Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Archive for the ‘Symbolism’ Category

Storytelling Starters ~ The Sands of Time

Saturday, October 14th, 2017

The first time I had cancer, I was visited by an old friend of Paul’s family, a fine and loveable man who died earlier this year. To the end of his life, he retained his simply expressed but deep sort of wisdom. You could see it in the smile in his eyes. So there was I back then, worrying whether I should be seeking out different sorts of treatment from the one I was being offered. What this friend said in sum was this: ‘Mary, why don’t you allow yourself to be a package that can be looked after and handed along by those who know what to do?’

The second time I had cancer, back in 2010, I received a card with a story enclosed from a storyteller who’d become a good friend some time before during the week-long storytelling course I ran with Shonaleigh for the Festival at the Edge. I came across the card and story again while sorting through papers in my study this week. The story touched an important nerve in my thoughts during this third time of my being treated for cancer.

The story is The Tale of the Sands.  It’s to be found in Tales of the Dervishes by Idries Shah, the author and teacher who devoted his life to key works from the Sufi tradition, conveying and adapting them to the needs of the West. In my own words, The Tale of the Sands says something like this: (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Finding a voice

Saturday, August 19th, 2017

A most poignant story came into my knowledge this week. It has made me realise all over again why storytelling workshops became so important a part of my work and why I’ve always tried to take an open approach to storytelling with children and adults. It’s quite simply the huge importance of giving people a voice.

The story cropped up in a very fine book I finished reading during the week. Black Diamonds by Catherine Bailey is a history of several generations of the Fitzwilliam family, the fabulously wealthy owners of Wentworth House in the North East of England, and of the desperately poor mine-workers in the collieries they owned. One of many incidental stories in the book is of the son of a poor young woman by the name of May Bower who lived and worked in Wentworth village. Her son Edgar was believed to have been one of the numerous illegitimate children fathered by Billy Fitzwilliam, the 7th Earl Fitzwilliam.

A man without a voice:

(more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ On reflection

Saturday, August 5th, 2017

Looking anew at a story in the light of new information can cause a bit of reflection. This happened to me this week. I’d been looking through my files of stories and had come across one I like a lot that I’ve sometimes told to younger children. It’s about a tiger and a mouse and you very likely know it already.

The Tiger and the Mouse:

So this tiger is marching through the forest when he almost trips over a little mouse.

‘Ha,’ says the tiger. ‘You got in my way. I’m going to eat you up.’

‘Oh, don’t do that,’ the little mouse replies. ‘You never know, one day I might be able to help you.’

‘You? Help me?’ blares the tiger. ‘You’re very small and weak. I’m very big and strong. How could you ever help me?’

(more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ How amazing is that!

Saturday, February 11th, 2017

IMG_20170203_142128_resized_20170210_114149557People who’ve been reading A Long Run in Short Shorts have been sending me lovely comments. Many have noticed how I love coincidences. And they’re right. I do. I’ve been thinking a lot about why. One reason, I’m sure, is that they simply bring pleasure. ‘How amazing is that,’ we say and, suddenly, it feels like the universe isn’t completely chaotic or random (which it certainly isn’t as any physicist will point out). More than that, as one friend put it only this morning on the phone, ‘it makes you feel like there’s a little connecting network in life that pulls us together.’

So it’s what they mean to you that matters. For me, the pleasure and surprise they bring leads, I hope, to a deeper awareness of what I value in life. In this connection, what follows are two tales where coincidence is important. One is a West African folktale – I’ve mentioned it before so I’ll make my retelling  brief. The other is an incident that happened to me in Cardiff last week.

The Three Brothers – a West African folktale

One by one, three brothers receive from their father the money he has kept for them. Each in turn goes off to see the world. Each in turn buys something of great interest to him. Then, after a time, they all decide to head back home. Amazing! It seems that entirely by chance, the three of them meet at a crossroads.

