Sunday, November 25, 2007

Come Close and Listen: A Call for Revival of Storytelling

Come Close and Listen: A Call for Revival of Storytelling

by France Yoli Maya Yeh Joseph Copywright 2006

The Cayuga, Oneida, Mohawk, Onondaga, and Seneca make up the Five Nation Peace Confederacy, as they call themselves. They would be called the Iroquois Confederacy by their colonizing government. In the ways of these Native Peoples, as children they learn to speak with the Nature around and inside of them. They learn there a language of the stones, a language of the trees, a language of the animals, a language of the crystals, a language of the waters and winds, and more. They learn that they have the ability to communicate in ways that are not limited to vocal means but that through their mind-power, they are connected and related to a vast web of different beings, not just in the physical human form.

As with most Native Peoples of the world, storytelling is a way and means of educating and sharing with members of the Nation of all ages. A story or myth as they are sometimes labeled in the modern, scientific world is an account of real or fictional events. A myth is described as, “a story of great but unknown age which embodies a belief regarding some fact or phenomenon of experience, and in which often the forces of nature and of the soul are personified; an ancient story of a god, a hero, the origin of a race, etc.; a wonder story of prehistoric origin”.[1] These definitions help one understand what a myth or story is but does not give any emphasis to the institution or tradition upholding the integrity of the story.

The storyteller, in the traditional Native sense, is the human representative of the knowledge and truths shared through the symbols and events of the story. In the Seneca lineage, the storyteller must not embellish or interpret the story in their own understanding. They maintain the consistency of the delivery of the tale. The process of learning the story is hearing it many times over and then, generally under the guidance of the elder storyteller, sharing the story with others. The story will be told in the same manner through generations. This is the ethical code of the unbroken chain of the storyteller/lineage tales.

Since the integrity of the story is maintained, within the Seneca culture the stories and myths are taken as oral lineage facts. What can seem misleading is that from an outside perspective or modern scientific outlook, some of the concepts presented in the story scenarios like getting timeline information of the development of life on earth since creation from talking to a stone may seem preposterous. On the flip-side, the idea of proving the truth of our existence through purely empirical/scientific means can appear as ludicrous to one who works on subtle planes of existence and communication like spirit and ancestor practices.

My goal here is not to present a situation that Native systems of belief and understanding are in total opposition with the scientific world. They are two different ways of looking at the same creation. It is important to acknowledge that the world-view of Native Peoples, in this paper specifically the Seneca, sees the totality of creation beyond just the physical world but including all sentient beings (stones, plants, animals), all natural earth-elements, and beings in subtle or non-physical realms (spirits, ancestors, spirit guides, star-people). My argument is that in an age of intellectualism and over-thinking, we need a revival of story and myth sources that we have yet uncovered and brought onto an even ground with other sources of our human history, like the Native Peoples of the world, in order to re-present the dire information that we humans have created a time of vulnerability of life on the earth that we share. The revival is two-fold. We need both the recovery of Native traditions from within the Native communities in the ways of the storytellers and we need a revival of storytelling as a means of speaking with the public and educating.

The Seneca tell the story of the Seven Worlds, a comprehensive story of creation of the earth and all its inhabitants. The source of the story is the stone-people, the oldest inhabitants of the earth whose role is to record the events past, present, and future of the Earthmother. Each world is an age of life on earth and all its inhabitants and the stories of learning and growth of especially human beings through the passing of each world. The first world was the World of Love. The second world was the World of Ice. The third world was the World of Water. According to the timeline, we at the present moment are living out the last days of the fourth World of Separation. That places us in the unique transition period between worlds where the lessons of the ending world are at their peak of intensity and every action and thought carries huge weight on the final outcome. We are in a time of particular vulnerability.

