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Folklore

Introduction

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While there really is no accepted agreement as to exactly what the boundaries of folklore encompass,  I agree with the simple definition of folklore offered by Archie Taylor: "Folklore is the material that is handed on by tradition, either by word of mouth or by custom and practice" (Brunvand YEAR: 3). The rich folklore that surrounds Mount Shasta certainly includes many supernatural legends, complicated myths, entertaining folktales, rich folk speech, imaginative naming, blessings, superstitions, festivals, and customs. This section will attempt to offer a general overview of only the most common lore, discuss its significance, and provide resources for those wishing to do more research.

People looking closely at folklore for the first time sometimes wonder why folklorists take the time to study what could, at least at the surface level, appear to be just simple stories and bits of popular culture. In reality, as one studies folklore they begin to see how pervasive it really is, that folklore has much to tell us about the common threads that weave humanity together, and perhaps the best kept secret of all: studying folklore is down-right fun.

A study of folklore also helps to fill in the blank spots that a typical study of  literature, sociology, psychology, and art often fails to address. Looking at the lore of Mount Shasta can tell us much about our local cultural heritage and how our past continues to shape us here in Siskiyou County. Further, by examining our interesting present-day folk responses to everything from the Ascended Masters to how Shasta got its name, we can learn more about our community, and such knowledge might well help us better see where we are likely to be headed. Simply put,  I believe it would be difficult to overstate the significance of our stories and customs to our day-to-day existence.

Michael Lind, a historical commentator, argues in The Next American Nation, that the very destiny of America--its "fourth American Revolution," will be due to the "emergence of a multi-racial middle-class American majority united by a common language, customs, and culture." Lind believes "The fund of common knowledge that most Americans share, like common folkways and the common language, shows the blending of diverse cultures into a new national culture in the United States." He points out that these "folkways--not abstract moral codes, but particular ways of acting, ways of dressing, conventions of masculinity and femininity, ways of celebrating major events like births, marriages, and funerals, particular kinds of sports and recreations, conceptions of the proper boundaries between the secular and religious spheres....these, rather than race or religion or political philosophy, are what identify a member of the American cultural nation." If Lind is correct, we might do well to examine what popular local beliefs in Bigfoot and/or the Lemurians, as well as Native American and Non-Native American historical beliefs about Mount Shasta, can tell us about our history and imply about our future.

There is no doubt that what people think has happened in history, and what they say to each other about history, can effect the present and future. Many Americans believe that George Washington proved he was an honest guy by confessing to the wanton destruction of a cherry tree, that Columbus discovered the world was round, that Lincoln walked miles to return a penny. None of these beliefs are true, yet they helped shape our country's ethical and historical foundation. The importance of belief is often underestimated. I am fond of quoting the old saying that "It's not what we don't know that gets us in trouble, it's the things we know that ain't so." People most often act, sometime foolishly or violently, not on what is known to be true, but on what they believe to be true, and an attempt to change even the most outlandish folk beliefs can be a daunting task.

Using this site will allow you to become familiar with a few local legends, myths, and folktales. I believe these offer as much insight into popular fears, needs, and desires as a stack of sociology texts. Because nothing in our culture is truly meaningless--whether joke, custom, or folktale--you can use each bit of lore to interpret local culture or gain insight into the human race.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of folklore study is how broad the field really is, and how it seems that the more one knows about folklore the more questions one has. It has been said about science that "the larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of wonder"--this is most certainly true of folklore.  Today's folklorists recognize that whether you live on a farm is Siskiyou County or a high-rise in San Francisco, you are still the "folk" in folklore. As a member of a family, you likely learn and pass on stories about relatives, eat certain foods for Thanksgiving, and have an effect on each other's vocabulary and pronunciation. As a member of a social class, interest group, or ethnic group, you will have also collected and shared an abundance of folklore, and some of it might be about Mount Shasta.  Folklore is alive and doing well.

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