Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Understanding History and what it means to be British!

Before the holidays took off I began a quest to find more Holiday stories from cultures other than my own.  I mulled over stories from faiths other than Christian.  I was raised with Grandparents who were mostly Christian Scientists, but in late Elementary School years attended Church of England for a while.  In my teens I explored other religions and faiths and I have kept reading about different cultures and their beliefs since then.  I have also been lucky enough to have known people whose faith has been tested beyond 'normal' circumstances and have retained their faith, or had it made all the stronger.  Religion can be a bit of a sticky wicket.  Some people proclaim their faith is the only right one and all others are corrupt, or heathen beliefs.  I once shared a flat in London with a born-again Baptist. He was told me the Catholics had it wrong and would burn in hell for what they thought was right. That was his belief.  The truth is that until we die, none of us will really know - have the solid  fact before us (a fire pit beneath our feet, wings on our backs, or fighting in Valhalla with other great warriors) - if there is indeed anything after death other than nothing!  Reading old myths, legends and folk stories I have seen many religious (and other) bigotries appear, sometimes because of who was transposing, or translating the story, or because of the 'norms' of the day - what was acceptable then and not now.

Being British has some drawbacks.  Hard to imagine, but it is true!  The biggest for me is that as a Nation, Britain colonized the world.  The sun never sets on Britain, or at one time in history it did not.  It was a while back and I should move on, but that history comes with a lot of baggage and for me a heightened awareness of what Britannia did - England even.  England ripped apart Scotland. England caused some major problems in Ireland which may have taken over 350 years to 'fix'.  Britain did serious damage on the African continent, and in India, and what we did to the indigenous people of America was appalling. I know other countries did similar things, but.  With all of this came exploitation, and... and the suppression of indigenous beliefs.

So when I come to tell tales from other cultures I carry that sack on my back. Especially around the Winter Holidays.  We could begin hte winter Holidays with the Eid Al Adha on the 14th and 15th of October and run until the Chinese New Year which is the Year of the Snake and is celebrated on the 10th and 11th of February. Somewhere I wanted to find some great stories I could be faithful to and tell from deep inside. And not be too down - I was going to be performing for kids as well as grown ups.  I looked at some Jewish tales, mainly the story of Hanukkah and the folklore of the driedel.  But I did not feel right telling this story as a non-Jew. Then I remembered a wonderful story written by Eric Kimmel called  Zigazak!: A Magical Hanukkah Night.    Well, because this was an original story I could not with good conscience tell it without Eric's permission. So I emailed him via his website and he said: YES.  A firned of mine Tim Van Egmond told me (and others) about a Japanese story. And I had my own stories to draw from.  So over the Holiday period, I was able to tell a story about a couple of Hanukkah goblins (thanks so much Eric), the story of King Wenceslaus from Bohemia (now in the Czech Republic), a Japanese story about New Year and why the seas are filled with salt (thanks Tim), the Winter Cherries (a great Welsh tale set in the Arthurian 'romances' pantheon), and a true story about the truce the soldiers created on the Western Front of World War I, 1914.  (Over the holidays I found another true story about a German pilot who escorted a British bomber to safety!)  It was a nice mix of tales and religions and all of them contained the best part of humankind - our humanity!  Every story I read and told contained our humanity, our ability to make the right things happen, to help others. And every story has it's own little miracle in it.

Oh we ain't got a barrel of money
Maybe we're ragged and funny
But we'll travel along singin' our song side by side

Don't know what's comin' tomorrow
Maybe it's trouble and sorrow
But we'll travel the road sharin' our load side by side


So with all of that said, I wish that you all have a great New Year, and that every day you find a little miracle and that you can share it with our fellow human beings, no matter what race, colour, creed, faith, or non-faith they are.

Peace,

Simon

2 comments:

Unknown said...

What? Simon, you're British? I never knew. As far as religions go I go by the Golden Rule. As far as my storytelling programs go I tell folk tales and leave the religious ones to parents. Good conversation you have written up, kind sir. Happy New Deer. ciao, tony

Anonymous said...

Good post. I liked your thoughts on finding the place where your own background and beliefs intersects with the interests of your audience--especially during the holidays.