Folklore and Philology Revisited:
Medieval Scandinavian Folklore?
In the introductory remarks to The Science of Folk-Lore, Alexander Krappe notes that the text-oriented school of folklorists, or what he calls the "Literary School of folklorists," is at that time principally represented by "the Finnish and Scandinavian folklorists. It has had few adherents in Great Britain and may be said to be largely unknown there, which fact is, probably, the chief justification of the present book" (Krappe 1930, xx). He thus suggests with this comment that the work of Nordic folklorists as a whole was largely unknown in the English-speaking world in the 1920s. How times have changed! Certainly, the trove of folklore research and writings by Nordic ethnologists and folklorists is at the turn of this new century well-known in the United States, and forms the core of many folklore reading lists for Anglophone students of folklore.(1) To take an obvious example, Alan Dundes' The Study of Folklore, perhaps the most widely-used text in introductory folklore courses in the U.S. for the past 35 years, includes articles by two Scandinavian scholars, as well as essays by two Americans closely identified with Nordic folklore theory.(2) Similar Nordic representation is true of a variety of other commonly used anthologies, such as Sacred Narrative: Readings in the Theory of Myth (Dundes 1984), and with the emergence of collections like Nordic Folklore: Recent Studies (Kvideland, Simpson, and Sehmsdorf 1989), increased accessibility of new generations of Scandinavian scholars is guaranteed.
To the distinguished list of Nordic folklorists whose writings help guide American students of folklore, however, one must necessarily add the names of many scholars principally thought of as philologists. In fact, in the history of Nordic folklore studies, at least as viewed from North America, it is often— and exactly— that group of individuals who worked at the intersection of these two areas (e.g., Moltke Moe, Svend Grundtvig, Axel Olrik, Knut Liestøl, Johannes Steenstrup, Einar Óláfur Sveinsson, Carl von Sydow, Inger Boberg), whose ideas and views have heavily influenced folklore studies in the non-Nordic world, as well as formed much of the outside world's view of Nordic folkloristics. Indeed, even the phrase, "folklore and philology," resonates with implicit debates within Nordic folkloristics, captured in our collective imagination by the titles of von Sydow's famously contentious articles ("Folkminnesforskning och filologi," etc.). One need not study very hard works such as von Sydow (1944) and Boberg (1953) to see that understood "emically," the history of Nordic folklore is also a "dialogue of dissent," to employ Zumwalt's useful characterization of American folklore studies and especially of the tensions within it between the so-called "anthropological" and "literary" schools of folklore scholarship.
Little wonder then that when, in 1970, a collection of Dag Strömbäck's essays was published under the title Folklore och Filologi, he introduced them with the comment that they belong to "den folkloristiska forskningsskola, som en gång i tiden grundades av Moltke Moe i Norge och Axel Olrik i Danmark och som jag är förmäten nog att räkna mig själv till…" (Strömbäck 1970, 5). Much has happened in the study of folklore in the three decades since Strömbäck wrote those words, defensively crafted in response, one imagines, to the battle-cry of "bränna folklivsarkiven!" which was then sweeping through the field. Strömbäck's posthumously-published comments contextualize these developments:
In 1952 ARV […] reflected rather faithfully the increasingly widespread interest in old Nordic folk customs and beliefs, in 'sagas' of every kind and the folk traditions behind them, in medieval balladry and tales and legends […] When I took over the editorship in 1952 ARV was firmly moored to the Scandinavian philological discipline and the critical-historical method. I have tried to hold fast to those anchors, but it has become evident with the years that there are different tides to be faced. There is the time-honoured movement which flows from philology, archaeology, and the history of religion and literature, but another, which is just now very topical, sweeps folklore research in the direction of cultural anthropology and sociology and statistical method. I have tried to respond to the set of both these currents, though I willingly admit that my heart is captured more by the study of traditions from olden times, particularly from the Middle Ages, and by the approach which interweaves historical fact, philological interpretation and textual criticism. In Nordic folklore research my inspiring models have always been Moltke Moe, Axel Olrik and Kaarle Krohn (Strömbäck 1979b, 10-11).
