The stories featured in this article are all examples of what Jürgen Kremer, transpersonal psychologist and spiritual practitioner, called ‘tales of power’ after one of Carlos Castaneda’s novels. He defines such texts as ‘conscious verbal constructions based on numinous experiences in non-ordinary reality, ‘which guide individuals and help them to integrate the spiritual, mythical, or archetypal aspects of their internal and external experience in unique, meaningful, and fulfilling ways’ (Kremer, 1988, p.192). In other words, they can serve the purpose of not only helping learners to develop their language skills, but also, and more importantly, they can also be used for facilitating personal development.
Before presenting the tales, for those of you who might be new to storytelling, and who might be feeling apprehensive about telling one in class for the first time, here are some introductory tips:
- Make an outline of the story using your own words or produce a mind map.
- Practise telling the story in front of a mirror or to a friend.
- Remember that storytelling is a task shared by the teller and the listener.
- Tell rather than read the story, is possible.
- Accept that making mistakes is a natural part of storytelling.
- The nervousness you feel beforehand is your performance energy. Remember that your emotions are under your control.
- Last, but not least, if you make sure you enjoy the experience, nine times out of ten your learners will too!
The three wishes
Once upon a time there was a widow who had heard that God would undoubtedly fulfill three wishes wished by anyone on the fifteenth night of the fast of Ramadan. The good woman got quite impatient: ‘Oh, if it were only Ramadan already!’
Who knows whether she had long to wait? At any rate Ramadan came at last, and then very soon the fifteenth night of the fast. At midnight the widow uttered her first wish: ‘Oh, God, make my son’s head bigger!’ Her wish was fulfilled at once: in one moment her son’s head had become as big as an iron kettle. The widow could hardly believe her eyes, but it was so. Terrified, she uttered her second wish: ‘Lord! Make my son’s head smaller!’ And his head grew less and less till it was hardly as big as a millet seed! But now the good woman came to her senses and uttered her third wish: ‘Almighty God! Make my son’s head again as it was before.’
And this wish too was fulfilled to her.
Notes for teachers
Ask the learners to imagine they could have three wishes granted, any three things that they wanted. What would they choose, and why? Invite them to get together in small groups to compare their answers. You can then read or tell them the above story, which is about what happened to a poor widow in Daghestan who had just such an opportunity. It is an Avar tale taken from Adolf Dirr’s 1925 collection, Caucasian Folk-tales, translated into English by Lucy Menzies and published in London by J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd. The Avars, a Lesghian race, are based in present-day Daghestan in the Caucasus.
Heaven can’t wait!
Two 90 year old men, Mike and Joe, have been friends all their lives.
When it's clear that Joe is dying, Mike visits him every day. One day Mike says, 'Joe, we both loved rugby all our lives, and we played rugby on Saturdays together for so many years. Please do me one favour, when you get to Heaven. Somehow you must let me know if there's rugby there.'
Joe looks up at Mike from his deathbed, 'Mike, you've been my best friend for many years. If it's at all possible, I'll do this favour for you.’
Shortly after that, Joe passes on. At midnight a couple of nights later, Mike is awakened from a sound sleep by a blinding flash of white light and a voice calling out to him, 'Mike - Mike.'
'Who is it?’ asks Mike, sitting up suddenly. 'Who is it?'
'Mike - it’s me, Joe.'
'You're not Joe. Joe just died.'
'I'm telling you, it's me, Joe' insists the voice.
'Joe! Where are you?'
'In heaven' replies Joe. 'I have some really good news and a little bad news.'
'Tell me the good news first' says Mike.
‘The good news,' Joe says,' is that there's rugby in heaven. Better yet, all of our old friends who died before us are here, too. Better than that, we're all young again.’
‘Better still, it's always spring time and it never rains or snows. And best of all, we can play rugby all we want, and we never get tired.'
'That's fantastic,' says Mike. 'It's beyond my wildest dreams! So what's the bad news?'
'You're in the team for Tuesday.'
If there’s a heaven, what would you like to be able to do there that you can do here?
