‘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.’ –Barry Lopez (1990, p. 49)
Since humans learned to speak, we have told stories: stories to explain why the world is as it is, stories to entertain, stories to uplift, to reassure and to teach. We have told them in words, gestures, dance, music and art. While oral storytelling is an ancient art, it’s modern revival began in the seventies and now flourishes worldwide.
An oral storyteller tells a memorised story to a listener or listeners. There is no ‘fourth wall’ or invisible barrier between audience and teller. An old Scottish Traveller Proverb describes it this way: ‘The story is told eye to eye, mind to mind and heart to heart.’
Storytelling is an intimate, reciprocal experience. As the tale unfolds, the story takes on a life of it’s own: a co-creation between teller and audience. This gives storytelling an enormous potential to heal, to build community and to stimulate the imagination. It draws on and cultivates the listeners ability to visualise, concentrate and follow story conventions.
While the level of concentration required to follow a story is very high, the magic of stories with a folktale structure is such, that modern children can still sink deeply and effortlessly into them. Even very exciting stories can generate a feeling of relaxation, because they create such an intensity of focus or ‘entrainment’.
Storytelling is a powerful pedagogical tool. Research has shown that told stories ‘enhance recall, retention, application of concepts into new situations, understanding and learner enthusiasm for the subject matter.’ Coles (1989). Oral storytelling is also an elegant way to engage multiple intelligences and works harmoniously with almost every other art form: music, song, dance and art.
Quality stories, told sensitively, can nourish the soul while fostering imagination, emotional resilience, moral values and critical thinking.
Storytelling is the perfect antidote to our overly technological and impersonal age, where we can be overwhelmed with ‘soundbytes’. Poet David Whtye, in his poem: “Loaves and Fishes” put it this way
This is not the age of information. This is not the age of information. Forget the news, and the radio, and the blurred screen. This is the time of loaves and fishes. People are hungry and one good word is bread for a thousand.
For a great example of the powerful way stories can be used to heal and empower watch this trailer for a coming film called “Finding the Gold Within’ at https://vimeo.com/84188653