It is not my purpose in this essay to undertake a fully articulated history of this relationship (although such a history has, it seems to me, yet to be written for the Nordic world, and would prove extremely enlightening, not only for the histories of the individual disciplines involved but also for Nordic lärdomshistoria in general), but rather to revisit the fundamental question of how one can study the folklore of the bygone Scandinavian world, in its medieval form in particular, as a current issue in folkloristics. Strömbäck (1979a, 13) notes that an explication of this point is a real desideratum in Nordic folklore studies: "…the volume ought to have been introduced by an outline of what is implied by the title Folklore and Philology, but this was not done." Let me here take up some 30 years on Strömbäck's challenge to offer some thoughts on what indeed is implied by the title Folklore and Philology: What do we make at the beginning of this new century of the nexus formed by the overlay of such disciplines as philology, folklore, history, and anthropology, that is, of folklore as a transdisciplinary scholarly arena? Specifically, I want to ask the following question: Is it today, in our post-"bränna folklivsarkiven!" world, our performance- and communicative event-oriented world, is it today possible to undertake a scientific investigation of archaic materials, of cultural documentation where we do not have full contextual information, of cultural texts that are necessarily outside the world of participant observation? Clearly, signposts in this direction, that is, of the possibility of accessing the apparently inaccessible popular traditions and Weltanschauung of a by-gone world, have in recent years been erected in areas where the chances of reconstructing the collecting and life-history contexts have been great, such as the studies by Bengt Holbek and Tim Tangherlini working with the Evald Tang Kristensen's Jutlandic collection and by Ulf Palmenfelt with respect to Per Arvid Säve's Gotlandic materials (Holbek 1987; Tangherlini 1994; Palmenfelt 1994). How and to what degree can we can push this kind of folkloristic inquiry back even further in time?
The Background and the Comparanda
Fundamental to so much of the history of Nordic folklore scholarship is the question of nation-building and nationalism, most obviously in the cases of Finland, Iceland and Norway, but also true elsewhere.(3) Summing this point of view up neatly, Holbek (1992, xix) notes, "The study of folklore was widely regarded as part of national philology, i.e., the study of the spiritual history of the people as it appeared in their language and literature; the specific contribution of the folklorist was to incorporate the evidence of oral tradition in this effort" (emphasis added). Many, indeed, perhaps even most, cultural institutions and academic pursuits at the end of the 19th century were employed in the service of this same program. Museology, art, literature, design, and defense policy, for example, responded with such projects as Nordiska muséet, Anders Zorn's Midsommar dans, Werner von Heidenstam's Karolinerna, Karin and Carl Larsson's Ett hem project, and Viktor Rydberg's "Hur kan Sverige bevara sin själfständighet?"(4) Little wonder then if oral and traditional narratives were also turned by scholars to the same nationalist programs. In effect, folklore (and here I principally have in mind the study of narrative oral genres) and philology (again, with an emphasis on textual matters) were to be harnessed to the same nationalistic yoke. Against this background much of the erudite and seemingly rather rarified theoretical debates about such topics as the character of Icelandic saga origins (i.e., the so-called Freiprosa vs Buchprosa debate), the nature of the Nordic ballad, and the dissemination of folktales must be understood.(5) Thus, as much respect as I still hold for Knut Liestøl's Norske trollvisor og norrøne sogor (Liestøl 1915) and Upphavet til den islendske ættesaga (Liestøl 1929), I recognize that it would be foolish to read these studies without deep reservations about, and an informed if sympathetic recognition of, the role Norwegian nationalism plays in their collective formulation. The differing evaluations of the methods and views of Liestøl and others of similar mind led to a strongly polarized view of how to approach such materials, a dissension that broke out into the open with the exchanges between Finnur Jónsson (Jónsson 1922) and Carl von Sydow (von Sydow 1922a; von Sydow 1922b) in the pages of Folkminnen och folktankar.(6) Although ostensibly focussed on their evaluations of Celtic influence on 13th-century Icelandic mythological material, the debate provides a discussion in sharp relief of the contrasting views of how folklore and philology might cooperate (or might not). Out of these exchanges, and others, emanated von Sydow's clearly articulated impression of the impasse which existed in the first half of this century. He rejects soundly, he writes,
[…] a demand made on folklore research from philological quarters in Sweden, that it should be purely philological, which demand only proves that its maker does not understand at all how important it is for traditional matter to be studied according to its own laws. Still worse is a suggestion, no less singular, that folktale research should be purely Scandinavian, not comparative. Such national one-sidedness has indeed been attempted, but has been of no importance except as a warning.
