by Elaine Voci, Ph.d, Certified Life-Cycle Celebrant®
Storytelling has a long history and is derived from oral traditions in which cultural mores and norms were passed from one generation to the next in the form of stories – stories that had a moral, or taught a value. Did you know that the celebrant training curriculum of the Celebrant Foundation & Institute originated in storytelling? We have been in the business of training modern ceremony professionals on the art of crafting story centric ceremonies for nearly 2 decades. www.celebrantinstitute.org
Storytelling is the basis of our life’s work as celebrants. Around the world, ceremonies led by celebrants include stories to help people come to know each other on a deeper level. Stories often use a special language style that is poetic, lilting, and inspiring. Stories help us remember the past, and associated life lessons, whether they are told as part of a funeral, a retirement party, or a wedding.
There are so many characteristics of stories that it would fill a book, so I’ll focus only on three:
- Stories bind us to all humankind, to the universal human family. When wedding celebrants tell a couple’s love story to their family and friends during the ceremony, the story expresses a universal theme – such as the power of love to overcome obstacles, and the power of love to draw two people together under seemingly miraculous circumstances (are there ever any truly “accidental” meetings where love is concerned?). We often quote the Persian poet, Rumi, who proclaimed more than 800 years ago, “Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere, they have known each other all along.”
- Stories provoke curiosity and compel repetition. Every ceremony is tailored to the unique life stories of the people being celebrated, recognized and/or remembered. During funerals, for example, celebrants often include a familiar story from the deceased person’s life that many family members know, but that is not known to others in attendance. The story has a dual effect: it comforts the family and it sparks curiosity in other guests to hear more about the person being memorialized, thus creating a unifying bond. And as the story is retold after the funeral is long past, there is the bonus of a renewed enjoyment for the tellers and the listeners.
- Stories promote healing. Because story telling evokes right-brain imagination, tenderness and, therefore, wholeness, human beings find stories a source of comfort, reassurance, continuity, hope that results in the preservation of values and/or morality. When a sick child is told a story, or an elderly person shares a story with an interested listener, something akin to magic occurs. The child escapes from her bed and her illness and is carried away to a distant place where imagination rules experience and she is able to forget aches and pains for awhile. The elderly person feels a similar transport to a time in the past when a different reality ruled, when they were younger, healthier, more agile and where ageism had not yet reared its ugly head.
Every story is our story and we are linked to humanity’s history and its future through shared stories that empower us, encourage us, and teach us what matters most in life. Not every profession can claim such an intimate relationship with stories that provide so much richness to the work being done. We are a lucky tribe, indeed, to be counted among the storytellers of the world. As one author wisely observed,
“You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows what they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift.” (Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus)
Photo credit: CF&I Instructor Diane Gansauer