The beginning of the Fourth World of Separation was thus,

“It was now time for the remaining Children of Earth to emerge and take their rightful places among their Relations above the soil, to begin again and to become the new foundation of The Faithful. Much had been learned about the natural order of our planet during the demise of the Water World. Promise was the watchword among those who chose to repopulate the above world, because the Earth Mother promised the Tribes of earth that they would never again live under the domination of one race. The new lessons of humankind were to be riddled with separations even among the Clans of individual races, and therefore, no single race would ever be able to agree among themselves enough to exercise control over others. As it was in the beginning of every new world, the promise of the Fourth World was the harmony of equality, but the challenge was of separation. Since it was time to begin at a new place on the Medicine Wheel, The Faithful carried this promise of equality as well as the challenge.”[2]

The Fourth World began as a continuation of the previous worlds. Whatever actions performed and lessons learned by the Two-leggeds or human-beings of Earth carried weight of repercussion. This is according to a basic law of existence followed by Native Peoples that all actions have repercussion. Human-beings are unique in that they are endowed with abilities to communicate and be on all planes of existence, physical all the way to Void. Thus, human actions carry a unique weight and deeds done without thought of their effect in the future or on other relations can lead to dire consequences.

Through the first three worlds the Two-leggeds exercised their abilities and discovered boundaries and limits too. From destroying the first Tree of Love, to the Earth being covered under ice and having to survive under the ground or in caves, to one race trying to unite itself, misuse its gifts and dominate all other human races, Two-leggeds have shaped the experience of other beings along their path of learning and folly. At each changing of the worlds the global topography shifts too with seas rising and falling and continents rising and falling among the seas.

“Each emerging continent was filled with different traditions, cultures, and ways of speech. Hail-lo-way-an, which had been the unified Language of Love, was all but forgotten. New languages were taking the place of the primordial tongue, just as all races of the Two-leggeds were segregating themselves in order to learn more about their individual makeup’s. I could see the value of specialization, but I dreaded the future wars that could be fought in the name of only one philosophy being holy or correct.

As the Two-legged children of our Planetary Family began to explore their individual beliefs, the understanding of the concept of Great Mystery dwindled. All concepts that contained an expansive overview were disappearing, and pieces of the whole idea were taking their places. As time moved steadily forward, the intellects of the Human Tribe began to conquer and override the unified concepts that had represented oneness in the former worlds. Symbols, originally endowed by Great Mystery, that had contained the concepts of wholeness were lost when new ideas containing bits and pieces of truth were adopted by all five human races.

The individual races of humankind began to form religions based on limiting beliefs, each religion being controlled by Wanna-be-Chiefs who basked in the seeming knowledge of the new belief systems. Throughout the passing centuries, spirituality as away of life and a way of being was replaced with sets of laws based on fear of angry gods. The Stone Tribe dutifully recorded each passing change as the various civilizations peaked out and then collapsed when their lack of equality finally created division from within. As the Great Mystery was forgotten by most of the Two-leggeds, many gods were created to take the place of the Original Source. This final and ultimate form of separation from the Original Source was frightful to The Faithful among the Planetary Family.”[3]

The description of the Fourth World, our recent history, tells of a world where separateness and division are the underlying themes of the current global situation. This is based on past actions, in past worlds, where races tried to unite in order to hurt and dominate others. Thus the five races which are a part of the one human race, would have to live in separation in order to come to an understanding of their inherent gifts and abilities.

Humans are endowed with faculty of intellect which connects us on one side to the divine combined energy of all things, the Great Mystery as it is called by Native North Americans, and on the other had connects us with the mind and emotions with which we perceive our existence and make decisions. Through the systems of domination, humans created a variety of religious beliefs that tied humans into a certain way of thinking and acting. As civilizations rose and fell, as the story tells us, each culture did its best to learn from the mistakes of others, but generally the culture was still working to dominate others, through systems of separateness. This way of control over others and nature has continued into our present moment.

“Wars that killed much of the human populations battered and conquered each culture in the name of its own gods or in the name of being the only chosen race. As blood was spilled in sacrifice, poverty and pestilence were the tragic companions that followed the crooked trails of power and glory. The destruction of brotherhood and sisterhood among the Two-leggeds broke the bonds of the heart. Material possessions were used as symbols of success that could impress some of like mind or intimidate others who saw their own poverty as a symbol of their unworthiness. The jaded senses of the Two-leggeds lost connection with the beauty found in the natural world and led these confused Children of earth down trails filled with demons of their own making.

