Friday, 28 February 2014

A free, online "special virtual issue" of the Folklore journal: "Folklore and Paganism"

The peer-reviewed academic journal Folklore, brought out three times a year by the UK-based Folklore Society, is probably the most prestigious publication in the world of folkloristics. (And I'm not just saying that because I have a paper coming out in their next issue!). Having been published since 1878, when it started out under the title of the Folk-Lore Record, over the years the journal has acted as the vehicle for some really important research and paradigm-shifting papers. Now, five of these papers have been assembled together and published online for free as part of a "virtual special issue" on the subject of "Folklore and Paganism", which I'm sure will be of great interest to many of my readers.

The logo of the Folklore Society
Included are some really important papers that have been published since 1895: Arthur J. Evans' article on the folklore of the Rollright Stones, Lady Raglan's pioneering study of the Green Men, Jacqueline Simpson's critical deconstruction of Margaret Murray's erroneous Witch-Cult theory, Venetia Newall's ethnographic analysis of the Allendale Fire Festival, and Robert J. Wallis and Jenny Blain's discussion of contemporary Pagan uses of archaeological monuments. The special issue is all brought together by an audio introduction from Dr. Juliette Wood, a former President of the Folklore Society and one of the world's foremost living folklorists. 

Together, they offer a good illustration of how, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it was common for folklorists to adhere to the doctrine of survivalism; that remnants of rural folklore in their own time represented fossils that had survived from the pre-Christian era. It also illustrates how, in the latter 20th century, folklorists played a key role in deconstructing this notion, and showing that most rural folklore had little or nothing to do with genuine pre-Christian religious beliefs and practices, and was often a lot more recent that had ever before been thought. And again, it offers good evidence for how the contemporary Pagan movement has built on these earlier scholarly misconceptions to develop spiritualities for the modern world, which have again fed in to the development of new folklore. It is my sincere hope that my forthcoming paper in Folklore, which looks at the use of the folklore surrounding megaliths by the Wiccan community (using the Rollrights as a case study) will further help to elucidate on these phenomenon.

The virtual special issue can be accessed here for free. This is a wonderful development given the high paywalls that academic research is often hidden behind, and I hope that many people out there who aren't fortunate enough to have access to a good university library will make use of this opportunity, download the issue, and enjoy the papers contained therein.


  1. Given the range of material available from the journal's history, why do you think that this free issue leans so heavily on Pagan-related content?

    1. That's a very interesting question Chas, but I am afraid that it is one for which I don't have the answer. You'd probably have to ask Juliette Wood to find out precisely why this theme was chosen; I should point out however that they have covered other subjects in previous special virtual issues, such as "Death, Burial and the Afterlife" and "Folklore Studies and Arthurian Tradition", so they certainly didn't go straight for paganism. I would suggest that this theme might have been chosen because the journal's editorial team are well aware of the great public interest in paganism (including from the Pagan community), which would of course make it more likely that a fairly substantial number of people would go ahead and read it. At the same time, most British folklorists whom I have encountered have expressed dissatisfaction that practitioners from other disciplines (namely history and archaeology) still operate under the erroneous idea that folklorists continue to adhere to the survivalist doctrine, and thus this virtual issue might partly serve to counter this erroneous belief.