“Stories contain the hidden secrets of transformation, the alchemist’s formulas for turning lead into gold.”
~~ Dr. Lewis Mehl-Madrona, MD., PhD., Coyote Wisdom, 2005
The stories we tell about ourselves are powerful. Story is the domain of Trickster — a place of shape-shifting, transformation, wildness, change. Sometimes a story can be — or, as circumstances change, can become — a cage or a windowless room or a festering wound. Nonetheless, we often lug these old stories around with us and defend them against any perceived threats, believing them to be fundamental to our identity and the world as we know it. And, indeed, that fear is justified. What if we encounter — as I did with Raven Brings the Sun — a new exuberant story to replace an old one of fear and hiding? We may find the new story creating windows, opening doors, changing the shapes of our dwelling-places and of our understandings of self and others. Or what if we ourselves re-tell our old story in a new way that opens our heart, deepens and widens our sense of self and of others, and brings us healing and empowerment?
Many years ago, I sat down to write about an old betrayal that was still baffling me at times, shards of its desiccated residue still needling occasionally beneath my skin. I had no preconceived idea where the words would take me. I was just along for the ride. And a wild ride it was! When I finished & reread the story, I felt a sudden sense of strength and closure. I had freed myself, acknowledged my strength. I was healed, made whole once again:
STORY FOR A STORMY NIGHT
Once upon a time--long ago and far away--
I was the princess glad and golden; you,
the prince. It had to be so; I knew
how these things were supposed to go.
And off we danced into velvet nights
and secret bowers where you were
the prince who kissed me asleep:
Through dimming eyes, I saw your feet grow
webbed, your mouth widen, your back
hump down under slick green skin.
And off you hopped to other wells, spilling
from your waistcoat pocket, broken
promises, broken heart--seeds
cracking open in the dark.
Out and up sprang vines and briars--
catching twisting--thick and deep. Quickly
I buttoned my skin tight over the tangle
and no one knew. And all the blossoms
were hidden. And all the blossoms were
the color of blood.
But fierce things thrive in wilderness--
weasel, wolf, and wolverine--and I,
year by year in my spiked cocoon,
slept more wildly, dreamed more wise.
I woke myself when it was time.
Then, what else could I do with a lifetime of
ivy, creeper, and kudzu,
honeysuckle and bramblerose?
I have pulled it, peeled it,
soaked it, chewed it, made it
pliable enough to plait. I have woven
baskets for bread, baskets for brides,
wicker cradles, caskets, coffers. I have
hawked my wares from door to door. I have grown
singular and shrill.
Now I weave one last basket,
round and tight as any coracle flung
by crazed Celtic monks into Atlantic brine.
I climb into my craft and fly,
like Baba Yaga, along the seams of nightmares.
I ride the currents of your lies, the windsheer
just beyond the edges of your eyes. I have
woven well; I fly high enough.
Don't be afraid, old frog, when my cape
feathers out into wings and I plunge--
hook-beaked and taloned--down and down.
It is not your soft body I want: I will
rip flesh off one old corpse, I will lay
bare the bones of the matter. These are
my bones. I claim them: picked clean,
Thank you for your encouragement! As one who loves language, I can’t help but remember that the root of ‘encouragement’ is the Latin “cor,” meaning ‘heart.’ Also related to ‘core’ – the heart or essence of the matter. You all are helping to strengthen my heart, essence. Thank you. I hope I may also encourage you.
Several folks have asked about Subscriptions. l’d like to add that option for those who’d find it more convenient than checking out the website on Fridays, but it turns out that it’s less straight-forward than I (with my computer ignorance & naivety) realized. I’m working on it.
There’s also been an enquiry about a “Comment” button. Once again, it’s complex. Since this blog is in many ways a practice of discovering & sharing Voice, I would very much like to have it offer a place where the voice is not restricted to my own! In my dream, I would find a way to make it possible for folks not only to comment on or respond to my words but ultimately to respond to & converse with each other, encouraging & enlivening one another. But, as you all know, communication via internet is not the same as face-to-face sharing. There are many wrinkles. I’ll keep dreaming, as well as doing some more exploration of realistic possibilities.
I do hope to add links for further information and perhaps an ever-expanding list of some of my (our?) favorite resources. And….
…Sometimes I feel like Trickster, who is forever (literally or figuratively) biting off more than he can chew – – – – always with unexpected results!
But …. ….today, I promised you a Story.
These days many of us think of “stories” as escapes from life, or ways to lull ourselves, or others, into sleep. But Stories are wild & meant not only to comfort us but also to wake us up! Today’s Story and others like it have certainly led me — sometimes, jolted me — to new places, new understandings of myself and of the larger world …..
“The earliest storytellers were magi, seers, bards, griots, shamans. They were, it would seem, as old as time, and as terrifying to gaze upon as the mysteries with which they wrestled. They wrestled with mysteries and transformed them into myths which coded the world and helped the community to live through one more darkness, with eyes wide open and hearts set alight. …. And I think that now, in our age, in the mid-ocean of our days with certainties collapsing around us, and with no beliefs by which to steer our way through the dark descending nights ahead — I think that now we need those fictional old bards and fearless storytellers, those seers. We need their magic, their courage, their love, and their fire more than ever before. It is precisely in a fractured, broken age that we need mystery and a reawoken sense of wonder. We need them to be whole again.”
~Ben Okri, A Way of Being Free
Like Trickster himself, Stories are shape-shifters. Since the time they were first told, stories have been, again like Trickster, travelers – always “going along…” Like Trickster, they leap boundaries of geography, culture and ownership, and in the leaping they change to fit their new home. Often as they travel and transform, stories and their tellers begin to violate the original sacred practices and social norms — much as Trickster in many of his own Stories crosses forbidden boundaries and violates the rules of the storyteller’s culture. And still the Stories go about their work in the world. In fact, it can be said the Trick is in the Telling.
