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Author Topic: The Knocker, Problematic Beliefs  (Read 1445 times)

Nymree

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The Knocker, Problematic Beliefs
« on: June 09, 2020, 04:37:52 pm »
I wasn't sure if this should go on another board, but it is part of a Celtic culture's folklore, so I thought here might be best. This is my contribution of a problem I've come across, and the discussions surrounding it. This post will deal with the anti-Semitic beliefs prevalent in some specific Cornish folklore in the 1800s, so a trigger warning is due in advance.

The Cornish knocker, often called a 'knacker' or 'tommyknocker', is a mine spirit. They were marked by the knocking sound thought to come from their pickaxes within the mine tunnel walls, either as warnings of danger, signs of a tin lode or as a misleading sound used to draw miners to dangerous sections of the mine, perhaps to their deaths. Sometimes they were benevolent, often they were forces of retribution to miners who disrespected them.

A major contention point for knocker lore that I've recently come across is the folk explanations for their origins. Ronald M. James writes in The Folklore of Cornwall that 'Bottrell, Hunt, Jenner, Evans-Wentz and Wright all suggest that the prominent folk belief was that Jews were exiled to the mines presumably for their alleged part in the Crucifixion.' The knockers, according to this prominent folk-explanation, were the 'spirits of Jews who laboured underground long ago.'

As Marina Sassenberg points out in her article 'The Jews of Cornwall Revisited', this belief made knockers an 'othered' people, 'the threatening "other" and served as a scapegoat for inexplicable calamity'. It is hugely problematic, as it became anti-Semitic in its usage and ideas, caricaturing and vilifying the entire Jewish population to be blamed for cave-ins and violent disasters. Moreover, as James suggests in his chapter on knockers, the rapid exportation of the myth across the Western world (and especially its popularity in England) only served to reinforce the anti-Semitic caricature.

That the anti-Semitism was a later addition to a pre-existing folklore does not justify its presence, however it does explain the likely origins of it. James writes, ‘when discussing possible origins of supernatural beings, people typically expressed belief in the form of migratory legends. Naturally, they sometimes perceived fairies through a Christian lens.’ He later adds, ‘Attributing some fairies with an ancient human origin was an after-the-fact explanation rather than evidence that ghosts became supernatural beings such as the knockers […] The Cornish belief that a specialized type of supernatural being inhabited the eerie environment of the mine almost certainly came first; they then pondered on the origin of these creatures.’ This makes it much easier, in my opinion, for Modern Pagans coming to these myths to separate the early supernatural figure from the later, possibly Christian re-writings, though its still hugely problematic.
A (very non-verifiable) reddit response, supposedly from James himself, also points out that the original role of Jews in the mythology of Cornwall was not necessarily negative/scapegoat – often, it was believed that a Jewish colony formed in Cornwall, making up some of the early mining ancestors. This was pseudo-history (although such communities did exist, according to Sassenberg, especially in Penzance and Falmouth), but did not associate anti-Semitic ideas with them. Instead, it was a type of origin story, which grew anti-Semitic explanations when the stories of the knockers were popularised outside of Cornwall, as well as later in the folklore’s history within Cornwall.

Still, reading Bottrell’s version leaves me uncomfortable, to say the least. It isn’t uncommon for supernatural creatures to become the means of scapegoating minority populations – the origins of the zombie in Western culture during the slave trade suggests as much (sources for this are tucked away in my various textbook shoe boxes, so I will find if asked and include in a comment below). James leaves this chapter with the conclusion, ‘it is important to place this motif in perspective: the Jewish origin of the knockers was conjecture applied at a later date. The knockers began as underground fairies, and people, as they did throughout Europe, blended these sorts of supernatural beings with ghosts and other traditions as they tried to make sense of what they regarded as the extraordinary in their everyday lives.’

