Social reality and mythic worlds : reflections on folk belief and the supernatural in James Macpherson’s Ossian and Elias Lönnrot’s Kalevala
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This thesis investigates the representation of social reality that can be reflected by folk belief and the supernatural within mythic worlds created in epic poetry. Although the society, itself, can be regarded as the creator of its own myth, it may still be subjected to the impact of the synthesized mythic world, and this study seeks to address the roles of the society in the shaping of such mythic worlds. The research is inspired by an innovative approach, using James Macpherson’s Ossian (1760-63) and Elias Lönnrot’s Kalevala (1835-49) as epic models that benefit from mythical traditions. Through the examination and the comparison of these two epic collections, both of which seem to have a close association with social reformation and restructuring, the study explores the universality of human nature. It also reveals the extent mythic worlds may exhibit the ‘realities’ of their source-societies and how mythical tradition may become a reflection of a society’s transforming past modes of thinking. Moreover, the study devotes special attention to the influence of mythic heritage on national awakening and the construction of national identities. The research treats Macpherson as the re-inventor of Gaelic oral tradition with his Ossian, where he portrays a Romanticized image of a gallant past according to the norms of the eighteenth century. Therefore, the mythic world of the epic can be seen as a combination of an ancient heroic past and the aesthetic refinement of a polished age. In this framework, as the product of a society going through a transition period from traditional to modern, Ossian seems to reflect the society’s changing world-view, both celebrating, and mourning for a culture on the verge of extinction. Focusing on the Kalevala, the study analyzes its portrayal of Finnish folk belief. The Kalevala, like Ossian, is an attempt to recover ancient tradition, which seems to revolve around supernatural and divine elements, with hopes to establish a common social reality. It is an expression of Finnish language, belief and culture, whose production was prompted by the looming Finnish nationalism. Therefore, the evolving mode of thought represented in the mythic world of Kalevalaic poems, is expected and favoured by the society, enabling the epic to encourage a social reformation.