many of the same properties as a traditional story or ballad. Until recent times (and sometimes still today), techniques are passed along primarily orally, from one performer to another; many of the details of patter and other elements that make for an effective performance are also a result of each performer learning from what they have observed and selecting the elements which work the best for them. And so as with a lot of traditional material, effects pass through the years, sometimes lasting centuries but never quite passing on unchanged.