Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Sacred Storytelling and Mythology

It took me years to grasp the concept of Sacred Storytelling.

On the surface, it seems obvious but really it is not.  I thought it was the Myths and stories of Gods and Heroes, an attempt to understand Them but at the same time a thing that diminished Them.  It reduced Their strengths and virtues, Their passions and rages to human concerns, human emotions and sometimes an all too human pettiness.

I felt that it was a humanocentric way of pigeonholing Beings that were really beyond our comprehension.  Rather tragically, I think this may be the way many people think.

Many of our Deities are described in scathing terms because of what may have happened in one of the stories.  People rail over a different interpretation, or ask how can you worship a God who is little more than a serial rapist or a Classical version of a bitchy sorority princess.

Then there are those who take the stories as facts.  As lost history that has been covered up by the "winners".

Both are missing the point.

The Stories are more than that.  They can be the language of worship much like invocations and ritual.  They can be our way of telling our Gods how clever or wise or powerful we know They are.  A way of praising and honouring Them.

They can be a way of expressing our spirituality.  Even rewriting or retelling old stories with a slightly new twist can be a meaningful expression.  I read a version of the tale of Persephone and Hades that was a seduction rather than abduction and rape.  It was a beautiful and moving story that spoke to me about perceptions depending on the point of view of the storyteller.

They can be teaching tools.  Most stories have a lesson involved.  The Boy who Cried Wolf and Red Riding Hood are obvious ones from a Fairy Tale point of view.  I saw George RR Martin's open letter about the deaths in his works and I believe he raises the same point.  The deaths in A Song of Ice and Fire (or it's tv alterego Game of Thrones) all serve a purpose - they teach the consequences of foolish choices and decisions, especially those where the concept of honour has led to those choices.

For me, it was when I read Women Who Run With The Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes that I got it.  She talks about the bones of the stories.  How those bones hold a truth that speaks to us on an instinctive spiritual level.  Everything around the bones, the meat of the story, the skin that covers it is a way to support and protect those bones.  These are my words, it's been a while since I read it.  She describes the stories as map fragments, psychic markers and soul vitamins.

The stories might not have the same meaning to everyone but they often cause a reaction somewhere deep down.  For me, there was a story about a river woman who married a farmer and had his children.  Every so often she would creep off alone to sit by the river for hours, an activity she described as "going home".  It was something she needed to do to be able to continue in her life as a wife and mother.  In that story, I finally understood the roots of the breakup of my first marriage.  I grasped on a deep soul level the boundaries I'd failed to set for my own well-being and what I needed to do to heal.  I learned how to be a better me and it empowered me, it required me to be stronger about my own needs and not allow myself to feel selfish for doing so.

The old stories do have a kernel of history in them.  They tell us about the morals and values of the time, they give a glimpse into how life was for those who told them and those who listened to them.  Sometimes that glimpse is about what is considered to be fantastical and the pinnacle of desires and dreaming.  Sometimes that glimpse is about what is normally done in a day's work.  Sometimes, those glimpses are easily overlooked - in Dickens' tale A Christmas Carol, almost no one seems to notice that the shops were open on Christmas Day (otherwise he wouldn't have been able to go out and buy the feast for Cratchit and his family), people were working and going about their lives as they did every other day.

There are aspects of society that have a strong oral tradition.  Many claim that their stories are told the same as they have always been for thousands of years and that makes them more valid.  This may be true (even allowing for translation and semantic shifts) and this may be thousands of years of chinese whispers.  It is my own belief that the bones of the stories, the kernels of truth within them will still remain even if the meat has changed species completely in the meantime.

However, I don't believe anyone should be telling others what those bones are.  In my own beliefs, the truths you find will speak to you in a way that is for you alone.  You'll find the bones that you need right now and not notice the ones you're not ready for.  When you reread a book (fiction or non-fiction) you last read years ago, have you ever noticed how you get something different out of it?  There are parts of the story or details in the telling that you missed completely first (and sometimes second) time through, but they stand out glaringly obvious when you read it again.  This, I believe, is about the changes in you in that time.  Your growth, your priorities, what you value, the way you think will all have changed.  So if you can get different things from reading the same text twice, think about what it would be like for a different person entirely.  Their bones are for them, they'll have their own "Aha!" moments, their own lightbulbs going off and their own realisations and revelations.

And that is the heart of the Sacred Story. 

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