Storytelling is an ancient art. Long before there were books, there were bards who sang songs and told stories. A living, mobile entertainment and news source. These bards would travel great distances, sharing stories of what was happening in other places. On special dates people would travel many miles to come together for festivals and gatherings where the bard was often a key participant. This was a means of keeping people informed. Much of it was about entertaining, but it also provided warning when necessary. Some stories were based on myths and legends and helped people understand the mystical, mysteries and the “unknown”. It was about sharing and educating. It was about bringing people together. Sometimes music and dance were included in the storytelling. Sometimes puppets. It was an important resource for individuals and the community.
As books were printed and reading became more widespread the traveling bard faded away. News could be posted in the center of town, read as one had time. Some of the storytelling moved away from the center square in town, the dining halls and courtyards of castles and became bedtime stories for children. Books became illustrated and children had visual props to bring home the imagery of the story. The Brothers Grimm were famous storytellers who created vivid, imaginative stories to help children learn of hidden dangers in the world at that time in history. Current interpretations of many of these famous stories have been modified to keep them current as perceived dangers changed over the years, or make them more appealing—less frightening, resulting in the original intent often being lost or even changed completely. In reading an original today you might not even recognize the story.
Mother Goose favorites hinted of political commentary of the time. Mother Goose
There are two teaching stories that remain very much untouched. Their story lines transcend time, cultures and religions. Names, settings, words change to help people identify with the stories, but the lessons do not change.
One is Stone Soup. You remember: a single person or a small group of wandering people come to an unwelcoming village. There are no people walking in the streets, no bustling businesses providing services and goods. Doors are closed tight. Lights in windows turned off. Knocks on doors go unanswered. Not only are the the doors and windows closed to the strangers, but also to each other. The villagers kept everything “closed” to protect what was theirs. Usually it is a child who inquisitively, fearlessly ventures forth to find out what is going on. “We are hungry and would like to make some Stone Soup” comes the traveler’s response, “We would love to share with you, but we need a pot.” Curious at how soup could be made from a stone, the delighted child scampers to get a pot and in so doing the word spreads among the fearful adults. Slowly they emerge from behind their locked doors. Through gentle encouragement and support, the travelers are able to coax small quantities of tightly guarded food from the villagers…a potato here, a few carrots, some onions, a dash of salt… all thrown into a pot of boiling water simmering with a roadside stone. Before long, the savory scent of soup trickles through the village. More doors open. More people emerge. Tables and chairs appear, perhaps even a table cloth and flowers. It isn’t long before the entire village of fearful, isolated people gather together to share a communal meal. The travelers depart and the people in the village are forever changed. Working together as a functional community. A new understanding develops: that every individual has something to contribute that results in the health of themselves and of the whole village.
Long Spoons is another famous story. Much like Stone Soup it is found across the world in diverse cultures and is inherent in most religious teaching stories. Often it is a student, man, woman or spiritual/religious person wishing to understand the difference between heaven and hell. The props and language change to reflect the culture and religion in which it is to be received. (In that alone there is a lesson….the lesson is the same for all people all over the world.) In many versions it begins with a request to God.
Usually the story begins with the person being shown two doors. They open the first door and see a group of thin, sickly people. Each person has a long spoon tied to their arms. They are all sitting together around a pot of soup/rice/noodles. With such long spoons tied to their arms they are unable to get the spoon full of food to their mouth to feed themselves. It is a heartbreaking vision.
The person closes that door and opens the second door. Here are the same people sitting around the same pot of food! Long spoons are still tied to their arms. These people, however, are healthy and robust! Thriving and joyful! With their spoons they reach into the pot of life sustaining food and then reach across the pot and feed a person on the other side. Everyone is fed. No one goes hungry. There is no “mine” or “yours”. The Other is needed.
The lesson is clear, is it not?
Do not doubt the power of kind and compassionate actions.
“Through practice, we can learn to make our own hearts
a place of peace and integrity.
With a quiet mind and an open heart
we can sense the reality of interdependence.”