Storytelling-- A Healing Art

Part One

Remember as a child how wonderful you felt after hearing your favorite bedtime story? New stories were always nice but you would always return to a favorite few. Yes, they were comfortable but the magic the story would weave was much more than just comfort. You knew your heroine would face tragedy and peril, disaster and loss but would somehow rise above it all and find a place of peace and joy­­ living happily ever after. Maybe you were even fast asleep by the time your heroine had faced the villainous character and defeated the evil.

The still small child in all of us still enjoys a good story. They bolster up our hearts and minds with the belief that the world isn't such an awful place. Stories relieve boredom; they make us smile; they're inspiring; they sometimes even relieve pain and depression by shifting our focus.

Real life stories of heroism and bravery grip us as a nation. We sit, glued to the tube while the everyday Joe on the street becomes a working class hero­­ larger than life. Remember when the two-year-old girl Jennifer fell into an uncovered shaft almost 30 feet deep? For almost two days men and women worked tirelessly around the clock digging another shaft along side to save her. They dropped microphones and oxygen down to help her survive the trauma of the fall and the fear of being trapped and alone. Heavy machinery, man hours, all kinds of special equipment was freely offered to help save this little girl. The people that worked so tirelessly were bonded together in a common cause­­ and they succeeded. Remember how wonderful you felt seeing the first pictures of this tiny helpless child, held securely in the arms of her rescuer?

Joseph Campbell, theologian and scholar, considered himself first a storyteller. And indeed a master storyteller he was. He had the ability to take a sometimes very dry subject, theology, and bring it to life. In his tape series "Transformations of Myth Through Time" and, "The Power Of Myth" he relates the survival of religion and the life various indigenous cultures to the power of their stories. Myth and magic interwoven with reality gave something of beauty and power to its listener. The stories from "Lake Woebegone" for those of you who listen on public radio are an example of powerful storytelling. These stories are yes, fictional, in some aspects, yet are drawn from real life and can be very thought-provoking and have positive effects on the psyche.

I would like to tell you a story that I wrote following the death of two friends at Christmas a few years ago. One close to my sister, and one a client friend of mine­­ both young, neither ready to leave.

"Abercrombe's Adventure With An Angel"

One fine day while Abercrombe was holding court in the Land of Fitch, one of the wisest of wise bears came forward to ask Abercrombe if he knew, where did the wind blow from? The wise bear laid all kinds of papers, charts, and maps with figures, scratchings and calculations before Abercrombe, explaining how they had tried to determine this greatest of mysteries to no avail. Well, Abercrombe pondered, this calls of adventure; Abercrombe loved adventure.

Certainly this was a great mystery to all bears. To solve it would certainly bring new wisdom and meaning to the bears of Fitch, and to their lives.

And so it was that Abercrombe and Arianna, his new- found friend, set out that day to discover where doth the wind blow from? As they loped along together, their hearts were light with a sense of adventure, and because they, together, the greatest of all brown bears, in the greatest of all lands would once and for all know what made the wind blow.

After walking several miles they came to the edge of a deep and narrow canyon that had been bridged by the beavers with a single log. It appeared safe but Abercrombe told Arianna that he would first test its strength before they crossed. As he walked out it seemed safe, and the view of the canyon was like nothing he had ever seen in the land of Fitch. Anxious to share it with his new friend, Arianna, he called to her, holding out one paw as he stood on his great back legs. She looked at him with the most all knowing of smiles Aber had ever seen, and she started to walk out. SUDDENLY, the log began to quiver and shake, and with one long creek, the log snapped! Arianna screamed, and Abercrombe called to her to hold on! Abercrombe, too, was holding on with his massive front legs fighting back fear and asking for the strength to save them both. Then with another clap as loud as thunder, the log broke again.

Now that I have you on the edge of your seat­­ hopefully­­ stayed tuned till next week and find out the fate of my two adventurous friends; were they injured in the accident, will they find out where the wind blows from, or is all lost? While you're waiting, read a good story; then share it with a child.

part II

Last week I looked at stories as an art used in ancient cultures to help keep magic and myth alive. We all wistfully remember the fleeting enchantment a childhood story held for us when it stood alone¯¯ when it was just itself and nothing more. And I began to tell a story I wrote during time of tragic death and sadness. But before we catch up with our hero and heroine. Let’s look at storytelling here in America.