On the other hand, it is evident that collaboration between philology and the study of folklore is of supreme importance. Philologists can produce much material of very great value to folklore research, as has from old literature been proved […] But the oral material is no less important for placing the contents of the ancient sources in the living whole to which they belong […] (von Sydow 1965 [Rpt. 1945], 241 [emphasis added])
One well-known project which had as its goal the symbiosis of folklore and philology, but notably without nationalist overtones, was Milman Parry's work in the Balkans in the 1930s. (7) Parry intended to set, as he himself wrote, "lore against literature" in a scientific analysis of the mechanisms and aesthetic dimensions of oral poetry.(8) For Parry, a Classics scholar by training, the backdrop of his project was the famous "Homeric Question": How had the poet or poets of the Iliad and the Odyssey composed those two lengthy works of art at the very beginning of European literary tradition? Before Parry, the competing ideas concerned with the origins of Homeric poetry had been styled primarily by philologists and literary scholars who viewed themselves as "unitarians" and "analysts," opponents and advocates of "Liedertheorie," and so on. Against this intellectual backdrop, Parry looked to insert himself in the living oral traditions of epic songmaking. What set Parry apart from most earlier scholars concerned with the "Homeric Question" was not merely the hypothesis that the Iliad and the Odyssey were originally the products of an oral tradition that was older than any written literature. What particularly set Parry apart was his formulation of a method for testing this hypothesis, a method capable of moving the debate from the content of orally produced songs to the actual process through which such songs are produced in performance. Few investigations in the humanities before or since have adhered so closely to accepted scientific methodology (i.e., observation of phenomena; hypothesis formulation; experimentation to test the hypothesis; conclusion that validates, or modifies, the hypothesis). In 1935, Parry outlined the overall problem this way:
If we put lore against literature it follows that we should put oral poetry against written poetry, but the critics so far have rarely done this, chiefly because it happened that the same man rarely knew both kinds of poetry, and if he did he was rather looking for that in which they were alike. That is, the men who were likely to meet with the songs of an unlettered people were not ordinarily of the sort who could judge soundly how good or bad they were, while the men with a literary background who published oral poems wanted above all to show that they were good as literature. It was only the students of the 'early' poems who were brought in touch at the same time with both lore and literature (Parry 1935, 3).