RAVEN STEALS THE SUN
With gratitude to the Haida storytellers who shared their story and to all those of many cultures who have told & retold this and similar stories over the centuries. This is my retelling for this day. Because there are so many versions, I cannot promise that this is exactly how it happened, but I can assure you that it holds truth. ~Margery Knott
Raven was going along and as he went he found himself stumbling and bumbling and bumping into unknown objects in the dark.
It was uncomfortable. It was undignified. “Ouch!” said the voice of Beaver. “Watch where you’re treading.” And “Ouch!” cried Raven himself as he tripped over Porcupine.
But there was no light— No light to be seen anywhere in the whole world, in the whole universe. All the light was hidden away where no one could find it.
Raven was tired of stumbling and bumbling and bumping in the dark. He said to the Wind, “O Wind, you go all around the world. Tell me — where is the Light hidden?” But Wind just flapped her many hands and ran away laughing. Even Raven could not fly fast enough to catch her.
Raven went down to the shore where Sea splashed and spilled against the rocks. “Sea,” croaked Raven in his sweetest voice. “O Sea, you are mighty indeed. You cover the world from edge to edge. Surely, you can tell me. Where is the Light hidden?” But Sea just laughed and pulled back its tide.
Now Raven was angry. He was tired of the dark. He wanted the Light. He wanted to gather it up and keep it for himself. “Sea!” he cried. “If you don’t tell me, I will begin to drink. I will drink and drink and drink you dry!”
Sea thought and thought. Sea knew that Raven was angry. Sea knew that Raven was powerful. Sea sent his tides back to tickle Raven’s toes and whisper, “Deep deep below my waves lives Old Man Under Sea. I have seen the faintest gleam seeping from his house. Look within.”
Raven thought. Raven planned. Raven dove deep deep deep and swam to the house where Old Man Under Sea lived with his daughter. He looked in the window. It was too dark to see Old Man. It was too dark to see his daughter. But Raven thought he could see just the faintest gleam of light in a far corner.
Raven knocked politely at the door. Old Man did not unfasten the lock. Old Man did not open the door. “Go away,” said Old Man. “There is nothing here.”
“Old Man, Old Man,” replied the Raven in his most humble voice. “I come to ask you to share your wisdom.”
Old Man Under Sea had just woken from a nap. He was sleepy; his head was not clear. “No!” he shouted. “You have come for my daughter, who may be as beautiful as the first fallen snow or as ugly as an octopus. But who can know — not even I —as long as the Light stays safe in my box. In any case, you cannot have her.” And Raven could hear him turning away and stomping back to the fireside.
Raven stayed still. He stayed still for a long while. And after a day and a night and a day and a week, a shadowy figure emerged from the house, and though there was no Light, Raven could tell by the rhythm of her steps and how her hips set the world to humming that this was Old Man Under Sea’s daughter.
Raven followed her to the freshwater spring. He heard the splash as her tightly-woven basket hit the surface and the slurp of water as it sank down. That Raven turned himself into a fir needle. That fir needle floated on the water. That fir needle was gathered into the basket. And when the Daughter took a drink of the beautiful fresh water, that fir needle slid down her throat!
Old Man Under Sea’s daughter was pregnant. Inside her belly, Raven was growing and growing into a beautiful baby boy.
When the baby was born, Old Man Under Sea cradled him in his arms and said, “I cannot see you. You may be as beautiful as the first snow or as ugly as an octopus but you are my grandson and I love you.”
That baby grew and grew. He saw a tiny hint of Light gleaming from a carved cedar box half-hidden under a pile of otter pelts in the corner. He crawled over and tried to open it. He began to cry. “Want, want!” he cried in his tiny baby voice. “Want, want!” And louder and louder!
“No,” said Old Man. “No. That is not for you.” “Want, want!” screamed the baby. And after hours and hours of this crying, the grandfather opened the box and gave his grandson the box within.
Raven tried to open the box. He tried and tried. “Want! Want!” he cried and cried. And after hours and hours, his grandfather opened the box for him and gave to the baby the next box within. And each time, the gleam of Light from under the lid got a little stronger.
And so it went. And so it went. Down to the 7th carved cedar box. “Oh,” said Grandfather Old Man Under Sea, “oh, how loudly my wonderful grandson does cry. But still the Light is safe in its box. It won’t hurt to let this baby touch the box.”
But there in the dark where no one could see, Raven changed. Raven’s beak was strong. Raven pecked and pecked at the beautiful little carved cedar box. The lid sprang open! And Raven scooped the ball of Light into his beak and flew up and up and out through the smoke hole. He flew and he flew up through the sea. And as he flew up into the sky, rays from the Light struck the eye of Eagle and roused him from his slumber.
Eagle looked. Eagle saw a fat juicy bird flying through the sky illuminated by something in his beak.
Eagle had not been able to hunt in the dark. Eagle was hungry. Eagle flew. Eagle flew faster.
Raven could see Eagle behind him, getting closer and closer. Raven flew as fast as he could but it was not fast enough. Raven opened his beak wide to gulp in more air.
And out fell the Light!
Eagle veered away from the sudden brightness. Raven tried to catch the Light but it shattered and scattered into a great ball of flame in the east and a pale ball of silver in the west and a million million points of light in-between. Old Man Under Sea rose up to look. Behind him, his daughter came to look , and sure enough, she was as beautiful as new fallen snow. And all the beings — the rooted ones and rock ones and the ones with scales and the ones with fur and the ones with feathers — opened their eyes to a colorful world and gave thanks.
And the Light shone.
And Raven continued on his way, going about his business in this shining world.