Publication Date


Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Lynwood Montell, Erika Brady, David Hufford


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Original department was Modern Language & Intercultural Studies.

Degree Program

Department of Folk Studies and Anthropology

Degree Type

Master of Arts


In this thesis I have sought to examine the relationship between legends, memorates, and belief. I have examined folkloristic scholarship in belief, collected phantom ship legends from New England from archival and published sources, and presented and discussed memorates that I collected in Maine in the winter of 1993.

Legends play an important role in maintaining and transmitting beliefs within a culture. As such, they serve to provide possible meanings for the interpretation of experience. Personal narratives of supernatural experience - memorates — serve to give meaning to the experience, and often borrow language and images from legends, thus reinforcing traditionally held beliefs. Memorates are not necessarily directly informed by legends, however, and may be similar to legends and other narratives even in the absence of knowledge of the legends on the part of the narrator. The memorate is an account of a specific experience, and therefore must include elements that are not found in legends. However, the memorate does reveal underlying ontological and metaphysical beliefs held by the narrator, and perhaps by his or her culture. Narratives of phantom ships reveal a belief that people and things can return after their physical being has been destroyed, and often that objects (ships) can have a spirit.

The study of folklore, and of belief especially, must take into consideration the role that mass media (and the resultant multiplicity of belief possibilities) plays in the modern world. Investigations of belief should focus on the memorate, ith close examination into the ways in which the narrative form creates meaning for experience, and the forces that inform the construction of the narrative.


Anthropology | Folklore | Social and Behavioral Sciences