Wilhelm Mannhardt

Wilhelm Mannhardt (March 26, 1831, Friedrichstadt – December 25, 1880, Danzig) was a German scholar, mythologist and folklorist. He is known for his work on Germanic mythology, on Baltic mythology, and other pre-Christian European pantheons; and for his championing of the solar theory, namely in the early years of his career, under the influence of Jakob Grimm. Later on, Mannhardt focused more on vegetation spirits from an evolutionist point of view, namely the primitive tree cult and its later developments.[1]

Wilhelm Mannhardt

He was also a collector and carried out field work despite poor health. In 1865 he sent out questionnaires to 150,000 people. The questionnaires contained about thirty questions about agrarian customs especially during harvest time. A century later the questionnaires still served as a basis for folklore research. He was a forerunner of James Frazer's The Golden Bough (1890). Frazer acknowledged that, without Mannhardt's book, his own could scarcely have been written [The Golden Bough 1st. edition 1890, preface]. Like Frazer, his theories have subsequently been heavily criticized. See for example, von Sydow, C. W., "The Mannhardtian Theories about the Last Sheaf and the Fertility Demons from a Modern Critical Point of View" and “Die Begriffe des Ersten und Letzten in der Volksüberlieferung mit besonderer Berücksichtigung der Erntebraüche”, in "Selected Papers on Folklore", Copenhagen : Rosenkilde & Bagger, 1948, at pp. 89-105 and 146-165. In his books Mannhardt recorded an enormous number of magical and animistic beliefs behind agricultural customs. Twentieth and twenty-first century scholars, including von Sydow, his pupil Albert Eskerod and the British historian Ronald Hutton, have reinterpreted these beliefs as various forms of pretence or joke. The motives behind the pretences included scaring children away from the fields to protect the crops and celebrating the end of the harvest.[citation needed] According to the current orthodox view, there were no magical or animistic beliefs behind the customs.

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  1. ^ Rosa, Frederico Delgado, 2018. « Avant Le Rameau d’Or : biographie de Wilhelm Mannhardt, précurseur oublié de James Frazer » in Bérose, Encyclopédie en ligne sur l’histoire de l’anthropologie et des savoirs ethnographiques, Paris, IIAC-LAHIC, UMR 8177.

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