Tag Archives: folktales

Sociological vs. Anthropological

I seriously want this guy's beard

I seriously want this guy's beard.

One thing I’ve discovered during my sociology classes: I am intrinsically Marxist.

This isn’t Bellevue College’s fault. It’s really just my own fault, I suppose. My teacher is schooled in and promoted the symbolic/interaction perspective (viewing microcosms and small, close relationships), and also promoted the feminist perspective. Some students resonated with the structural perspective (viewing society as parts of a machine). But me? I’m Marxist, to the core. Almost every society can be defined by conflict.

Whenever I view the Church in a sociological lens, therefore, I cannot help but view the Church rife with conflict – Utah culture vs. Non-Utah culture, the US church vs. the global church, women vs. the priesthood. And it’s all there; we just choose to ignore it or simply remain unconscious to it because the implications can disturb us.

And it disturbs me, I’ll admit. I’m to the point where I can view this without any implication to the Church’s truthfulness, which is a potential sign of (yay!)  maturity. But it still doesn’t solve the problem that comes with Marxism (and the core of my personality) – sociological research does nothing if it doesn’t try to fix the problems it discovers. But what can one person do in a Church with such a hierarchical, patriarchal structure? Out wait everything? Watch for slow, gradual change? The Church does evolve over time (and when looking back, the changes are drastic – Brigham Young would be horrified for sure). But it can still embitter me to certain elements and I just don’t like feeling bitter. It’s not a great feeling. It’s not very healthy.

I’ve been shifting my focus on the church towards a more anthropological approach. The Church is made up of people – imperfect people who try their best (or don’t try their best) to do what’s right and to protect what they have while trying to improve upon it. Suddenly, the Church culture isn’t something I have to incessantly fix. I can collect stories and folklore, examine some of our myths and I don’t have to pass judgment. I don’t have to fix anything. I just record. I love it.

When you've got stuff like this happening in your folktales, you're never bored.

When you've got stuff like this happening in your folktales, you're never bored.

I’ve been reading a lot of folklore lately – I spend some of my birthday money, and three out of the four books (The Bhagavad  Gita; Folklore of the Holy Land: Moslem, Christian and Jewish; and Irish Lore and Legends) are collections of folklore. I reluctantly left behind another tome of Jewish tales as well as books on Indian and Chinese folklore, simply because I didn’t want to spend all of my birthday money in one place.

I love folklore. For one, it’s been supporting the change in my attention span; the studies are probably right – the Internet is shortening my attention span. I don’t have patience for huge books on one subject and I prefer things to be short and dense. Folktales are like tweets – they’re usually pretty short, and the good ones have a lot of things to think about. Whenever I read regular books now (non-fiction) by the halfway mark I stop because I’ve learned all that the author usually has to say and the rest is just fluff. And because they’re short, I can devour pages upon pages of them. It’s seriously very addicting.

And my goodness, Church history. It’s awesome. Really. It’s like a religious soap opera and I love every part of it. And our folklores are just as good as any. We just need to start recording them and stop treating them like doctrine but as just that – tales with ambiguous sources. Ask any Jew if he or she really believes that you can use the Word of God to breathe life into a golem and they’ll laugh (unless they are seriously orthodox). But the stories of golems are not worthless – they’re a deep insight into the Jewish psyche and their desperate need for a physical protector in times of horrible distress and calamity for their culture. And sometimes folktales poking fun at religious authorities are necessary – not to disrespect them, but to remind ourselves that even the prophet is not akin to God, and as humans, we’re all subject to foibles and mistakes. We can develop a healthy, positive outlook towards the more negative aspects about who we are, and that, I can assure you from past experience, can bring about a very sweet peace of mind.



Filed under life stories, wordsmithing

Reclaiming Missionary Folklore

Could you imagine running into this guy during Sacrament meeting?

Could you imagine running into this guy during Sacrament meeting?

If you asked me which books on my shelf I loved the most, within the top three would be my Treasury of Jewish Folktalesby Nathan Ausubel. A fifth printing from November 1948, I picked it up at a bookstore in Pike Place Market during my honeymoon. Since then, I’ve eagerly read page after page of folktales which have supplemented my life greatly.

There is something about storytelling and folktales that simply stick within our minds. Humorous anecdotes and jests can help bring a barbed lesson home without it irritating our pride, while a shared cultural myth or story can unite a people together with common knowledge and purpose.

Of course, just like any culture, our Latter-day Saint culture possesses a great deal of folklore – apocryphal tales of Joseph Smith, stories about Porter Rockwell that border fantasy, seemingly random myths such as Bigfoot being the walking incarnation of Cain. With these stories, it’s hard to tell what’s fact and what’s fiction, and that’s where most of the fun is – we tell them over and over again, passing these stories along, hoping that these stories might have an element of truth.

Talk to any missionary and you will, after you gain their trust, receive a tome of whispered tales. They don’t know the subjects personally, but a friend of a companion, or perhaps a trainer’s trainer’s trainer, or a friend from another mission reports a hard to confirm (but still incredibly fun and juicy) tale. Maybe a general authority (or even an apostle) walked into their mission, scanned the congregation, told half the missionaries by name to stand up, pack their bags, and go home. Maybe some missionaries helped cast out a devil, or just met a really (literally) insane person.

I’ve decided to start collecting these myths and folktales and compile a Treasury of Missionary Folktales (of sorts). I’m not trained in historiography or myth collecting, but I this is a subject that has fascinated me for a very long time. So if you have mission stories to share, please, by all means, share them! If you know of missionaries who have such stories, please forward this email to them and ask them to send theirs as well! It doesn’t matter if it’s just the whispers of rumors or if they can’t be confirmed – the more apocryphal the better. But if they ran into something that happened to them, that’s perfect, too. I’ll categorize and compile them, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we start to see mission story archetypes cropping up.

Please send any of the stories to missionfolklore@gmail.com. Thanks for helping out!


Filed under life stories, religion, wordsmithing