Two from First Things

3 11 2010

I don’t really understand essays like this. Marriage to a certain extent has always been something you entered when you were prosperous enough to do so. And people have always been sleeping around prior to marriage. In some places, it was mandatory lest you marry someone who could not have children. Bastards and single parenthood were also more common than some people concede. Perhaps it would be better for culture warriors to “preach to the reality” rather than come up with technocratic reasons as to why the reality is so disordered. Human life has always been disordered.

I also don’t know what David B. Hart is smoking, but I wish someone would hook me up with his dealer. I think I have been thinking of this issue recently, and while I sympathize with Hart’s longing to see nymphs and fairies, I have to say that such things are not of our world. Do they exist? Perhaps that is the wrong question to ask. In general, I think modern people have a very different sense of natural reality than those particularly in rural and agrarian societies. Going back into the folklore of both my and my wife’s families (both rural, Catholic cultures) there were such things as the feux follets that wandered the roads at night, the spirits of the unsettled dead. There were duendes, the souls in Purgatory, and people with mysterious healing powers. But one has to ask: did these things exist because of a certain power of suggestion, or did they exist in their own right, and does such a question add or subtract from their power over human consciousness?

In Catholic unofficial religious thought, things only have power if you believe in them. Even Our Lord in the Gospels could not work many miracles where there was little belief. Perhaps the epistemological insight of the Gospel is that the human mind doesn’t know its own strength. Maybe the modern skeptical exercise of asking, “yes, but is it real?”, while useful, misses the point. The reality is often in the asking of the question; the power often lies in belief and not in the object of belief itself.

The bewitched automobile

29 09 2010

Well, now, I’ll tell a story what happened to an old lady and her husband down close Hanover. They decided they’d buy themselves a new car – so they did. Well, when Saturday evening come, why, the old gentleman said to his wife, “Now, let’s take a ride in the new car, this evening.” “All right.” They started off and they got in as fer as Hanover. And right at the square in Hanover the care stopped. Nobody could start it. They done everything they knowed, got garage fellows there to look at it, nobody could find anything wrong. Car wouldn’t move. Somebody said, “Well, you go out to Mrs. K. and tell her about this.”

Went out to Mrs. K and told her, and Mrs. K said, “Well, I’ll write you a piece of paper here and you don’t – you’re not to read it. You take it back to the car and put it on the starter and put your foot on this paper, on the starter, and,” she said, “your car will go.” And so they did. Went back a whole crowd around the car. They put this piece of paper on the starter and he put his foot on it, and the car started right off, and away they went. Didn’t have no more trouble that evening with the car.

So the next morning some time, why, they got someone come and said, “Well, the neighbor woman over there is awful sick.” “Well,” they said, “what’s wrong with her?” Said, “She’s in bed, she’s jist that sick she can’t be up.” And this was the woman that put the spell on the automobile. And Mrs. K. fixed her business fer her that she didn’t bother nobody around there fer awhile.

-Text from Don Yoder, “Witch tales from Adams County”, from south-central Pennsylvannia, found in Buying the Wind: Regional Folklore in the United States.

On Platonic ideas

18 08 2010

Thence, Mr. Kirk glides into that singular theory of savage metaphysics which somewhat resembles the Platonic doctrine of Ideas. All things, in Red Indian belief, have somewhere their ideal counterpart, or “Father”. Thus, a donkey, when first seen, was regarded as “the Father” or archetype. “of rabbits”. Now, the second-sighted behold the “Double-man,” “Doppelganger”, “Astral Body”,” “Wraith,” or what you will, of a living person, and that is merely his counterpart in the abstruse world… From personal experience, and the experience of friends, I am constrained to believe that we may think we see a person who is not really present to the view – who may be in the next room or downstairs, or a hundred miles off. This experience has occured to the sane, the unimaginative, the healthy, the free of superstition, and in circumstances by no means mystic… All things universally have their types, their reflex: a man’s type, or reflex, or “co-walker” may be seen at a distance from or near him during his life – nay, may be seen after his death.

-Andrew Lang, in the introduction to Robert Kirk’s The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns, and Fairies

Folklore as philosophy

16 06 2010

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La ciencia de la investigación folklórica estudia los hechos culturales que se dan en comunidades lo menos contaminadas posible con la cultura contemporánea, con el progreso, tal como ocurre en las ciudades. Hay que meterse por caminos laterales, llegar a pueblos, patear horas y horas. Son lugares donde apenas hay escuelas primarias, o ni siquiera eso, donde se guarda un hondo sentido tradicional con los ancestros. Las danzas mapuches, por ejemplo, son rogativas a los dioses, costumbres que vienen de los antepasados, relacionadas con la explicación de fenómenos. Cada paso de la danza representa algo de su mundo interior y exterior. El folklore es filosofía, es tomar una actitud seria frente a diferentes hechos de la vida.

The science of folkloric investigation studies the cultural facts present in communities that are the least contaminated by contemporary culture, or with progress, as is the case in cities. You have to go off the beaten path, find villages, walk for hours and hours. They are places that barely have an elementary school, or not even that, where they maintain the deep traditional sense of their ancestors. Mapuche dances, for example, are prayers to the gods, customs that come down to them from their predecessors, related with the explanation of natural phenomena. Every step of the dance represents something of their interior and exterior worlds. Folklore is philosophy: it is to take a serious attitude before different events in life.

-Felix Coluccio, the great Argentine folklorist, found here

Coluccio later in the interview speaks of the decline of folkloric communities. It is hard to figure out how much longer folklore will survive in the Western world. Personally, I have wanted to buy a recorder and begin recording all of the stories of my parents’ and grandparents’ generations. Growing up, my mother would tell us stories, but the natural inclination of children is to ignore these stories, since the main characteristic of youth is to have itchy ears.

Having proceeded slowly into adulthood, I no longer have much enthusiasm for official theology, official history, politics, philosophy, or anything else deemed high culture in the intellectual sense. I have my favorites, to be sure. But what is missing from these is a solid and rich ground of being: a common mythology that we can all sink our teeth into and plant our feet on. Folklore is not just philosophy, but first philosophy. It isn’t just the subject of social science, but of metaphysics. In an intellectual sense, I am fast concluding that it is the only way out.