Every year for 25 now Jonesboro, Tenn. becomes the land know as the Festival of Tales. Storytellers and listeners gather under rented tents and an ocean of rumpled bedspreads to hear the best storytellers in the nation. Tellers and tales drift from tent to tent, stepping over and around a mass of humanity.

Older storytellers that grew up in the area of Jonesboro and the Appalachian hills told stories to survive the long winters. They talk of cabin fever as a reality and many of their best stories came from times of true isolation.

Storytelling clubs and festivals have cropped up all over the country and are growing in popularity. Why? At this particular time in our country where crime is high and morality has slipped, the art of the storyteller reminds us to look beyond the material and derive a moral for ourselves whether the story ends happily or in sadness.

Now, lets catch up with Abercrombe. Last week our friends ventured out to discover from where the wind blew. After traveling some distance, they were about to cross a ravine when tragically the log bridge gives way¯¯ leaving them hanging in peril, stories above the canyon floor.

Then, the log broke again, and Arianna was suddenly plummeting to the canyon floor. She looked up at Abercrombe one last time and was then gone from sight.

Fear gripped her heart as she fell. She closed her eyes¯¯ wanting only to picture her friend Aber safe. Then, strangely, she became light as the air¯¯ somehow she thought, I have been miraculously saved! A great sense of joy and peace floated over her. Yes, miraculous as it seemed, she had been saved, and she would now go and save Abercrombe. Her thoughts suddenly seemed to have a great new power¯¯ simply by thinking a thought it was so! How could this be she asked herself? But there was no time for such questions. She must save her friend Aber.

She called to him, ³hold on, hold on, I’m coming to save you!² Once again her thoughts seemed to transport her. She reached for Aber but he was unaware of her. ³Please!² she cried to the heavens, ³save him!² Suddenly, a gentle brush of air came over her shoulder. Startled, she turned to see the most beautiful creature of light¯¯ a bear with wings! The creature whispered softly to her, ³It is not Abercrombe’s time; he has much great work yet to do in the Land of Fitch; he will be spared. But you, Arianna, will help him discover from where the wind blows.

Aber’s eyes burned with tears as he pulled himself to safety. How could this be? His beautiful Arianna gone! He couldn’t think of himself or his own brush with death; he could think only of her. He lay quietly on the edge of the canyon panting in exhaustion and grief. As he laid grieving, a puff of air came over his back raising his coat of fur, sleep mysteriously overtook him. It is not known to this day how long Aber lay sleeping there on the canyon’s rim: maybe days.

But in the wonder of his dreams, softly and ever so gently, the mystery of the wind would be revealed to him. And, it would be Arianna that would show him¯¯ just as the angel bear had said it would be.

In Aber’s dreams, Arianna came to him; she took him by the paw and together they flew! She showed him all the wonders of this great new land in which she now lived, greater than even the Land of Fitch! ³Oh² Aber said, ³I want to stay!² Arianna smiled as she leaned forward to lick Aber’s cheek one last time and Aber felt a strange and gentle breeze on his face.

Mumbling ³I want to stay, I want to stay, I want to stay,² Aber awakened to find himself once again lying at the edge of the canyon rim. As his mind cleared, he remembered the tragedy and thought of Arianna. Suddenly a breeze puffed by his cheek and he smiled. ³The wind,² he cried. ³The wind. I know where the wind blows from! It is the beating of all the angels’ wings including my angel Arianna.²

And so it was that one of the greatest mysteries of all was revealed to Abercrombe with the help of his friend Arianna. Abercrombe would return to his home to await a new adventure but each time the wind would blow, Abercrombe would remember and honor his friend Arianna. As it should be with all good friends, whether they are here with us or living in the land of angels, beating their wings and making the wind blow!

Honor and peace to all my friends.


Posted to Zephyr Online February 9, 1999
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