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A Pilgrim’s Way – with their feet they understand their roots

Young Pilgrims

Pilgrimsvandring på Stovner. Georgette er pilgrim og tar med seg skoleklasser på den fem uker lange turen til trondheim, langs kongeveien. Under veis forteller hun historier.

Along the Pilgrims way in Oslo, year sixes from all the local schools experience for themselves the 1,000 year-old Pilgrim tradition.

This is the 10th year 12 year olds from Oslo’s east sidewalk the ancient Pilgrims’ way leading to Trondheim also known as the King’s Road. Most of their pupils come from Christian or Muslim backgrounds, and today is special, both the bishop of Oslo and the cultural minister have joined the walk.

‘Children today have little chance to speak of how they understand God. Teachers are nervous of making mistakes, and it often seems safer not to mention the divine at all. In my experience children often appreciate the chance to speak about these mysteries. They really like meeting a real pilgrim and they love to be in nature,’ says the storyteller Georgiana Keable.

This Englishwoman has lived for 21 years in Norway. She is a pioneer in the renaissance of storytelling in England and Norway, and has taught for many years at Oslo University. In 2002 she founded the Storytelling House, whose aim is to give children and adults good story telling and listening experiences. Since 2008 she has walked the old Pilgrims’ way with around 1,000 schoolchildren per year.

‘The pupils have different backgrounds so I have to take care not to offend anyone. But everyone seems very curious about my pilgrim life and likes to take the chance to speak about their ideas of spirituality and often very personal things come up.’

Wandering through the forest Georgiana plays the role of the pilgrim 100%. When they talk to her it’s the pilgrim from the middle ages who answers not the storyteller. She asks a riddle: ‘What is greater than God and worse than the devil? The dead eat it but if we eat it we die?’ One of the children answers ‘Mum!’ Another shouts, ‘Nothing is greater than God!’
That’s the answer. The dead eat nothing every day and if we eat nothing we die.’ answers Georgiana.

Pilgrimsvandring på Stovner. Veien mottrondheim er merket med pilgrimskors.

It’s usually a Muslim child who answers that riddle. They have been taught that nothing is greater than God. They are also more likely to know about pilgrim traditions.

The relevance of pilgrimage in our time became real for the Georgiana when she walked from Ringebu to Trondheim with her daughter in 2003.

‘At 11 years my daughter hated going on walks. When I got a job as a storyteller walking on the Pilgrims’ way she begged to come on the 250 kilometres walk. No way! I said. But after she had really pleaded with me I agreed she could join us if she promised not to complain or moan. Amazingly she did the entire journey without a word of complaint. When she arrived in Trondheim anasty skin problem she had had for years was gone and her whole life was changed. Only later did I discover that she had been bullied at school but that had also changed.’

It was not until Georgiana moved to Norway that she became interested in pilgrimage. ‘When I saw what the journey had meant for my daughter I really wanted other children to experience this walk.

Barefoot

On the journey Georgiana tells local stories, her colleague Per Jostein Aarsand tells about Olav the Holy and also goes into role as a bandit, and some of the children join him on an ambush. And towards the end Georgiana tells the story of her daughter who was exactly their age when she walked the Pilgrims’ Way.

And then there are the challenges. The pupils often make quite a fuss about walking barefoot, but once the shoes are off, they seldom want to put them on again! It’s as if they are far more connected to the nature around them when their bare feet contact the ground.

Right at the end they walk 15 minutes in silence. ‘It’s quite an extraordinary thing to experience 50, 12 year olds walking in silence, it’s powerful,’ says Georgiana.

Oslo’s bishop Kari Veiteberg joined the walk this year, ‘This kind of work is at the heart of what the church can do. The children learn about pilgrimage, that it’s a real tradition and that there are holy places in this world. It’s amazing that here, just a few minutes from the local tube station, is this story, this history! This walk is also an example of how faith can be experienced through our feet,’ she says.

Oslo’s cultural minister, Rina Marianne Hansen, also joins the walk about half-way. Oslo council has supported the walks this year. ‘This brings our cultural history out into the local population. Many of these pupils don’t have a long family history here in Norway, so this knowledge is important for them in their lives here. This is also a great way to experience the role of faith in our society,’ reflects the cultural minister.

Religious dialogue

The priest in the local community, Tone Marie Falch thinks this walk is a fantastic way to include local people.

‘Following the footsteps of the old pilgrims clearly appeals to children with all kinds of different religious and cultural backgrounds. They can meet here and share their experiences. This is religious dialogue in practice,’ says the priest, who didn’t need to be asked twice to join the walk.

‘Feel this rock,’ challenges Georgiana. ‘This rock has been a holy place since the bronze age! Long before Christianity, long before Islam, people came here, they lit lamps from animal fat, and gave thanks for all their blessings.’

This article by Olav Solvang originally appeared in the Norwegian newspaper Vårt Land in October 2018.

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Book Review: Making Woodland Crafts and Storytelling for a Greener World

Storytelling for a Greener World cover

This review of Making Woodland Crafts and Storytelling for a Greener World appeared in issue 51 (spring/Summer 2015) of Reforesting Scotland. It was reviewed by Ian Edwards.

After travels on five continents I concluded that the secret of an ‘indigenous’ education is a combination of practical learning and storytelling. Two new books from Hawthorn Press, Making Woodland Crafts and Storytelling for a Greener World, show that what works for traditional, pre-literate societies remains useful and powerful in our modern world.

