top of page
  • Writer's pictureBen Hellman

A Dark Year Made Brighter: Folklorist's End-of-Year Notebook

Updated: Mar 6, 2021

Painted wheel of the year, from the Museum of Witchcraft, in Boscastle, England. (Wikipedia.)

The wheel of the year reminds of me of the medieval wheel of fate, which spins ever on, never leaving us in misery or ecstasy for long. And so 2020 comes to an end. The dark season is upon us and a tough year draws to a close. It is a good time to read and recharge and look forward to brighter days ahead. New England Bard and Practical Mythology went live six months ago in July 2020 and I’ve managed to post at least one article every other week, which was my goal for the year. My early articles were lucky to get ten views and recently, with some serious hustling, I am averaging about a hundred.

It is hard to gauge beyond views, which of my articles have been most well-liked and because I’ve gotten more views as the year has gone on I am uncertain whether more people are just recognizing my posts and clicking because they’ve enjoyed past stories. By far my most viewed story of the year was “The Protester and the Power of Ancient Ireland,” about the Seattle protester who sat in what I identified as a sheela-na-gig pose as part of her protest against police overreach in that city. I have to think that the popularity of that post is linked to the Oregonian photographer Dave Killen’s image of the nude protester from behind, but it was also the first interview I conducted for Practical Mythology with the scholar Dr. Eamonn P. Kelly, author of Sheela-na-Gigs; Origins and Functions (Town House and Country House, 1997).

Some 2020 Highlights from Practical Mythology

Images from my Beowulf series, my adventure to Castle Dracula, my curious Christmas carol, and my examination of Victorian scholar and folklorist Marjory Wardrop.

My most ambitious enterprise work of the year was in my series about a Georgian folk tale I identified as a Bear’s Son tale that bears some remarkable similarities to the Grendel section of Beowulf. The series ended with “Two Trolls and a Dragon Walk into a Tale,” which is a nod to my scholarly interest in Beowulf. Practical Mythology hadn’t had many regular views per post at the time and it was likely heavy reading for the general folklore audience. I was just happy to have a few fellow students and scholars of Beowulf see it and offer me feedback.

I was introduced to the Georgian Beowulf analogue “Asphurtzela” through Marjory Wardrop’s collection of Georgian folk tales and when the Bodleian Library released a text on its Wardrop Collection, I was able to write “‘This Little Book’ Marjory Wardrop and the Tales of the Georgians.” Wardrop continues to be an interest to me and I hope to take time this year to learn more about this fascinating Victorian scholar. This article was the first I posted to the Carterhaugh School of Folklore and the Fantastic Facebook group, and the moderators of the page, Drs. Brittany Warman and Sara Cleto have graciously welcomed my articles on their site, which has boosted my views and remains an important outlet for Practical Mythology posts. I’m very grateful for my Carterhaugh School views, but I hope to find some additional regular homes for Practical Mythology this year.

Orpheus and Eurydice Go Shopping

I believe one of my most important articles this year was “Discovering the Dawnland,” about the tales of the Native Peoples of my home New England. I loved reading the collections of Abenaki tales and I love sharing tales that are not as widely read, particularly when they are so good. I would like to return to the subject in 2021, particularly if I can find a native storyteller to interview.

I ended the year with a project that I hope will become more common in 2021. “The Farmer from the Barrow: An Unusual Christmas Story” featured my first recording of myself singing while accompanying myself with my lyre. The project was a monthslong affair and still felt rushed as I sat recording on Christmas eve. I adapted the English words of the traditional Norwegian Christmas carol “Haugebonden” from a Norwegian scholar’s literal translation and arranged the song’s accompaniment for my seven-string lyre. Being able to write a worthwhile folklore post on one of my personal projects brought together my skills in a rewarding way. I anticipate recording more folk songs this year with entertaining stories to research further and write about.

This week I’ve been putting together an article about the photographic series Wilder Mann; The Image of the Savage after interviewing photographer Charles Fréger. Fréger’s perspective on costume, performance and community have excited my mind and I look forward to sharing his thoughts and images in a week or so. I’ve also been reading Hilda (H.R. Ellis) Davidson’s Gods and Myths of Northern Europe, recommended to be by a professor of Norse Myths after I asked him his opinion of Viktor Rydberg. Davidson’s text is a blast to read. She gives the straight scoop, but she isn’t reticent about speculating past what she can say for sure. I am also reaching out to potential sources to write about NASA’s Artemis program, which gets to the heart of my original mission to explore uses of folklore and mythology in the modern world.

I have been remiss about other sections of the New England Bard website and I am trying to crack away at adding images and text to the unfinished sections. This is easier said than done, but I am sure 2021 will see new projects and the finishing of old projects.

There is a world of folklore and fun ahead of us in 2021. If you are reading this post, thank you. Your continued interest makes this work worthwhile and the work has brought me much joy and satisfaction during a difficult year for all of us.

8 views0 comments



Benjamin Hellman's Blog

bottom of page