The Ancient Tradition of Storytelling - Right Relation: Living in Sacred Balance

Kindling the Native Spirit: Sacred Practices for Everyday Life - Denise Linn 2015

The Ancient Tradition of Storytelling
Right Relation: Living in Sacred Balance

To live in right relation, share your wisdom. Share your stories. The art of storytelling is ancient in earth-based cultures. It’s woven into the fiber of what it means to be native. Traditionally, once individuals had completed their physically productive years, they could then turn their energies inward to the spiritual realm. For this reason, the spiritual legacies—the stories of the tribe—were laid on the shoulders of the elders for preservation for subsequent generations. The function of the elders as the “keepers of the memory” was essential to the survival of the entire society. It was believed that without these memories, a race has no future.

A present-day example of this generational wisdom occurred during the December 2004 tsunami that hit Thailand and the surrounding areas. A community of people called the Morgan Sea Gypsies, who lived in isolation for decades on an island off the coast of Thailand, emerged from the tsunami almost unscathed because tribal wisdom had been passed down about what to do when the “wave that eats people” arrived. An entire community was saved because of what the elders remembered that had been passed down to them.

There’s great value in sharing generational stories; however, sometimes the most sacred stories are about our lives, for our personal stories are the holy wafer that creates communion between us. Our stories allow each of us to find common ground, for when we share our challenges and our triumphs, we hear, “Yes, I know what you mean. I’ve experienced that, too.” Hearing the story of another’s difficulties can also lessen our struggles. And our triumphs can be magnified through the power of our personal stories, for in each telling, we become richer and fuller.

Our personal stories weave the past, the present, and the future into a tapestry that reminds us that we do not live alone, that we are a part of a long lineage of people who have gone before us and who will continue beyond us. It’s important that we recognize that in the retelling of our life experiences, we have become part of a long and continuing chain of oral tradition.

Please tell your stories. Let them be heard. Share them with your children, your friends—and the world. They are your personal myths, mighty and potent. In ways beyond your conscious knowing, your stories bring benefit to the world; they can inspire, heal, teach, and give strength to others.

An elder of the Taranaki Maori shared with me the importance that stories have had in his life. He painted a beautiful picture of what it was like to grow up in a culture that still revered the old ways and in which traditional stories still played a significant part in the training of the young:

In our tradition, we were taught at a young age to know and learn our history; about our family tree; and our songs, chants, legends, and stories. An old one would often call us together to sit under a tree and listen to the teachings. They taught us our spiritual way of life and how to communicate with our ancestors who had passed on.

Our old people were very strict in their teachings. We all had to learn the ceremonies and their importance in our way of life. We learned how to collect food and herbal medicines from the forest, rivers, lakes, streams, and the sea. We also learned the old traditions of storytelling. We gained knowledge of how to do things in a sacred way, and we were taught how to fast in order to receive a vision of the sacred things of our ancestors.

I can remember these days very clearly. There are not many left who can recall these teachings and sacred ways. Many of our people have gone the European way, leaving aside their Maori way of life. I miss those days with the old people, as so many of my teachers have now passed on.



Write the story of your life . . . make it long, make it short, but claim it. Examine what you have gained and what you have learned. In the deepest sense, your story is not who you are, but it’s your personal myth. Share it. Listen to the stories of others. You might even want to share stories around candlelight or around a fire in honor of the traditions of the far past.