Legend and Belief

If the words “believe” or “don’t believe” pop into your head when listening to a story, you may be in the realm of legend. Legends can be supernatural, telling tales of witches, demons, banshees, fairies, mermaids, ghosts , and poltergeists. Apparitions, guardian angels, and near-death experience also feature prominently in contemporary supernatural folklore, while many folklore scholars have noted similarities between supernatural legend and stories of UFOs and alien abductions.

Legends can also be historic, recording the viewpoint of ordinary people around major turning points in history. Oral histories around the Great Famine, the 1798 Rebellion of the United Irishmen against English rule in Ireland and, more recently, stories about politicians such as former Taoiseach Charlie Haughey, all deepen our understanding of these events.

One of the most interesting stories in circulation today is the “urban” legend, a seemingly plausible tale concerning recent events (or alleged events) with a twist in the tale. Often told by a “friend of a friend” or reported in the news media, online, or via emails, they are told as true and often have adult themes.

Belief is the defining feature of legends. But they are also presented as happening to real people in real places, even if they may contain fantastic or unbelievable elements.

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