“Like a great blanket the night folds itself around us. A puff of dark wind and the fire throws tiny stars towards distant worlds. A circle of young humans lean forward, and the story teller draws breath ready to speak.”
This weekend saw yet another step towards the revival of storytelling in the UK as the most powerful form of oral tradition at the 7th Westcountry Storytelling Festival. People gathered for three days in the beautiful fields and hills of Embercombe in Devon, for a celebration of this art, taking a voyage of personal exploration through liberal doses of ‘story medicine’.
Inspirational storytellers were pulled together from all directions for a weekend of magic in the beautiful westcountry, a mile from Dartmoor National Park: Jan Blake infected us with the ‘happy virus’ with tales of women, men and life from Africa, the Caribbean and beyond; Hugh Lupton ‘took us out of our minds’ with the story of John Clare the poet, exploring the porous boundaries between language and place, madness and exile, love and loss; Eric Maddern told us ‘what the bees know’ at the centre of Embercombe’s Medicine Garden, with songs, stories and a chat about bees; with Sue Hollingsworth we travelled far and farther than far by strange paths to faraway countries with the story of ‘Riding the Great Bear’; and many more folk-tales, myths and legends were told by Martin Shaw; Chris Salisbury; Robin Williamson; Inez Aponte; Dominic Kelly; David Heathfield; and others.
“Young women, young men, you are called to step forward. This is the time. This is your time. There never was such a time to be alive. Yet you will need all, all of your courage...”
In many of the stories during the festival, the landscape was being brought back to life, presenting images of places where biography and myth live, where the history of the whole of human life existed.
“Our landscapes hold the memory of everyone who has ever trodden it... all we have to do is listen”.
Embercombe’s founder, Tim ‘Mac’ Macartney told the story of Embercombe, this small valley of embers, the tinder, the smoke, the longing and the flame. “The vision of Embercombe is to touch hearts, to stimulate minds and to inspire community action for a truly sustainable world. Through this, we need to consider our own land as sacred.” Mac spoke about the need to empower leaders, the need for ‘peace chiefs’, warriors who choose to lay down their weapons, leaders who are brave enough to act what they believe is true, who are deeply gentle, open to feelings and open to life. We need to learn from gentle and vulnerable leaders such as Mary Wollstonecraft, 18th Century British writer and women’s rights advocate, , (Embercombe’s field is dedicated to her and named “Mary’s field”), Hafsat Abiola, Nigerian human rights activist, and Aung San Suu Kyi, Burmese human rights activist – they are but some examples of role models we need to learn from. “Open the doors, step into life and into this wonderful magical space. Everything is possible, so long as we live wild, we are alive.”
“I caught the happy virus last night, when I was out singing beneath the stars. It is remarkably contagious, so kiss me.” Hafiz
Nothing but the bold blue starry sky, with shimmers of gold and shimmers of silver, a weekend so beautiful, I almost forgot to breathe, and I was given the sweetest kiss I had ever felt, working a wonderful magic of a vigorous and joyful life.
“If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are -- if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.” Joseph Campbell