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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

It is not the teller, but the tale-

There existed an era before the Internet, television, and even the telephone. It was a time when stories and ideas were conveyed through writing. Letters, books and scrolls. You have probably seen printed books, written on paper. They are still common, though I wonder if that will remain the case. That, however, will be another story.

Printing is even a relatively new invention. Machines that did the work of the scribe. The scribe. A person devoted to the hand copying of letters, books and scrolls. Tediously placing ink on paper or thin animal skins, the stories and ideas of the past were maintained and transmitted. New stories and ideas were added, over time.

There existed an era before that. A time out of time, in which storytellers collected and passed on by word of mouth the ideas and stories of the past. The divisions we are familiar with did not exist. Science, religion, history, and fiction were all melded into the stories handed down from the past. Into the mix were added new tales to teach and to remember.

I am among those who tell tales. I am a story teller. It is a delightful task, and a mystical experience. Mystical, because I intentionally open myself to the sense of all of that history, and even prehistory. I suspect not all tellers of tales open themselves in this way, but I have a mystical bent. I feel that it enhances my experiences, and hope that it adds dimension to my tales.

Some years ago I would sit late at night and write by candlelight. I would use a pen which had to be dipped into ink to charge the nib for writing. I did this intentionally, writing by the same light that untold generations before me used to write. I did this intentionally, using a technology that was archaic. Pens of metal, pens of glass. Even pens of quills plucked from birds, though those are surprisingly difficult to use.

I was intentionally reaching back across history while writing into the future. Standing hand in hand with a long line of the tellers of tales, stretching from campfires eons dead through the moment of my life and onward into an unknown and little guessed future. I felt it, mostly because I wanted to feel it. Mysticism is rooted in the imagination.

In a discussion with atheists who happened to be scientist, or perhaps scientists who happened to be atheists, I recalled to them a documentary I had watched that described the telling of tales in remaining societies that exist outside of the world of the written word. People who teach their children with spoken words as they sit around camp fires. The tales told contain the whole world.

I proposed that the story is the primary mode by which humans have come to know the world for a very long time. My scientist friends agreed, but seemed to be of the opinion that a more 'scientific' mode of communication would be better. I am not sure what they meant, but they missed my point. I was suggesting that if they wanted their precious science to be known, really known, by the whole of humanity, it would have to be given to them in stories.

They seek to cleanse their science of that which is mystical, hoping to purify it and remove the stain of such artifacts of the past. That is unfortunate, and sad. I believe that science has much to contribute to the tale, but a story devoid of mystery becomes nothing more than a list of words. Yet the ongoing tale has been made strong by the order and structure given by science. We all err if we discount too readily any aspect of the tale.

Indeed, the tale grows rich and diverse in our modern time. It is informed by many disciplines, each a wealth of knowledge. It is made broad by so many modes of telling the tale. Technology has made the world small enough for us to experience a great deal of it in the short span of our lives. By making it small it has made the world even more vast in our experience than the world of mysterious unknown in which our precursors dwelt.

Technology has given us tools to tell the tale in ever changing ways. The transition from scribes tools to printing presses was revolutionary in human history. The transitions of our own day will bring forth revolutionary changes that will challenge the imagination. Yet the imagination is powerful, and will embrace these mysteries and distill them into marvelous tales. Whatever the tools, the storytellers will be there to gather the past and hand it on to the future.

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