Listening To The Story|
Posted: June 25th. 2001
Times Viewed: 6,428
Watching the Wind carve a mandala through the water of the little pond, Wren began to read the story. The Wind Herself could not be seen, of course, but the wandering plot of Her epic journey-tale was printed out on the pages of the water. "Once upon a time, " She wrote, "I was churning up the sands of the desert plains of Africa. I was kicking the dust from tent flaps and spinning whirlwinds with my fingers. I have traveled many times across the oceans of the world. I have jumped over the foaming salty waves and touched noses with the Whale Tribes. And now I am visiting your Little Pond and I am sharing my story with you". Wren blinked and the pages flowed back into water. But the story remains and will continue to remain as long as Wren can remember it. The Wind has Her story. Egret and Fish and Turtle each have his/her own story. Wren is full of stories herself. But she always enjoys listening to a new one.
Storytelling is as old as language itself. The first stories were undoubtedly practical and concerned with the mundane interests of the family or tribe. Where are the game animals to be found? Here's the location of a nice comfortable (and conveniently vacant of bears) cave just waiting for a new family of occupants. If the hunters of today are any indication of the species however, the very next tales to be told were a bit more colorful. ("Really, Grock, you should have seen the size of that mammoth! He used my spear like a toothpick. I was lucky to get outta there with the skins on my back." or "C'mon, dear, I know the cave is a bit smaller than you expected, but the view of the mountains is really cool- and once I add a few tastefully arranged elk wall paintings- you will be the envy of all of your friends!") Still later, people began to tell their creation stories, pass along important news events or mystical experiences as local myths and legends and formulate 'the moral of this story is..." fables containing germs of experienced wisdom.
Stories, myths, legends and fables are universal and timeless. We often think of these types of stories as being ancient and indeed many of them are. Many also are the Pagans who wish that the Ancestors had written down all of Their stories and not depended on a mainly oral tradition. We cannot know how many of the Old Stories have been lost to time. And yet, there was much wisdom in the reliance of passing along stories by word of mouth. For as Jan Vansina writes in 'Oral Tradition as History': "The marvel of oral tradition, some will say its curse, is this: messages from the past exist, are real, and yet are not continuously accessible to the senses. Oral traditions make an appearance only when they are told. For fleeting moments they can be heard, but most of the time they dwell only in the minds of people."
Obsessed as we often are with reclaiming our lost histories, we often forget that these ancient stories were once new stories themselves. And we mistakenly believe that the enshrinement of the ancient stories into a 'epics hall of fame' is the best way to preserve our storytelling heritage. We write them down, print them up in books and manuscripts, publish translations of them and pen academic commentaries ad infinitum on the themes and how they relate to history and to the societies of their time. The way to preserve the oral traditions of storytelling however is not to put to them under some sort of intellectual glass to file by and admire. The best way to preserve our stories is to tell them. For just as a sound is not 'heard' unless there is an ear present to 'hear' it, so the stories of our past remain in the past until we-by speaking them-bring them into the present. By doing so, past and present become one. As Vansina goes on to say, "Oral traditions are documents of the present because they are TOLD in the present. Yet they also embody a message from the past, so they are expressions of the past at the same time. One cannot deny either the past or the present in them." To make them live again, they must be TOLD. But to make the connection between past and present, there must be both the 'telling' and the 'listening'.
Almost everyone is familiar with the item known as the 'talking stick'. Whoever has the 'talking stick' in his/her hand at the moment gets to speak. A Native American friend tells us that in the Native council meetings that he has attended the talking stick is indeed used. The stick directs the 'telling' element of the process. But there is another dimension present in the Native councils that is just as important as the physical possession of the talking stick. Unlike the 'telling' element, it has no external tool to govern it. There is nothing to hold in the hand. It is- like the Wind- 'invisible'. Its name is 'Silence'.
After the person with the stick has 'talked his/her talk', the rest of the council remain silent for a stretch of time which would probably seem awkwardly long to those unfamiliar with the process. 'Silence' opens the space in which the 'listening' element can enter. The words spoken do not fall upon the ground to be immediately scattered away by the next gust of sound-words. The words are allowed a space in which they can settle upon the listeners and bring forth the images and meanings of what was spoken. 'Silence' is the 'page' upon which the story is written and then can be 'read' by the minds and spirits of the listeners. The spoken 'past' now becomes one with the 'heard' present.
Stories held captive in print remain where they are. That is a good thing for historians and researchers who like things to stay in one place where they can poke and prod at them. But the old stories must be spoken again in order for the listeners to keep them alive. It is in the minds of the people that they receive their meaning and relevance. And the new stories must be spoken also. Every day, every hour, someone is creating a new story. Something is always happening right now and someone knows about it, sees it, experiences it. Every day and every hour IS in itself a new story simply waiting to be told. And who is there in this day, in this hour who will tell the stories of this particular day and of this particular 'now' if not us? And who then is there to listen to these new stories of this new day and this new now if it is not us because we have not learned to sit comfortably with Silence for a while and wait for the words to birth their meanings?
As 'Talkers' and as Storytellers, we can bring our past into the present by retelling the old stories to each other. And at the same time, we can create today the new stories that the future generations will retell as the 'old stories'. As 'Listeners', we can allow Silence to turn the pages slowly enough for us to live the experience and feel the meaning behind the words in the stories.
It seems to be true today that the Talkers get all of the attention and most of the respect for their crafting or retelling of the stories. Perhaps this is partly due to the present culture's admiration for active, masculine energy 'doers'. But it is within the Listeners that the stories will take root and grow. It is the Listeners who by their own free can agree to become the receptive, feminine element and so nurture the words until their meanings are born. Perhaps people will become better Listeners when their part in the process is more widely acknowledged and respected.
Wren hauled herself out of the porch chair and went back inside to get ready for a day at the "Fires at Solstice" festival. Wind too had moved on, it seemed, as the water on the Little Pond was now smooth and calm. But Wren, who always likes hearing a new story, would remember the ones that she heard from Wind today. Wind tells such good stories. And maybe some morning when you and Silence are sitting comfortably together on a sunlit porch, Wind will stop by and tell one to you.
Walk in Love and Light,
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Bardic Circle Photo: ... This awesome shot of Maya Heath at the AutumnMeet Fest in Florida from 1999 has become a classic. Featured originally on our fest review and then on a Fox tv/web special, it just seem natural to feature it for this piece. Shot of Wren was taken just yesterday at the Fires of solstice Fest in Land of lakes florida (photos by Fritz Jung)
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