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Meditation Archive - STORYWORLDS by Caitlín Matthews
STORYWORLDS ~ Storytelling That Restores the World by Caitlín Matthews In a world heaving with print, we tend to forget that the oral tradition is the older sister of the written tradition. In an oral culture, what is spoken has greater primacy than what is written, having a special place for storytelling as well as for the word of honour. Finding our authentic voice, we already grasp our story in our arms and open our mouths to tell the tale: how does your own story speak? Use the questions at the foot of this article to explore the story that restores the world……..

In ancient British and Irish tradition, the cyfarwydd and seanachie, respectively, held pride of place. The bards and poets were the possessors of formidable memory, often remembering up to 365 main stories: a skill that was honed over many years of memorization and recitation. This sophisticated tradition maintained whole kingdoms, irrigating the collective culture with knowledge of precedents, laws, genealogy and what today we would call ancestral myth and tribal history. Memorizers of the highest status were the counsellors to kings, while others entertained, made praise songs or satirized the unjust or the ungenerous. Oral recitation kept knowledge alive – a tradition in which everyone participated through the sharing of the storyteller. Listening to the story was just as interesting as the telling of it.

People would travel long distances to hear the story told. One listener, from the Cap Breton community of immigrant Scots still using oral storytelling in the last century, described the experience like this: ‘You would have some idea of what was going to to happen, but it was as if you did not understand and you were only seeing in your mind how the story was unfolding and you didin’t think about how it was going to end at all.’ It is in the captivation of the present moment that the story unfolds – ‘the suspension of disbelief’ as we callously call it, but this is also where the mind’s eye receives the story’s impression, where we connect with the tale.

Within our own time, storytelling is often regarded as somehow puerile, suitable only for children. But while it is, of course, great for children, it is also something that adults desperately crave. With TV and radio drama being the nearest most people come to narrative storytelling, it is the serial stories of soap operas and episodic dramas that rank highest in the ratings. Part of us wants to know what will happen next, how a character will get out of a predicament or how mysterious elements will play out. It is also what keeps us turning the pages of a novel well past our bedtime.

The stories began for us all when we were young. When there used to be time for boredom, the minutes crowded round us like a bit muffling winter coat. When there just wasn’t anything to do, our minds turned to more exciting prospects. But even if we were just counting the raindrops running down the windowpane, or roaming the streets and woods playing pretend, we were beginning to develop our imaginations. The images and stories arose by themselves and these were the scenarios that populated our games and shaped our sense of the world.

In a time when the programmers of popular culture attempt to usurp our imaginations and populate them with pre-set images, it is good to create our own stories, dreaming them to life through the long hours rather than filling time with distraction. (After all, the so-called ‘interactive game’ which is touted after a TV show is actually anything but interactive, having been planned and written to have predictable results!) The stories that come to life within our own imaginations are always more exciting and nourishing than the ones dreamed up by other people.

Storytelling is not just a professional occupation, but one in which we all engage. Sharing the story of our day is one way we decompress, while exchanging personal stories on snow-bound routes helps shorten the journey. Whether we relate remembrances past or attempt to ‘talk up’ a better background to our CV, we are all storytellers. Stories of ‘the one that got away’ or ‘why I didn’t make it into work excuses’ keep friends regaled. The compulsion to tell stories is about as strong as the necessity to listen to them.

But there is a deeper side to storytelling – which the master storyteller Alan Garner reminds us: ‘We have to tell stories to unriddle the world.’ Stories take us into that mythic place of wonder where wisdom arises and nourishes our souls. Myth is a story that is forever arising, not a tale that has been told and fixed forever. Myth is where our world is remade and refreshed, as at the exciting edge where the micro-organisms of life itself arise where volcanic fissures flow into the ocean.

Stories free us all from the bondage of thoughts and ideas that other people have chained us with. They give us choices that we may not currently have in life; they arm us with magical tools that enable us to plunge into adventures that help us adapt and change as we grow. Sometimes storytelling helps us maintain courage and endurance in places of darkness, as it did for a group of US soldiers held prisoner in Vietnam; they kept up their spirits by telling each other new stories and acting out scenarios derived from the characters of the Star Trek series. Despite bondage and deprivation, they came through their ordeal.

Here are some questions to help you make a story by: try them for yourself – use your own life, a current situation or make a new myth, get some StoryWorld cards from us or pick up a tarot pack and try this, or let your imagination soar freely.

1. Who is my character?

2. What situation does he or she face?

3. What is the character’s best quality?

4. What is the character’s hidden flaw/secret motivation?

5. What/Who opposes your character?

6. What helps them?

7. What is at risk?

8. Who is the character’s best friend?

9. What does the best friend make of this situation?

10. Who has a vested interest in this matter?

11. What changes everything?

12. Who meets what?

13. How does the character break free/make a break-through?

14. What has to come to an end?

15. What supports/motivates the character to persist?

16. How do things resolve/conclude?

Telling and hearing stories keeps us young at heart, for they carry a deep enchantment that comes from the dawn of time. May that enchantment last as long as ears can hear, wherever stories are told!

© – John and Caitlín Matthews Site design by Ocelot Solutions

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