As someone who doesn’t have Jewish heritage, it isn’t my place to forgive and forget – I’m not the victim. However, reading the various responses to this piece of Cornish folklore, it seems to be mostly portrayed by anthropologists as a chapter in history. Living in Cornwall, as a part of that culture, I can say I had never even heard of this explanation of the knocker until now, and it’s left a bad taste in my mouth to say the least. I’m not sure how to respond to it, the two perspectives being to abandon the entire thing, or try to work with the modern (not anti-Semitic) interpretations of the knockers, which explains them as the spirits of the old miners and a form of the ancestors. This was an interpretation present even in Bottrell’s time, not just modern invention, and it was one of the pieces of folklore I first felt attached to in my early reading. Still, an erasure of Jewish struggles in Cornwall by pretending that this piece of problematic history/folklore didn’t exist isn’t okay, either.

I think that the best way I can end this is by pointing out how knockers are used in modern folk contexts. For the most part, my experience with them has been in childhood – the knockers were talked about in school, like you would an elf, fairy, goblin or gnome. They were kids-things. As an adult, becoming part of the Cornish revival and Modern Paganism, they’ve become the mining ancestors for me, a part of our story of heritage attached to the mine ruins. That heritage is mixed and not just a romantic ideal, but necessary to address to fully understand Cornwall as it stands, its history and roots as well as its recent developments and progress. And we can’t paint over this.

As the redditor itsallfolklore states, ‘While Romantic-era folklorists sought the "true" forms - even the "Ur" form – [of] a tradition, we now understand that every person and every generation mutated traditions, taking, adding, changing, and sometimes speculating on "why the hell we knock on wood, make a corn-doll out of the last remnants of the harvest, or avoid going out on Friday the 13th." There is the tradition we inherit, the tradition we practice, and the tradition that we sometimes invent to explain it all.’ While the history of the knocker should not be hidden, I think the next generation has the potential to reinvent our Cornish traditions, finding a new meaning in our mine spirits that has relevance and meaning for people today.

Apologies if this was a difficult post to read. I thought I should address it, since many Celtic polytheist and Brythonic forums and message boards post Bottrell’s works as primary reading, and I was surprised the issue hadn’t come up before. What do you think? What’s your response to the issues raised? I wonder if we really can just ‘reinvent’ folklore, if the living ancestors of a tradition can decide to remove one story and choose another, or if that folklore should be best left forgotten, acknowledging that the afterlives of hate are too toxic to ignore. I’d love to get more opinions.

PerditaPickle

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Re: The Knocker, Problematic Beliefs
« Reply #1 on: June 09, 2020, 04:56:41 pm »
I’d love to get more opinions.

My goodness, you wrote an essay there - I'm impressed with the quality of your research and writing.

Beyond that, I must admit it was a somewhat difficult read given the content.  Like you, I'd never heard of this explanation of the 'knocker' until now, either (unlike you, I've never lived in Cornwall, but we did visit many a summer when I was a child and spent a lot of time sightseeing).  I'd always had a kind of affection for the legend of the knockers whenever I heard it on those visits.  In a depressing way, however, a part of me is not altogether surprised to hear about your findings of such a re-interpretation (appropriation?) of a traditional local tale.

Unfortunately, I don't have the brain power to respond more at present, but I wanted to acknowledge that you brought the subject up.  I shall try to return at a later point if I have more I can add which is at all meaningful.
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Haptalaon

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Re: The Knocker, Problematic Beliefs
« Reply #2 on: June 27, 2020, 08:23:40 am »
The Cornish knocker, often called a 'knacker' or 'tommyknocker', is a mine spirit. They were marked by the knocking sound thought to come from their pickaxes within the mine tunnel walls, either as warnings of danger, signs of a tin lode or as a misleading sound used to draw miners to dangerous sections of the mine, perhaps to their deaths. Sometimes they were benevolent, often they were forces of retribution to miners who disrespected them.


Fantastic post!

I suppose to reduce it to very "practical" terms:

1. I also haven't heard this version of the myth before. If nobody knows, who is it hurting? Compared to, say, gollywog toys - also part of "british culture", but one which is clearly & inherently cruel and part of an ugly history.   You don't have to read a book to "learn" why this depiction is racially inflammatory, you can tell by looking that these toys are racialised, you don't need to know any history to know you're being made fun of.

