Questions tagged [folklore]

For questions on the traditional beliefs, customs and stories of a community or culture.

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What is the world's oldest joke?

What is the world's oldest joke? I mean the earliest known story, set of affairs, or action that people spread to other people in order to cause the receivers to be amused.
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23 votes
2 answers
1k views

Do Welsh fairies marry human women?

The Welsh Tylwyth Teg, or fairies, is said to take human mates. This website mentions how: There are many tales of intermarriage between faeries and humans, and advice on how to make sure you ...
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21 votes
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Where does the story of selling one's soul to the devil first occur in Christian myth?

Many people have been said to have soul their soul to Satan. Musicians such as Robert Johnson and Niccolò Paganini are said to have sold their soul for their musical virtuosity. Faust provides ...
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21 votes
1 answer
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Does any folklore of Pictish origin survive in Britain or Ireland?

There is a sheep-counting system in northern England, also used for counting stitches in knitting, which derives from a Brythonic Celtic language. Is there any surviving folklore that is known or ...
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20 votes
1 answer
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What is the relationship between werewolves and vampires in Balkan folklore?

In Balkan folklore, several words that originally meant werewolf (e.g. the Bulgarian vǎrkolak and the Serbian vulkodlak) either ended up being used for both creatures or for vampires alone (e.g the ...
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19 votes
2 answers
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What is the meaning of not giving clothes to supernatural helpers?

There is a theme that I found in several folk tales from Ireland to Russia - although mostly in Irish/Celtic stories. It is where a house has supernatural helpers, who do work overnight. However, the ...
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18 votes
3 answers
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Did the word "fairies" originate after the creation of stories about fairies?

From Wiktionary: Fairy : Etymology From Middle English fairie, from Old French faerie, the -erie abstract of fae, from Vulgar Latin Fāta (“goddess of fate”), from Latin fātum (“fate”) This seems ...
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16 votes
1 answer
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Is there a connection between the use of the metaphor "black dog" for depression and the black dog of British folklore?

"The black dog" has been used as a metaphor for depression or sulking since at least 1790. Today it is used to denote depression and sometimes a broader range of mental illnesses. For example, in ...
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15 votes
1 answer
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Pre-Tolkien Orcs in myths or folklore?

So what I'm trying to understand is what exactly pre-Tolkien orcs were like in regards to folklore. I understand that Tolkien has had a massive influence on how we conceptualize many creatures from ...
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14 votes
1 answer
247 views

When did Korrigans become part of the Breton folklore?

Korrigans are part of the modern Breton folklore, as water spirits. Some sources give them an origin in ancient Gaul (Thomas Keightley's 1892 "The Fairy Mythology" for instance). Is there any evidence ...
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13 votes
3 answers
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What are the origins of the snowman?

In many countries where snow falls there is a folk tradition of building snowmen. Almost always male, these temporary statues are usually human in scale, standing 0.5 to 2 metres tall, and made from a ...
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13 votes
1 answer
891 views

How was Guan Yu deified?

Guan Yu was a real general who lived almost 2000 years ago, but was deified as early as the Sui dynasty (circa 7th century). He is still an important figure of Chinese folklore today, worshipped by ...
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13 votes
2 answers
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Are there any elf like creatures in non-European folklore?

I know that the elves didn't survive the transatlantic crossing but are there any stories of elves or similar creatures in other world mythologies?
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13 votes
1 answer
606 views

Why doesn't Mukiti want Mwindo to visit his aunt?

In the african folklore epic Muwindo, Muwindo goes to see his aunt Iyangura after his father attempts to murder him. However, the husband of Iyangury, Mukiti, does not want Muwindo to do so and blocks ...
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13 votes
1 answer
342 views

Where did the notion the moon was made of cheese originate?

We've all at one point or another heard something about the moon being made of cheese- does anyone know where this myth got started?
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12 votes
1 answer
1k views

What is the oldest traditional children's game?

Many traditional children's games are of fairly recent origin. For example, the game of conkers dates back no further than the 19th century, making it no more than about 10 generations old. The ...
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12 votes
1 answer
307 views

Are there parallels between Ymir/Auðumbla and Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox besides the obvious?

It's something I've been thinking about for many years now and I figured I might as well ask, as there seems to be an exceptional Norse mythology braintrust on this site. By "obvious" parallels, I am ...
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12 votes
1 answer
776 views

What’s the origin of the Weird Sisters in Macbeth?

