'The Earth thinks in myth': Martin Shaw storytelling workshop due
A former Waterbeach resident who founded the Oral Tradition and Living Myth courses at Stanford University, Dr Martin Shaw has been a wilderness rites of passage guide for the last 20 years. He has written many books, the most recent being The Night Wages and Wolf Milk. On November 11 he will be at Storey’s Field for a workshop – titled 'The Storyteller and the Shaman' – and at Michaelhouse Centre for 'Wolf Milk: An Evening With Martin Shaw'.
What can people expect?
Primarily I will be bringing ancient stories and poetry on November 11. Both the afternoon and evening will feature them, with the afternoon having a longer time frame to track where these stories connect with our own, modern lives.
The evening will be less of a talk, more what the Sufis used to call a visionary recital – not that I see myself as visionary, but the stories certainly are. I will read a little from some recent books of mine – The Night Wages, Wolf Milk – and work into some of the ideas and stories from them. It’ll have a very archaic quality, gathering, as humans have for thousands of years, for stories about a world bigger than the human.
Have you been to or worked in Cambridge before?
I have a connection to Pembroke College, even launching The Night Wages there at the beginning of the year. Ted Hughes the poet studied there and I was pleased to be invited. I actually lived in Waterbeach about 25 years ago. Cambridge is both dreamlike and gritty as a town, a mix I am responsive to. I’m looking forward to coming. I love the Fens, the big skies. When I’m here my thoughts seem to travel a long distance – in Devon they immediately bump into a hill.
The themes you explore seem quite connected to the Red Rebel movement of Extinction Rebellion – the need to rediscover the power of nature and how ancient stories are actually a key for us today.
I love the Red Rebels and the startling quality they bring to Extinction Rebellion. I think their instincts are wonderful and their capacity to slow time with the ceremonial pace of their walking is in itself a very powerful, magical move.
Climate change is forcing me to examine two perspectives at the same time: one, to not be so quick to claim the Earth is doomed and two, approach the reality that things end. From that very, seemingly opposing tension, can come a third position, something I’ve been writing about recently, and will be published soon in a HarperCollins anthology, Letters to the Earth - a response to the climate crisis.
Looking at stories from 5,000 years ago, what was happening then that we should pay attention to?
There are stories from the era that seem to me not just tales about the Earth, but actually have the Earth speaking through them – there are perspectives that don’t even seem human, but belonging to animal powers, ice floes, weather patterns. I just love them, and that wider agency of communication. They hint at a love affair we’ve had with the wider Earth that we’ve grievously abandoned, and in that, I think we desperately need to witness them again now. Yes, I’m aware this is a radically different time, but there’s something in the memory of our very bones that is troubled into communication by these stories.
We are desperate for such dialogue. I think the Earth thinks in myth, talks to us in myth. At such a perilous time, I urgently encourage us to listen.