Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Cam Ceiliog

The stride of the cockerel may not be massive but it’s certainly very determined – a purposeful strut! And that’s why I love the Welsh phrase, cam ceiliog.

Ceiliog means cockerel, cam is a step or a stride, and cam ceiliog describes the way in which the light draws out after the Winter solstice. It happens by small but sure degrees, not in one giant leap. At this time of the year – and Happy New Year by the way – you really begin to notice the change. After the darkness of late December, and perhaps with the resoluteness of the New Year spirit, you start to notice the earlier light in the mornings, the evenings going on longer. ‘Cam ceiliog’ does it as the mother of one of my schoolfriends always used to remind us. She was a very positive woman.

That link between the cockerel and the coming of light is an appealing association. I remember the cockerel’s distinctive doodle-doo-ing from childhood mornings on my grandparents’ smallholding. I remember it too from more recent times, for instance on holiday in the Sierra Tejeda in Spain. The wake-up call would sound out round the village (and sometimes, because it recurred all day, it would finally become exasperating).

Stories that link us to the earth and its creatures

I love associations between human beings and nature. To me, they’re one reason why we could do worse at the start of a year than remind ourselves of the numerous stories that link us to the earth and its creatures. For where would we be as humans if we lost a sense of those links? For one thing, we’d be at risk of losing a proper sense of the richness of this planet and our place as one – but only one – of the species that inhabit it.

I remember feeling what the loss of natural links could be like on a project with Welsh artist, Catrin Webster.

The project involved an exchange of visits between children from a small school near Borth on the Cardiganshire coast and children from a Birmingham city school. Most of the Birmingham children had never ever seen the sea. They were extremely excited at the prospect and, when we got to Borth, it was very moving to see the depth of its effect upon them. It really made me aware how much nature can inspire us.

I’d felt something similar on the train to Borth. The journey had taken us through the fields of mid-Wales and when the children caught sight of cows, they’d called out for us all to look. But it was noteworthy that they were obviously not sufficiently familiar with cows to say, ‘Look, cows!’

Instead they said, ‘Look, animals!’

Cows give us milk. Hens give us eggs. Even at that most basic level of the food we eat and where it comes from lies an important reason for knowing about the creatures of the countryside.

Back to cockerels

The association between cockerels and the light of the sun occurs in many cultures. It’s a primary, natural link. One story where you can find it is in a very old tale from China.

In the Chinese myth, the cockerel is the creature who – long, long ago – succeeded in wooing the sun into coming back into the sky after she’d gone into hiding. What follows is the story of what happened but with a new title from me.

Global warming: what can happen

A long time ago, there were six suns in the sky. In summer, the earth became terribly hot. Terribly, terribly hot!

One summer it was so hot it felt like the whole earth was dying. People decided something had to be done.

The hero, Yang, offered his help. He was a terrific shot with his great bow and arrow. He said he would try and shoot down the suns that were making the world too unbearably hot.

Yang adopted a clever tactic. Instead of aiming directly at the suns in the sky, he aimed his arrows at their reflections in water. It was an intelligent ploy and it worked. But as each of five suns were put out of the sky, the last of the suns felt more and more frightened. In fear and trembling, she finally fled behind a mountain. Next morning that’s where she stayed. She simply would not come back out.

When the day stayed dark, the people knew that without the sun they would not survive. They tried calling up to her to come back out of hiding but their voices were not loud enough. So they persuaded the earth’s animals with the loudest voices to try calling to the sun to come back out. Unfortunately, the noises of the animals as they called to the sun only succeeded in making her even more frightened. Not until the cockerel called his inimitable call did the sun begin to show interest.

‘Cock-a-doodle-doo!’ called the cockerel. And as the sun heard him calling again and again, she began feeling curious to see for herself what kind of creature was making this noise. She peeped over the edge of the horizon to try and get a good look. And as she did so, the people saw her light and began to cheer in delight. That’s when the sun knew she was safe to come back into the sky.

Since that time, the sun has never been afraid to rise. Every day, the cockerel has told her she’s safe. To thank the cockerel, the sun gave him his splendid red comb for his head. It is a reminder of the story for the comb is crimson as if stained with the blood of dead suns and its jaggedness is like the peaks of the mountains behind which the sun had hidden.

So there we are – at the end of the story. But you can’t help wondering if, symbolically, those five dead suns aren’t perhaps coming back into the sky in this new era of global warming. Perhaps that’s another good reason to be telling the old Chinese story! For as I say, stories that link us with the creatures of this world give us a sense of our place in this world. They are important ones for us to know and to tell.

My photos this week:

The photo at the top of my Blog this week is of an extraordinary little cockerel toy I bought on a visit to Prague.You hold it in front of you, string hanging down, and then when you dampen your fingers and pull them down on the string, it makes an amazing high-pitched call – almost like a cockerel!

The other creatures (I’m not sure if they’re supposed to be hens or cockerels) were acquired in South Africa.They were on sale in the shop in a community centre – some of the many inventive and wonderful things that are made in South Africa from recycled materials. These were made out of plastic carrier bags.

Next week it will be time for Spider.

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