I treated myself to this tome after re-reading one of my favourite books on vampires, ‘Vampires, Burial and Death’ by Paul Barber. This time, I decided to look up some of the books mentioned in the bibliography.
And this particular one grabbed my attention. It took a bit of hunting around to find one. The one I have, the 1972 edition, is an ex-library copy, hence the state of the cover, but I’m so pleased I took the trouble to find it. Even though it clocks in at over 1200 pages, it’s in no way complete. I don’t think a single book could possibly hope to contain all the world’s folklore, myth and legend.
As stated by the editor, Maria Leach, in the preface:
“Here are, however, gathered together a representative sampling of the gods of the world, the folk heroes, culture heroes, tricksters, and numskulls… of the folklore of animals, birds, plants, insects, stones, gems, minerals, stars… dances, ballads, folk songs… festivals and rituals… food customs and their significances… games and children’s rimes, riddles, tongue twisters… diviners and ‘lookmen’, witches, witchcraft, omens, magic charms and spells… supernatural impregnations… and the supernatural beings of folk belief and story, such as demons, ogres, fairies, and ‘little people’, guardian spirits, werewolves, vampires, zombies. Here are folktales – and motifs out of folktale, ballad, and song. Here are the kings asleep in the mountain, the belief in the hero, or savior, who will come again, and some hundred other instances of the inextinguishable hope that all that is wrong in the world can somehow be put right, and the ways (magic, prayer, or song) in which men try to put things right. In addition are the general covering regional articles and articles on specific folklore subjects (ballad, dance, riddles, etc.) by specialists in those respective fields.”
I opened to random pages for a selection of examples.
“Cinderella: Title of the best known folktale in the world, found nearly everywhere in the world from Alaska to South Africa, from Europe to Indonesia and South America; more than 500 versions of the tale are known in Europe alone. Its place of origin is unknown, but probably it is an originally Oriental story. It has been carried by Europeans to Indonesia and the Philippines, and to North and South America. The earliest known version happens to be Chinese, from the 9th century AD; its European history begins some time before its appearance in Perrault and Basile. The story as told by Perrault has had very wide circulation, yet is contains many familiar elements not basically essential to the Cinderella story and it omits several important motifs (e.g. the help of the dead mother, Cinderella as turkey or goose girl) found in variants of the tale elsewhere in the world…”
“Hamsa or hansa: In Hindu mythology, the cosmic gander; the vehicle of Brahma, hence also an animal mask of the creative principle, and also an epithet applied to modern ascetics and teacher-saints who have obtained freedom from rebirth through their spirituality. The hamsa symbolizes the divine essence which abides in the individual but remains free, immortal, and omniscient, and which manifests itself to the Indian yogi in the sound of inhaling (ham) and of exhaling (sa). At the same time, sa’ham (literally, this I), the sound in reverse, asserts the divine nature of the man who breathes.”
“Ogun: The Yoruban deity of iron, and by derivation, as master of weapons, of war: the equivalent of the Dahomean Gu (god of metal and war, an important god of Dahomey Negro religion) and an important retention among all Afroamerican cults which have continued the worship of African deities of Yoruban or Dahomean derivation.”
This is one of those books that I find almost impossible to ignore; it simply tempts you to have a quick peek even if you’re not wanting to look anything up. Thing is, you’ll probably be pulled in for longer than a ‘quick peek’.