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Folklore is the broad mass of myths, legends, stories, customs, and superstitions that built up over the centuries among local communities and human cultures. It includes traditions such as wedding and funeral rituals, and customary building and decorative arts, and the rituals used to celebrate holidays, birthdays, and homecomings. Generally, any aspect of culture transmitted outside of formal education and other official channels is folklore. It may be easier to define folklore by what generally isn't considered folklore; science is not usually considered folklore, nor are the fine arts. But this does not mean that scientists or artists do not have folklore that circulates within their groups.
Most folklore is harmless entertainment, perhaps with a dash of moralising, but has streaks of nastiness in odd corners, such as antisemitism, nationalism and other barriers to mutual understanding. Folklore has two descendant forms: herbalism takes much of its material from folk remedies, most of which are either untested scientifically, or disproved (and some are bloody dangerous).
The folk process
Urban legends are folklore's modernised makeover, or rather, continuation. The repetition, adaptation, and transmission of folklore defines a process known as the "folk process", a process that is generally defined by three factors:
- Continuity, the preservation of the original material, which links the present with the past;
- Variation, which springs from the creative impulse of individuals or groups using the folklore material; and
- Selection by the community, which determines the form or forms that are preserved for transmission to the next generation.
These factors give folklore its enduring qualities and adaptability. New words are written for old songs. Old cautionary tales are recycled and turned against new boogeymen.
As such, various technologies have impacted the transmission of folklore, but have not really changed the nature of the underlying folk process. Technologies such as the telephone, the telecopier, and the Internet have made it easier to transmit folklore narratives, songs, and images. Digital media have expanded the variety of material the folk process can work on, made the popular culture of distant peoples available for cultural appropriation elsewhere, and make the copyrighted creations of commercial publishers a potential subject for the folk process as well. But there is no difference between the material transmitted by these methods and traditional folklore, unless folklore is defined as something that can only be transmitted through a purely oral tradition.