Once Parry had settled on the South Slavic area, he began to design a master plan for testing his hypotheses on the still-living traditions of oral epic in the Balkans. Parry summarizes his thoughts on the project in his initial report:
My purpose in undertaking the study of this poetry was as follows. My Homeric studies […] have from the beginning shown me that Homeric poetry, and indeed all early Greek poetry, is oral, and so can be properly understood, criticized, and edited only when we have a complete knowledge of the processes of oral poetry; this is also true for other early poetries such as Anglo-Saxon, French, or Norse, to the extent they are oral. (Parry 1934, 1-3)(9)
The influence of Parry's venture to set "lore against literature," what came to be called the "oral formulaic theory," known to most scholars through The Singer of Tales by Parry's assistant and successor, Albert Lord, is notable from the variety of folklore materials outside the Balkan epic (e.g., Anglo-American balladry, folk preaching in the American South, Bantu oral poetry) which were now subjected to scrutiny through the ideas found in The Singer of Tales.(10) In addition to the numerous folklore genres and traditions directly effected by Parry's and Lord's work, at least two prominent theoretical approaches to folklore— ethnopoetics, with its deep concern for the artistic performance in its cultural matrix, and performance theory, with its holistic view of the dynamic process of creation and its relation to both performer and audience— are anticipated in their writings. In fact, Richard Bauman's influential Verbal Art as Performance acknowledges that The Singer of Tales is one of the first works to conceive of folklore texts in terms of "emergent structures," and, Bauman continues, "one of Lord's chief contributions is to demonstrate the unique and emergent quality of the oral text, composed in performance. His analysis of the dynamics of the epic tradition sets forth what amounts to a generative model of epic performance" (Bauman 1977, 38-39).(11)
What Lord, Parry, and von Sydow— Lord, following his teacher, Parry; Parry himself, borrowing from his mentor, the comparative linguist Antoine Meillet;(12) and von Sydow, influenced by H.F. Feilberg and working in reaction to, although at the same time often in concord with, the Finnish School (13)— what these three would agree on, as would a number of other researchers, is that the study of such topics as Homeric epic, giants in Nordic tradition, and popular belief systems are all enhanced by the study of comparative structures, comparative not only linguistically and culturally, but also temporally.(14) Most importantly, of course, the value of such an approach derives from what it can reveal with respect to such modern concerns as "mentalities," a term never used by any of them, so far as I know, but certainly implicit in Lord's and Parry's writings.(15)
Witchcraft and Transdisciplinary Research
For the researcher interested in medieval Nordic cultural history, there exist copious and highly variegated sources of information— statutes, tänkeböcker, chronicles, and so on. But in addition to the data sets available to scholars of most western European traditions, the Nordic researcher has access to cultural texts that will strike him or her as being in sharp contrast to the rather tedious and bare-boned information of a medieval annal, namely, the Icelandic sagas. For the scholar approaching the topic from the point of view of a modified cognitive realism (cf. Lindqvist 1992, 6), there is nothing comparable to them elsewhere in the Middle Ages. A complex debate has evolved over the past 150 years around the question of cultural realism in these medieval prose texts, formulated in the earliest periods by the view that the sagas might be understood as history rather than as historical fiction and, more recently, as testimony to the history of mentalities.(16) The evolution of this debate, one shaped not least by nationalist aspirations and changing literary tastes, revolves around the central question of just what sort of cultural documents we have in the sagas, with the key issue being the degree to which they can be trusted to present in a reliable form ethnographic data.(17)
I would like to take up a single strand of this complex story— that of witchcraft in medieval Scandinavia— and comment on its fate in the hands of folklorists, historians, and philologists. Witchcraft as a test case is useful both because it is well-represented in the scholarly literature by Strömbäck (1935)— widely regarded as the seminal text on the issue of magic, shamanism, and medieval Nordic witchcraft— and, more selfishly, because the question of élite and popular witchcraft beliefs in late medieval Scandinavia has been at the center of my own work in recent years (e.g., Mitchell 1998; Mitchell 2000). Popular and élite constructions of witchcraft in the medieval Nordic world possess, it seems to me, real interest with respect to our ability to formulate from archaic cultural documents theories concerning past belief systems and other issues of importance to folklorists, whether their focus is the 14th or the 20th century. Moreover, in the light of recent trends toward revitalization in the neo-pagan community, these topics possesses a certain currency as well. Although neither the first nor the last word on the topic, Strömbäck's Sejd remains a study of enduring value because of its compact treatment of a particular issue in Nordic cultural history and because it represents at a sophisticated level one specific academic treatment of that topic. In the 206 pages which make up the published text, Strömbäck methodically examines, genre after genre, medieval Icelandic saga literature for evidence which can shed light on this belief system, with some modest attention to legal and ecclesiastical sources, as well as to comparanda concerning Sámi practices (but cf. the remarks in Buchholz 1968, 5).
