The Storyteller’s Spell

by Vicky on October 19, 2010

I always wanted to be a storyteller.

But no one ever seemed to hang on my words as I went through life, so I decided that this was one dream that I should probably let go of.

Still, my interest in stories and storytelling never waned.  One day in Austin, Texas, I witnessed the storyteller’s spell being woven on a city bus.  Although they weren’t making any noise, I became aware that there was a large cluster of kids in the back of the bus.  As I glanced nervously around at them, anticipating trouble, I was struck by their charged silence.  In the next moment, I realized that 1) the kids were deaf; and 2) one of them was telling a story.  And, in the next moment after that, I realized that the storyteller held her audience completely in thrall.

I started hanging out with storytellers, and, before I knew it, they were getting me to tell stories.  In his fable, Crow and Weasel, Barry Lopez has a wise old Badger give two young adventurers some advice about the power of stories.

“I would ask you to remember only this one thing,” said Badger. “The stories people tell have a way of taking care of them. If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put these stories in each other’s memory. This is how people care for themselves. One day you will be good story-tellers. Never forget these obligations.”

At some point I realized that it’s not about the storyteller, it’s about the stories.  Why do the same story bones appear in many different cultures around the world?  Stories would not survive and be passed down to us (and they would certainly not spread across the globe) if they did not convey information that is crucial to our survival as a species. And, since each person brings a unique perspective to the story, each person will take away something different.  A good story has something for everyone.

About a year ago, I found myself in storytelling boot camp.  With a weekly storytime class to produce, I don’t have time to lovingly craft my stories.  I’m lucky if I have time to read over a story more than once, and now that’s all I need to remember the bare bones of the story.  The rest I have to fill in on the fly.  What better training could there be? 

In my efforts to give stories away where they are needed, I seem to have lost all fear of making a fool of myself.

And sometimes that storyteller’s spell is mine…

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