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The Storyteller: Shaman and Healer
by Michael Berman
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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 guide.

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 training.
"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 New Dastans).

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 and Ali.

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