Everyone has a story to tell, and some stories are worth their weight in gold. How we retell past events, through the bardic art of storytelling, can help shape our present understanding. Thinking about stories as acts of empowerment in this way is particularly important in an age where so many of us feel disempowered. One of the things I’ve noticed a lot lately is that people, of all ages, are really down, feeling defeated, and feeling burned out. They feel like they don’t have a lot of agency or power. And so, using ritual and spiritual practices to help us find our power, and better understand it, is an extremely useful practice. Storytelling is a form of magic, in this case, through a bardic storytelling ritual, to help empower us and bring us hope. So today’s post, in line with my larger series on the bardic arts, will look at a simple ritual that you can do with a friend or loved one to listen deeply and empower each other.
In The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell in conversation with Bill Moyers (the book is based on a television show) retells old stories and shares his own stories in a compelling discussion that argues that myths, that is, the stories we tell, hold tremendous cultural power. Campbell argues, ultimately, that certain themes or stories are universal (like the hero on a journey) and that by telling these stories, we connect deeply with universal ways of understanding and inhabiting the world. One of the arguments in the book, as recounted by the conversations between Moyers and Campbell is that western society, and the US in particular, don’t have enough effective stories, which alienate people, offer them less cultural identity and cause other kinds of problems. I’m really glossing over a lot with regards to The Power of Myth and similar kinds of works, but the point here is this–storytelling and connecting with archetypes present in the world is a very important part of human culture.
Even though storytelling and connecting to these broader myths is clearly important, a lot of us don’t tell many stories. They seem largely absent in our lives. We do have a lot of other people’s stories circulating, particularly, through movies and television, but these are not our own stories.
The druid community is a bit different. If you are lucky enough to have a circle of druids nearby, you might have a chance to participate in an Eisteddfod (Bardic Circle), where we gather around the fire and share many bardic arts–including stories. The bardic circle is the heartbeat of a druid gathering. But many of the stories shared at the Eisteddfod are not our own–about our own lives, about our own empowerment. What I present today is an alternative to a traditional bardic circle, another way that druids–and many others– might use storytelling in the druid tradition (and other contexts).
This ritual is performed by two people. In this ritual, we use the bardic art of storytelling to share stories that are themed through one of four Jungian archetypes (the hero, caregiver, magician, and bard). The goal of the ritual is to have each person tell a story from each of the four archetypes.
The following four archetypes can be used:
- The Hero (a person who engages in courageous acts)
- The Caregiver (a person who protects and cares for others)
- The Bard (a person who realizes a creative vision)
- The Magician (one who is able to work magic (with magic being broadly defined))
Other archetypes that you might want to include beyond the original four are these:
- The Explorer (one who goes on a journey)
- The Lover (one who expresses deep love for another)
- The Sage (a person who seeks truth and deeper self-awareness)
- The Leader (one who helps lead others)*
(*The original Jungian archetype is “Ruler” but I think that doesn’t have the right connotation, so I changed it to “Leader”).
The ritual can take place in a formal ritual setting or it can take place in a less formal setting, even over a period of days (like a weekend camping trip). It is important, I believe, to acknowledge the opening part of the ritual and to close the ritual once the stories are complete. How this is done is up to the individuals, and may be more or less formal.
Preparation. Ideally, the two people doing the storytelling ritual have time to think about which story they want to tell, time to reflect upon the archetypes and consider which part of their own past experiences might best fit. You can do this prior to the actual ritual or at the beginning of the ritual (see below).
Sacred space. You may choose to open a sacred space in any manner that feels appropriate. I’d highly suggest this step, as it helps set the “boundaries” for the ritual and creates a safe space for recounting stories. Using a sacred grove for this is particularly useful (if you are in OBOD, opening a grove in the bardic grade would be quite appropriate).
Preparation. If you haven’t yet had the period of preparation, each person can go off for 15-30 min and think about the four archetypes and prepare to tell their stories.
Telling the story and Deep Listening. In this ritual, a person takes turns in the role of the storyteller and in the role of the deep listener. The storyteller’s job is tell his or her own story accurately and deeply–to share what they want to share.
The deep listener’s job is to fully engage with the other person’s story–through eye contact, listening, and focusing on what is being said.
Qualities: At the end of each story, the deep listener shares their own reflection on the story, identifying what they hear and the qualities that the person shared. For example in a tale of the hero, the storyteller might tell a tale about jumping into cold water to save a drowning animal The listener might hear that the speaker showed bravery, a quick wit, and a deep concern for the life of another. After the deep listener reflects, the storyteller should write down the qualities that the deep listener shared.
Storytelling continues. Then the two individuals swap roles, and the next story is told. This is repeated until the stories are told for the four archetypes.
Reflection: At the end of the ritual, each person should have a list of qualities that they possess. They should take time to share with each other, reflecting on what they learned about themselves, and the other, as part of the ritual.
Close the sacred space. Finally, the sacred space is closed and the ritual concludes.
You can also engage in this ritual with a number of variants.
Variant 1: One theme and a Larger Group. In a larger group (say, 4-6 people) you can choose one archetype and allow everyone to tell a story about it. In a much larger group (say, 10-40 people), you can split people into groups of 4-6 and allow the stories to be shared in a more intimate way. I haven’t done this with a very large group, but I have done it with a group of 5 people–we went through two rounds of storytelling by the fire and it was very powerful, especially with multiple “listeners” to all contribute to the qualities they heard.
Variant 2: Tarot Card Theme. One variant is to use tarot cards with all eight themes and let people draw the theme of the story they will tell. Prepare a stack of tarot cards with the eight cards listed below. Each participant chooses 2 cards (make sure they put the cards back before the next person draws). This works either for a pair or a larger group (using variant 1).
Here are the Tarot Card associations:
- The Hero (a person who engages in courageous acts) — Strength
- The Caregiver (a person who protects and cares for others) — The Empress
- The Bard (a person who realizes a creative vision) — The Star
- The Magician (one who is able to work magic (with magic being broadly defined)) – The Magician
- The Explorer (one who goes on a journey) – The Fool
- The Lover (one who expresses deep love for another) – The Lovers
- The Sage (a person who seeks truth and deeper self-awareness) – The Hermit
- The Leader (one who helps lead others) – The Emperor
Storytelling as Magic
I’ve done this ritual several times over the years, twice with one other person (both times very moving and deep experiences) and once with a larger group of 6 people (using the Tarot card variant, where each of us drew a card and told one story). Both of these were very moving experiences and I learned a lot not only about myself but about my dear friends who did the ritual with me.
I believe a storytelling ritual like this offers us numerous benefits. First, it gives us an opportunity to connect to some of those deep myths and archetypes that are present within the human experience. Second, retelling a story allows us to reconnect to a moment, reflect on that moment, and in some cases, find deeper meaning in a moment of our past. This allows us to find our strength, even in situations where not everything was positive. Third, this storytelling ritual allows your story to be heard deeply and fully by another. In so many ways, we often aren’t able to be deeply heard by each other–attention spans are short, listening skills aren’t that great, and people are very distracted. The power of deep listening is a gift that can be given–and it is moving to be really heard and understood.
Finally, the entire experience can be incredibly empowering. Retelling our own stories, experiencing them again–and most importantly, having them heard, can help empower us, aid in our own growth and promote our own deeper understanding of self.