Tunes for a Monday Morning
The mystery of storytelling

The storyteller's art

Nattadon 1

From "The Joys of Storytelling 1" by Ben Okri (A Way of Being Free):

"The earliest storytellers were magi, seers, bards, griots, shamans. They were, it would seem, as old as time, and as terrifying to gaze upon as the mysteries with which they wrestled. They wrestled with mysteries and transformed them into myths which coded the world and helped the community to live through one more darkness, with eyes wide open and hearts set alight.

Nattadon 2

"I can see them now, the old masters. I can see them standing on the other side of the flames, speaking in the voices of lions, or thunder, or monsters, or heroes, heroines, or the earth, or fire itself -- for they had to contain all voices within them, had to be all things and nothing. They had to have the ability to become lightning, to become a future homeland, to be the dreaded guide to the fabled land where the community will settle and fructify. They had to be able to fight in advance all the demons they would encounter, and summon up all the courage needed on the way, to prophesy about all the requisite qualities that would ensure their arrival at the dreamt-of land.

"The old masters had to be able to tell stories that would make sleep possible on those inhuman nights, stories that would counter terror with enchantment, or with a greater terror. I can see them, beyond the flames, telling of a hero's battle with a fabulous beast -- the beast that is in the hero."

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"The storyteller's art changed through the ages. From battling dread in word and incantations before their people did in reality, they became the repositories of the people's wisdom and follies. Often, conscripted by kings, they became the memory of a people's origins, and carried with them the long line of ancestries and lineages. Most important of all, they were the living libraries, the keepers of legends and lore. They knew the causes and mutations of things, the herbs, trees, plants, cures for diseases, causes for wars, causes of victory, the ways in which victory often precipitates defeat, or defeat victory, the lineages of gods, the rites humans have to perform to the gods. They knew of follies and restitutions, were advocates of new and old ways of being, were custodians of culture, recorders of change."

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"These old storytellers were the true magicians. They were humanity's truest friends and most reliable guides. Their role was both simple and demanding. They had to go down deep into the seeds of time, into the dreams of their people, into the unconscious, into the uncharted fears, and bring shapes and moods back up into the light. They had to battle with monsters before they told us about them. They had to see clearly."

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"They risked their sanity and their consciousness in the service of dreaming better futures. They risked madness, or being unmoored in the wild realms of the interspaces, or being devoured by the unexpected demons of the communal imagination."

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"And I think that now, in our age, in the mid-ocean of our days, with certainties collapsing around us, and with no beliefs by which to steer our way through the dark descending nights ahead -- I think that now we need those fictional old bards and fearless storytellers, those seers. We need their magic, their courage, their love, and their fire more than ever before. It is precisely in a fractured, broken age that we need mystery and a reawoken sense of wonder. We need them to be whole again."

We do indeed.

A Way of Being Free by Ben Okri

The photographs above are from the quiet Sunday morning when I sprained my ankle at the top of Nattadon Hill, in the beautiful hour before that fateful step. No matter how much we plan our lives, we never truly know just what's ahead...and that's good to remember, because creative work is like that too. We plan, we plan, we plan, but we never really know what the end result will be.

As Neil Gaiman 0nce wrote (in The Sandman, Volume 6: Fables and Reflections): ''It is sometimes a mistake to climb; it is always a mistake never even to make the attempt. If you do not climb, you will not fall. This is true. But is it that bad to fail, that hard to fall?'' 

It feels hard, of course. To fail or to fall. But we heal, and life goes on.

Meldon Hill, viewed from Nattadon Hill

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