This approach to Myth is built on what would once have been the Bardic practice of telling these mythic stories in a group setting. This was an oral tradition and the reception of the story was through hearing rather than reading. It is a very different experience.
While taking myth seriously is central to the Bard, the experience of re-covering the telling (not reading) of the stories is to revert again to an oral tradition. Before writing some 2500 years ago (1500 in Ireland!) oral tellings were all that was available. The poets or bards who told the stories were members of a privileged order and part of the learned class within the culture. Their apprenticeship was long and tough. They told the stories to kings and lords and were equal in status to the king before the law. We obviously are not able to recover what the ‘poet’ once meant. But we have been able to recover the practice of the telling of the traditional myths.
What we have learned from looking at studies of the Oral Tradition (and the Children’s Bard School) is that listeners in an oral culture naturally immerse themselves in a story. There is no distance between them and the story. They are in it, they become the characters, they live the story. It is almost too much modern education and we lose this ability to immerse. The Bard events would always involve exercises to recover this sense of the complete immersion in the story. Any time we have worked with people from primarily oral cultures we have found they naturally jump into the story, become the protagonist (or villain!). What these two steps deliver is an immersion that distances from the now so that the now can be perceived. It delivers the possibility of listening deeply so that what is can be seen.
Possibly the most significant insight from our experience as Mythic Practitioners is how the myths are heard in terms of today. The significance of this is captured in one of the pieces of gnomic wisdom of the Canadian Media Analyst, Marshall McLuhan – “the one thing a fish knows nothing about is water”. And so it is, like the fish, it is so hard to perceive what is all around us – our culture. What myths offer then, most of all, is an ability to perceive the ‘water/culture that we swim/live in’. Oral storytelling has we believe, always played this cultural role. By recovering the practice over the last years, this again became a blinding glimpse of the obvious. The participants, then, in an event, have no difficulty reflecting on their own meanings of the story, for today. It is not that the myth is true or not true. That is not the point, what it is is a very useful way of reflecting, of seeing beneath the surface.
We complement these natural reflective moments with some tools of interpretation. Some of these we have developed ourselves. Others are drawn from some of the excellent tools and frameworks from semiotics, folklore, literary criticism and cultural analysis. It has been the tools from structuralism, especially narrative semiotics that have been most central. The collection of these tools offers powerful ways to perceive the underlying structures of meaning, the pathways and patterns that otherwise would be hidden.Collectively, these two steps (and the two earlier steps) mean that an individual, a community or a culture can start asking some very important questions:
- are the myths we live by fit for purpose?
- are the exemplary figures, the culture, the heroes (archetypes) fit for purpose?
- is this a narrative world that we choose to live in?
At stake here is that an individual can be fit for the culture, or adapt the culture so it is fit for the individual. The overall question for a culture, then is, is it fit for purpose? These steps are about gaining insight necessary to answer these questions.
Any oral telling is a performance. What the Bard, the tellers would always do is, while working within the tradition, to choose the myth, to craft what elements of it to highlight and to shape a way of telling. They would do this because as a performer you have to be relevant and you have to engage and entertain.So having heard, immersed, reflected and interpreted you are invited to become a storyteller, individually or collectively. Become the bard and do you own re-telling. Typically the re-telling might go through a journey of re-mythologizing and like Yeats and Lady Gregory recover forgotten stories, the re-teller might de-mythologise, like Samuel Beckett and challenge some of today’s attitudes and beliefs and finally like James Joyce the teller might work within a tradition to re-shape that tradition and craft a new myth (albeit based on an existing one).The whole Bard Mythologies project has been involved in these re-tellings from the start. Why not join in? Why not send in?
What we most want to do here is to provide a platform, a space in space to share, and to share what others want to share. What we feel is this project represents a wisdom of the people, the ordinary people working collectively together to encode what matters to them. An oral and myth tradition only becomes alive by people participating in it. You are invited to jump into the myth, follow the steps of the mythic method and to become a myth maker. Why not?