Few topics could be of greater importance for us to understand than the mission Strömbäck sets himself, as constructions of magic and witchcraft, and accusations of it, occupy places of central importance in many cultural belief systems. Popularly viewed mainly as the stuff of early modern European history (e.g., Kittredge 1929), our conception and understanding of witchcraft outside that particular temporal and geographical box has grown substantially in recent decades, and we now understand witchcraft and magic as wide-spread phenomena in human history and human geodiversity. The relationship between learned, 'global' discourses on witchcraft, on the one hand, and local folk belief, on the other (e.g., how the élite community appropriates local belief for its own ends) has become a major focus of scholarly concern in recent decades.(18) But witchcraft in general, and historical European constructions of it in particular, has mainly been studied with respect to that period when witch persecutions in Western Europe reached their zenith in the post-Reformation era. Attention to these historical events has in recent years, however, not been without reference to the phenomena observed in a variety of living cultures. Particularly since Evans-Pritchard's classic study of Zande witchcraft (Evans-Pritchard 1937), functionalist approaches to witchcraft have in one form or another dominated discussions of it (cf. the review in Douglas 1970a). Kluckhohn (1944) shares Evans-Pritchard's homeostatic view of witchcraft, but Kluckhohn has an otherwise quite different view of witchcraft's functions in society. He argues that among the Navaho, accusations of witchcraft contribute to the "maintenance of personal and social equilibrium" through a series of manifest and latent functions (e.g., entertainment, displacement of aggression) (Kluckhohn 1962 [Rpt. 1944]). The differences between the functionalist approaches taken by Evans-Pritchard and Kluckhohn to the topic of witchcraft provide one of the principal examples for those who argue against what they view as "undisciplined trespass" outside one's own field, which, it is suggested, "in the end produces more obscurity than it does creative inspiration" (Gluckman and Devons 1964, 241). In this controversial view, Evans-Pritchard succeeds because he hews close to the sociological model, whereas Kluckhohn fails due to his attempts to incorporate psychological dimensions into his interpretation, an objection which was quickly refuted (Kennedy 1967). Indeed, a veritable deluge of scholarship from the past 30 years soundly rejects the minimalist approach to a topic as sweeping and complex as witchcraft— from the cross-disciplinary dialogue represented in the articles in Douglas (1970b) and Ankarloo and Henningsen (1987) to the synthetic approaches of Demos (1982), Ginzburg (1991) and Purkiss (1996), one finds researchers learning harmoniously from neighbors in adjacent fields about new theoretical approaches, conceptualizations, and methodologies, and employing these tools in their own work.
To return then to the medieval Nordic situation, as authoritative and wonderful in its own terms as Strömbäck (1935) is justly regarded as being, the perception that it fails to treat Nordic witchcraft within the context of comparanda from both near and far has been one of the criticisms levelled at it since it was first published (cf. Ohlmarks 1937, 310-50). To be sure, Strömbäck motivates brilliantly the reasons for comparing Scandinavian and Sámi magic and mythology, for example, but when he does so, he is guided by a philologist's view of the material, citing at length the work of other text-oriented scholars and generally (although not entirely) ignoring more ethnographic data.(19) Although Strömbäck's Sejd is even today regarded as a remarkable assemblage of primary materials, one hardly turns to it in the hope of finding an encompassing image of witchcraft and seiÍr in medieval Scandinavia. That this is so, in my view, is first and foremost due to the fact that Strömbäck is seduced by the evidentiary possibilities of the Icelandic sagas in a narrowly positivistic sense, and consequently privileges their testimony at the expense of other materials (e.g., data from east Scandinavia). Moreover, Strömbäck regards certain types of sagas, notably the the family sagas (íslendingasögur) and the heroic sagas (fornaldarsögur), as the best repositories of information about practices and beliefs relating to witchcraft, a view that reflects modern literary prejudices about the sagas and prevents him from plumbing the possibilities of other genres very deeply.