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These initiations facing the rustle-roar of the autumn oaks or grey speared salmon had banged their eloquence up against a wider canopy of sound, still visible on the splayed hide of their language.Part of a storyteller’s very apprenticeship was to be caught up in a vaster scrum of interaction, not just attempting to squat a-top the denizens of the woods.It granted greater dignity and heightened poetics to the shape of their years. A little too much emphasis on these stories as entirely interior dramas, that, clumsily handled, became something that removed, rather than forged relationship to the Earth.
The whole thing had begun in earnest when, way back, I had taken myself up to the hills of Snowdonia and simply sat in a small oak gully without watch, food, tent or fire for four days.
The energies of that place had a feast on my grief-racked bones, and then set up conditions and tutoring on the understanding that I would, in some incomplete but sincere way, speech out some of their atmosphere into the wider world. At best their insights gives us a glimpse of that archaic word cosmos; that our own story is no longer held in some neurotically distanced interior, but free ranging.
Us and our feelings still squatted pretty happily at the centre of the action.
This is not an indigenous perspective on the purpose of story.
A container for all this ecological trouble, this peak-oil business, this malaise of numbness that seems to shroud even the most privileged. That implies a base line of anxiety, not relationship. It places full creative impetus on the human, not the sensate energies that surround and move through them, it shuts down the notion of a dialogue worth happening, it shuts down that big old word animism. Two routes towards the cultivation of that very dreaming was through wilderness initiation and, by illumination of the beautiful suffering it engendered, a crafting of it into story to the waiting community.
Some enthusiastic sweep of narrative that becomes, overnight, the myth of our times. Second moment of rashness: the reason for the generational purchase of these tales is that the richest of them contain not just – as is widely purported – the most succulent portions of the human imagination, but a moment when the our innate capacity to consume – lovers, forests, oceans, animals, ideas – was drawn into the immense thinking of the Earth itself, what aboriginal teachers call Wild Land Dreaming. We didn’t just dream our carefully individuated thoughts – We. It is a great insult to the archaic cultures of this world to suggest that myth is a construct of humans shivering fearfully under a lightning storm, or gazing at a corpse and reasoning a supernatural narrative.For a while you are not the sole master of your destiny, but in the unruly presence of something vaster. This is not in any way to claim redundancy to modern literature, but simply to hold up the notion of living myth. It is not hard then to suggest that we are fundamentally askew in our approach: we are simply not up to the intelligence of what the story is offering.You may have to get used to spending a little time on one knee. Without a degree of submission, healing, ironically, cannot enter. Our so-called sophistication has our sensual intelligence in a head-lock and is literally squeezing the life out of it.No teller worth their salt would just stumble through the outline and think it was enough, the vital organs would be the mnemonic triggers of the valley or desert it now abided in.This was a protracted courtship to the story itself. Oral culture has always been about local embedding, despite the big human questions that cannot help but sweep up between cultures.When the Grimms and others collected their folktales they effectively reported back the skeletons of the stories, the local intonation of the teller, and some regional sketching out was often missing from the tale.Ironically, this stripped-back form of telling has been adopted into the canon as a kind of traditional style that many imitate when telling stories – a kind of ‘everywhere and nowhere’ style.To this day, wilderness fasting disables our capacity to devour in the way the West seems so fond of: in the most wonderful way I can describe, we get devoured.The big, unpalatable issue is the fact that these kind of initiations have always involved submission. We see them for sure – our eyes swiftly scan the glow of computer screen for the bones of the tale, we audition them for whatever contemporary polemic is forefront in our minds, and then we impatiently move on.It is not us in our remote, individuated state that engenders true health, but soberly labouring towards a purpose and stance in the world that is far more than our own ambitions, even our fervent desire to ‘feel better’. When we see something we have stayed pretty firmly in devouring mode, when we behold it, we are in a lively conversation.But these stories I speak of are not being brought slowly into our bodies, wrought deep by oral repetition.