Ladders to the Moon
(* We pre-empt our regularly scheduled column for the following announcement. *)
Ladders to the Moon: Solstice Concert Series
What Does Compassion Sound Like
Through Music, Dance, and Stories from Around the World
December 21, 2008
4:30 to 6:00 Family Performance
7:00 to 9:00 General Performance
Firehouse Performing Arts Center
1314 Harris Avenue, Bellingham, WA
Suggested Donation $10.00 per Family Group: $5.00 per Individual Per performance at the Door
Featuring: Raven Dancer Gene Tagaban with
Cindy Minkler, Mockingbird, Bolor Smith, Rebecca Saxton,* Dudley and Dean Evenson, Gail and Becca Smeadley, Annilise Kamola, and Doug Banner
We will be creating the sense of the village coming together for the evening of storytelling. Bring your blankets and pillows as we will be sitting on the floor in a great circle around the performers.
Seating is limited (only 90 seats)
This event is sponsored as a collaboration of The Bellingham Compassion Movement, The Sound Essence Project, The Bellingham Storytellers Guild, Allied Arts of Whatcom County, Compassion Action Network, and other sponsors.
For more information contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-820-9631
* I'll be performing at the 4:30 event, but likely will stay for both.
In East Africa, it is said, there is a certain tribal people who, when commemorating events of collective and communal importance, call for ‘a night of storytelling.’ The traditional opening formula ought to be enough to alert one to be ready for a magical evening.
The occasion might be a birth, a marriage or a funeral or perhaps a harvest or some other calendar, seasonal, solar, lunar or stellar event. For the sake of this story, let’s say it is the Winter Solstice. The event will begin at sundown – and is to happen in a special place such as the Firehouse Performing Arts center. Already the story is counseling us that storytelling can have a ritual aspect as well as a casual aspect.
The storytelling has already begun: it began on the way there, in fact it may even have begun when the announcement of the event was made.
When everyone is foregathered in the special place, then, as the sun bleeds into the west, someone commanding respect comes forward and utters the equivalent of : Friends we are gathered here this day to celebrate peace and compassion...’ And so, as the stars begin to shine through the dark cloth of dreams, the formalised storytelling commences.
First the stories of the ‘dear departed friend’: anecdotes about the mischief he or she got up to, reminiscences of the bold and generous deeds they did. As the moon rises, perhaps the stories move to his or her ancestors, ‘He was so like his father’ and ‘Do you remember the time when...?’ But then someone says, ‘Old George here, he’d hate to have us all moping around his coffin. Do you remember that joke he used to tell about the bloke who goes into the pub and sees a tiny feller playing a miniature piano on the shelf behind the bar...?’ And so traditional narratives – passed on, collectively owned and shared – make their presence felt. Jokes turn and spin, perhaps eventually clustering around a culture hero such as Duncan Williamson’s ‘Donald Archie Dougal Douglas McLean’, or Nasreddin Hoja, or Brudda Nancy. These become the stories of the folk – we, you, many and I: the rich and the poor; the wise and the foolish; the old and the young; men and women; rural and urban; and all those vain, conceited, hopeless hypocrites who meet their reflection in the owl glass...
The moon is rising high, and someone says, ‘But there are more things on heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your philosophies’ (Horatio). Then stories of ‘the otherworld’ begin: stories of spirits and ‘My Life in the Bush of Ghosts’, etc. All are ‘legends’ that have a toehold in the landscape of here and now.
Then someone starts ‘Once upon a time’ signalling that the toehold has gone: the stories are now ultimately metaphorical, their world is an inner one - the land where we stand, where North, South, West and East meet; where the false-mothers, ogres, weak kings, beggar-guides and middle brothers are all aspects of ourselves as we journey through inner landscapes of swamp and desert, dark pit and high mountain. These ‘wonder tales’, beloved of Freud and Jung (and, after them, so many other mythopoetical thinkers) aim to make us wonder about the nature of the energy dancing unobserved in our inner, subconscious, passion play.
The moon is at its zenith. Someone says, ‘...but we owe the fact that we are free to assemble here on such a night, in peace, to our ancestors: they who first brought our people to this valley.’ And then the tales of the legendary ancestors begin, they who achieved great things – with help from higher forces – their faith, the spirit world and the deities. These stories begin to suggest a bridge between this world and the manifest forces of fate and destiny that govern it. Yet, perhaps the ancestors are barely mentioned as the stories move now to Epic, fully fledged episodes in which larger-than-life heroes and heroines collide with each other and with the Gods, all driven by the chaos of an emotional life painted eternally loud and clear - and all too familiar.
And then, as the moon dips to the horizon and prepares to leave the skies, so the humans barely feature in the stories. The stories have become the exclusive domain of the gods: pure expressions of knowledge, passion, force and logos incarnate.
As the dawn breaks in the Eastern sky, the stories have become myths of creation, speaking of how-and-why the world was created, how-and-why humans were put into it, and how-and-why it is that we die. As the sun rises we find we have travelled during the night from stories detailing the incidents of our individual lives to vast stories that strive to understand the cosmic purpose of the humanity to which we belong. With the daybreak, we return to the quotidian, the everyday: a reality enhanced by imagined metaphors suggesting purpose, possibility and hope.
The Night of Stories makes a journey of ever increasing perspective. It is a little like those wonderful books of aerial photography that show someone sunbathing, and then someone sunbathing in a garden, and then a garden in a suburb, and then a suburb in a city and then a city in a county and then a county in a country, etc, until you are left drifting up there in a universe of tiny flecks of radiant and reflected light. Funnily enough such books are no more than the brilliant contemporary equivalent of the traditional cumulative form of a nursery tale such as, ‘The House that Jack Built’: ‘This is the sun that rose with the dawn, to call the cock to crow on the morn, to wake the master with horse, hound and horn, to summon the priest all shaven and shorn,’ etc. The individual perspective gradually yields to the cosmic perspective.