2. On the flipside, in the context of a Cornish paganism, it's important to think about the needs of a modern community. Say I was to center knockers in my coven's mythology, and we had a Jewish person join the coven, and after they were already part of your magical community - they found this out. Marginalised people aren't a monolith, but my instinct is that at best...they're going to feel a bit weird about it.

You don't mention it, but do you think there's also an element of the anti-semitic trope wrt lust-for-gold, the knockers being potentially the people who "have the wealth" which is the tin underground? My husband says there's a very disgraceful quote from Tolkien about his Dwarves implying this, although now I go looking for it what I've found is far more interesting:

 Tolkien was by trade a linguist and philologist, and created languages for each of his fictional races. “Their words are Semitic, obviously, constructed to be Semitic,” he said of the Dwarvish tongue. Of course, the dwarves have a great love of gold, and some have drawn attention to a possible anti-Semitic sentiment here. “I do think of the ‘Dwarves’ like Jews,” he writes (Letters, p. 229), “at once native and alien in their habitations, speaking the languages of the country, but with an accent due to their own private tongue.”
(source)

Although I don't think, of course, that we can fully rule out the subliminal in favour of what he consciously says.

I think the impact on other people always needs to be the first and primary consideration.

3.  But does digging up and reviving knowledge of the origin of this myth impact people positively or negatively? I don't know.

Maybe leaving this in the past is...a way not to remind people of it. I don't think any Jewish people are under any illusions about a history of exclusion in Britain, as well as elsewhere, but in terms of...not reviving triggering content where people going about their day might not want to think about it? This isn't central to the knocker myth, so why make it central in an era when it has been half forgotten? Memory is memory, no matter the intent of the reminder.

I can't speak for others, but certainly as a queer person we have great capacity to embrace and reclaim our negative representations. So, perhaps, a Jewish neo-pagan wouldn't be hurt but rather heartened by evidence of a historic presence in Cornwall. The absence of people of colour in folklore & our cultural imaginary is a huge problem; Fencraft leans so heavily on assembling new things from our cultural detritus, but then what does it mean when that detritus is...so very white. Perhaps spreading knowledge of this myth-variant isn't hurtful or triggering, but is an opportunity (although not, of course, one that gentiles could participate in creating) for Jewish neo-pagans to have a route into Cornish national culture and to make it an affirming myth? I have no idea, really; only that, as queers, we are embracing villainous images of ourselves all the time - because they are so often the only ones that exist. (Perhaps racialised identities function differently and this is generally not how people of colour wrestle with historic racism)


4. But at what point do myths become static, & can no longer be reinvented? The knocker myth is so rich. I've never come across it as an ancestor thing before, although I think that's very evocative. The genesis is so clearly...the experience of being in a cave, being afraid, hearing strange noises. In Fencraft, we'd call that a Stellar experience - one of the three ways of relating to the divine, in this case, the awareness of man's powerlessness in contrast with the deep underground dark, and the knowledge that a cave-in could bury you at any time.

I don't think it's a good option to just carve out that element of local mythology - spirits underground, things in the dark, things which interact with local industry. I'm in Wales, so reading about this I am reminded that everywhere under my feet is a honeycomb of flammable black, and wondering if there are local legends about it? I think, like legends told by sailors, it's very natural to find legends told by miners.

Like, knockers and sirens for example, local spirits of the workplace which tempt men to unwise deaths. In WW2, gremlins occupied the same role as creatures which would break fighter planes.

5. Do we know if this interpretation was a "popular" belief? These are oral cultures, often recorded and "flattened" into a single mythos by an educated folklorist, who then also adds his own embellishments or explanations on top. Do you think that, given a time machine and going to a small Cornish mining village, 100% of the grandmothers there would tell you that knockers were the spirits of banished Jews - or do you think that's a learned gloss added to a myth, perhaps in a single context, or by an interpreter?

