Long long ago, when the earth was still soft. In the time when people and animals spoke the same language....
So many oral myths start this way. They start in a way that removes us from our present rational restrictions. They take us to another place and time, where things are matted and tangled. Where things are murky, where the boundary between the dream and our daily drive is blurred together in a multilayered tapestry.
A post blog by sangoma Niall Campbell
These kind of stories are the heritage of cultures the world over. Fireside narrations have had listeners spellbound for millennia. Maybe even going back to times before we were fully human.
Modern culture is marked by a plethora of addictions. Excitement and it’s twin, entertainment, are often overlooked in the long list of substances and habits that we are addicted to. But we can wonder if ‘entertainment’ was always an end in itself. Nowadays, history, psychology and religion would not be classed as entertainment.
But poetry, ‘fairy tales’ and the epics and sagas fall into this category of things.
Yet there was a time when they served as the conduit through which these subjects were broached.
Mythic stories serve a purpose and, well told, they have a powerful effect. They take the listener first out of the humdrum, day to day rationale of existence. They entice by drawing us close to familiar scenarios, domestic, familial or humorous. Once caught, they take us slowly into the deep. Like Alice down the rabbit hole. They take us clinging to our now beloved hero, into worlds of utter insanity. Places where logic is contorted.
Thought and reality are interchangeable, and space and time follow rules beyond our daily capacity.
Once in the depths of the realm of chaos, the story moulds and shapes us. We are now malleable, ductile, soft and vulnerable. Ready for the story to do its work. Our soul is bare and open, the thread of Ariadne the only thing that keeps us vaguely in touch with the upper day to day world.
The telling of these stories is a performance. Maybe not a drama or a play, but like a poem (which many of them are) it’s a rhythmic, repetitive chant. The teller seems to be elsewhere, to be not them self. Maybe taken over, inspired as the ancients say. Bringing forth a whole world, the narration becoming both a music, a dreamscape and a worship of the ancestral realm.
In Africa these are called Potent stories, or Stories with Power.
They change you, they draw you in so deep that you become a part of them. Then they stay with you, as if your deepest most ancient ancestral taproot has tapped a mystic water.
You know there are stories and there are stories.
There are those you read, that can be long, that draw you in, that influence your life during the time you read them.
There are those you hear. Told by our friends. Embroidered and embellished to suit the mood.
Then there are those ancient stories. Those stories that seem to grip the deep, old knowing part of us.
Why did the bards recite the epics and sagas.
Why do the griots sing about a king for four nights running.
Why, to what end.
There are the legends of the heroes
The history of the tribe.
There are the descriptions of places and how one might visit them.
There are the cautionary tales of dire warning
There are the instructive stories that help one find the way.
But these are a layer in a soil that runs deep. This layer is where the tap roots of the giant trees lie. Here in the dark, the ancient and mysterious underworld. Here lie the stories that carry our communal soul.
A good poet may not be a student of grammar.
A good poet may not know the names for different forms, or the definition of a metaphor or onomatopoeia.
Yet a good poet feels a good poem, and a good poem arises from the poet.
The poet may obey the rules without knowing them, or break them exactly where their breaking would work best.