The Vikings Are Coming!

Storyteller

Ever since the first people sat around their campfires, we have told stories. People tell tales to explain events and to justify their actions. We see how one thing led to another, and wonder what might happen next. We learn about how we should behave in a similar situation. We use stories to understand the world.

Myths are some of the best stories ever told. They have stood the test of time, surviving to be re-told generation after generation. Tales of heroes and clever girls, treasure and monsters capture our imagination. Our modern world doesn’t contain many dragons, but metaphorical monsters still exist. Whether you’re fighting the establishment, coping with colleagues or dealing with depression, stories show you a way to go on. Myths and fairytales tell us to be brave and teach us to tackle life’s problems. Whether you’re a princess or an urchin, a lot of courage and a measure of good sense will see you through.

ThorThe mythology of the Norsemen tells us about their world. The Gods were always fighting the Ice Giants, just as men battle with the forces of nature. The tales of the Vikings embody their values. The Gods of Asgard were a close-knit group, mirroring the strong family ties of Northern society.  They were brave, generous and loyal to their friends – but always on guard against threats and treachery.

LokiThor was the most popular figure in the Norse pantheon. A big man with a bushy red beard, he was slow of thought but quick to action. Thor’s hammer Mjollnir was his greatest weapon in the battles with the Ice Giants. Forged by the dwarves, it never missed its mark; guided by magic, it always flew back to his hand. His brother Loki, the Trickster, was a very different character. Clever and devious, Loki’s schemes often saved the day.


‘Vikings: Life and Legend’ was at the British Museum earlier this year. If you are interested in the Vikings, you might enjoy reading ‘Myths of the Norsemen’ by Roger Lancelyn Green.

More about myth in ‘LifeWorks‘ by Jane Bailey Bain. Visit my Author Page and follow me on Twitter @janebaileybain. If you like this post, use the buttons below to Share on Facebook, Twitter or Stumbleupon.

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The Power of Story

Tell me your story. Let’s start at the very beginning. Where in the world were you born? What name did your parents give you? Do you have brothers and sisters? Where did you go to school? In other words, Who are you??

Footprints

There are seven billion people on this planet, but your story is unique. Everything about you – your loves and your hates, your gifts and your challenges, your disappointments and your successes – is part of your personal narrative. All your experiences have made you who you are today. They are a line of footprints leading to exactly where you are now.

 

TapestryLife is a tapestry woven from many threads. Everyone you meet is a part of this pattern. Each of them has their own story that made them who they are today: the schoolboy on the #33 bus, the woman in the corner shop, the funny guy at the party, the old man on the park bench: they all have their own private hopes and dreams, their fears and regrets, their longings and secret sadnessses. When you see them in the street, wonder about the series of events which brought them to cross your path. Think about who they really are, behind that public mask. Ask yourself what lessons you could learn from them.

 

When you tell me your story, you are telling me about yourself. You decide what is important: the people, places and events that are significant in your life. Naturally, you edit the narrative to suit your image. Some incidents make you look clever, funny or brave; others don’t reflect your real self. Life Story BookYou tell stories to make sense of your life, linking one thing to another  in a causal sequence of events. Be careful, because stories can create reality. Tell someone about what you’ve achieved, and watch your reflection in their eyes. Moan about how hard things have been, and those obstacles will cast ongoing shadows in your path. Stories can literally change the world. They provide models and metaphors which shape your perceptions. Hearing a well-told tale may transform your life. Leaders, teachers, lawyers and politicians all understand the power of story.

 

StoryOldManYour friends and family and colleagues each have their own story. Ask them about it: you might be surprised how little you know. When you listen to someone else’s story, you learn about things outside your own personal experience. If you find things in common, you feel closer to that other person. If their experiences are very different, you can empathize with them. Stories can teach you about how the world works, about how people think and feel, about what to expect from life. When friends share stories, you help each other to learn and grow.

 

So start asking people questions. Be genuinely interested in their answers. When you talk to someone, give them your full attention. So often, people get stuck on superficialities: What do you do? Where do you live? These markers help to place someone, but they don’t really tell you about the person you’re talking to. Everyone has something to share which could enrich your life. Try some more significant questions. When do you feel really happy? What’s your favourite saying? Why did you come to this place? Who are the most important people in your life? What’s on your bucket list? What’s your story?

 

That’s one thing you could ask everyone you meet: Tell me your story….

 

LifeWorks‘ shows how you compose your own life story. ‘StoryWorks‘ is my new book on the power of story. Visit my Author Page and follow me on Twitter @janebaileybain. If you like this post, leave a comment and use the buttons below to Share on Twitter, Facebook and Stumbleupon.