I don't know the answer to that question. It just feels like...when we are talking about what people believed, we always have to wrestle with how much unrecorded material there is; and the often intrusive changes made by the kinds of people who did the recording.

6. Its funny because, I've got really into the Fuzzy Felt Folk album for my own paganism, and one of the songs is "My mother said I never should play with the g*psies in the wood", and I've been thinking about reclaiming it with the word "fairy" instead. I think the song works perfectly well, as a fear/longing of being stolen away by the fairies. I don't know if this is is ok.

But I'd hazard that there's probably quite a large fear-of-the-other component to a lot of folklore, a lot of places where a magical creature and a marginalised human blur into a single object of fear.

My husband was saying last night that the word orc - first found in Beowulf - we don't really know what it means, but one theory is that it applies to the Viking raiders from the sea.

--------------------------------

Lots of questions, no answers: thanks for raising an interesting discussion!

[Edited to fix link code - SP]
« Last Edit: July 01, 2020, 11:12:29 am by SunflowerP »
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PerditaPickle

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Re: The Knocker, Problematic Beliefs
« Reply #3 on: June 30, 2020, 07:16:37 am »
Lots of questions, no answers: thanks for raising an interesting discussion!

Fantastic reply!

I just wanted to note as well, though, that I had trouble accessing the URL you included as your source for the Tolkien points in both Chrome and Edge (don't know about anyone else).  I think this was the site you were aiming for?  (I've not given that page a thorough read, but I found the parts I did peruse interesting reading.)
« Last Edit: June 30, 2020, 07:18:46 am by PerditaPickle »
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arete

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Re: The Knocker, Problematic Beliefs
« Reply #4 on: July 03, 2020, 09:22:30 am »
This post will deal with the anti-Semitic beliefs prevalent in some specific Cornish folklore in the 1800s, so a trigger warning is due in advance.

The Cornish knocker, often called a 'knacker' or 'tommyknocker', is a mine spirit. They were marked by the knocking sound thought to come from their pickaxes within the mine tunnel walls, either as warnings of danger, signs of a tin lode or as a misleading sound used to draw miners to dangerous sections of the mine, perhaps to their deaths. Sometimes they were benevolent, often they were forces of retribution to miners who disrespected them.

A major contention point for knocker lore that I've recently come across is the folk explanations for their origins. Ronald M. James writes in The Folklore of Cornwall that 'Bottrell, Hunt, Jenner, Evans-Wentz and Wright all suggest that the prominent folk belief was that Jews were exiled to the mines presumably for their alleged part in the Crucifixion.' The knockers, according to this prominent folk-explanation, were the 'spirits of Jews who laboured underground long ago.'
As you mentioned later, it's Christian. It has nothing to do with paganism. Why mix pagan with Christian?
I pray that religious animosity will end.

PerditaPickle

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Re: The Knocker, Problematic Beliefs
« Reply #5 on: July 03, 2020, 10:22:36 am »
As you mentioned later, it's Christian.

Do you have an additional source for this, besides the one referenced by the OP?
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arete

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Re: The Knocker, Problematic Beliefs
« Reply #6 on: July 03, 2020, 01:41:53 pm »
Do you have an additional source for this, besides the one referenced by the OP?
What this? Do you mean, if the legend in 1800s is Christian?

The OP said about a legend in the 1800s. 1800s is dominated by christians. Do you believe that old lore remain pagan??? Nope. In 1800s everything became christian.
I pray that religious animosity will end.

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Re: The Knocker, Problematic Beliefs
« Reply #7 on: July 03, 2020, 04:39:53 pm »
What this? Do you mean, if the legend in 1800s is Christian?

The OP said about a legend in the 1800s. 1800s is dominated by christians. Do you believe that old lore remain pagan??? Nope. In 1800s everything became christian.

Where's your evidence?
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Haptalaon

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Re: The Knocker, Problematic Beliefs
« Reply #8 on: July 03, 2020, 06:15:28 pm »
As you mentioned later, it's Christian. It has nothing to do with paganism. Why mix pagan with Christian?

