27.7.17

IMAGINATION AND REALITY

Barton M Nunnelly. Mysterious Kentucky: Volume One, The History, Mystery and Unexplained of the Blue-Grass State. Triangulum, 2017.

Barton M Nunnelly. Mysterious Kentucky: Volume Two, The Dark And Bloody Ground. Triangulum, 2017.

Ron Quinn. Little People. Galde Press, 2010. (Second printing 2017)

Linda Zimmerman. More Hudson Valley UFOs: Including Western Connecticut, Northern New Jersey and Beyond. Eagle Press, 2017.

Folklore is often presented as a collection of timeless and presumably generations-old stories collected by clergymen’s daughters while visiting the ‘aged poor’, and being representative of quaint country ways. This often true of tales of the supernatural, which often start with the words “it is said that” or “local people say” and are little more than rumours of rumours.🔻
However, as we have often argued, folklore is alive and well and is based on what folklorists call memorate's; stories which tell or purport to tell personal experiences, particularly with the supernatural. These are stories of 'wondrous experiences' or 'anomalous personal experiences'. They might include tales of prophetic dreams, crisis apparitions, the ghostly return of loved ones, witchcraft or miraculous healing. But the sets of experiences in these studies of regional folklore from the United States are what we might call the 'others', that the Greeks call the exotica.

These are the liminal beings or forces that straddle and boundaries of natural and supernatural, matter or spirit, mortal and immortal etc. and are encountered in the debatable realms between dream and waking reality and unreality. These exotica take many different forms, from the traditional little people in old country clothes that are encountered in the stories from rural New York in Ron Quinn’s book. These are the closest to traditional fairy stories and though some come from adults, such as that of a hiker encountering little people playing the flute in a river in a magical country on the other side of an enchanted forest, the majority are stories of childhood experiences. These little people are not the gauze winged fairies of the Victorian imagination, but those of the genuine folk tradition as might be encountered in the works of Evans-Wenz, Lady Gregory or Dermot MacManus.

The exotica takes on a much more modern and technological guise in Linda Zimmerman’s stories of UFOs taken from an area not too far away from the region where Quinn’s stories were collected, yet the difference between the two is startling. In place of little creatures in rural woodlands, we have visions of huge technological devices the size of American football pitches flying round the night sky. These seem to reflect more the technological power and modernity of New York City, which represent the urban exotica.



The exotica from the Blue Grass State of Kentucky tend to take on yet another form, that of entities occupying the ground between human and animal. They are the classical hairy humanoids, both large and small, the inheritors of the wodewoses of old. Those from Kentucky seem slightly less wild than those of say British Columbia and on occasion are envisaged as wearing tattered clothes. There are stories of children making friends with these wodewoses and even learning their language. Other stories tell of even wilder creatures such as bipedal canines, lake monsters, giant snakes as well as tales of lights in the sky.

But like New York’s little people, these creatures are not just liminal between man and animal but also between natural and supernatural, dream and reality, truth and fiction. The stories might be told first hand, but other sources of folklore exist such as stories in newspapers and magazines.

It is often put forward that there is a gulf in folklore between the cultural-source and personal-experience theories of the origin of folk beliefs, but this is a wholly false dichotomy. All our culture is informed by collective and personal experience and all our experiences are mediated by culture. It is culture that names and tell us what are trees, chairs, computers and tables, cats and pigeons. Outside of culture there would nothing but a confusion of sensory information. Some of the strange and numinous experiences that people have may be experienced in the moments when they face a world stripped of cultural maps and labels.

It sometimes thought that to call something a myth or to say that it is a product of the human imagination is to say that it is not real, but as the writer Y. N. Harari has argued, the great forces that drive our world, religious beliefs, political ideologies, the state, the nation, economics, money, art, music literature, are all products of the human imagination.

Whether or not any of the exotica exist in any sense in the world of physics and geography, which may well be a meaningless question, is irrelevant. They are as real as the nation state, the laws that bind us and the money in our pockets. – Peter Rogerson


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