Now think about what you wouldn’t miss from this life in heaven, and make a list of all the things that annoy you here every day. (Perhaps you wouldn’t miss getting up early in the mornings or doing homework, for example).
Now, without looking back at the text, place all the parts of the story in the correct order:
a. ‘Better still, it's always spring time and it never rains or snows. And best of all, we can play rugby all we want, and we never get tired.'
b. 'I'm telling you, it's me, Joe,' insists the voice.
c. 'In heaven' replies Joe. 'I have some really good news and a little bad news.'
d. Joe looks up at Mike from his death bed, 'Mike, you've been my best friend for many years. If it's at all possible, I'll do this favour for you.’
e. 'Joe! Where are you?'
f. 'Mike - it's me, Joe.'
g. Shortly after that, Joe passes on. At midnight a couple of nights later, Mike is awakened from a sound sleep by a blinding flash of white light and a voice calling out to him, 'Mike - Mike.'
h. 'Tell me the good news first' says Mike.
i. 'That's fantastic,' says Mike. 'It's beyond my wildest dreams! So what's the bad news?'
j. ‘The good news,' Joe says,' is that there's rugby in heaven. Better yet, all of our old friends who died before us are here, too. Better than that, we're all young again.’
k. Two 90 year old men, Mike and Joe, have been friends all their lives.
l. When it's clear that Joe is dying, Mike visits him every day. One day Mike says, 'Joe, we both loved rugby all our lives, and we played rugby on Saturdays together for so many years. Please do me one favour, when you get to Heaven, somehow you must let me know if there's rugby there.'
m. 'Who is it?’ asks Mike sitting up suddenly. 'Who is it?'
n. 'You're in the team for Tuesday.'
o. 'You're not Joe. Joe just died.'
1 ___ 2 ___ 3 ___ 4 ___ 5 ___ 6 ___ 7 ___ 8 ___ 9 ___ 10 ___ 11 ___ 12 ___ 13 ___ 14 ___ 15 ___
ANSWERS: 1-k 2-l 3- d 4-g 5-m 6-f 7-o 8-b 9-e 10-c 11-h 12-j 13-a 14-i 15-n
The cracked pot
Level: Intermediate – Upper Intermediate
Target Audience: Adults
Language / Skills Focus: Listening & Speaking
Materials: Photocopies of the worksheet. Photocopies of the story (optional) to hand out at the end of the session. A drawing on the board or an OHT of a cup that’s half-full or half-empty.
1. Pre-listening: What do you see when you look at the drawing – a cup that’s half full or a cup that’s half empty? And what does this say about the kind of person you are? Now listen to the story.
2. While-listening: Pause after the line ‘As we return to the Master’s house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path’ and ask the learners why the water carrier said this to the pot. They can then listen to the rest of the story to see whether their answers were correct or not.
3. Post-listening: Now that you’ve listened to the story, look at the drawing of the cup again. What do you see this time? Do you see a cup that’s half full or a cup that’s half-empty? Has your answer changed? And if it has, why do you think it has?
4. Post-listening: Match the numbers on the left with the letters on the right to find explanations for the new vocabulary. ANSWERS: 1-e / 2-g / 3-f / 4-a / 5-d / 6-m / 7-l / 8-j / 9-h / 10-c / 11-k / 12-n/ 13-i / 14–b
5. Fill in the gaps with words from the story. ANSWERS: 1 criticise 2 proud 3 apologise 4 gather 5 compassion 6 ashamed 7 remind 8 accomplish
All of us feel like cracked pots at some time in our lives. Perhaps we suffer from depression, or have a physical challenge that limits our activity. Maybe we have suffered losses, or are unable to work full time as we think we should. But perhaps we need to honour the light that has come to us as a result of those things that we or others judge as flaws. Dr. Carl Jung suggested something to the effect that, it is not how we overcome our life challenges that is in the end important, but how we live with them and perhaps that is what this folk tale from India is all about.
The cracked pot
Once upon a time there was a man whose job was to bring water from the stream to his Master’s house. The man carried the water from the stream in two clay pots. He hung the pots on each end of a pole, which he carried across his shoulders, to and from the stream many times a day.