(20) And even though Strömbäck critically reviews competing theories about the sagas (pp. 1-16), he displays a rather naive faith in their verisimilitude, and especially the degree to which the sagas can be assumed to speak for the culture as a whole, rather than expressing the views of exceptional individuals.(21) Strömbäck elsewhere characterizes his approach as being one that combines "historical fact, philological interpretation and textual criticism" (Strömbäck 1979b, 11), an excellent foundation to be sure.(22) But we understand very little about how magic and witchcraft functioned in the world of the Nordic Middle Ages as a result of Strömbäck's handling of the topic. Had he been able to include in his approach the lessons folklorists and other fieldworkers draw from observable comparanda, the results would, I believe, have been quite different. Strömbäck's concern is chiefly with representations of witchcraft and magic in medieval texts, but a modern, less exclusively philological approach will necessarily look to problematize and analyze the concepts of witchcraft, magic and seiÍr in performance. Obviously Strömbäck was a child of his times, and followed a well-established strategy— but he did not look beyond it. My point here is meant in the same spirit with which von Sydow critiques scholars like Mannhardt and Schoning for their single-minded pursuit of a monopolistic interpretative framework, which von Sydow employs as evidence of the need for intellectual symbiosis (von Sydow 1944, 12-18). The advantages to be had from this sort of synthetic approach to a topic like witchcraft are now beginning to be felt within the Nordic academy as well, particularly in microhistorical studies (e.g., Ankarloo 1993). Lest there be any confusion, I want to reiterate that my point here is not to fault Strömbäck for the fact that he wrote a book in 1935 instead of 1995— naturally he could not do other than to reflect intellectual views which were current in his day. And at a time when many different disciplines, from the history of religions to sociology to folklore, were looking to establish their credentials as independently viable fields of intellectual inquiry, relatively focussed methodological strategies were no doubt called for. Anyone who works in the area of Nordic witchcraft (e.g., Alver 1971; Wall 1977-78) remains deeply in Strömbäck's debt, but what I have meant to suggest are the ways in which his fastidious devotion to one model of scholarship, his textstudier, may have channeled his vision and his thinking about the topic.
How should we view the relationship between folklore and philology today? By coincidence, in a recent evaluation of the field, folklorist Richard Bauman suggests the philological model of the past as one possible charter for the future: "…the enduring importance of the intellectual problems that the philological synthesis was forged to address constitutes a productive basis on which we as folklorists might orient ourselves to our cognate fields and disciplines" (Bauman 1996, 17). In a characteristically more strident manner, von Sydow argued much the same thing when he wrote some fifty years ago, "Det var filologen som upptäckte folkminnenas vetenskapliga betydelse, och det är naturligt att ett ständigt samarbete bör råda mellan filologi och folkminnesforskning, i det de är varandras nödvändiga hjälpvetenskaper" (von Sydow 1944, 32 [emphasis added]). Where many would disagree with even von Sydow's generous assessment is in believing that into his dyadic approach, one ought to fold in such "ancillary" fields as history, sociology and anthropology. Represented best perhaps by Le Goff (1978)— in particular his inclusive view of how folklore should figure into our understanding of the Middle Ages— we have in recent decades entered into a new understanding of the field of medieval folkloristics. It can no longer be understood as merely a branch of textual criticism, but as something of an archaeology of past mentalities and a recontextualization of performance practices.(23) This highly transdisciplinary view, which looks to integrate the methodologies and strategies of a number of fields, must always be our principal, and principled, understanding of what folklore can mean to those focussed on medieval cultural history (cf. Canadé-Sautman et al. 1991, 6-7). To do otherwise, that is to view folklore and philology, not as reticulated disciplines, but solely as branching descendants of 19th-century nationalist outpourings, necessarily implies in an epistemological sense that we fall victim to a contemporary form of evolutionism within the academy.