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Archetypal Figures

LifeWorksAre you a clever girl or a wise woman? A hero or a trickster? There’s more to you than meets the eye, but you have a certain personality. And this persona tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Your self-image affects how you feel. Your feelings influence the way you act. And your actions ensure that you get the experiences you expect. In other words, your character affects what happens in your life story.

All the world’s a stage and you act a central character. You choose your part and find people to play with you. At the same time, your image determines what role you play in their story. You relate to people whose life scripts fit with yours. All our stories draw on a common set of characters. The same figures recur in tales from different times and places: the princess, the good mother, the wise man and so on. We recognize such roles easily when we encounter them. The psychologist Carl Jung called these universally recurring figures ‘archetypes’.

Archetypes are outline forms which appear in the human psyche. They consist of clusters of stereotypical attributes. We fill in their features on the basis of personal experience. Your image of a ‘good mother’ draws on your own encounters with mothering. You fear the witch because of folktales you once heard. These figures are familiar and reassuringly predictable. They help us to make sense of the world.

Dancing FiguresWhen you interact with other people, you are usually playing one of these archetypal roles. You pick a part and act it out with your own personal interpretation. This character is your public image. It determines how other people see you, and how you see yourself. You have relationships with people who will act complementary roles. The hero needs a princess to rescue; the good mother wants a hungry urchin to feed.

The character you choose is influenced by the people around you. Social and economic factors limit the parts you can play: Beauty may be financially dependent on her Beast. But ultimately the only limiting factor is your imagination. When you change, so do your relationships with other people. Beauty can get a job and take control of her own life.

Writing on the WallThe writing’s on the wall but who composed it? You did: but usually you’ve used automatic writing. Most of us drift through life without realizing what’s going on. We accept the hand that fate has dealt us, without ever trying to change our cards. We fall into friendships out of convenience rather than choice. We stay in jobs that don’t really inspire us because we can’t see any alternative. Our lovers may take us for granted, or even abuse us: we act as if there’s nothing we can do about it.

Actually you have more control over your story than you think. You can broadly choose what happens in your life. Will you go to college or get a job? Do you want to stay single or get married? You may have to modify the details but you decide what you want to do. If you don’t make conscious choices, you’re actually deciding by default. What matters is to become aware of this process.

Antique BookThe greatest story ever told is happening right now, all around you. Your personal role is unique, but we’re all on the same great journey. Your life script interlocks with the stories of everyone you know. You choose the part you want to play, and you decide what to do. Once you are aware of this, you can start to take control of your life. Now there’s an empowering thought. Your story so far tells who you were: what happens next is up to you!

This post is based on an article in Watkins Magazine Issue 33 Spring 2013.

LifeWorks‘ shows how you use archetypal figures in your life story. Visit my Author Page and follow me on Twitter @janebaileybain. If you like this post, leave a comment and use the buttons below to Share on Twitter, Facebook and Stumbleupon.

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Labyrinths

Labyrinth MinotaurLabyrinths are often seen as a metaphor for confusion. Theseus chases the Minotaur through a labyrinth; Jung talks of the labyrinth of the unconscious mind. Actually these are examples of mazes, not labyrinths. A maze is a web of tracks designed to confuse and disorient:  false turns and dead ends conspire to get you hopelessly lost. In a labyrinth, your path may twist and turn, but there is only one route.  If you follow the way, you will inevitably come to the centre. Labyrinths are a symbol of the soul’s journey: keep going, and you will find your true destination.

Labyrinth Chartres CathedralLabyrinths have been marked and walked since ancient times. They feature in spiritual traditions from around the world as a method of obtaining enlightenment. Usually they are in the form of two-dimensional patterns marked on the ground. They may be spiral, symmetrical or random meanderings. Early Christian churches feature labyrinthine patterns as a representation of human life, with the centre symbolizing salvation. In medieval Christianity, walking the labyrinth was a form of symbolic pilgrimage: religious rituals were conducted on the patterned floors of great cathedrals such as Chartres and Amiens. Nowadays ‘labyrinth workshops’ in both Christian and New Age traditions hark back to this ancient source of spiritual insight.

Labyrinth London UndergroundLondon Underground are installing a labyrinth in every station to commemorate their 150th year. The series of 270 black-and-white enamel plaques has been designed by Turner-winning artist Mark Wallinger. Each one is unique but they are all circular, and have a single starting point. The first ones were put up today and by summer 2013 they will all be in place. The designs will be numbered for the station to which they are assigned: this is their position in the ‘Tube Challenge’ – the route by which you can visit every station in the shortest possible time. Well, we each have our own spiritual journey….

