The Storyteller: Shaman
by Michael Berman
It is the kiss of the Queen of Fairyland that
changes Thomas Rhymer's life forever, as the start of his
descent into what can be regarded as the Lower World of the
shaman is marked by that kiss. The Fairy Queen tells Thomas
of the three paths that lie ahead and explains the meaning
to him, acting as a guide or sacred teacher.
The first path is almost desert, flat, wide
and straight as far as the eye can see. Although easy to journey
on, it is of absolutely no consequence. It would appear to
be a reference to an occupation that is easy and so leads
to no rewards, expanding neither knowledge nor skill and devoid
of any spiritual value. It offers a contrast to the traditional
path of an initiate into shamanic practices, who often has
to undergo great suffering and hardship along the way.
The second path is narrow, winding and treacherous
with thorny hedges encroaching on both sides. Hazardous in
the extreme, yet with a happy ending for it leads to the city
of the kings. As we know, the king is always at the centre
and in control. The suggestion is that after all the trials
and tribulations of endangering oneself and surviving on a
path upon which many obstacles are encountered, the reward
for the righteous is entrance to the king, an honour indeed.
The third path is lush and green, meandering
into forest and glade. It is a wild place where one could
easily get lost. The Queen gives no explanation of this and
quite simply says "This is the path to Fairy Land, and
do not utter a world whilst in this land or you end up staying
forever." This suggests that anything spoken in the otherworld
is to be taken very seriously indeed.
The only material thing Thomas is given on his
journey is an enchanted harp and it is used as a link between
the two worlds. It can be regarded as the equivalent of the
shaman's drum, the rhythmic beating of which was used to induce
a trance state. In some cultures a musical bow was plucked
in a rhythmic way to achieve the same state, and in others
songs were sung. The Sufis use dance to produce the same effects.
Other parallels can also be drawn between the ballad of Thomas
Rhymer and a shamanic journey but limitation of space precludes
further analysis here.
Significantly, a link has been established by
Peggy Ann Wright at Lesley College in Cambridge, Massachusetts,
between heightened temporal lobe activity and shamanistic
experiences. These are soul journeys to distant realms of
experience in order to communicate with spirits, and to bring
back healing advice. Rhythmic drumming of the sort used in
a vast range of spiritual rituals excites the temporal lobes
and associated areas of the limbic system, as can the practice
of guided visualization. Moreover, each time a storyteller
introduces a tale starting 'once upon a time', he / she is
inviting the audience to transcend their linear concepts of
time and space and so enter a light state of trance. Consequently,
as in the case of shamanic journeying and guided visualisation,
storytelling can also be used to facilitate the development
of what Danah Zohar calls Spiritual Intelligence - what we
use to develop our longing and capacity for meaning, vision
and value - and the power of storytelling is not to be underestimated.
Sheppard, T., http://www.timsheppard.co.uk/story/
Tim Sheppard's Storytelling Resources for Storytellers
[accessed 6 April 2004]
Zohar, H., & Marshall, I., 2000, Spiritual Intelligence
The Ultimate Intelligence Bloomsbury, London
|Michael Berman is currently a research student at the University of Wales, Lampeter, and working part-time as a teacher at Oxford House College in London. Publications include A Multiple Intelligences Road to an ELT Classroom and The Power of Metaphor for Crown House Publishing and The Shaman and the Storyteller for Superscript. Michael has been involved in TESOL for over thirty years and has given presentations at Conferences in Austria, Azerbaijan, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, and the Ukraine.
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