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"Mentalities and Modalities." Suomen Antropologi 20 (1): 18-25. Krappe, Alexander Haggerty. 1930. The Science of Folk-Lore. London: Methuen. Kvideland, Reimund, Elizabeth Simpson, and Henning K. Sehmsdorf, eds. 1989. Nordic Folklore: Recent Studies. Folklore studies in translation. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Le Goff, Jacques. 1978. Pour un autre Moyen Age: temps, travail et culture en Occident. Bibliotheque des histoires. Paris: Gallimard. Liestøl, Knut. 1915. Norske trollvisor og norrøne sogor. Olso: O. Norlis forlag. Liestøl, Knut. 1929. Upphavet til den islendske ættesaga. Instituttet for sammenlignende kulturforskning. Serie A: Forelesninger. XA. Oslo & Cambridge, Mass.: H. Aschehoug & Co, & Harvard University Press. Lindahl, Carl. 1987. Earnest Games: Folkloric Patterns in the Canterbury Tales. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Lindqvist, Mats. 1992. "Between Realism and Relativism: A Consideration of History in Modern Ethnology." 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Acta universitatis Upsaliensis. Studia ethnologia Upsaliensis. Vol. 3, 5. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell. Zumwalt, Rosemary Lévy. 1988. American Folklore Scholarship: A Dialogue of Dissent. Folkloristics. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
(1)Early Nordic anthologizers of folklore (e.g., Asbjørnsen and Moe, Lönnrot) are typically cited in English-language folklore texts together with other "founding fathers" of the field in Europe, such as the Grimms in Germany and Vuk KardΩi√ in Serbia (so, for example, Dorson 1972, 15-16). In a work that carefully details the internal debates within the American folklore community from its beginnings to ca. 1980, Zumwalt (1988) pays only modest attention to the larger international connections which helped form these debates. The Nordic influence on the development of American folklore studies is in her study principally represented by the question of ballads (especially Svend Grundtvig's substantial shaping of Francis James Child's thinking [pp. 100-01]) and the influence of Krohn and the Finnish historic-geographic method (pp. 107-11). Cf. the various Nordic attendees at the Midcentury Folklore Conference held at Indiana University in 1950 (p. 101).
(2)Dundes 1965. Reprinted there are Olrik's "Epic Laws of Folk Narrative" (pp. 129-41) and von Sydow's "Folktale Studies and Philology: Some Points of View" (pp. 219-42). Archer Taylor, whose own study of the Black Ox (Taylor 1927) was carefully modelled on the Finnish historic-geographic method, contributes "Folklore and the Student of Literature" (pp. 34-42), while Stith Thompson is represented by his application of that same approach to Native American materials in "The Star Husband Tale" (pp. 414-74).
(3)Cf., for example, Alver 1980 and Honko 1989, 18.
(4)I have intentionally chosen specifically Swedish examples here but unquestionably each of these categories has its counterparts in the various Nordic countries. Cf. Mitchell and Tergel (1994) for a discussion of Swedish nationalism in this regard.
(5)Much has been written on this topic; for the outlines of this debate and the basic bibliography, see Mitchell 1991, 2-5 et passim. Events in the northern world did not occur in splendid isolation, of course: the intertwined fates of folklore and nationalism— in extremis— in fascist Germany may stand as a prominent example, on which see Lixfeld (1994).
(6)von Sydow engaged in a series of lively exchanges on this and related matters; see Swahn (1948) for a comprehensive bibliography.
(7)The discussion that follows builds on Mitchell and Nagy (2000), which takes up the Parry project and its consequences in considerable detail.
(8)From the 1935 typewritten manuscript of Milman Parry's "The Singer of Tales" in the Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature, Harvard University, p. 3.
(9)It is instructive to note what Parry says further on this point: "This knowledge of the processes of an oral poetry can be had up to a certain point by the study of the character of a style, e.g., of the Homeric poems; but a full knowledge can be had only by the accumulation from a living poetry of a body of experimental texts sought after in accordance with a fixed plan to show, for example: (a) to what extent an oral poet who composes a new poem is dependent upon the traditional poetry as a whole for his phraseology, his scheme of composition, and the thought of his poem; (b) to what extent a poem, original or traditional, is stable in successive recitations of a given singer; (c) how a poem is changed in a given locality over a number of years; (d) how it is changed in the course of its travels from one region to another; (e) in what ways a given poem travels from one region to another, and the extent to which the poetry travels; (f) the different sources of the material from which a given heroic cycle is created; (g) the factors that determine the creation, growth, and decline of the heroic cycle; (h) the relation of the events of an historical cycle to the actual events; and so on and so on. I found the Jugoslavian poetry ideal for the collection of such experimental texts […] In my own field of Homeric study criticism can not go ahead until such a book is written; and I believe that this is more or less true of the other early literatures."
