Storytelling Arts' mission is to preserve, promote and impart the art of storytelling to develop literacy, strengthen communities and nurture the human spirit.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Crossing Over

Most of the posts on this blog have focused on the use of storytelling as a tool for child education. And that’s appropriate. After all, part of the mission of Storytelling Arts is “to promote and impart the living art of storytelling to develop literacy.” But the mission statement goes on to say, “and nurture the human spirit.” Although I believe in the deep core of my being that developing literacy is one of the best ways to nurture the human spirit, it’s not the only way that stories can nurture us. Stories have the power to touch the spirit in every human being, literate and illiterate, child and adult, by bringing magic into their lives.

In the ancient world, the borders between the dwelling places of human beings and the world of faery were all around. The crossing points were in all places that were neither here nor there: the threshold of a door, the midpoint of the stairs, a stile between two fields. Certain times of the day or the year also opened access to the other world. Traveling gypsies used to halt their caravans and stand still in the minutes surrounding noon (the moment when it’s not longer morning but, by definition, not yet afternoon), lest they accidentally cross into fairyland. The doors to faery also open at midnight, at dawn and dusk; at equinoxes, solstices, and at the midpoints between the seasons: May Eve and Halloween. Back in the day, a careless step in the wrong direction or at the wrong time could promptly land you in the other world.

Over the years, the magical places of the earth have receded farther and farther from our day-to-day lives. Now a days, it’s not easy to wander into them. (You hardly ever hear of anyone doing it anymore!) For the most part, this is a good thing. Tradition teaches us that hobnobbing with the fair folk is, at best, a mixed blessing. They don’t share our sense of propriety or morality; they make no distinction between good and evil; they are completely selfish beings. But, be this as it may, I think our lives lack a kind of mystery that they must have had in the days when the two worlds existed side by side, when a fall of golden leaves might have become a sprinkling of fairy coins, or a chorus of crickets the sound of fairy fiddlers.

Yet, even now, in certain times and places the portals between this world and the other are still accessible. Quiet forests are such places. Halloween is one such time. Even the most unimaginative, work-a-day people are susceptible to enchantment in such times and places. (On Halloween, for example, the beautiful and terrifying Queen of Faery holds court for a surprising medley of ordinary folk.) Under their spell, our priorities fall into balance and our lives are suddenly full of promise.

However, we must leave the forest and go back to home and work, and Halloween comes but once a year. How can we hold onto that thrilling, anything-is-possible feeling we get when we find ourselves brushing against the boundary of faery? The answer to this question is as simple as opening a book.

Find at least an hour in every day to escape the mundane. Swim with selkes and mermaids. Rub Aladdin’s magic ring. Weave a spell with Prospero. Go into battle with King Arthur or Finn Mac Cumhal. Travel to the underworld with Orpheus. Journey to Mordor with Frodo and Sam. Dream with Ebenezer Scrooge. Myths, fairytales, and fantasy novels open magic doors that allow us to dwell amongst the Gentry without a lick of danger to our immortal souls. On the contrary, I believe that these respites from our daily world strengthen the soul, revive the intellect, nurture the spirit.