Here is everything you wanted to know about that ancient concept of ‘telling places’, places of power and potential, of community and fellowship, of touching the….
Well, maybe this is an outline to whet your appetite and to encourage you. What is a telling place?
So, there we were, sitting around a small fire in the Dorset countryside. It was September and the nights were drawing in earlier than ever, and, as it was late evening the air temperature was beginning to drop. Darkness was descending. But it was ‘mild’ for the time of the year – very ‘comfortable’ – and all twelve of us were being warmed by the fire in the centre of the circle, anyway
As a group, we had decided that there would be a simple opening liturgy or ritual to make this a ‘sacred time’, to make this a special occasion to each one of us, and there would be a closing ritual, too; and formulating that liturgy and ritual was part of the earlier group workshop.
The main part of the gathering was now starting: to make this time and space, a telling place. A hush fell upon the group.
In ancient societies, Celtic, Druidic, wiccan and others, tribal people would gather together around fires in the dark to tell and listen to stories, and share stories. There is some primal about real fires as compared to an energy-efficient light, something humbly at being in the dark. In our modernity we miss out. What kind of stories would those ancients have spoke and listened to? Stories that had meaning for the tribe: stories about creation, about new beginnings, about the meaning of life. They would be stories about the ‘accepted’ tribal myth, or they might have been personal stories of hardship and triumph, or myth to encourage.
The places where they met were referred to as the telling place, that is places for meeting, places for giving and receiving one another’s stories.
Bless us, Lord, this day with vision.
May this place be a sacred space,
a telling place
where heaven and earth meet.
[From Celtic Daily Prayer]
As silence fell upon the group, I quietly outlined the essentials: we were here, in this sacred time, to share stories of meaning to us, with others; these stories could be personal or they could be stories or poems by others of great meaning to the individual; no one should feel shy, no one should judge; we were here to listen and take what was shared to heart; the details of what was said within this telling place would remain here; we were to encourage each other, accept each other, respect each other, to reach out and touch the Mystery.
And with that, I passed the ‘talking stick’ to the first person that had indicted she wanted to share, first.
‘That’s what the shell’s called. I’ll give the conch to the next person to speak. He can hold it when he’s speaking.’ Lord Of The Flies.
The talking stick, sometimes called a speaker’s staff or speaking stick was an instrument of aboriginal democracy used by many tribes to ensure the holder could speak freely and that others would listen. The talking stick would be passed around the group, rather like the conch shell as used in the movie ‘Lord of the Flies’, as a symbol of their authority or right to speak in public.
Our talking stick was one that a group member found on the lawn of the retreat house – the talking stick was a branch measuring just fifteen inches, an ordinary part of a tree, but imbued with power – at least to us.
Talking sticks have high ceremonial and spiritual value, and would have proved to be exceedingly useful.
Each person, in turn took the talking stick and spoke, and each person listening did so with respect. Some recited poetry from another age, others spoke their own poems; others told mythic stories, and some told personal stories of their battle with cancer. But telling place ‘rules’ forbid further details.
It was a wonderful evening. Some laughed. Some cried. Some did both. But, everyone got something from the telling place. It ‘touched’ the heart and soul of everyone, and in some way, large or small, it affected each one of us: we touched the Mystery and we left transfigured.
That was several years ago, but interest has been mounting, and it is hoped that a weekend workshop can be organised for those interested in participating in a telling place sometime soon in the UK. Interested?