As time moved like rolling rivers past the curves and bends of experience, the attitudes of humankind were shaped by their fear and loss of earth connection. Many of the emerging philosophies and religions were kept busy degrading the natural actions and functions of being human. Humans felt it was unsafe to use creativity and self-expression, because they feared being too different. The limiting thoughts of separation cast doubt on those who heard a different drummer, making fear and hesitation’s victory over the Two-leggeds complete.”[4]

Far earlier than the creation of words and concepts such as colonization, capitalism, and genocide were made, the Stone People speak of the time we are living out right now. From the crusades, to the World Wars I and II, to the current war in Iraq, humans have created a huge dichotomy between rich and poor, rulers and ruled that continues to drive our actions today. Capitalism must create a division of rich and poor in order to sustain itself. The Earth has become yet another resource for humans to use at their will in order to increase their material wealth or power to dominate others. In our current situation, the idea of stepping into the public light and supporting a belief or practice that does not go along with the ruling norm can be dangerous or even downright suicidal. Even the atmosphere in America with new laws passed due to the Patriot Act, anyone at anytime can be imprisoned if it seems they are doing or acting in a way that can compromise the security of the country. This basically means we are living in a marshal law situation where anyone can be taken by the government at any time and they and their families do not have to be informed of the reasons why. Men and women are now living in fear each day not knowing if their actions or words may mark them as a target.

“The sacredness of sexual union was defiled with polarizing ideas that created rules concerning how each human, depending on gender, was allowed to express sensuality or desire. The stricter the rules of various Clans and Tribes became, the more often sexual crimes were committed. Dogma and morals replaced the inner knowing that had been present among humankind in the former worlds. The fear of being labeled as bad or wanton kept the Two-legged females from expressing the natural body rhythms that maintained their connection to the Earth Mother.

The male humans began to seek companionship with women who were pure, in the judgmental estimation of their newfound religions. Then these men found that many times, the woman was not able to respond in a natural way due to her fear of her own hidden or suppressed sensuality. The Fire Medicine of passion and spontaneity was being separated by the ice that flowed through the veins of all humans who feared their feelings or their natural states of physicality. On the other side of that lesson were those who had lost all connection to the spiritual and were controlled by their own lusts and jaded needs for sexual domination.”[5]

Feminism as a social and academic study area has come about from the acknowledgement of patriarchal systems of control and domination that have tried to strip women and the feminine of dignity and of a rightful place alongside men. As a result, the natural flow of a women’s biorhythms in connection with the Earth has not been taught to women in the modern time. The relationship of man and woman is not being shared as sacred and as being part of a larger web of sacred relationships. As a result we have created supporting dogma and rules within the religions that work to dominate women. Once again, this situation is not created by any other being than humans and right now we are living in the time of recognizing these systems that are in place and beginning to think of how to change the gender imbalance in our world.

Through systems of separation and domination like class, caste, slavery, and even modern economics and the delineation of 1st, 3rd and 4th worlds of development and poverty, we have given license for humans to follow their wants, lusts and desires. Through the moral and ethical teachings of religions we have given validity to these ideas and a system that will support the propagation of these unbalanced ways of thinking and acting. We have disturbed the gender imbalance to the point that the once sacred creation process of life, sexual union, is another object to be bought in the market or even an object to be taken or stolen against will.

Understanding that the story has shared with us the reality of the situation before us, what are the actions that will produce the solution of this suffering? If we are currently at the end of the Forth World of Separation what will be the events that follow, the necessary cleansing, that will usher in a new age of illumination? We know from the stories of the first three worlds, that the worlds end in Earth Changes:

“The Medicine Stones know that we are to experience the transition of the Fourth World and that will not experience the dawning of the Fifth World until around the year 2013 as the Two-leggeds reckon time on their calendars. It is during this time that the Earth Mother will begin to wobble and send cataclysms to any area where the Two-leggeds have chosen war, inequality, wrong action, or disharmony. The human decisions for peace have aligned with the Earth Mother’s heart.

The Stone Tribe sees the cycles move once again as every member of the Planetary Family feels the wobble that can manifest as life’s challenges or difficult lessons. Those who were the Ancestor Guardians of the Earth Tribe knew that the conflict was never outside of themselves but was always within. The fear of having to look at their own inner conflict led may to try to save others who they thought were in peril of losing the only way to enlightenment. This is one of the lies of the World of Separation, for nothing is ever apart; all paths are sacred. All life dwells with the Eternal Flame of Great Mystery and forever lives within all life-forms.

