Never tell only one story

arbolito 2

Never tell one story. Always add a second. That way, the first one won’t fall over. 

Tom Lowenstein, Ancient Land: Sacred Whale: The Inuit Hunt and Its Rituals, London: The Harvill Press, p. xii

Illustration inspired on a South African contemporary textile.


Original in a different sense

Tondo peces

Myth is a language made of timeless, not of momentary, forms. The themes [of performance improvised by Haida storytellers for anthropologist John Swanton] are not concocted for this occasion. They are original in a different sense. They are thousand- or ten-thousand-year-old stories put to current use; they renew the present world by rehearsing what is known of how the world came to be.

Robert Bringhurst, A Story as Sharp as a Knife: The Classical Haida Mythtellers and Their World, Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1999: 220
Inspired by the drawing of a shield found in a Greek vase.

Smoothing the ground.

Muñeca navajo

An old storyteller would smooth the ground in front of him with his hand and make two marks in it with his right thumb, two with his left, and a double mark with both thumbs together. Then he would rub his hands, and pass his right hand up his right leg to his waist, and touch his left hand and pass it on up his right leg to his waist, and touch his left hand and pass it on up his right arm to his breast. He did the same thing with his left and right hands going up the other side. Then he touched the marks on the ground with both hands and rubbed them together and passed them over his head and all over his body.

That meant the Creator had made humans beings’ bodies and their limbs as he had made the earth, and that the Creator was witness to what was to be told. They did not tell any of the old or holy stories without that. And it was a good thing. I always trusted them, and I believe they told the truth. (John Stands in Timber, cheyenne).

John Stands in Timber y Margot Liberty, with Robert M. Utley, Cheyenne Memories, Lincoln y London: 1972 [1967], p. 12.
Illustration inspired on the art of the Navajo people in the southwestern United States.

The tree that tells stories.


On the Lower Klamath is a very old, immense tree, which has given an account of the first world and people. This tree itself is one of the first people metamorphosed; no one knows what its age is. Sorcerers go to it yearly, hold converse, put questions, receive answers. Each year a small stone is added to a pile in which there are thousands of pebbles, apparently. This pile stands near the tree; no one is permitted to count the stones in it. The pile is sacred; once a stone is placed with the others, it must stay there forever.

This sacred tree has told tales of the first world, –the tales known to the Weitspekan [Yurok] Indians and revered by them.

Jeremiah Curtin, Creation Myths of Primitive America, Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2000 [1898], p. xxx.
Illustration inspired on a South African contemporary textile.

Tying up the myth


Very little of the atmosphere of story telling can be provided on a printed page. A few interesting remarks of one informant may be mentioned. In a native setting of the upper Cowlitz river, according to Mrs. Mary Eyley, stories that were very long would be told in two or more successive nights. In times gone by it was the custom to make a halt, perhaps when the auditors were disappearing or dropping off to sleep, saying something such as: … “Now I will tie up the myth,” implying that the myth was like a canoe, and had to be moored to a log or tree along the river until the next night’s myth journey. When story telling was in order the next evening the raconteur would perhaps say, … “Now I will untie the myth,” and the narrative would proceed from where it had halted.

Continuing the simile, should the raconteur wander from the main stream of the narrative or diverge into a side channel of gossip or other irrelevance, one of the auditors might admonish by calling out, … ‘Your myth might float away.’ It is also of interest to note that each sentence or perhaps even each phrase of the narrative was concluded with an affirmative semi-ritual call of ‘i’…!‘ literally ‘Yes!’ from the auditors, who if awake were expected to respond regularly in that somewhat fatiguing manner. In these sceptical, degenerate, modern days the myths are often received by a merely smiling or even relatively unresponsive audience.

Klikitat (sahaptin), in Melville Jacobs Northwest Sahaptin Texts, New York: Columbia University Press, 1934.
Illustration inspired on engravings from a cave in the island of Götland.

A good story protects your home

El cuervo

Knowing a good story will protect your home and children and property. A myth is just like a big stone foundation – it lasts a long time.

Navaho; C. Kluckhohn, “Myths and Rituals: A General Theory”, en Harvard Theological Review, vol. 35, 1942, p. 74.
Illustration inspired on the art of the Indians of the northwest coast of America.