Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Signs and symbols

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.’

P1070630A sense of symbol:

How our minds can flick back and fore between different kinds of reality!

In his dream, the sleeper of the Irish tale has experienced the stream as a wide flowing river, the branch of the tree as an ornate bridge, the whitened skull as a marble palace.

So this week I found myself wondering if a butterfly that aligned itself with perfect symmetry on a wall between two bars of a gate, could perhaps be a painted piece of art. Or what message in an ancient script was composed by that lichen on a cliff-top boulder?

Or who might suddenly be found sitting on that seat in the park that shone so intensely in the spotlight of the sun?

Using the essence:

P1070612Signs and symbols emerge in the world around us. They’re like little capsules filled with the essential oils of personal and cultural memory. Sometimes the taste from them is quickly forgotten, sometimes it lingers for ages.  But I’m not sure everyone pauses long enough to even perceive the possibility that there’s a taste there to be experienced. For many, life’s just too busy, for others it’s too hard-pressed.

The same thing happens with stories and storytelling.  One style of working with stories proceeds on the basis that you can pin everything down. Another knows it has to try and catch at the doubts and ambiguities that lie within what would otherwise be too defined and obvious. It’s a style I know I share with Jean who this week left one of her supportive comments on last week’s blog. So I’m going to ask you. Do you agree?

And if you do experience that same sense of the possibilities that lie within stories, often a bit hidden, sometimes hard to pin down yet always worth thinking about,  please know that you hold this kind of experience in common with others. Do please trust it. In my view, it’s an enrichment of  life.

Please send a comment with your thoughts, please do come back next week. And if you can, please pass my blog link on to your friends. Here it is:


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