FOLKLORE: Memory, Modernity & Identity

A re magical animals, fairies, mermaids, ghosts, giants and gods all gone, with the mythical times?

For some this magical creatures are gone, for others they are still real, giving gifts to the kindly, and plaguing the surly.
After the tragic fact of loosing my first milk tooth, it was a joy to see a friendly white mouse leaving a coin and running away from under my pillow with my tooth in the smiling mouth.

“Have you ever seen a fairy or such like?” I asked an old man in Chiloe, Chile. “Claro, son molestos,” (“Oh, I am really annoyed with them,”) was the answer.

“Do the fishermen along here know anything of mermaids?” I asked a woman of a village in Scotland. “Indeed, they don’t like to see them at all,” she answered, “for they always bring bad weather.”

“Did you hear the ghosts shovel sand at night,” a white headed traveler in Penang, Malaysia, asks, while biting into his breakfast toast. “In this house there is,” the owner said, a strong Indian, a retired boxer “once a Shaman came, used the toilet in the back, and said, “your lucky, you have house gods here.””And where do the sounds come from?”, I ask, “Upstairs”, the Football player from Senegal says. The owner laughs pointing at him, “you do not go upstairs when it is dark., don’t you.””NO, newer.” The white headed traveler smiles slightly, looking to the Indian and the Senegalese.

Have you seen the gods on the walls of In the Valley of Kings, scenes from the ancient Egyptian books of the dead adorn the walls in the tomb of Pharaoh Rameses III. Signs of old age on the walls and on the guides face, grey hair and wrinkled skin; he told us stories, and said:“I am with the old gods, I was an orthodox before.”
I am not blaming him; it is very much better to believe in a number of gods than in none at all, or to think there is only one, but that he is a little sentimental and impracticable, and not constructed for this century.

One evening after a plate of potato soup with Chuño:”Guidate en la noce”(”Take care at night”), the little boy in Peru, said seriously, “there is a white giant around that steals you and sells your fat, I never go out after dark.”

In Paraguay, the Guarani, did not fear the White, because the Jesuits where quite open minded. They must have had their problems explaining the Guaranies, that they shall pray to one god, ingenious people, they just put a little holy Jesus under their mother-tree and prayed, happily ever after. Sadly not, this laissez-faire in matters that concern god, among as the money they made with the missions of the Chiquitania, has cost many Jesuits and Guaranies heads; as Spain needed the money for war. Victims of the policy.

Also drinking Muslims are in danger, even if they know, “Mohammad does not see me here, I am under a roof,” the almost toothless said, toasting, finishing his beer in one gulp and disappearing in the dark streets of Muscat, Oman.

The conscious fat Hindu mother in Rishikesh, India, asks, in a cloud of sandalwood holding her talisman,‘’Do you believe in God?”, “No,” I answer.” No problem, you go temple eat prassad (holy food), it is conspicuous day.”
The Indians, have always been flexible and mysteriously connected with magic, with their talismans, mantras, rituals and conspicuous days as a part of their Identity, these will not change much—indeed, it is doubtful if anybody at all changes at any time.

In spite of hosts of deniers, and rationalists, and wise-men, and professors, if you entice them into a cemetery at midnight, most of them will believe in phantoms, for every one is a visionary, if you scratch him deep enough. But some people is visionary without scratching.
Wherever I travel in the world, I find someone willing and happy to tell me stories. They told me tales about their families, the landscape of their religion, the history of their country and their food.
“Yet, be it noticed, if you are a stranger, you will not readily get legends, easily. You must go adroitly to work, and make friends with the children, and the old men, with those who have not felt the pressure of mere daylight existence, and those with whom it is growing less, and will have altogether taken itself off one of these days. The old women are most learned, but will not so readily be got to talk, for the fairies are very secretive, and much resent being talked of; and are there not many stories of old women who were nearly pinched into their graves or numbed with fairy blasts?”

“Legends are around as long as there are inexplicable curiosities in life.”
Jan Harold Brunvand

What is truth to one is fancy to another; however, it is not up to me to decide that one community’s mythology is any more or less valid than another. I believe, myth is a positive force that unites communities and many cultures.

In my family there was a mythical smiling mouse taking my milk tooth, in other cultures it is the tooth fairy, in other places the milk tooth is placed in a tree or thrown to the sky. Other rituals involve having an adult swallow the tooth or burn it, some leave it for animals, like mouses, hyenas, birds or dogs.
This ritual exists to help distract children from the fact that people can loose parts of their body. Then they would ask the resident mouse to take the tooth and magically help them grow a strong new tooth. This was very clearly about magic, and growing up, and fun and mythic animals. No money involved, no capitalism.
A case can be made that all the mythical figures of childhood exist to teach how the world works, in the mid 1900s the tooth fairy starts giving money to the children- modern times. Magic gifts morphed into market transaction. Considering her values the Tooth Fairy just fitted the cultural zeitgeist better than feeding your teeth to a mouse. We can’t fight ultra-capitalist overtones with a magic mouse.

“The tooth fairy teaches children that they can sell body parts for money, “says the computer scientist and researcher, David Richerby.

I lived through the money giving mouse as a child, and I haven’t sold my kidneys. Not yet I haven’t, not yet.

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