Now what happens? Each shows the others that object of great interest which he has bought in the course of his travels. The objects are a telescope, a prayer mat and a ritual whisk of the kind used back home in religious ceremonies. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Voices Beyond Division

Saturday, January 21st, 2017

cofThe concert I went to on Thursday evening opened with a story – one of those timeless types of stories with an underlying meaning. The concert was  in St James’ Church, Piccadilly and filled with parents and supporters of all the young people taking part. It was appropriately named Voices Beyond Division. The aim was to proclaim the need and desire for peace in the Middle East.

I can’t retell the story fully because it contained four words I don’t know from four of the languages of the Middle East. Essentially, though, this is it: 

A bunch of grapes

Four people who’d found themselves travelling together came to a market in a busy town. Between them they had a little money but no shared language and, faced with the market, each said what he’d most like from the market to eat, naming what he wanted in his own language. But what if their money did not stretch to four different things? Soon they started to squabble, each determined to have what he wanted.

Then another man came along. Hearing what each of the travellers wanted, he stopped their squabbling by saying he’d go and buy it for them. There’d be enough money, he assured them. So he went into the market and when he returned he had with him a huge bunch of grapes. For that is exactly what each man had wanted. They’d used four different words to name it but what they’d all asked for was grapes. 

Same thing: four different languages. And as the storyteller put it, the message of this story can be applied more deeply. Often what we want is the same thing though we may say it differently depending on our language. Bringing together people of different languages and faiths, this particular concert was all about a shared desire for peace.

Voices Beyond Division (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Casting an eye

Saturday, January 14th, 2017

P1080269Do you get times when your mind is zooming about, travelling at the speed of light from one  remembered experience to another, let alone between remembered stories,  no doubt trying to make sense of things? As I write, my mind is doing just that. It makes for quite an adventure. But underneath, there are an  awful lot of feelings trying to settle themselves into some kind of equilibrium. Here’ a sample of where my thoughts have been.

For instance – and I know I’ve told the story in this blog in the past – my mind briefly touched down on that North American Indian story  – I know I’ve told it here before – in which there’s a hero who has survived and conquered all kinds of terrifying situations. Zombies. The underworld. Flames. And there he is, recounting his adventures around the camp fire, when he feels something strange on this arm. He looks down – it’s a spider – and he nearly jumps out of his skin. He can’t stand spiders.

Then again, there’s something that happened for real yesterday. My husband was working at his computer (it’s a fairly new one with a touch screen). Suddenly, as he reported to me later, the cursor on the screen appeared to have gone puzzoowee. It was jumping about all over the place. He couldn’t think why – not until he saw that there was an incredibly tiny spider walking across the screen.

It just goes to show how sensitive a touch-screen can be. But for me the story made sense because that’s just how my mind has been behaving since the cataract operation on my left eye on Wednesday. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Tree-thoughts

Saturday, April 23rd, 2016

15Tree barkSit under a tree awhile and listen and I bet you’ll hear it speaking to you in the rustle of its leaves and branches. OK, it’s not speaking in any tongue of  humankind. But in its own way, it’s speaking, perhaps of the wind or the seasons, perhaps of its place in the landscape, rural or urban, perhaps of the scenes it has witnessed over the length of the time it has been there. Walk past a long line of trees, it’s the same, though now you’re listening to what I hear as the trees’ conversations  with each other. Each time you go past, you can tune in. Their talk will be there – except, of course, when the trees are gone.