The use of a trio of witches is quite common in literature and lore. Greek, Slavic, and British tales have used them as antagonists or catalysts in their (sometimes cautionary) stories. In other ...
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11 votes
3 answers
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Cows adapted to life on a steep hillside

I'm trying to remember the details of a legend I read years ago - and I don't even remember which body of folklore it came from - about a hero with a herd of cows, all of whom had legs on one side ...
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11 votes
1 answer
261 views

Crystal taped to radiator?

I bought a house and found a crystal taped to the radiator. Anyone know why someone would want to tape a crystal to the radiator? It looks like a mountain crystal but as I'm not knowledgeable about ...
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11 votes
2 answers
456 views

What is the source for this legend about baking virgin's blood into breads?

Rabbi Solomon ibn Verga writes the following in his work Shevet Yehuda (Ch. 7): A temple of Lucifer/Venus had a statue with a phallic device which was used to deflower virgins brought in for that ...
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10 votes
2 answers
311 views

Are there any stories that present solar eclipses as a good sign?

I have been reading about solar eclipses and it appears most cultures view them as a bad sign. For example, according to the article Solar Eclipses in History and Mythology it appears that all ...
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10 votes
1 answer
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What was the first example of a "Only true love can awake" in folklore?

Snow White's story (unabridged): And now the king’s son had it carried away by his servants on their shoulders. And it happened that they stumbled over a tree-stump, and with the shock the ...
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10 votes
2 answers
877 views

Have any cultures of N, NW or E Europe used symbols for warding off the "evil eye" that are related to ones used around the Mediterranean?

Painted figures on the prows of boats and amulets for warding off the "evil eye", sometimes themselves called "evil eyes", are used around the Mediterranean and connected seas (North Africa, the ...
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  • 474
10 votes
1 answer
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Origin of "horses that instinctively open a vein with their teeth in order to breathe more freely"

In Goethe's Sorrows of Young Werther (1774), we find this sentence: Man erzählt von einer edlen Art Pferde, die, wenn sie schrecklich erhitzt und aufgejagt sind, sich selbst aus Instinkt eine Ader ...
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10 votes
1 answer
710 views

What is the origin of horse brasses depicting sun, moon, star, and wheel?

In England and other countries, many shire, cart and parade horses carry brasses, which often depict the sun, the crescent moon, a star, or a wheel. When did these designs first appear on horse ...
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10 votes
1 answer
2k views

What is the source of the belief that the seventh son of a seventh son is a clairvoyant?

The Iron Maiden song Seventh Son of a Seventh Son was inspired - according to Steve Harris - by the folklore belief that the seventh son of a seventh son has clairvoyant powers: “I just had a ...
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9 votes
1 answer
249 views

Zombies and ways of stopping them?

I know that there’s a wide variety of zombies. Now my question is what are the versions of them & how are they stopped from attacking the living? Zombies are (now these days) considered mindless ...
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9 votes
2 answers
247 views

Why is easter called 'easter'?

The Christian feast of 'easter' is based on the ancient Yewish religious feast (their main one), is widely spread and was linked to remember the 'Passion of Christ'. Recall that 'Christianity' started ...
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9 votes
2 answers
1k views

What is the oldest known version of the Thessalonike legend?

Thessalonike was the daughter of Phillip II of Macedon, and a half sister to Alexander III of Macedon. Legend has it that when Alexander died, Thessalonike "became a mermaid passing judgment on ...
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9 votes
1 answer
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Does Pippi Longstocking have mythological roots?

Failing that, is she based on or similar to any characters in folklore of the region? As far as I know, the extraordinarily compelling children's character was purely an invention of the author, ...
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9 votes
1 answer
217 views

Were the grottoes of the Mitcham Fair in South London really connected with the veneration of St. James of Compostela?

In Mitcham in South London, children often used to build "grottoes" out of pebbles, pieces of broken pottery, candles, and sometimes shells, flowers, or pieces of mirror. They would ask for "a penny ...
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9 votes
2 answers
3k views

How old is the belief that spilling salt is unlucky and should be followed by throwing a pinch of salt over the shoulder?

In much of Europe it is believed to be unlucky to spill salt, and it is thought advisable that someone who spills it should throw a pinch of it over their left shoulder. How old is this belief?
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9 votes
2 answers
541 views

Are there any ancient unicorn myths that originated from Tibet or its bordering regions?

