How to Use Folklore in Your Magick
Why is folklore important?
Folklore is defined in the dictionary as "the traditional beliefs, customs, and stories of a community, passed through the generations by word of mouth". Luckily, some of our predecessors and ancestors were inspired to record some of these beliefs and stories so that future generations would have written access to them. One of the predecessors that comes to mind is Jacob Grimm. Grimm gathered and studied the local folklore of his region (Germany) and recorded them into a well-known collection of stories known as Grimm's Fairy Tales. There are many others who have done what Grimm did and made folklore easy for us to research and study.
But why is folklore important, particularly for those who practice paganism as a religious or spiritual path? Folklore is important because it connects us to the life and times of our ancestors - either our ancestors from a foreign land or from our local land. Either way, weaving folklore into our practice will not only bring clarity to our lives but will also help us connect to our ancestors on a deeper level. How do we weave folklore into our pagan practices? Read on to find out.
1. Study Local & Ancestral Folklore
To weave folklore into your own pagan practice, first you must research the folklore that will be most beneficial to you. I recommend researching your local regional folklore, as well as your ancestral folklore. If you live in the United States but are not Native to the United States, you should still research your local land's folklore. This could be Native American legends and mythology, but it could also include the more recent folklore of the area. For example, if you live in or near the Appalachian Mountains, research folklore about the people who settled in the mountains. There are many books written about Appalachian folklore and local legends from the 1700s through the early 1900s.
Next, you should also research and study your ancestors' folklore. If you're lucky enough that you still live in the same area where your ancestors lived, then you can skip this step. But many of us have ancestors that originated elsewhere. For example, if your ancestors were from somewhere else, you'll want to look up their region and find folklore associated to that region. If your ancestors were German, you can read Grimm's Fairy Tales, Teutonic Mythology, and even the Norse Prose Edda. If your ancestors were from Ireland, you can read WB Yeats' works on fairy and folk tales of the Irish peasantry. If your ancestors were from Egypt, research and study the Egyptian Book of the Dead, etc. These are examples of how you can find your ancestors' folklore.
All of this can be researched for free online. Write down the books and stories you'd like to study. While reading these folklore works, keep a record of the stories and passages that resonate with you. For me, the story of Mother Holle from Grimm's Fairy Tales struck me on a spiritual level and so I've recorded the story in my journal and identified the parts of the story that taught me certain lessons.
2. Mimicking Folk Magic and Herbal Use
Perhaps my favorite part of studying local and ancestral folklore is finding herbal recipes and magickal tidbits hidden within fairy tales and enchanting stories. Our ancestors used folklore to pass down important bits of folk magic and medicine. Look at your favorite folklore book and find mention of a certain work of folk magick or medicine. Write it down. Sometimes the story will give you the exact recipe, sometimes it will be extremely vague and more research will need to be done. For example, from my favorite folklore book American Witch Stories, there are numerous stories about a "witch ball". Modern research says a witch ball is an ornamental glass ball hung from the rafters or windows to catch or deter evil spirits or evil witches. But this witch ball was much different according to American folklore. This witch ball was actually a ball made of hair, herbs, and fingernail clippings that would be adhered together and shot or thrown at the intended victim. While I have no one to throw a witch ball at, I can take this idea and make it my own by gathering specific herbs and scraps of fabric and fashioning a witch ball to ward off evil in my home.
As for using herbs according to folklore as medicine or for culinary purposes, any time a fairy tale or story mentions an herb or plant that resonates or calls to you, look up the modern name for the plant. Also, you'll want to identify whether the plant is edible or medicinal because there are some plants out there that are toxic if consumed or may cause allergic reactions on skin, etc. Thorough research of an herb before use is crucial, especially if you plan to take it internally or topically. Let's say you don't want to buy this specific plant or herb to use in your medicine or food, why not try growing the plant from seed in your own garden? This is a great way to connect with your ancestors and the nature spirits they once knew and respected. And yet another way to weave folklore into your practice.
Any time a fairy tale or story mentions an herb or plant that calls to you, look up the modern name for the plant. Study the plant. Use it in your practice.— Nicole Canfield
3. Working with Folkloric Deities & Heroes
Another way in which to incorporate folklore into your own pagan path is to connect with deities, heroes, and characters from your favorite fairy tales and lore. It is theorized and more than likely that many of the main characters and heroes in fairy tales were once gods and goddesses in ancient times. In the fairy tale Mother Holle, is the wise crone-woman who sits at the spinning wheel and deals out punishment or reward based on hard work. Her resemblance to the Germanic goddess known as Holda is uncanny and most likely refers to Holda. If you find a character in folklore that you find interesting and want to know more about, research the character. Go online and see if this character may relate to a god or goddess from ancient pagan times. Write down all you find in your research.
Once you've gained a thorough understanding of this character or deity, then you may begin working with this deity in your practice. You can set up a special altar or a part of your altar to honor your folklore hero. Leave them offerings. Pray/talk to them as often as you'd like. Seek to learn all there is to learn about them online and in books, etc. Don't just take their story at surface level. Dive deep into the occult lessons being taught through his/her folklore story. Often we see the surface story as a frou-frou fairy tale but below the surface the story is much deeper and seeks to teach us something hidden.
4. Writing Folklore Into Your Rituals
Last but not least, take your favorite passages of folklore and weave them into your practice by writing them into your rituals, magick, and sabbats. Sound difficult? It really isn't. With a little practice and time, you'll find writing your own rituals and sabbats isn't hard at all. Once you've mastered this basic skill, you can then write some of your favorite pieces of folklore into your rituals. For example, if you dabble in the art of trance-work and shapeshifting, use Isobel Gowdie's famous words on the next full moon to transform into a hare: "I shall go into a hare, With sorrow and sych and meickle care; And I shall go in the Devil's name, Ay while I come home again."
You could also take full stories and make them into a ritual in and of itself. Sort of like re-enacting the scene. This will typically take more than one person and an entire group or coven would be ideal to play multiple roles, but if you are solitary and are adamant to re-create a piece of your favorite folklore, give it a try! Play multiple roles. If anything you'll appease your ancestors as well as sharpen your creative abilities and acting skills. You wouldn't be the first person to re-enact a piece of history or folklore. In fact, many Asian, Native, African, and European cultures still do this today!
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© 2017 Nicole Canfield