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Query about the desert in folklore

I am searching for myths and folklore where the desert functions as a kind of archetype. Not examples with a desert setting incidental to the mytheme, but cases where the “mythic desert” is itself the mytheme, the primary character, as it were.  Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Dr. Robert Miller

The Catholic University of America

Re: Query: Studies of strange sightings by sailors and seafarers

I have never actually seen work on these tales done as a study per se. For the most part you'll encounter this type of material in collections of folklore (for example Charles Skinner's 'Myths and Legends of our Own Land' cited here). I've done some work in this general area as part of research into the pervasiveness of treasure tales in North America, but have not made a study of the various types. Interesting material, though! http://www.gutenberg.org/files/6615/6615-h/6615-h.htm for Skinner's book online.

Re: Query: Studies of strange sightings by sailors and seafarers

David Hufford's classic study _The Terror That Comes in the Night_ (Philadelphia: U of Penn Press, 1989), which lays out his experience-centered approach to supernatural belief, discusses the empirical basis for early modern and 19th c sailor sightings of the Norse Merman and the giant squid.

Dorry Noyes

Re: Query: Studies of strange sightings by sailors and seafarers

One approach might be through Olaudah Equiano's 1789 autobiography. He recounts having seen wonders and strange sights in his first sea journey (the Middle Passage) yet ultimately they are all explained by science, navigation, and the like. John Marrant's 1785 memoir includes being tossed overboard then back on by a huge wave. There's also a giant fish. John Jea's 1816 hymnbook includes religious songs for sailors that recount monstrous waves and a feeling of being in supernatural hands while at sea.