I remember reading some years back how missionaries in Tibet were told stories of how prevalent in the 1800's the belief that there were unicorns living in the mountains of Tibet! Do any ancient ...
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9 votes
1 answer
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Who's afraid of steel? Is iron different?

In Swedish folklore, carrying something made of steel – a knife, a pair of scissors, or anything really – is said to ward off various dark forces, anything from trolls to witches. Where does this ...
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9 votes
1 answer
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Why can't a vrykolakas cross the sea?

In Paradoseis, Nikolaos Politis records the belief that a vrykolakas cannot cross the sea. More specifically, tale 933 explains how the people of Myconos kept themselves safe from vrykolakes by ...
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9 votes
1 answer
223 views

How did you survive my 100-step punch?

I remember from long ago a story about a martial artist, The Bully, who was renowned for his "100-step punch": if he lands the blow, you will die after taking 100 steps. One day another martial ...
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9 votes
1 answer
265 views

Why do so many cultures have monsters that prey on families?

While researching La Llorona and vampiresses, I noticed that lots of cultures have predominantly female monsters that use deception to prey on families. Lamia that prey on young men and children, deer ...
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9 votes
1 answer
455 views

Why did Unkulunkulu send the lizard after the chameleon?

In Chapter II: Where Man Came From, and How Death Came of Alice Werner's Myths and Legends of the Bantu we find the chameleon legend of the Bantu people. The legend explains how death came into the ...
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8 votes
3 answers
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Are vampires called anything else in European folklore?

Does there exist alternative names for vampires? Perhaps an euphemism; for example, in Harry Potter, those who feared Voldemort called him "He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named" in lieu of his real name. Or ...
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8 votes
2 answers
1k views

What is the origin of these creatures in Appalachian folklore?

My family (for these intents and purposes) comes from the mountains of Appalachian southern Virginia. The older folks told tales of three specific monsters as warning against wayward children ...
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8 votes
1 answer
915 views

What pagan or folk customs and beliefs relate to Pentecost (Whitsun)?

Whitsun, also called Whit Sunday and Pentecost, is the Sunday 49 days after the Christian festival of Easter and in the Gregorian calendar it falls on a date between 10 May and 13 June. What pagan or ...
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8 votes
0 answers
233 views

Is there any folklore in non-European culture that may be an attempt to "explain" similar to changeling myths in Western Europe and Scandinavia?

It has been suggested by some authors that stories of changelings in Scandinavia and western Europe are an attempt by ancient peoples used to try and explain developmental abnormalities in children, ...
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8 votes
0 answers
224 views

What are the earliest known origins of Sasquatches in Native American culture in the Americas?

What are the earliest known origins of Sasquatches in Native American culture of North or South America? Almost everybody has heard about these mysterious creatures known as Sasquatches or Bigfoot, ...
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7 votes
3 answers
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What is the specific term for those creatures that exist because people believe in them?

So recently i have seen in films and series about this oddities that exist in our reality because people believe in them. Something that exist because of the collective imagination from people that ...
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  • 179
7 votes
1 answer
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When were "air quotes" first used?

When did speakers first draw in the air with their fingers to indicate that a word or phrase should be heard as if between quotation marks?
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7 votes
2 answers
268 views

The unreadable book: Voynich manuscript?

What are, if any, the most plausible mythical origins and legends surrounding the unreadable book also known as the Voynich manuscript? What do legends, folklore or myths have to say as to what is ...
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7 votes
2 answers
74 views

What are the origins of April Fools' Day?

On April Fools' Day, 1 April, it's the custom in several cultures to play practical jokes and to spread hoax stories. Where and when did this custom originate?
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7 votes
1 answer
12k views

What was the origin of the nursery rhyme "Don't care was made to care"?

Many a child who has expressed indifference has had the following verse spoken to them: Don’t care was made to care, Don’t care was hung: Don’t care was put in a pot And boiled till he was ...
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7 votes
1 answer
2k views

What is the earliest known instance of "When Shepherds Washed their Socks by Night", the children's version of the Christmas carol?

A popular Christmas carol runs While shepherds watch'd their flocks by night, All seated on the ground, The angel of the Lord came down, And glory shone around in its first verse. It was ...
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