Assembling Culture Assembling Southern Appalachian Term Paper

Pages: 25 (6890 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 15  ·  Level: Doctoral  ·  Topic: Mythology - Religion  ·  Buy This Paper

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[. . .] Christianity, Judaism and Islam (these being the monotheistic religions with the largest number of adherents) account for approximately 4 billion people with a religious affiliation worldwide. These beliefs bring comfort and promise a better life for most, but they also protect the believer in this world and the one to come.

The Christian adherents seek the wisdom written in their Bible which is divided into two major sections, the Old Testament and the New Testament, and 66 books scattered amongst the two (39 in the Old and 27 in the New). In the gospels of the New Testament is the book of Mark. From this book, the Christians in some Southern Appalachian churches have selected a verse that tells them to what extent they are protected by God. The verse, Mark 16:17,18, says;

17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;

18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

Documentary evidence on PBS, the National Geographic Channel and other outlets has shown these practices, and the Foxfire archives also mention fire handling (Cheek & Nix 56). A documentary from the Nat Geo Wild show Animal Underworld presented the use of snake handling and speaking in tongues during a church service. The snakes were both copper heads and rattle snakes of different varieties, and the host showed various people both handling the serpents and seemingly coming away unharmed. The people talked about how their belief kept them safe (Snake Handling). Cheek and Nix discuss the processes of fire handling and drinking poison in much the same way. The people in the church believed, due to the words of the verse in Mark, that they would not be harmed no matter what dangerous action they performed (57). The caveat to this, from the people performing the actions, was that if the person did not have faith in God they would be harmed just as anybody would. One gentleman, called Brother Huff, stated that "When I hold fire, it feels cool, just like there's no fire there" (Cheek & Nix 57).

Tales

There are many methods used to discover cultural development among a people, but none is considered as significant as how history and belief are passed to future generations (Parsons). The history of a people used to be entirely passed, regardless of the culture, from mouth to mouth. American Indian tribes had a rich tradition of creation tales and other significant information passed in this way. All believed in an intelligent spirit that created the world and the tribe as a favored people. The same type of creation stories written by the early Jewish tribes have been recorded in cultures all around the world. The amazing fact is that many of these diverse stories are closely related. The historic movements and wars that a culture had been engaged in were also fodder for the tales that passed from one generation to the next. Often the people trained storytellers or they were selected for their ability to relate the most important events of the people. If the story was a recent one, it may be told around the campfire through the use of interpretive dance or another form of pantomime, but deep history was relegated to the old central story teller who was well-versed in all of the legends of the people. In his book discussing the methods of dispensing a culture's folklore, Frank de Caro says that "sometimes the singer or teller or speaker was largely forgotten; sometimes the circumstances of the singing or the telling were ignored" (91), meaning that tale was the important thing; the teller of the tale and even the meaning were often secondary.

But meanings are often the reason for the tale in the first place. In her article about Cinderella stories and their use as a means to accentuate gender norms for young girls, Parsons says that;

"Although fairy tales are certainly not solely responsible for the acculturation of children, they are an integral part of the complex layering of cultural stories and influences that affirm and perpetuate cultural norms" (135).

This thought is echoed by Jack Zipes in his book exploring the tales and motivations of the Brothers Grimm. The German people were very fond of telling tales to their children as a means of both entertaining them and instructing them. The brothers Grimm collected the stories during a time when the German people were greatly influenced by the French (as a result of the Napoleonic Wars) and the tales were a means to inspire a German nationalism and a sense of pride in German values. Zipes argues that "[Wilhelm Grimm] and his brother had a distinct concept of home and socialization in collecting and rewriting the tales" (114). The tales then were not necessarily German, but they conveyed a sense that the brothers Grimm believed was important to provide new generations with the concept of German-ness. To this point;

"What fascinated or compelled the Grimms to concentrate on old German literature was a belief that the most natural and pure forms of culture -- those which held the community together -- were linguistic and were to be located in the past" (Zipes 10).

These folktales, and those told by other cultures have thus been very important for expressing what the culture is, and how the people within the culture are to comport themselves. Although this is very important for children to understand, they are not the only ones who listen to the repeated telling of the tales, so they are not the only people who find meaning in them. That is probably the primary reason that the adults will actually ensure that the stories continue from one generation to the next.

Of course, it is simpler for the tale to maintain the important nationalistic or culturalistic component if it is written down, but it loses some of its effect also. A story should be owned by the teller. He or she should be able to emboss the parts on the minds in attendance that are deemed important by the teller, but also the tale sounds more authentic if it is related as if it were being told for the first time. In searching archives it is important to have a written, or in some other way recorded, version of the tale, but it is also important to allow the teller to express themselves through the relating of the tale. The Foxfire archive is constructed with just such a purpose in mind.

As stated above, most of the archive is constructed of interviews that were collected over a period of approximately 20 years. The people were willing to talk about all aspects of their lives, but the bulk of the interviews offered narrative rather than practical happenings. The people were able to discuss how they had survived since the first Scotch-Irish emigrants inhabited the hills that reminded them of home, but they also provided interviewers with legends and ghost stories that had been passed down since the same time.

One resident told interviewers "That the people of these mountains should have a rich supply of 'haint' tales is not at all surprising. They had conquered the land -- but only in a small area around their doors" (Wigginton 324). Throughout history it is not a surprise that people would invent tales to account for sounds, lights and other oddities that they could not explain. The people lived in mountains that were covered with dense foliage which remained in a twilight even during the middle of the day just beyond the reaches of their cabins. The mountains remain wild even to this day, with predators such as bear and pumas in abundance. Many of the tales adopted by the European settlers came from the American Indians who had first populated the area, so they contained the cautions for the land that were first dreamed of by those inhabitants.

The tales of the original settlers of the area provided both fodder for the stories of the new inhabitants and the means to protect themselves. In African culture, people would hang empty bottles from dead tree branches to ward off what they believed were evil spirits (Goldstein & Thomas). The native cultures in the United States had the same belie that malicious spirits could be warned off the same way. Many times they would hang some type of material that would make noise around their encampments so that they would remain safe while they slept. The natives passed this practice on to the Scotch-Irish who settled the region after them. Many of those interviewed told stories of their parents or grandparents hanging pots from the porch, or glass bottles from the trees. When asked about it the old people would say that it was to keep the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Assembling Culture Assembling Southern Appalachian.  (2012, November 29).  Retrieved February 18, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/assembling-culture-southern/2230756

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"Assembling Culture Assembling Southern Appalachian."  Essaytown.com.  November 29, 2012.  Accessed February 18, 2019.
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