I mean for me, at least, my practice is responding to the vast forgetting and remembering that is the jumbled lore of the land, so...

Beowulf is Christian. The Eddas are Christian. Robin Hood is Christian. King Arthur is Christian. Ancient pagan feast days are Christian. Ancient pagan worship sites are now churches. Witches used bibles for spellcasting, and prayers and psalms. Christianity IS part of the weird heritage of the UK, part of that jumble

There's a longing to strip out the Christianity to get back to a "pure, unfiltered paganism", but I don't think we can do that without a lot of make believe; so my approach is to embrace it, and go right ahead and yank Christianity into syncretic forms that blend right back in with the paganism. Like, there's an urge to strip out the Christian bits of the Arthur myths to focus just on the pagan elements, but it's far more authentic and cheeky to accept the presence of the Christian elements and then appropriate them into pagan practice... ;)

I use churches in my paganism all the time; I can only presume that witches since time immemorial have done so, substituting in the names for their beloved spirits while keeping up appearances on a Sunday morning.

So - in short - I think recognising the Christian history can be productive, and can be part of a Pagan practice; they aren't necessarily opposed, so long as it's done on your terms.
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arete

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Re: The Knocker, Problematic Beliefs
« Reply #9 on: July 04, 2020, 02:24:34 am »
Where's your evidence?
History of christian expansion. By 1800s, Europe was christian all of it.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christianity_in_the_19th_century
I pray that religious animosity will end.

arete

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Re: The Knocker, Problematic Beliefs
« Reply #10 on: July 04, 2020, 03:06:12 am »
Beowulf is Christian. The Eddas are Christian. Robin Hood is Christian. King Arthur is Christian. Ancient pagan feast days are Christian. Ancient pagan worship sites are now churches. Witches used bibles for spellcasting, and prayers and psalms. Christianity IS part of the weird heritage of the UK, part of that jumble
Nah, the UK spirit is pagan and it will remain pagan. Robin Hood is the english spirit and it's far older than christianity. Monks wrote the myths and they added christian elements everywhere. :-\ It's a pity that folklore was written by christian monks. >:(
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Re: The Knocker, Problematic Beliefs
« Reply #11 on: July 04, 2020, 03:52:01 am »
Nah, the UK spirit is pagan and it will remain pagan. Robin Hood is the english spirit and it's far older than christianity. Monks wrote the myths and they added christian elements everywhere. :-\ It's a pity that folklore was written by christian monks. >:(

You have completely contradicted yourself here. Christianity dominated the UK by time Robin Hood was being written about. Wikipedia handily told me that the first ballad of Robin Hood is 15th century. But even if you date him to King John (and it can't be proven any tales date from then), Christianity was still so prominent in the UK in the 12th century that John's brother Richard the Lionheart had gone to fight in the crusades. The Carmina Gadelica is 19th century and very clearly Christian, but a lot of us use parts of it in our Gaelic-inspired practices. And, as you yourself admit, the Irish myths were written down by Christian monks.

I also have trouble believing your proposition that the spirit of the UK is Pagan and will remain Pagan. We have Church of England bishops ruling us from the House of Lords. There's a church on every corner. Numbers of active adherents of Christianity are dropping, but people who profess to be Christian are the majority in this country in every census.

The reason you believe Robin Hood is the 'English spirit' is faith, not evidence. Belief in folklore takes exactly the same approach. It seems to me that you're willing to take the word of monks on surviving Pagan lore, but not villagers in Cornwall. We simply can't know how old some folklore is, but many UK and Irish Pagans associate local folklore with some kind of practice that we might now call Pagan (even if those who kept the folklore alive would not have called themselves that). The idea of Pagan 'survivals' is deeply controversial because of how long they'd have to survive, but many of us choose to believe they hold some spirit of earlier beliefs anyway. As you yourself do with Robin Hood. We're doing the same thing.
« Last Edit: July 04, 2020, 03:54:04 am by Sophia C »
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arete

