My parents met in the folk club my mother and grandmother were running. Folk music featured heavily in my childhood. I was terrified of mummers as a child. Not only did I get exposed to the more usual rounds of Greek mythology, Robin Hood and King Arthur, but also to other folklore of the British Isles. I grew up in a landscape rich with story. For me, folk is something you do, not something you pin to a board and leave, dead and dry to gather dust. I am deeply invested in the idea of living tradition.
The trouble with folklore is that there are some folklore academics, and people who wish to align with what they think academic approaches to folklore look like, who want to police it. They want dead things pinned to boards. They have rules about what folklore is, and it is all about what is in the past, and what has been widely accepted already. They actively exclude living tradition people from the folklore playground.
Not all folklore academics, mind you. I’ve had some brilliant conversations recently with people who see folk as a process not a product, and for whom the living tradition is just as important as the history. I’ve got books to hunt out and people to read and I’ll be back to talk about this excellent stuff more when I’ve had chance to dig in. Because for me, dialogue between folklorists and living tradition people is a good thing when that’s an open conversation and not one set of people trying to tell the other set what they are allowed to be, and do.
I take this all very personally. My land stories, my relationship with songs and places and tales, with mumming and history and the imagination are threads that run through my life. They are part of how I see myself and understand myself. I’m by no means alone in this. To tell a living tradition person that they are outside of folklore, that they don’t have any right to have what they contribute taken seriously, is, frankly, offensive. Folklore and tradition are living things, made by people, changed by people – the people at the cutting edge of it should not be excluded from it.
This is especially important for modern Pagans. So many people are working with old stories, personal gnosis and vision and the realities of our modern world to create a living tradition that is both rooted and relevant.
But, as folklore is a living thing, it has the means to wriggle out of the hands of gatekeepers and those who would kill it and pin it up for scrutiny. Folk traditions have always resisted authority – folk remains dirty, plural, messy, contradictory, full of re-invention and innovation, becoming whatever people need it to be at the time. Folklore, as one of my fellow comrades in living tradition points out, has a habit of biting on the arse anyone who thinks they can own it.