Where do you find yourself in this story?
A couple of weekends ago, Jason and I had the opportunity to attend a workshop with the incredible Dr. Martin Shaw, a mythologist and storyteller from the United Kingdom. When my friends ask me how I liked the event, I struggle to find the words to describe it. We were in session for maybe 10 hours total – but, to be honest, it felt like 10 extremely full, rich, and well-lived lifetimes. If you ever get the opportunity to listen to this man tell a story in person, I don’t care who you are — run … do not walk … to be there and soak in every word.
Dr. Shaw’s process was very simple. He would tell a story, namely an old fairy tale that originated in places like Siberia or Scandinavia. There would be occasional diversions that led us out of the story very briefly to think about a point or get clarification on a concept – but then he would plunge us right back into the stream of the story a little deeper than before.
When he was finished taking us on his wild ride, he would ask us to sit for a moment and then call out where we saw ourselves in the story. Slowly, people would offer brief snippets of events or characters that resonated with them in that moment. Some found themselves at the moment of decision between turning away or grabbing the Firebird’s blazing feather. Some were two extremely tiny and elderly people who had found love. Some found themselves as a head hanging on a rusty nail. Some rode a goat and wielded a wooden spoon. Dr. Shaw would occasionally offer an anecdote or bit of wisdom that might spark meaning, but mostly he just nodded and said something like, “Ah, yes. That bit,” and he wouldn’t offer any specifics other than “that would be something for you to explore and study more deeply,” when someone would ask what the point was. He never let anyone off easy.
The thing that I need to remember as someone who facilitates experiences where we often ask participants to step into a story – is that no one is ever at the same point. Even if you and I said that we both saw ourselves within the same image of the story, it’s still not the same story. My vision of the Firebird is not yours. The look on the face of my wild sister is not the same as the look she gives you. We all access the magic of a story in a different way – and it is not my job to give you a meaning, but rather to provide a container where meaning can unfold.
There are so many other things that I learned and internalized over the course of the event, but as I said before – I am still struggling to find the words that live beyond the feelings. I’ll let Dr. Shaw tell you a story instead. He told this tale of initiation and becoming at the event – and I don’t think I’ll be the same after hearing it.
When you have some time, watch this video of Dr. Martin Shaw telling the story of Tatterhood, a very old story that was very new to me.
If you are at all interested in exploring story, I can’t recommend Dr. Shaw’s work highly enough. Check out his trilogy starting with A Branch from the Lightning Tree: Ecstatic Myth and the Grace of Wildness, followed by Snowy Tower: Parzival and the Wet Black Branch of Language, and finally Scatterlings: Getting Claimed in the Age of Amnesia. If you have any connection to myth and mythtelling, these books will reach in and engulf your senses and awaken the deep places in your soul. You have been fairly warned.
This post was written by River Roberts