The Most Common Types of Folklore

From Fairy Tales to Urban Legends

Folklore encompasses such a broad range of beliefs, traditions, and stories that any attempt to make systematic order of it is bound to fall short. What follows is a representative survey of some of the most common types of folklore, from ancient myths and legends to jokes, riddles, and more.

Ballads

Virginia Scenics
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A ballad is a traditional poem or folk song that tells a story. It may describe a true love, a heroic adventures, a scandal, or a tragic death, to name just a few of the most common subjects. Historical examples of ballads date back to the Middle Ages. The form is one way for important cultural narratives to be preserved and passed down to future generations.

Fairy Tales

Castle in the clouds
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Fairy tales are traditional stories, intended primarily for children, which recount human encounters with supernatural beings such as fairies, witches, ogres, and the like, often conveying a cautionary message. Many such tales were compiled by the Brothers Grimm in the 19th century. In the modern era, fairy tales have served as the basis for many Disney movies.

Folk Art

A Mayan Textile from San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas
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Folk art—as opposed to fine art—comprises a range of artistic productions and crafts. Examples of folk art include paintings, sculptures, quilts, pottery, and furniture created by ordinary, unschooled artists using traditional styles and methods, and often employing imagery or symbolism from local mythology.

Folk dance performance in paloc costume, UNESCO world heritage site, Holloko, Hungary
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A folk dance (or ethnic dance) is any dance invented by the common people of a particular region or culture that has been handed down through tradition. Folk dances are usually performed at social gatherings by people who have learned the dances informally. More »

She plays for him
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Folk songs are traditional songs, anonymously composed and handed down orally, about commonplace topics such as work, family, community, and everyday life. They may address social or political issues and they may take the form of ballads, love songs, or novelty songs. Folk songs are usually played on acoustic instruments. More »

Jokes

Laughing children
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A joke is a humorous story or anecdote meant to provoke laughter through irony, wordplay, the thwarting of expectations, the juxtaposition of images, or other techniques.

The Dark Hedges. Northern Ireland, UK.
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A legend is a traditional historical tale or collection of related tales popularly regarded as true but usually containing a mixture of fact and fiction. They may explain an event or provide a moral lesson. Sometimes legends contain fantastical elements or embellishments that are highly improbably or outright false. More »

Myths

The Fairies (Le Villi)
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A myth is a traditional story, usually featuring gods and heroes, which purports to give a cosmic explanation of a natural phenomenon or cultural practice. Myths are part of a community's cultural fabric, conveying essential (if not literal) truth and influencing other stories and beliefs.

Peering into the unknown
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A riddle is a linguistic puzzle posed in the form of a question containing clues to its solution. It's a form of verbal play and popular with children. More »

Woman's hand holding four leaf clover
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A superstition is an irrational belief (i.e., one held in spite of evidence to the contrary), usually involving supernatural forces and associated with rituals. A superstition may conflict with a person's religious beliefs, or lack thereof, while still exerting a powerful influence on them. More »

Tuesday, February 9 is Alligator in the Sewer Day
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An urban legend is an apocryphal story, often taking the form of a cautionary tale, which varies in the telling but is always told as true and attributed to a secondhand or third-hand ("friend of a friend") source. Today, many urban legends are spread anonymously on the internet. More »