Mythology and folklore, the differences

Sometimes mythology and folklore are used interchangeably, but most often there is a difference between them. Usually, it is hard to grasp the difference, looking at the words definitions gives almost no hints to what separates these two terms.

Google says that folklore is:

the traditional beliefs, customs, and stories of a community, passed through the generations by word of mouth.

This definition sounds like rules about the social culture, traditions among the people, and beliefs or religion. And it is being passed down orally, I’d say by tales and bards.

Let us look at Google’s definition of what mythology is:

a collection of myths, especially one belonging to a particular religious or cultural tradition.

Okay. Myths, or tales, about social culture and traditions, together with religion. But maybe not passed orally? Most likely this too was passed down by bards and storytellers.

So what is the difference? Below is listed some ways that a distinction could be, I’m in no way an expert, this is just my thoughts and ideas on the difference.

The difference in content

The creation of mythology came from the need to answer the questions of the people. Questions about the fundamental concerns of humankind. Who are we? Where did we originate? How did the world start? What happens after death? What makes the sun rise, and the trees grow? The tales give hope in the lives of the people.

The creation of folklore came from the need to explain everyday things. Explain where sickness came from, and why people were sometimes acting strangely. It tries to show why you should be careful around water and bridges; that you have to take care of the earth and your home. The tales give hope in the daily lives of the people.

Mythology tells of heroic adventures and folklore are tales of everyday folk.

It isn’t always this clear cut between the two, sometimes they overlap, and the lines get blurry. Sometimes the one going on a heroic adventure is an everyday person. Sometimes the heroic adventure is defeating a supernatural creature and involves no gods. There is going to be tales that include both types, or takes some ideas from one of them and include them in the other.

The difference in time

There is also another definition of the differences between mythology and folklore. At least, there is a relation between Norse mythology and Scandinavian folklore. Applying it all over the world might be possible.

In Scandinavia, the folklore is what developed from the mythology. The gods of old got replaced by the single one of Christianity. But the folk still needed magical creatures to explain the things happening around them.