Popular belief

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The term Volksglaube has been used in German-speaking humanities since the late 18th century. It is often used as a synonym for the pejorative term superstition , i.e. related to beliefs and actions perceived as pagan or occult . Other authors use popular belief to refer to the so-called popular piety , i.e. practices of faith that are not provided for by the church teaching office but are sanctioned or tolerated. In the course of the ongoing discussion about the term and its suitability, definitions were attempted which should include the totality of the manifestations of a regionally widespread belief in a neutral and comprehensive manner; For example, the dictionary of German folklore by Oswald A. Erich and Richard Beitl defines folk belief as "that which the people consider to be true, especially in relation to the extra- and supernatural world", which ultimately includes not only religious beliefs, but also, among other things Extra-scientific ideas about healing practices count.

Concept history

Like folk song and folk spirit, the term is one of the many compound words for people - which were widely used through the work of Johann Gottfried Herder . In Herder's work, however, the word does not yet stand for the peculiarity of a people, but more or less as a human universality: For him, the idea of ​​the immortality of the soul is “as a general popular belief on earth, the only thing that distinguishes man from animals in death” , and Christianity as "popular belief [...] that made all peoples into one people." Herder's idea that the common rural population, untouched by the Enlightenment, showed the characteristic peculiarities of a people in pure form, derives the appropriation of the term through German Romanticism. For example, Friedrich Carl von Savigny , the founder of the historical school of law , clarified his legal conception in his pamphlet Vom Profession Our Time in 1814 with the famous formulation that everything is law

"Is generated first through custom and popular belief, then through jurisprudence, ie everywhere through inner, quiet forces, not through the will of a legislature."

The “popular belief” is therefore everything that the people, in silent agreement, have always felt to be right.

The word in Jacob Grimm's work has a negative connotation , which may be related to his strictly Protestant worldview, which allowed him little understanding of other worldviews. In his German mythology , he uses “folk beliefs” without distinction alongside “superstitions” for magical practices, in which he saw relics of a Germanic pre-Christian world of ideas. In the German dictionary it is initially stated in Herder's sense that popular belief denotes the ideas that exist in the people about the relationship between man and the world and God; the popular form of religion; as well as generally every holding for truth [...] that shows itself in the people: (Christianity). In the narrower sense, however, it denotes the ideas that originate from ancient, largely pagan times and are referred to by rationalism as superstitions.

In folklore , the discussion about the terminology continued in the 19th and 20th centuries. On the one hand, many folklorists increasingly avoided the term “superstition”, since it has a pejorative connotation and thus expresses a value judgment that makes an objective description impossible. This discussion preceded the choice of title for one of the most ambitious folklore projects of the 20th century, the concise dictionary of German superstition (1927–1942). In the foreword, the editors expressed their opinion that the term popular belief seemed "unfortunate" to them,

“For by 'popular belief' we have to understand the whole range of religious activities and feelings of the people, their conception and shaping of Christianity at least as much as the pre- and post-Christian rudiments that they have preserved. In 'popular belief' the Christian components seem to us to have a much broader and more substantial scope than in so-called 'superstition.' "

On the other hand, the designation of magical practices or acts that were in competition with or contrary to the claims of the Christian faith as actual "popular beliefs" seemed problematic to many. In today's folklore research, however, the term “ popular piety ” has increasingly established itself for the border area between ecclesiastical and magical beliefs described here .

See also


Individual evidence

  1. ^ Friedrich Carl von Savigny: From the profession of our time for legislation and jurisprudence. Heidelberg 1814. p. 13.
  2. RGA, Vol. 32, p. 479.
  3. popular belief In: Jacob Grimm, Wilhelm Grimm German Dictionary . Leipzig 1854–1960 (dwb.uni-trier.de)
  4. Hanns Bächtold-Stäubli: Foreword . In: Concise dictionary of German superstition . Vol. 1, de Gruyter, Berlin 1927, pp. 5-7.