Deep winter has been a time for storytelling in Indigenous cultures…a time for reminding the People of who they are, where they have come from, and their collective purpose in this earthly life. It is a teaching time through mythological stories, but these stories are not just for children and they are not just for conveying teachings, such as the Seven Ojibway Teachings of respect, wisdom, honesty, love, bravery, humility and truth or the Coast Salish Teachings of respect, reverence, responsibility, reciprocity, holism, interrelatedness and synergy (Archibald, 2008). It is our Western mind that reduces such stories to just lessons or wisdom for living.
As a Laguna Pueblo from New Mexico, Paula Gunn Allen (1986/1992) points out what is more important is that there is ceremonial motion to “Indian time”. In a ritual understanding of order and harmony, one seeks to be in sync with “the revolving of the seasons, the land, and the mythic reality that shapes all life into significance” (p. 154). Allen says (1991) these stories are ritual+magic+stories for those who are on the Medicine Way or the Good Red Road.
Ritual often surrounds story, to mediate between the human and supernatural, as the story listeners join the Storyteller into a voyage through mythic space. In the Old Ways, Storytellers were the power guides teaching, through stories, how to harmonize mind and body with the spirit world and the natural world. This is very hard for our reductionist, linear, science-impregnated minds to grasp…especially as grasping is part of the Western mind too. Overall, this requires a very different approach…
Joseph Campbell (1972, 1988), one who came close to this approach, describes some commonalities among the world’s Origin Stories. Most importantly, Origin Stories convey the covenant between the spirit world, human world and natural world, often known as the Original Instructions. These Instructions are specific to the locale a People find themselves in.
Typically, they involve animals who are envoys of the unseen, magical beings, and thus their parts may be used ceremonially. Rituals are offered to invoke the cooperation of the animals as part of the mystique of living in this matrix of spirit, human and nature. The Earth is often understood as the Mother from whence we emerge, but to which we return, as with all living things. One key food has been given to the People with which they have a particularly sacred relationship – Buffalo, Salmon, Corn, Rice, Taro, Deer, Sheep, Reindeer, etc. This species holds the power of life and death for the People. Origin stories are also often taught during developmental passages; when becoming an adult, married partner, or parent, learning new collective responsibilities. Origin stories celebrate the beauty and mystery of being alive and can be deeply transformative.
A Cree friend describes that their Creation Story takes over a week for the telling. The story is not only sacred but alive. Based on time, listeners, and what the story is saying to the teller, only selected parts may be told. Stories are gifted to specific individuals who are carriers of these stories. In the case of Origin Stories, these Storytellers are given rigorous training and responsibilities to be a Story-holder. It is a crucial role among a People, as these individuals are the peoples’ library, one of the repositories of knowledge remembering who they are collectively, and the spiritual and physical context they emerged from and exist within. The Storytellers provide a structure for a way of life.