Making Woodland Crafts is a well-produced and illustrated handbook by Forest School Educator Patrick Harrison. His ideas will be too basic for some people (e.g. making a tripod by tying three sticks or a blow pipe by removing the pith from an elder twig) but even those who have done these many times before might find it helpful to be reminded of possibilities before going out to the woods with a group. Patrick Harrison is also the illustrator and you feel sure he has done everything in it himself and it will work. He happily mixes the practical (camp furniture, ladder, stargazing chair) and purely decorative (bracelets, necklaces, festive candles) as do forest cultures the world over. Adults and children love using tools and the Forest School approach is to introduce knives, saws and axes at the appropriate stage and to provide practical instructions to minimise risk. But you can’t learn how to use a tool properly from a book so it is an ideas kit for leaders rather than a teach yourself manual.

Storytelling for a Greener World will also inspire Forest School leaders. Most of the tales began life as campfire yarns but the authors have gone on to deconstruct and analyse them to emphasise their significance for our changing times. It is a multi-author work with a range of styles but the editors have done a good job of providing a simple précis at the start of each chapter. Editor Edward Schieffelin makes the valid point that you need to appreciate the cultural context of a story to be able to understand it and use it yourself. Creation myths of people you have never met may seem academic compared with fireside tales of Scottish travellers who trod the same roads as you and I.

Buy Storytelling for a Greener World here…

Buy Making Woodland Crafts here…

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Book Review: Storytelling for a Greener World

Storytelling for a Greener World cover

This is an extract of a review due to appear in the April issue of ECOS, the members magazine of the British Association of Nature Conservationists (BANC). Reviewed by Lisa Schneidau.

Storytelling for a Greener World – Edited by Alida Gersie, Anthony Nanson and Edward Schieffelin

…From experience, forcing an (often overwhelming) environmental message onto an existing traditional story can sometimes make it extremely worthy and dull. Stories are strange beasts, full of unexpected turns, and like all art forms they should not be safe. So I approached this book with a deal of nervousness.

I was pleasantly surprised. The book contains 21 chapters from different authors, exploring different ways in which stories can be used to useful ends for the environment. The chapters vary widely – from Martin Shaw’s offering of more spiritual rites of passage and wilderness, through David Metcalfe’s exploration of how a story circle can make a difference, to Chris Holland’s glorious blobster-building workshops, there is a great deal to learn here from the hands-on experience of the writers. Even more generously, all contribute stories which can be used and developed by the reader, making this a very practical contribution to the subject.

…a real treasury.

Buy the book here…

More about BANC/ECOS here…

 
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Book Review: Storytelling for a Greener World

Storytelling for a Greener World cover

Reviewed by Arran Stibbe in Green Letters, published online on the 26th November 2014. This is an extract, and a link to the full text is provided at the end.

Storytelling for a Greener World: environment, community and story-based learning, edited by Alida Gersie, Anthony Nanson and Edward Schieffelin

Storytelling for a Greener World will take you places. It will take you to ‘the ancient rolling hills and rivers of Dartmoor’ where ‘a group of adults huddle on piles of sheepskins and cushions in a room lit by the soft light of candles’; to the countryside of Staffordshire where a group create a story based on the moss, twigs and mud around them; to a primary school in a run-down area of Gateshead where kittiwakes nest nearby; to the back room of a pub in Bath where a storytelling circle has met every month for 14 years; and to ‘a spot where a line of trees meet open meadows near a paddock’ for storytelling in the presence of a horse herd. This is a book about oral storytelling: ‘storytelling which happens face to face, eye to eye, gesture to gesture, voice to ear, heart to heart, and mind to mind, in one location by one person to one or more others’. It is designed not as a work of ecocriticism but as a practical guide for promoting reflective and innovative practice in facilitating storytelling groups. However, the book does, at its heart, explore an ecocritical question: how can contemporary UK storytelling inspire pro-environmental behaviour?

The answer to that question comes, not directly, but through the exploration of 21 contributors – all are storytellers, all are educators, trainers, facilitators, or consultants, and some are also poets, writers, artists, singers, musicians, historians and more. In 21 chapters, these contributors explore their own practice of using, sharing and creating stories with diverse groups of participants, in diverse locations, to bring about changes in outlook. The chapters provide anecdotes to illustrate the principles laid out in the introduction: that encouraging reflection, modelling interrelatedness through the ‘very dynamics of storymaking and oral storytelling’, stimulating ‘affective relationships with others and the more-than-human world’, encouraging both listening and responding and other oral storytelling activities ‘can directly lead to increases in people’s empathic capacity and pro-social and environmental behaviour’.

Storytelling for a Greener World offers a window onto an exciting area of analysis for ecocriticism: ‘texts’ created and received at the same moment, eye-to-eye, heart-to-heart, in place, with all the potential for deep changes in outlook that this promises. Ecocriticism, likewise, offers something to storytellers – methods for interrogating the messages contained in the stories that they work with. There is something else though. The book claims that ‘sustainability involves a constant, thoughtful, and often fun interplay between people and the more-than-human world’ and provides a great variety of practical facilitation techniques to make that happen. These techniques could add an enticing new dimension to educational situations where students typically spend significant time reading written texts on their own, writing essays about them on their own, receiving written feedback on those essays and reading papers to an audience. This new dimension could help students develop the empathic responsiveness that arises from direct connection with other people, other species and place.

Read the full review here…

Buy the book here… 

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Storytelling for a Greener World at the Scottish International Storytelling Festival

Scottish International Storytelling Festival

If you are in Edinburgh on Sunday 26 October, be sure to head to the Royal Botanical Garden for a wonderful afternoon of story walks and performances. And don’t let the wind and the rain put you off: in the event of extreme weather story journeys will relocate to the Temperate Palm House. For more information visit the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh website www.rbge.org.uk.

Read more about the book Storytelling for a Greener World here.