Tunes for a Monday Morning
Spirits of water

The landscape of story

Riverside 1

In response to the on-going Pilgrimage for Nature (and getting regular updates from Howard on how the Long Walk is progressing), I've been thinking about climate change and the role we fantasists, folklorists, and storytellers might play in the urgent labor of healing our planet -- not only directly in the form of political activism, but also through our work as mythic artists. I was reminded of these words from "The Dreaming of Place" by storyteller Hugh Lupton:

"The ground holds the memory of all that has happened to it. The landscapes we inhabit are rich in story. The lives of our ancestors have contributed to the shape and form of the land we know today -- whether we are treading the cracked cement of a deserted runaway, the boundary defined by a quickthorn hedge, the outline of a Roman road or the grassy hump of a Bronze Age tumulus. The creatures we share the landscape with have made their marks, too: their tracks, nesting places, slides and waterholes. And beyond the human and animal interactions are the huge, slow geological shapings that have given the land its form. Every bump, fold and crease, every hill and hollow is part of a narrative that is both human and prehuman. And as long as men and women have moved over the land these narratives have been spoken and sung.

Riverside 2

"This sense of story being held immanent in landscape is most clearly defined in the belief systems of the Aboriginal peoples of Australia. In Native Australian belief everything that is not 'here and now' is described as having gone 'into the dreaming.' The Aborigines believe that the tangled skein of remembered experience, history, legend and myth that constitutes the past -- that is invisible to the objective eye or the camera -- has not gone away. It is, rather, implicit in the place where it happened, a potentiality. It is a living memory that is held between a place and its people. It is always waiting to be woken by a voice.

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"I remember the Irish storyteller Eamon Kelly once telling me that in the parish of County Clare where he grew up, every field had a name, and every field name was associated with a story. To walk from one end of the parish to the other was to walk through a landscape of story. It occurred to me that the same was probably once true for any parish in Britain.

"But today we are forgetting our stories. We have been forgetting them for a long time. Few of us live in the same landscape as our grandparents. The deep knowledge that comes from long familiarity has become a rarity. Places are glimpsed through the windows of cars and trains. Maybe, occasionally, we stride through them.

"What does it mean for a culture to have lost touch with its dreaming? What can we do about it?

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"It seems to me that as writers, artists, environmentalists, parents, teachers and talkers, one of our practices should be to enter the Dreaming, that invisible, parallel world, and salvage our local stories. We need to re-charge the landscape with its forgotten narratives. Only then will it regain the sacred status it once possessed. This might involve research into local history, conversations with elders in the community, exploration of regional folktales, ballads and myths...

"And then an intuitive jump into Imagination."

I agree with Lupton on this. And who better placed than those of us in the folklore and fantasy fields (experienced in using the tools of myth and archetype in our art) to contribute to the important work of re-charging, re-enchanting, and re-storying the land?

Riverside 5

Riverside 5

The passage above by British storyteller, folklorist, and novelist Hugh Lupton is from EarthLines magazine (Issue 2, August 2012). The poem in the picture captions is from The Magicians of Scotland by Ron Butlin (Polygon, 2015). All rights reserved by the authors.

Related posts: Wild stories, Where the wild things are, The logos of the land, The unwritten landscape, Telling the holy, The writer's god is Mercury.

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