What is the difference between folklore and mythology?

2 Answers 2


Those are quite proximate terms: Mythology, folktales, legends, fairytales.

Generally this:

  • Mythology is a sacred text about the creation of the world, usually by a god/God, the creation or not of subsequent generation of gods, and the creation of the human race (insert any random accident here). Common examples are: The Holy Bible, Hesiod's Theogony, The Babylonian creation myth (enuma elish), the Rig Veda, etc.
  • Folktales are collection of tales from common people, so you will usually find animals, farmers, woodcutters, common people confronted to common problems. I lost my axe, let's pray Thor. We are lost in a forest how to find the way out. A princess is asleep an nothing can awaken her. I am only a common servant bullied by other people. You can find there elements of magic, sometimes gods, but not always. Folktales also comes in LOTS of versions. Even if common ones are known by a specific one as Perrault's or Grimm's. Folklore also tend to encompass lots of things. Especially the dreaded 'oral tradition'.
  • Legends: Generally speaking start with an historical fact transformed heavily. King Arthur is the easiest example in mind. There is a king Arthur in history but he has nothing to do with the legendary Arthur. Richard Lionheart is another fair example. Both a totally historical figure and also a kind of legendary paladin.

One of the major difference is mythology even if bearing incredible trace of magic is supposed to be true. This is how the world came to be, how the god(s) created the world and the human beings, and thus how the human beings are placing themselves (slaves, servants, sons, etc.) On the contrary folktales are supposed and expected to be that: tales. No one think seriously that a guy named Jack got a magical bean. Or a witch is leaving in a gingerbread house.

There is a fine line here between myths, legends, folktales. Dracula gives you good example of someone who can be easily identified as common folk knowledge when it is at first a precise character in a precise novel. He is part of the modern folklore even if the image of him in modern folklore is far appart from Dracula in the novel. Which also make Vlad, his human model, a fair legend.

In general, mythology is considered a subset of folklore. Most universities will put mythology in their folklore courses. And considering the Antique, the line can be very very thin. The Babylonian Gilgamesh is an historical character, a true legend, a national hero, a character in a story, and a god, all at the same time.

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    Can you support anything in this answer? Not saying it's wrong, but it is rife with phrases like "most universities will put mythology in their folklore courses." Are your definitions of Mythology, Folklore and Legends the formal definitions in the field, or are you proposing them? It's hard to know when the answer provides no citations.
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Feb 21, 2018 at 16:38

A myth is a true, or seeming, knowledge of the world, accepted by the bearer of mythological consciousness as valid and unquestionable, unlike folklore, which is not obliged to be perceived as something true and life-like. Folklore is an artistic and aesthetic representation of the world and, being a kind of product of mythology, it retains some of its features, but does not become equal to it.

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