“I’m telling you, I saw Bigfoot!”
“You’re so full of crap…”
(One of my pictures from Cabela’s.)
Hello again folks!
It has already gotten pretty busy with the holidays here, so this post is a little later than I wanted it to be. I wanted to thank you all for the great response I got to my last post, it really means a lot to me.
Yet, the last post really gave me a lot more to think about, and I wanted to expand more on that here. I hope you will join me for that exploration.
One of the big facets throughout my last piece was the power of storytelling, and how it shapes our experiences and also helps us to makes sense of those experiences. I wrote about some of the theory behind storytelling in a previous post on my other blog, but I wanted to expand on that some more here. Let’s start with this quote from “Narrating the Self”by Elinor Ochs and Lisa Caps;
“Across cultures, narrative emerges early in communicative development and is a fundamental means of making sense of experience. Narrative and self are inseparable in that narrative is simultaneous born out of experience and gives shape to experience. Narrative actively provides tellers with an opportunity to impose order on otherwise disconnected events, and to create continuity between past, present and imagined worlds.”
There is so much here we need to digest, so stay with me. As I already said, narrative simultaneously structure our experiences at the same time they are born out of those experiences. Every time we have an experience in our lives, that becomes part of a bigger narrative about ourselves. Narratives are the way we create meaning in our lives, and they are the foundation of ourselves and our identity.
Culture is a kind of group spirit, a shared sense of experience and meaning among individuals. It is a collection of shared narratives that create connections and relationships between people and their environments, as well as between the past, the present, and the future. There is such a thing as an American culture, and most of us have been told those stories since grade school. The idea was to shape how we relate to the USA.
Whether that is positive, negative, or otherwise I will leave up to you.
But that is an important point as pagans as well. We share a lot of stories that connect us in a lot of different ways, not only to the here and now, but also to different paganisms of the past, and also to the future. I think it is important to note that some of the narratives that we might be telling, might pose a bit of a challenge to others. Narratives don’t always agree. Look to the US political system right now if you want evidence of that.
There are at least two sides to every story.
Narratives shape how we think of ourselves, how we think of others, and how we situate ourselves in the world.
I want you to think about the narratives all around you at any one time. Narratives can appear in a lot of forms, from history lessons in grade school to movies, games, mythology, folklore, television, and of course books and oral stories. We have stories we share with others and stories we keep to ourselves.
We have stories we tell about Thanksgiving. It’s also important to remember that not all people agree with the story as it’s told.
In my previous post, I folded in many different narratives from a lot of sources, in order to tell you one of my own. I brought in parts of Princess Mononoke, narratives from science, from Cameron’s Avatar, and I used these as ways to set up my own story about a forest spirit I had met. I enmeshed my story into a system of other stories, and created a new story for myself.
Many of you strongly connected with that story, and I am grateful for that. Some of you even shared your own stories, and I am very grateful for that as well. For in that moment we shared a little bit of magic with one another, a little bit of power. However fleeting and temporary, we shared a little bit of community together.
That is because there is real power in stories and narratives. The narratives we embed ourselves in define us as individuals and as members of something bigger. They connect us to our ancestors, to the spirits of nature, and to the gods. As we shape our narratives through our experience, we shape ourselves. Our very identities are suspended in the webs of meaning we have created. As Ochs and Capps point out;
“… we define our selves through our past, present, future, and imagined involvements with people and things; our selves extend into these worlds, and they into us. One of the most important functions of narrative is to situate particular (personal) events against a larger horizon of our passions, virtues, philosophies, actions and relationships.”
We are created by our stories, by the interaction between our experiences and the world we inhabit. We are suspended in webs of meaning, meshes of stories. Whether they are poems, songs, movies, or book; those stories and experiences are how we find ourselves in the world, and how we build relationships with others.
When we ask the fundamental question of “who am I?” the answer is that we are our stories. We are our experiences, our memories, our shared laughs with friends and loved ones. Home is where our stories are; our stories of triumph and failure, our stories of love and loss. Our stories are what make us who we are.
I as an individual and as part of a community am made up of all my stories. I am a little bit Princess Mononoke, a little bit of Cameron’s Avatar, and a little bit of my family’s woods. A little bit of Nordic mythology, and Finnish Folklore.
I am the stories of my spirits and ancestors, my gods and the land I walk upon. Some Tolkien, some Dropkick Murphy’s, some Great Lakes, and some Michigander. A little bit American and a little bit European, and a whole lot of my ancestors from the depths of time immemorial. A little bit of the sun on the horizon, and little bit of the moon and stars. I am of the Earth, and I am the Earth.
In a very real sense, and in a very mythic sense. Who I am is a collection of tales 31 years in length, so far.
There is a great power in the narratives we tell, and with that power comes a deep responsibility. The question becomes what kind of narratives are we shaping for the future? There are a lot of different narratives out there, all of them competing and collaborating for the right to create the future.
We live in very strange times indeed, with ecological crisis on our doorstep, war and famine, hunger and poverty. Greed and incompetence in our institutions, and great cultural divisions that try to decide which narratives will dominate, and hold power.
Some of these are quite bleak, others more hopeful. The power that rests in our hands as pagans is telling the stories about what kind of future we want.
Is it one were we succumb to darkness, and live in a world of pollution, war and corruption?
Or can we weave stories about a brighter future, more sustainable, and more verdant in life and in stories and music? That choice, and that power is in our hands.
We are the ones that get to create that story.
Thanks for reading!
“Narrating the Self” by Elinor Ochs and Lisa Capps.
If you are interested in more of my thoughts on Princess Mononoke check out;