Ariel’s story in The Tempest:

This week, two experiences made me think about the way we humanise trees – or perhaps I should say the way they humanise us. One occurred in a fabulous performance of Shakespeare’s late play, The Tempest, at the Sam Wanamaker playhouse at the Globe Theatre. Pippa Nixon was superb as Ariel, making her feel like pure spirit brought into human form. When Prospero, the magician and manipulator who conjures all the events of the play into reality as if from thin air, reminded her of the plight she’d been in when he first came to the island, it created a horrifyingly poignant image that made immediate sense of her demand that he now set her free from having to serve him and do his bidding. When first on the island, Prospero told Ariel, he’d found her imprisoned in a tree. The evil witch Sycorax had trapped her in it, a cloven pine, and because the witch subsequently died, Ariel had had to remain trapped there and groaning for a whole dozen years before Prospero  released her and made her into his servant. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ And all the while…

Saturday, January 16th, 2016

Trees near TrefelynThose little stories that make a particular point can sometimes prove tricky. The last few days, the weather has been lovely in London – cold but sunny enough to bring a smile to our faces and quite a change from incessant grey skies and rain. On one of my walks, remembering the great winds that blew over Christmas, I thought about that famed competition between Sun and Wind.

Sun and Wind fight it out:

Just as children sometimes do, and sometimes even grown-ups too, Sun and Wind were having an argument about which of them is stronger. Sun proclaimed:  ‘It’s definitely me.’ Wind thought differently, ‘No, it’s me.’

Sun and Wind decided to test out their claims.

‘See that young man walking down that street,’ said Sun. ‘I guarantee I can get his jacket off him quicker than you.’

‘It’s a deal,’ said Wind. ‘But I’m going to win.’

Without wasting a moment, Wind began blowing. Before he could even start roaring, the young man walking down the street pulled up the zip on his jacket. Then as Wind began roaring, he put his arms round himself, drawing his jacket even closer. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Signs and symbols

Saturday, September 12th, 2015

Butterfly artYou may well remember the story. Or perhaps you’ll have retained just some essence of it. Often entitled in print, The Soul as Butterfly, it’s an Irish tale which  I’ve recounted in this blog before. It seems to me to encapsulate something about the kind of symbolism I talked about last week.

A story worth knowing:

A butterfly emerges from the open mouth of a man who lies asleep in a field. His companion who has just woken sees it and, astonished, follows as it flies towards the stream that runs beside the field, then through the reeds that grow at the water’s edge until it comes to a place where the branch of a tree has been placed over the stream to make a crossing.

In its hazy-dazy way, the butterfly flies across the stream and the man who’s been following it follows there too until it reaches a skull that’s lying, whitened, on the ground. The butterfly alights on what must have been the forehead of the creature whose skull this was (it looks like the skull of a horse),  then enters through one of the holes where the eyes would have been. After a long pause, it re-emerges and, in the same hazy-dazy way, makes its way back to the sleeper who still lies prone in the field. Suddenly it’s gone. Now the sleeper’s companion can’t be sure if it’s gone back into his friend’s mouth. What he certainly experiences is his friend awaking, sitting up and saying, ‘I’ve had such a marvellous dream.’ (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ The Uses of Ambiguity

Saturday, September 5th, 2015

P1070080In the depths of the ocean lived a king. (What was his name? I don’t remember.)

The king longed for company. He lived all alone. (Had he ever had a wife or children?)

One evening as he rode out on one of his tides, the king became aware of sweet sounds of music and, looking up at a house by the sea, he saw two lovely young women sitting in the firelight playing their harps. 

A longing grew in the heart of the king until one late evening on a high Autumn tide, he rode out of the sea on his finest white horse, rushed to the girls’ house and snatched them away together with the harps they were playing. (Were the girls alone when he did that? What were they called?)

When the king of the ocean had brought the two girls into his palace beneath the waves, they first felt fear, then became very sad. They missed their home. They missed the bright light of day. The king of the ocean would ask them to play him their music, but the music they made for him lacked any joy.  

After much sadness and pleading, the king of the sea knew this couldn’t continue. He must show pity. He must listen to the two young women he’d seized and return them to their home on land. But when his white horses brought them in from the sea, just as they stepped onto the land, they changed. (Did the king of the sea command that to happen? Or did the pity that the girls felt for him play a part?)

As they stepped out of the sea, the two lovely girls became transformed.  (more…)