Monday, April 11, 2016

A Meditation on Nature Myths

Here is a blog that I wrote for the League for the Advancement of New England Storytelling. It centers on Nature Myths, the topic for my workshop at their annual storytelling conference: Sharing the Fire. 

Boston's Arnold Arboretum at Summer Twilight


You don’t often hear, ‘Wow, I heard a really cool nature myth today!’
You probably won’t hear, ‘Did I tell you the one about how the Evergreens came to be?’ at the neighborhood bar. They may not be the most popular narratives these days but I say that Nature Myths* are the most sorely missed. So much missed that we have forgotten what they once taught us to know.

One thing they taught us is that we belong to the land, as much if not more than it belongs to us. One of the reasons we have lost that sense is that, over the years, the old stories that rooted our imaginations in the landscape have been shredded by assimilation and modernization. We have continued to travel further and further from that Eden, from the feeling that we are in a unified place. We are faced more and more with things we do not know how to process, in terms that are alien to our soul. Mythology, revisited and reinvigorated, can still be a deeply orienting narrative. Myths speak in the archetypal language of dreams and meaning, encouraging us to suspend disbelief and to wonder as a child does at the marvel that is our world.

I've worked with nature mythology for all of my life as a storyteller, plumbing its depths for Seasonal Celebrations, Stories in the Landscape, explorations of specific natural elements like trees and flowers and more. What I find is that these old stories always challenge me to think more deeply about a creature or plant or celestial body. When I am outdoors, those tales accompany me – encouraging meditative thoughts on the natural world and revealing each plant or insect in a new way. Sometimes I feel as though surrounding a natural element with a myth is like gifting it with a new perfume!

For me now, these old stories clothe the world, drawing my imagination closely to it. Truth be known, that is why I began the search. Feeling alienated from the natural world when I grew up and stopped building forts and running through the pastureland and became a responsible adult, I wanted more than ever to find a way and a reason to have nature still be my constant companion. Exploring nature myths has been a ‘way’ for me and my wish is to bring my discoveries to others.

Whenever someone says to me after hearing a myth on roses, “I will never see a rose in the same way again.” I know the right chord has sounded. What they mean when they say ‘see’ is ‘experience.’
The Australian Aborigines call the time of myth the Dreamtime. One of their tribes has a beautiful saying: “It’s true that we need the earth, but that is not the whole story. The earth needs us. It needs to hear the laughter of our children. It needs to hear the pounding of feet to the rhythm of the dance and it needs to hear the old stories told in a sacred manner.”

Does the earth need to hear the ancient stories? I say YES, it needs to hear them and so do we need to be tied back to them as we were “in the beginning time.”

We are such an important element of nature. Better weavers than the spiders. Our myths were designed to weave our intangible imagination into the fabric in such a way that we ourselves could be caught in delight, suspended in wonder and meaning.
Can you imagine that?

* By Nature Myths I am referring to ancient stories of origin that tell how elements in nature came to be, including Nature Mythologies where natural forces are personified.

Read the other LANES blogs on a variety of storytelling topics!