The Storyteller: Shaman
by Michael Berman
Storytelling is the oldest form of communication/education/healing
in the history of mankind, dating back to the "storyteller"
(the shaman) around the campfires of prehistoric or primitive
villages. The stories painted or drawn on the walls of caves
in petroglyphs, on animal skins and in the oral tradition,
were man's first form of education, communication, entertainment
and healing, far predating the written word. The Twelve Tribes
of Israel used the "oral tradition" for centuries
in passing down the parables of the Creation and Noah's Flood.
It was not until King Solomon decreed that these stories be
written down, that we had any records from which much of the
"Old Testament" was taken. It can be argued that
we have a responsibility to carry on this tradition and that
mankind has a "need" for "storytellers"
that is almost as great as his need for love.
It is difficult for us today to understand what
the winter would have meant to our pagan ancestors in northern
Europe - a time of fear, constant cold, hunger and tedium.
Taking literacy for granted, we also forget that until the
beginning of the twentieth century, when free basic schooling
for all was first introduced, that most of our great-grandparents
relied on word of mouth for both information and entertainment.
It is hardly surprising therefore that one of the most important
figures in the world of our ancestors was that of the storyteller
- the provider of entertainment through the long dark winter
nights, purveyor of wonder and magick, the transmitter of
tribal and community myths, legends, teachings and values.
Like the shaman, the storyteller is a walker
between the worlds, a mediator between our known world and
that of the unknown - a communer with dragons and elves, with
faeries and angels, with magickal and mythical beasts, with
Gods and Goddesses, heroes and demons, able to pass freely
from this world into those above and those below and to help
us to experience those other realms for ourselves. He or she
is an intensely powerful invoker of elemental powers, of the
powers of absolute transformation, who can show us how to
confront our most deeply-engrained fears, or teach us how
to experience ecstasy or bring us face to face with death
or terror of the spirit - with the infinite and incomprehensible.
He is not only the archetypal magickian but also the archetypal
In many traditions storytelling is synonymous
with song, chant, music, or epic poetry, especially in the
bardic traditions. Stories may be chanted or sung, along with
musical accompaniment on a certain instrument. Therefore those
called folk musicians by foreign music enthusiasts could just
as well be called storytellers - their true roles being more
profound, as their names reflect: bards, ashiks, jyrau, griots
amongst many more. Their roles in fact are often as much spiritual
teachers or healers, for which the stories and music are vehicles,
as well as historians and tradition-bearers. In Central Asia,
for example, the same Turkic term, bakhshi, may be used for
both shamans and bards, and both may be called to their trade
by spirits to undergo a difficult period of initiation. Indeed
a bard can be described as a healer who uses music as a gateway
to the world of the Spirit, and there is a magical dimension
to reciting the epics. They use a fiddle or lute as accompaniment,
and tales may run through several nights of exhaustive performance;
one Kyrgyz bard is known to recite 300,000 verses of the Manas,
the major Kyrgyz epic. For genuine initiates of these bardic
disciplines, they draw directly on the conscious creative
power of the Divine and transmit it through the words they
speak and sing. This is not the same as merely 'being creative'
or 'feeling inspired', and involves considerable spiritual
"The dastan [Turkic epic] is ornate oral history and
an important part of the Turkic literature of Central Asia.
Traditionally, dastans have been repositories of ethnic identity
and history, and some constitute nearly complete value systems
for the peoples they embrace. The primary, or "mother",
dastans are those composed to commemorate specific liberation
struggles. Set mostly in verse by an ozan [bard], more than
50 mother dastans are recited by Central Asians from the Eastern
Altai to the Western Ural Mountains and as far south as Bend-e
Turkestan in Afghanistan. Most dastans commemorate the struggles
of different Turkic peoples against external aggressors, such
as the Kalmuks and Chinese." (H. B. Paksoy, Central Asia's
In Turkey, the folk-poets of Anatolia
are usually referred to as ashiks, meaning 'the ones in love'
[with the Divine]. The ashiks, who belong to the Bektasi /
Alevi faith, have wandered the plains of Anatolia since around
the tenth century. They accompany themselves on the saz, a
long-necked lute with three sets of strings, said to represent
the fundamental trinity of the Muslim faith: Allah, Mohammed
page 2 of 3
print friendly version