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Re: The Knocker, Problematic Beliefs
« Reply #12 on: July 04, 2020, 01:50:05 pm »
You have completely contradicted yourself here. Christianity dominated the UK by time Robin Hood was being written about. Wikipedia handily told me that the first ballad of Robin Hood is 15th century. But even if you date him to King John (and it can't be proven any tales date from then), Christianity was still so prominent in the UK in the 12th century that John's brother Richard the Lionheart had gone to fight in the crusades. The Carmina Gadelica is 19th century and very clearly Christian, but a lot of us use parts of it in our Gaelic-inspired practices. And, as you yourself admit, the Irish myths were written down by Christian monks.

I also have trouble believing your proposition that the spirit of the UK is Pagan and will remain Pagan. We have Church of England bishops ruling us from the House of Lords. There's a church on every corner. Numbers of active adherents of Christianity are dropping, but people who profess to be Christian are the majority in this country in every census.

The reason you believe Robin Hood is the 'English spirit' is faith, not evidence. Belief in folklore takes exactly the same approach. It seems to me that you're willing to take the word of monks on surviving Pagan lore, but not villagers in Cornwall. We simply can't know how old some folklore is, but many UK and Irish Pagans associate local folklore with some kind of practice that we might now call Pagan (even if those who kept the folklore alive would not have called themselves that). The idea of Pagan 'survivals' is deeply controversial because of how long they'd have to survive, but many of us choose to believe they hold some spirit of earlier beliefs anyway. As you yourself do with Robin Hood. We're doing the same thing.
When I was eleven years old I became a member of the children's library and the very first book I borrowed was Robin Hood. I hoped for the most beautiful story of antiquity, where existed Gods and dragons. When I read about christianity and satanism in the story I was kinda confused. I am still looking for anything that is prechristian. :)
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Re: The Knocker, Problematic Beliefs
« Reply #13 on: July 05, 2020, 03:50:24 am »
We simply can't know how old some folklore is, but many UK and Irish Pagans associate local folklore with some kind of practice that we might now call Pagan (even if those who kept the folklore alive would not have called themselves that). The idea of Pagan 'survivals' is deeply controversial because of how long they'd have to survive, but many of us choose to believe they hold some spirit of earlier beliefs anyway.

Part of the controversy is also the extent to which Victorian/Edwardian folklorists chose to believe in the idea of Pagan survivals, and were shameless in making the facts fit their beliefs

(see Triumph of the Moon for a very depressing history of this; if you imagine a Victorian explorer discovering a remote tribe on a small island, and patronisingly writing down his own interpretation of their simple, primitive rites, then transplant *exactly* the same attitude to, say, rural Kent...for example, passing off folk rituals as ancient survivals when Dora down the road had helped start the tradition 10 years ago, or writing about them as if the locals didn't understand the "true" significance when, often, the people with that folklore knew quite a lot about why they were doing what they did. It's sad how much genuine stuff was unrecorded by these guys. Iolo Morganwg, a big figure in druidry, made stuff up and passed them off as ancient manuscripts...)

But yeah, arete I share your sense of sadness and loss. I also have a robin-as-pagan-spirit thing in my life, and it is wonderful; as I said, I am then also shameless about re-appropriating the Christian bits as pagan too  ;)

Pagan life blog: Haptalaon @ Dreamwidth
Fencraft Handbook: Seekers of the Landweird: for land-trance, pagan animism, folklore and traditional witchcraft

Nymree

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Re: The Knocker, Problematic Beliefs
« Reply #14 on: July 12, 2020, 06:40:20 pm »
Fantastic post!

I suppose to reduce it to very "practical" terms:


Sorry for the late response, I'll try to answer what I've learned for each of these off the top of my head (and include links when my brain can process).