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The Road Less Travelled

Two Roads Diverge

 

 

 

 

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And since I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth

Then took the other as just as fair
Because it was grassy and wanted wear
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet, knowing how way leads onto way
I doubted if I should ever come back

I shall be telling this one day
Somewhere ages and ages hence
Two roads diverged in a wood
I took the one less travelled by
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost (1915)

Life is the sum of the choices you make.

(Full original poem entitled ‘The Road Not Taken’)

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Plough Monday

Ploughing in SnowPlough Monday traditionally marked the end of the midwinter festivities. The Twelve Days of Christmas were over: on the Monday after Epiphany, it was time to return to work. But in medieval England, it was an excuse for agricultural labourers to make money at a hard time of year. Ploughmen were meant to report early for duty at the start of the new planting season. Instead they would drag a decorated plough around the village, shouting “Penny for the Plough!” They were often accompanied by a boy acting the Fool, who wore animal skins and carried a pig’s bladder on a stick; and a man dressed as an old woman, known as the Bessy. This echoes the characters typically found in modern pantomimes. Plough MondayParticipants dressed in motley costumes and blackened their faces with soot. This disguise protected them from repercussions when they ploughed up the front garden of any householder who declined to contribute. In Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, the ploughboys performed ‘molly dances’; in the East Midlands they put on mummer’s plays. Their first takings went towards a ‘plough light’, a candle in the local church; the rest were spent on ale. Revellers feasted on ‘Plough Pudding’, a boiled suet pudding containing meat and onions. The Plough Monday customs declined in the 19th century but have been revived in the 20th, though they are now usually held on a Saturday – ensuring that participants can report for work on time!

Plough Monday is a good time to ‘put your hand to the plough’ and start a new project. Good luck with those New Year Resolutions!

LifeWorks‘ is about using myth and archetype to develop your life story. Visit my Author Page and follow me on Twitter @janebaileybain. If you like this post, leave a comment and use the buttons below to Share on Twitter, Facebook and Stumbleupon.

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Happy New Year

London New Year Fireworks‘Tis the season to be better… and this year I’m going to stick to my New Year Resolutions. The best way of being sure is to make them easy – so I’m making them mnemonic by using a threefold division of mind, body and spirit.

Girl on SaxophoneMind: I need to brush up my French; but it gets much better after a bottle of wine, so there’s not much incentive there. How about learning the saxophone? No, I tried that last year and I need someone else to yell ‘Practise’! Sudoku? Crosswords? But those are meant to be fun…. What I really need to do is start writing regularly again. The ‘LifeWorks’ launch was great fun, and I’ve had a string of articles, but I need to get back to the story stuff. I’ve promised my publisher there’s another book in the pipeline. I’m going to mark ‘white space’ in my diary two mornings a week and just sit in front of the computer until something comes.

Zumba Body: Botox? Boob job? Laser eye surgery? Not indulged – or at least acknowledged – in my wholistic social circles. I’ll have to hone the effortful way. Since I ran the London Marathon in 2011, my knee has been a weak point (it was totally worth it though!). But I do need some regular exercise. I’m going to set aside two sessions a week, one for a short run or bike ride, the other for something more structured. I’m thinking Zumba at the local health club, where you can sign up for a term’s worth of classes (paying up front is a great way of guilt-tripping myself into going). Maybe I’ll persuade a friend to sign up too and treat her to coffee afterwards.

Spirit: This is the simplest in theory, the hardest in practise. Live in the moment. Banish negative thoughts and emotions. Do a kind deed every day. Easy to say, but difficult to actually do. Someone gave me a metaphor today which might be helpful. My phone has an icon which tells me how much battery it has left. Low Phone BatteryBy the time it gets down to 10% it’s about to switch off: I have to monitor it and recharge when it gets anywhere below around 30% full. Apparently my emotional welfare is similar: I need to recognize when I’m dipping towards subsistence level and do something about it whilst I still have the energy to pull up. This could be going for a swim, or meeting up with a friend, or whatever jump-starts my body / mind and reminds me that life is worth living. Just being alive is a ticket to the greatest show on earth. I’m going to watch myself and learn to work out when I’m getting low. Meanwhile, the equivalent of a regular re-charge is doing something I love every week. Music NoteI can’t manage meditation – living in London it’s hard to switch off – but I find that hyperventilating harmoniously with like-minded individuals has much the same effect. I’m going to join a choir.

So what are your New Year’s Resolutions…? Leave a comment and use the buttons to Share on Twitter, Facebook and Stumbleupon.

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