(10)Lord 1960; a 2nd edition of this seminal text, now including a CD of the materials cited by Lord, has recently been reissued by Harvard University Press.
(11) For recent assessments of the wide-ranging impact of The Singer of Tales, see Mitchell and Nagy (2000) and the articles in Foley (1998). On the value of the multi-disciplinary character of folkloristics, see Bauman's important observations (Bauman 1996).
(12)That one of Meillet's best-known works, Meillet (1925), should have been published in the same series by Instituttet for sammenlignende kulturforskning as Liestøl (1929) is surely no coincidence.
(13)These inner contradictions are noted already by Boberg (1953, 246): "Arbejdet med eventyrene førte afterhånden til en stærk kritik af den finske eventyrskoles teorier, som von Sydow dog i det store og hele er tilhænger af."
(14)A distinguished body of scholarship, including the study of a variety of genres, such as epic (e.g., Nagy 1996), folk performance (e.g., Lindahl 1987), and charms (e.g., Faraone 1999, esp. 30-40), has developed around this idea.
(15)Clearly von Sydow's work was much more greatly inspired by evolutionism and, for example, the search for the geneaology of the Swedish folktale corpus.
(16)Saga scholars have largely avoided the term, but one might argue that there has been for some time now an increased interest in the question of "mentalities"— as understood by its use in folkloristics, if not in historical circles— as revealed in the saga materials. Cf. Knuuttila (1995, 18), who notes "From the standpoint of cultural studies in folkloristics the concept of mentality is problematic in a different way from the way it is in historical research […] its use has permitted research interests to be directed towards various systems of relation and significance and not solely toward data corpuses or oral tradition genres in themselves." Given my frame of reference, I obviously part with Knuuttila (1993, 121), however, when she writes: "…the study of mentalities is inconceivable for a folklorist with a positivistic epistemology."
(17)This question of historical anthropology in the case of Iceland has principally been investigated in recent years by Hastrup in a series of articles, conventiently gathered together as Hastrup (1990). Cf. the critique in Lindqvist (1992, 10-11, 14-15).
(18)See. for example, the articles that follow Collins and Mitchell (in-press), on which the current remarks are based.
(19)In the context of Sámi culture, Strömbäck relies on the work of Johan Fritzner, Axel Olrik, Just Qvigstad and others philologically-oriented writers, for example, but fails to incorporate the works of Johan Olafsson Turi, Gustaf Düben, or Paavo Ravila, whose testimony might have shaped his thinking somewhat differently.With respect to the broader comparative materials, I want to note that it is not my intention to criticize Strömbäck for a lack of familiarity with information which at the time he was writing was available largely only in obscure specialist journals (e.g., Sudan Notes and Records); moreover, it should be said that Strömbäck's study was largely completed already in 1926.
(20)"Särskild omsorg har jag ägnat åt släktsagor [inklusive Landnáma] och fornaldarsagor icke blott för att få fram de direkta vittnesbörden om sejd utan även för att skapa mig en uppfattning om sagatidens tänkesätt och allmänna vidskepelse" (Strömbäck 1935, 1).
(21) Clearly the question of "microhistory" and the sort of work associated with Carlo Ginzburg (e.g., Ginzburg 1989, Ginzburg 1992 ) is an important consideration here. Cf. Peltonen 1995.
(22) It should be noted that even recent treatments of related topics follow Strömbäck's methodological approach to the question of magic and witchcraft in medieval Scandinavia (e.g., Jochens 1996, 113-31).
(23) A number of authors in recent years have moved in this direction (e.g., Bauman 1986, Mitchell 1997). See the review in Harris's entry in Foley (1998).