Thomas Doty – Storyteller

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Stories and Truth

It fascinates me how native cultures openly stress how stories have equal importance to other necessities of life. From my ancestral village of Coyote's Paw, there is an ancient story that ends with sunlight and stories coming into the world together. The message is clear: Sunlight gives us life and stories make life worth living. Or here's stories partnered with food.... "Takelma myths have a traditional ending: 'Gweldi. Baybit leplap' which means 'Finished! Now go collect seeds and eat them.' In other words you've been sitting around listening to stories long enough, so get up and go gather food. Now that you've gathered seeds of wisdom from the stories, it's time to gather seeds for nourishment. Both kinds of seeds are necessary for the survival of humankind. Without food there is no life. Without myths life has no meaning."

Years ago someone asked me what I did for a living. I told him I was a storyteller. His response was, "Oh, my grandpa told lies, too!" This way of thinking supports the current use of the word myth in our language as meaning something untrue or a misrepresentation of the truth. A far cry from Isumatug, the Inuit word for storyteller which means, "The person who creates the atmosphere in which wisdom reveals itself."

Sometimes young children ask me if my stories are true, "Did Coyote really fall out of the sky, go splat and make Crater Lake?" I tell them, "Yes, the stories are true. You see, from our native point of view, it doesn't matter whether you personally believe that Coyote does everything he claims to do. That's just plot, what happens in the stories, what leads us to the truth. The real truths of the stories are what they teach us about being alive, getting along with each other, and with every bit of life on the planet. Coyote getting dropped by that star is only a little bit about making Crater Lake. It's mostly about falling in love and getting dumped and making wise choices about which flashy star you go dancing into the sky with." In support of his wild antics and his own version of the truth, Coyote likes to say about himself, "Who else is going to teach people what not to do by doing it?"

When I look more deeply into those cultures who subscribe to the myths-as-lies idea, stories are still at the heart of their existence. They share stories with each other, constantly. They act out their stories and call them rituals and ceremonies. They express the essence of religions through stories. Their dreams are stories, when they sleep and when they're awake. Dreamtime is Mythtime. Perhaps it's time for all cultures to own-up to the importance of their stories. Change how we use the word myth. Rewrite the dictionary entry to mean, "A deeply felt representation of the truth." Deep down, it's what we have believed all along.