1) I think the main reason I felt concerned, was because many Neopagan sourcebooks (like Gemma Gary's 'Witchcraft: A Cornish Book of Ways') include texts William Bottrell's 'Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall' in their further reading page - these are the same 19th century folklore books that contain references to the anti-semitism, or overtly anti-semitic insults and descriptions. While the myth doesn't survive today, my concern was that others might come across them and be hurt as time and interest in Cornish folklore progresses. I spend a lot of my personal time advocating Cornish culture and heritage, and writing about the myths and legends, so to a certain extent I do feel responsible for at least addressing the issue. I do understand where you're coming from, though.

2) Yeah, this is the scenario I worry about. I do wonder if the isolated nature of this legend (not existing, as far as I can tell, before the Christian influence, and dying out with the turn of the 20th century) helps reduce how harmful it is, but the fact that it exists at all could be in itself a problem.

To mention the lust for gold thing, your Tolkein example is actually very spot on - there's a huge issue with existing fantasy depictions of dwarves, goblins and mine spirits as having these anti-semitic stereotyped characteristics, which has come up in the LoTR fanbase, D&D, and in cases like this. It is worth pointing out that the Cornish knockers pre-existed the anti-semitism, though, and were already mine spirits by the time they were given this distorting explanation - their relationship to underground treasures is likely much more complex as a result.

I agree, their impact needs to be considered. It's a conversation that needs to be had with the victims of this stereotype, as well as with the scholars and living members of the culture from which the folklore originates.

3&4) On that note, I think it is worth considering how the knocker myth is much more than this one example of it. There are plenty of examples of other versions, many of which considered them to be mine fairies or ancient ancestors. It is also worth noting that, according to the source mentioned in my OP (James) - at least, I think that's where I read this - the Cornwall-Jewish relation was something completely innocent at first. The earlier version of legendary Jewish presence in Cornish folklore was that there was a Jewish colony in Penzance, and the settlers among them formed our earliest mine ancestors, not at all a dishonourable position. This could give those seeking it an opportunity to use these myths to heal, though I'm not the one to make that judgement. Like you said, it might work completely differently in a racial context.

5) This is another problem. The Cornish myths and legends were recorded in the 19th century, when this explanation of the knockers myth was the single most popular one among the miners, according to James. We know that this probably wasn't the case earlier in the folklore's history, and it definitely isn't the case now, but it was then. At least, as far as we can tell from the documented sources. There were other documented explanations/stories that avoided or distanced from the anti-semitism, but these were fewer. Now, it's almost impossible for me to find a modern source even mentioning it.

You're right about the fear of the other/ blurring the marginalised person with an object of fear in folklore, it happens a lot actually (see earliest versions of zombies, and the movie I Walked with a Zombie for how the first ever zombie movies represented the internalised racism following the Transatlantic Slave Trade.)


To end on some kind of thoughtful note, I feel like I need to work out my role in this. Since the anti-semitic element no longer exists as a part of the living culture today, there isn't a huge amount to actively do in order to address it. In a weird way, we seem to have come full circle, and the knocker has become a fairy or elf again to most people, much like some suspect it could have originally been. Because of this, there isn't an actively occuring thing to target per se, it's a piece of history that needs to be addressed. I wonder if reforming the knocker, and actively working to acknowledge its history, could work towards a healing process.

My best hope, looking at it from a practical standpoint, is that this snapshot of the knocker's rich history doesn't need to become part of its meaning for people today. As you said, folklore and myths are the types of things that are constantly being reinvented, and made relevant to each generation which comes to them. I think it's worth asking if we can instead turn to the many other myths, legends and interpretations of the knockers, to make them most relevant to everyone who comes to them. It's still so important to address this, though, especially if other readers of Bottrell need an explanation.

Given how often Christianity has added incongruous new elements of the native myths and legends of cultures it came to, I feel like it isn't too difficult to estrange this added element aswell, and I feel that estrangement to be justified by need. My own experience with Cornish folklore today totally rejects this element as archaic, but I do worry it could cause harm.

Sorry if this seems a bit rambly. These are just some responses, I'll add more later if I remember anything.


 

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