Sunday, February 01, 2009


The First Shaman Storyteller
© Paschal Baute, 200

Once upon a time, a very long time ago, Young Black Elk was sad as he prepared his body for the hunt. It was still winter and food supplies were short. This would be his first hunt without his favorite hunting companion, Big White Hawk. He still found it difficult to believe that Big White Hawk was gone, it had all happened so suddenly.

Big White Hawk was not only among the bravest and most agile and quick in the tribe but he was one of the biggest. Whoever got the final death blow had the right to the choicest of the meat, so he often got the best.

In the last hunt, they were about to deliver the final blow to the wounded tiger. Big White Hawk with his usual daring had approached from the blind side fo the beast within touching distance when the beast turned suddenly and with a slash of his armed had ripped Deer’s throat. As he lay beside the wounded animal, the tiger pounced and had him by the throat before Black Elk of one of the other hunters could do anything. By the time they killed the tiger, Brown Noose was gone, no life in him. None of them could believe it. He had been the bravest, the most daring, of all the tribe’;s warriors. In one sudden unexpected move of a wounded animal, Big White Hawk, the bravest of the brave was gone.

Since we had no way to bring back his body, he was buried there with a few rocks marking the spot. Now Young Black Elk was preparing for his first hunting without the one whom he admired the most. Perhaps he could take some of that bravery with him, perhaps the bravery could be passed on. He ask the spirit of Big White Hawk to be with him.

The new hunt was successful, and he felt the spirit Brown Moose with him. On the way home, as they passed the place where his friend had been buried, young Black Elk stopped. He would leave a trinket, a warrior bracelet there, and in order that it not be taken by others, he dug a hole and left it beside his friend.

That night he had a dream. Big White Hawk came to him and told him he was in another place, a land of good hunting and thanked him for visiting his grave. As Young Black Elk thought about this dream the next day, he told it in the village gathering. Everyone assented. They had always believed in calling on their ancestors to be with them in any new crisis. The daring and agile spirit of Big White Hawk would be with the young hunters of the tribe to lead them to be successful.

In later gatherings, young Black Elk would recount other hunts in which the bravery of Big White Hawk had been outstanding. These stories pleased the tribe and its elders, so he was increasingly called on for stories. As he grew in his own hunting skill, he was sure that the spirit of Big White Hawk was with him helping him be successful. As the stories grew, the sense of the tribe grew that there was indeed an after life in which their dead lived, and from this other life, these other, now passed on warriors could still be with them to help make them successful. They began increasingly to honor the burial sites, first of the warriors and then later of all tribe members. As this practice seemed to make this tribe more successful in their hunting, the practice spread to other tribes. Before long, all the tribes of the area were honoring the burial graves of their loved ones with trinkets, even tools and weapons for the next life.

Young Black Elk, now no longer so young, was increasingly called on for stories. Like any good story teller, he added detail to spice up the story, and soon Big White Hawk was the most awesome of all the hunters of the tribe. His reputation was recounted by others, and stories about him and his brave exploits became inspirational to all the young hunters.

Young Black Elk, now called simply Black Elk, had become the designated storyteller for his tribe, their first shaman, or medicine man. The tribe with stories soon learned that stories gave them a competitive advantage in survival. If they believed they were the bravest, their stories were their placebo. Before long, each tribe soon had a storyteller, and as the stories grew, so did both the imagination and the success of the hunters. Increasingly they were able to images things not present, like bravery, courage and compassion.

Imagining these qualifies pf courage, agility and ingenuity improved ways to make their weapons better, gave them increased survival power. They became more inventive and more powerful among their peers. We know this process started about 100,000 years ago with the first Neanderthal’s ritual graves. Before that time, human bones were found simply scattered.

It was the encounter with death that created the first storytellers. As their art grew, so did their language skills. Storytellers, the initial few with an imagination others did not yet have became the culture creators, bringing more invention and more adaptability to their peoples.

It is proposed here, from the evidence of ritual burial dating to l00,000 years age, that the need to explain death and the challenges of life was the spur for developing language to support the storytelling and therefore narrative intelligence and imagination.

Storytellers today are part of that ancient art, that skill and that primitive profession. They were the early agents of change through their storytelling, opening possibilities and bring to early humans the power of the imagination

Armstrong, Karen, A Brief History of Myth
Campbell, Joseph, The :Power of Myth
Many articles on the Internet about the origins of storytelling.
See also new article by Paschal “Who Were the First Storytellers?”

© Paschal Baute. 2008


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