Sunday, 20 May 2012

A Study in Survivals and Greek folklore a century ago

'Mr. Lawson informs us that in Thessaly he was actually told of a family in the neighbourhood of Domoko, who reckoned a vrykolakas among their ancestors of some two or three generations ago, and by virtue of such lineage they inherited a certain skill which enables them to deal most efficaciously with the vrykolakas who at intervals haunt the country-side, indeed so widely was their power esteemed that they had been on occasion summoned as specialists for consultation when quite remote districts were troubled in this manner.'

Yet two more recent reprints from Cambridge University Press are of some interest in connection with the subject of this blog, in both cases with Greek folklore and anthropology. These two books from the early twentieth century are among the works studied and referred to by Montague Summers (cf. the above passage from The Vampire: His Kith and Kin, p. 230), so they will no doubt be familiar to many people.

Macedonian Folklore by George Frederick Abbott, was originally published in 1903. Abbott, born 1874, 'spent two years at the turn of the twentieth century studying the cultural beliefs and folklore of Greek-speaking Macedonia. His results are formulated in this 1903 book and include accounts of such varying topics as the folk-calendar, funeral rites and bird legends among many other observations. Filled with anecdotes of his adventure and reports from local inhabitants, this work is a highly engaging travelogue with many ethnographic insights. Those interested in the development of anthropology will find Abbott's study a telling example of Victorian methods while the general reader will find his prose style warm and enjoyable.'

Abbott died in 1947, cf. Wikipedia.

Modern Greek Folklore and Ancient Greek Folklore by John Cuthbert Lawson was published in 1910, and 'analyses the customs and superstitions of modern Greece as a means of gaining a greater understanding of ancient Greek belief structures. Analogies and coincidences between ancient and modern Greece had been pointed out prior to the publication of this edition, but no large attempt had been made to trace the continuity of the life and thought of the Greek people, and to exhibit modern Greek folklore as an essential factor in the interpretation of ancient Greek religion. The text is highly accessible, and all quotations from ancient and modern Greek are translated into English. This is a fascinating book that will be of value to anyone with an interest in anthropology and the classical world.'

A recent assessment of Lawson's work - which is still frequently referred to in various books - can be found in 'On the Beliefs of the Greeks' by Karen Hartnup:

'His Modern Greek Folklore and Ancient Greek Religion is immensely learned, and his treatment of beliefs and practices in this work is often sensitive and perceptive, but the title of his work indicates his underlying concern. He argued that although Christianity altered the ethical standards and imposed a religiously sanctioned morality on ancient Greece, practically all ancient religious customs continued up to his own day. Christianity was merely grafted on to paganism and the conciliatory practices of the early church meant that the Christinaity of the masses became polytheistic. Lawson concluded that the inhabitants of modern Greece "with all this external Christianity ... are as pagan and as polytheistic in their hearts as were ever their ancestors." In fact, for him modern Greek Christianity was just a thin cover for the continuing system of paganism.

Although Lawson's work follows the prevailing methodology of his time, it typifies the archaeological and romantic folkloric approach to Greek popular religion, which until recently held sway in Greek studies. In such studies the aim was to strip away the modern 'accretions' in order to extract information on the classical period and to reveal a 'pristine Hellenic past'. No attempt was made to trace the practices through the intervening periods and the impact of such momentous events as the conversion to Christianity, the conquest of Constantinople, and the fall of the Ottoman Empire was ignored.' (p. 7-8)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You write "...Greek-speaking Macedonia". This is inaccurate. Macedonia has been a North Greek geographical area since antiquity, so of course its inhabitants speak Greek!

It should NOT be confused with 'FYROM', a modern country mainly composed of Slavs and a minority of Albanians, which tries to use the term 'Macedonia' without having any affiliation to the ancient culture of the area. Their language is a variation of Bulgarian, and it has nothing to do with ancient Macedonian which was a Greek dialect, as it has been proven by archaeological investigations.

Before 1940s, the FYROM area belonged to former Yugoslavia and it was known as 'Vardarksa'( The people living there had affinities with Bulgaria.

Since the end of communism in 1990, there has been a huge propaganda for this newly formed state to gain a 'new glorious identity', thus effectively stealing the identity of ancient Macedonia. Fore more info see

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...