The present guardians of the Sacred Hoop realize that the exciting adventure now unfolding is one of discovery. The task at hand takes further development of every Relation’s talents. Each relation is being given the opportunity to seek out any conflict within the Self and heal it in order to stabilize the wobble that keeps us from personal balance and world harmony. We must pass through our personal fires or tests of strength and the planetary changes that will prepare us for the Fifth World of Illumination. Every member of the Planetary Family will be writing that history, and we of the Stone Tribe will be recording it for the future. Now it is time to look at the prophecy of that future and align ourselves with our common vision of peace in order to fulfill the promises of worlds to come.”[6]

Just as we Two-leggeds have created the setting of our current world and crisis of life’s vulnerability, we have the ability, gifts, and talents to create the way out of this and a harmonious future. As our existence is part-and-parcel of the Earth, our actions have direct reaction on the Earth. This may not have been proven in a scientific laboratory just yet, but the power of the human mind and emotions contains the ability to create peace or havoc on the Earth. We have pushed this envelope far enough now that we may create a need for the Earth to cleanse itself of human’s wrongdoings. Some of these wrong actions include oil drilling, mining, deposit of toxic waste below the Earth’s surface, building on seabed, waste overflow, pollution of waters, destruction of animal species, deforestation, and overpopulation of humans.

We are the source of the problem and the source of the solution. The call to be heeded now is one of looking within to find the answers to the questions we seek. It is a time of personal journey to the Void within in order to know ourselves, our bodies, energy, emotions, mind, intellect, and divine nature. By making ourselves whole as individuals, we raise the capability of awareness of the interconnectedness and interdependence of all life. By this process we can rouse ourselves where we are sleeping and attend to our mental sickness of consumption and domination.

Through stories like the Seneca story of the Seven Worlds we can, in a creative manner, reflect and come to important understandings of how life on the Earth is particularly vulnerable at this present time, what were the actions which got us to this situation, and what do we need to do and change in order to realize the harmony of life and usher in a new age of illuminating our darkness. Myth and storytelling are in need of a revival in this moment in order for us to access ‘the remembering’, the memories of our past worlds and past societies where we lived in wholeness love and harmony.

Some may argue that stories, myths and oral lineages should be kept to the realm of children and that they have no place in the theological and political spheres. Wendy Doniger replies that,

“We have seen how myths use different scales of words, different verbal lenses, to link theology with daily reality. The abstract end of the textual continuum may be antipolitical (though certainly not a-political) if it withdraws the gaze from human affairs entirely, to a life of philosophical contemplation or renunciation—religious or other---or eschatological expectation. But the process of generalization, of abstraction from local detail, has a political aspect as well: it is where we begin to look beyond our selfish personal concerns, and think globally, environmentally, think of the future, think of what is happening elsewhere on the planet earth, think of the consequences of what we say and do and write off people in political circumstances very different from our own. The wide-angle lens can be political and theological assumptions or begin to respect the humanity of political others by appreciating their theologies. And myth is particularly qualified to forge these links. Using microscopes and telescopes to link daily reality with global-indeed, galaxial—politics, myth enables us to do what the bumper sticker urges: think globally, act locally.”[7]

The storytelling shared here I do not think should be called a myth. Where we might think of a classic myth as Joseph Campbell’s quintessential ‘hero’, Job in the Bible, or Krishna in the Bhaghavad Gita, this story does not follow the trials and tribulations of a hero and how he or she must conquer the obstacle in the path. Rather, this story is a prophecy telling of a possible future, the current standing human beings are in, and the past actions and decisions that created the present crisis. There is no doubt that we are living in a unique predicament both mental and physical, and that each and every human shares in the responsibility of what got us here. Through the stories of ‘the other’ we have a chance to resource the ways, means, and commitments we must make in order to complete the present transforming time and pass into a future of nurturing wholeness and equality for all.


  1. Other Council Fires Were Here Before Ours. Jamie Sams and Twylah Nitsch. Harper Collins: San Francisco, 1991.

  1. The Implied Spider. Wendy Doniger. Columbia University Press: New York, 1998.

  1. Other People’s Myths. Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty. Macmillan Publishing: New York, 1988.


[2] Other Council Fires Were Here Before Ours, 80-81.

[3] Ibid, 82-83.

[4] Ibid, 84-85.

[5] Ibid, 85-86.

[6] Ibid, 97-98.

[7] The Implied Spider, 18-19.

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