Traditional Storytelling: A Voyage for the Soul in Scotland

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Listening to a good storyteller can transport your spirit. With a skilled storyteller, you can experience changes in seasons, smell aromas and ultimately seed your open mind. “Spinning a good yarn” can shape culture, impart values and pay respect to the subject matter. We listen and interpret the meaning in stories we hear. It is very human, and it is essential to history. Storytelling is vital to language development and can assist in creating racial equality and religious respect.

The Scottish International Storytelling Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, is where you can enjoy an evening devoted to preserving and showcasing this art form. On evenings in October, stories take place in a small, cozy auditorium within the Scottish Storytelling Centre for a festival that in was aptly titled Beyond Words. The Centre includes the Storytelling Café, Netherbow Theatre, Storytelling Court and The Brown Library as well as an exhibition space and book store open to the public free of charge all year, not just during the annual festival.

“Oral storytelling has continued over the years, but the social contexts and settings now are different. It is not automatic in traditional societies, and we need to create opportunities for stories to be shared,” confided Dr. Donald Smith, the founder and director of the Centre and its festival. “There is now a community roots effort throughout the world to preserve and encourage what must remain in communities to ensure that it does not become a branch of showbiz,” Smith explains.

I suppose that after several generations of clamor coming from technology such as televisions, cell phones and radios, it should be no surprise that the art of storytelling is experiencing a rebirth of popularity. We need a quiet form of expression, much like when we were young and listened attentively to the bedtime stories told.

Merriam Webster defines a storyteller as “someone who tells or writes stories.” I rarely want to find fault with definitions, but in this case the word “share” should be included. Sharing a story will carry the words into true storytelling. The personal expression makes each story unique. The same story in the hands of a storyteller can and should be told over and over.

The storytellers on stage at the Edinburgh festival were found by worldwide research through conversations and explorations, and some talent came from recommendations by peers, while the Scottish raconteurs were already well known by the festival staff and creators. The Centre encourages their development not just with this festival but in workshops, venues for other public events and by connecting talent to support given by Creative Scotland and City of Edinburgh Council.

The Scottish International Storytelling Festival also goes on tour, allowing listeners to enjoy outside of the city of Edinburgh. Storytellers travel to Angus, Argyll & Bute, Galloway and Glasgow as well as many more towns throughout Scotland during festival time. The traveling festival includes 20 international guests joining 60 Scottish artists, all sharing old traditions and new connections while showcasing how music, dance and story communicate shared experiences that are “Beyond Words.”

The yearly event is an excellent opportunity to experience local connections and stories. For a visitor to Scotland, it provides an opportunity to enjoy Scotland’s heart and soul, both past and present. We cannot go back in time and eavesdrop on history; however, we can hear the tales brought forward from times gone by and carried forward through words. Throughout Scotland, professional or community storytellers train and hone their craft. Varied, rich in voice and expression, this charming U.K. country is home to a talented and committed web of storytellers with wide-ranging styles and repertoires.

On the opening night of the festival, Jess Smith, James Spence, Janis Mackay and Heather Yule shared stories in the Scot and Traveler tradition while the evening commenced with a welcome to First Nations from Canada in the tradition of their native storytelling. Storytelling has always been essential to First Nations to teach their heritage for future generations in preservation of their culture.

By attending the Scottish International Storytelling Festival, I learned firsthand that when a story is told person to person, live, without print or technology, that nothing beats the experience. Live storytelling performances bring tales to life, unlike any other medium.

Captivated and enthralled, audience members listened, gasped and laughed throughout the evening. The storytellers grimaced, giggled and wildly gestured through their time on stage, leaving us hanging on their every word. Beyond Words was the 31st Festival.

Travelers seeking a new experience can look forward to the 32nd festival scheduled for October 16 through 31, 2020, titled In the Flow to recognize Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, 43-45 High Street, Edinburgh, Scotland, EH1 1SR. ■

Sources: scottishstorytellingcentre.com.