'By The Power Of The Pig" Swine Symbolism In Medieval English Folklore

Mewhort, Celka
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University of Hawaii at Manoa
Pigs have played a prominent role in the daily life and the folklore of many cultures. One society in which the use of the pig was strongly emphasized in folkloric materials was medieval England, between the years 1000 C.E. and 1400 C.E. The two most common of the theories proposed to explain the origins of swine symbolism are diffusion, or the idea that medieval England took its images of swine from earlier periods or other cultures, and inherent archetypes, or the idea that similarities in humans across cultures lead to a number of universal roles (such as a Trickster). A third and often overlooked possibility, however, is that swine symbolism derives in many ways from the actual experience of pig-human interactions within a culture. My hypothesis is that while sources of this symbolism may include, first, diffusion from Christian, European pre-Christian and Roman cultures and, second, psychological archetypes, another significant influence on swine symbolism is the actual circumstances of pig-human interactions. Comparisons with examples from modem China and contact-period Hawai'i will support the importance of this influence. A comparison between medieval pig symbolism and practices of raising, hunting, and eating pigs shows strong parallels between folklore and the actual circumstances of interaction. In this project, I will demonstrate the strong connection between pig-human interaction and swine symbolism and examine the processes by which human experience is transformed into folklore.
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