The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







Fakelore is inauthentic, manufactured folklore which is created in the hope that it will be accepted as genuine and/or legitimate. The term was coined in 1950 by the folklorist Richard Dorson to describe material like the Paul Bunyan tales. Though they were marketed as campfire stories that loggers passed down, they were created by professional writers in the employ of a lumber company [1].

Urban myths are sometimes called fakelore, though the 'fake' is here taken as a reference to the unreality of the events described and not to an intent to fabricate.

Neopagan Fakelore

Neopaganism is prone to fakelore, though in fairness it is often accepted without question and passed on in good faith rather than being used with intent to deceive. The fakelore tends to be a spurious addition to the original myths, a distorted rendition of history (especially where pagan traditions are alleged to have been replaced by Christian ones) or occasionally both. The most ubiquitous neopagan fakelore is that which takes a familiar figure such as Santa Claus and purports to explain the figure's characteristics in terms of pagan survival. The fakelore account sometimes includes a comment that blames repression (inevitably Christian) for keeping the 'true' facts hidden, which suggests that the fakelore is potent and dangerous, as it would not have been concealed otherwise. The following examples are among the best known.

  • The myth that links Eostre to the Easter Bunny illustrates very well how neopagan fakelore works backwards from a presumed origin. There is only one brief mention of Eostre anywhere, in the works of Bede. Nonetheless, the idea that such a significant Christian festival was originally that of a goddess is compelling. There are no myths of Eostre, nor are there any records of her attributes, so a myth in which she transforms her pet bird into a rabbit that then lays eggs for children was invented and she was described as having the head of a hare, even though there are no images of animal-headed deities in Anglo-Saxon art. This myth was then circulated among neopagans and referred to as the 'real origin' of Easter. The myth of Eostre has been thoroughly dismantled by Dr. Elizabeth Freeman of the University of Melbourne [2].
  • An example of more obvious neopagan fakelore is the account of how the square dance resulted from an imposition of Puritan repressive values on the witches' circle dance. This serves the dual purpose of characterising the Puritans as censorious and joyless while perpetuating the idea that the witches' traditions were able to survive under different guises.
  • In recent years, the familiar red and white colours of Santa Claus have been erroneously attributed to Coca-Cola, which popularised the image rather than creating it [3]. Neopagan fakelore attributes these colours either to 'blood on the snow' or to an alleged shamanic practice in which reindeer would be skinned and their hide worn inside out, thus creating a red garment with white fringes. A neopagan monologue broadcast on radio, The Mendip Shaman, popularised this belief [4]. As the characteristic red and white Santa only evolved in the 1920s, attributing these colours to shamans skinning reindeer is clearly absurd.
  • Inaccurate (and sometimes very inventive) etymology is common in neopagan fakelore. The name Eostre is mistakenly held to be the origin of the word oestrogen, perhaps following a wilful association of Easter eggs with human egg cells. Similarly, there is a claim that the abusive term faggot for a homosexual man derives from the homosexual victims of Inquisition burnings being named after the faggots of wood piled under them. This claim has no basis in fact, and the word 'faggot' was never used to mean 'homosexual' before the 20th century [5].
Last updated: 05-25-2005 17:15:22
Last updated: 10-29-2005 02:13:46