2) Mythology and Folklore

It is important, for the purposes of this study, to determine the difference between the terms ‘mythology’ and ‘folklore’, which have to be differentiated in terms of content, form and time. Mythology represents the body of myths related to an ancient people or civilization and its polytheist religion, written down in antiquity or early medieval times. It describes the adventures and filiation of the gods and goddesses and points to hieratic beliefs, cults and ceremonies. It is thus profoundly imbued with sacredness. Conversely, folklore is not written but handed down orally from individual to individual and from generation to generation. Folklore encompasses the traditional and popular beliefs, practices, customs, legends, jokes, songs, etc, of a present-day society. It does not refer, strictly speaking, to deities, but to supernatural characters, such as fairies and a variety of otherworld beings such as sprites, elves, apparitions, spirits haunting forests, rivers, lakes and hills, etc. One celebrated solitary being is the bean sí (‘banshee’), an otherworld lady who is heard to lament at the imminent death of a person of Gaelic stock. Same particular features or motifs, such as an invisible cape, fairy changeling or the slaying a dragon by a bold hero, are repeatedly encountered in the legends.

Mythology and folklore also differ from one another by their ‘literary genre’. While mythology was an esoteric literature, reserved for learned and initiated people, folklore is an exoteric literature which is orally transmitted and evolves within a society. As a general rule, mythology is learned, conscious and set, while folklore is popular, unorganized and in perpetual evolution. These dissimilarities show that mythological and folk legends should not be confused and that mythology and folklore are two distinct subjects. Nonetheless folklore is believed to have resulted from the popularization of the ancient sacred myths and thus undeniably reflects ancient pagan Celtic beliefs and customs. In this study, consideration will be limited to the study of the mythological accounts pertaining to the world of the gods and mythical heroes, but reference will occasionally be made to folklore when survivals of ancient deities and beliefs are traceable and worth mentioning.