One of the clay pots was perfect in every way for its purpose. The other pot was exactly like the first one, but it had a crack in it and it leaked. When the water bearer reached his Master’s house, the perfect pot was always full, and the cracked pot was always half full.
The perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, and it boasted loudly. It criticized the cracked pot for its failures, and reminded it that despite his efforts, the water bearer could only deliver half a pot of water due to his cracks. The poor cracked pot was ashamed of its imperfections, and was miserable that it could only accomplish half of what it was supposed to do.
One day the cracked pot spoke to the water bearer. ‘I want to apologize to you. Because of my cracked side I’ve only been able to deliver half of the water to your Master’s home, and you don’t get the full value from your efforts.’
The water bearer smiled on the cracked pot, and in his compassion he said, ‘As we return to the Master’s house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path.’
Indeed as they climbed the path from the river to the Master’s mansion the cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful flowers along one side of the path, and it felt somewhat brighter. But when they reached their destination and the water in the half-empty pot was poured out, his sadness returned. ‘Thank you for trying to cheer me up with the beautiful flowers, water bearer,’ the pot spoke. ‘But I still must apologize for my failure.’
The water bearer said, ‘Dear pot, you haven’t understood what I was trying to show you. Did you notice that the flowers only grew on your side of the path? That’s because of your crack. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and everyday as we walked from the stream the water that leaks from your pot has watered them. I could have got a new pot, but I preferred to gather the flowers, and with them to bless many tables.’
Worksheet: The cracked pot
Match the numbers on the left with the letters on the right to find explanations for the new vocabulary:
|1. clay||a. allowed liquid to come out when it should not|
|2. pole||b. collect|
|3. a crack||c. felt bad about|
|4. leaked||d. felt good about|
|5. proud of||e heavy soil used for making things like bricks and pots|
|6. accomplishments||f. a line on the surface of something that is damaged|
|7. boasted||g. a long thin stick|
|8. criticized||h. made him think|
|9. reminded||i. make me feel better|
|10. ashamed of||j. said bad things about|
|11. apologise||k. say sorry|
|12. mansion||l. talked in a big-headed way|
|13. cheer me up||m. the things someone is able to do|
|14. gather||n. a very large house|
Fill in the gaps with words from the story:
1. Why do you always _____ me for what I’ve done? I could do with some encouragement for a change!
2. I hear that your daughter has been awarded a scholarship. You must be very _____ of her.
3. Even if you _____ I can’t forgive you because what you did was totally unacceptable.
4. I _____ your husband hasn’t been feeling very well recently. I hope it’s nothing serious.
5. Why do you have to be so hard-hearted? It wouldn’t hurt you to show some _____ for a change.
6. How could he steal money from his own mother? He should be _____ of himself.
7. When you look at me like that you _____ me of my father.
8. I’m feeling a bit disappointed because I haven’t been able to _____ as much as I had hoped.
Are we born into this world with a mission to make the most out of it for ourselves, or to leave something behind for others? And what would you like to be remembered for by others when you die? Perhaps the story that follows, and concludes this article on tales of power, will help to provide the answers:
The old man and the tree
An old man was planting a walnut tree.
A passer-by asked, ‘How old are you?’
‘And how long will it be before it’s possible to eat the fruit from the tree that you’re planting?’
‘It will take forty years,’ the old man replied.
‘So, and I hope you don’t mind my pointing this out, do you really expect to live another forty years until you can enjoy these fruits?’ asked the passer-by.
‘No, of course I don’t. But I’ve already been enjoying the fruits of the trees planted by my forefathers, and our children will enjoy the fruits of the tree that I plant’, was the old man’s answer.
This rewrite was based on a version of the story recorded by D. Atayev in the village of Khunzakh in 1952, found in Avar Folk Tales (Russian edition published by Nauka Publishing House, Moscow 1971, translated by D.G. Hunt). Ancient literary evidence of the same tale, in the Jewish-Aramaic language, is noted by Gaster,M. (1924) in The Exempla of the Rabbis, London-Leipzig.
Michael Berman BA, MPhil, PhD (Alternative Medicines) works as a teacher, teacher trainer, and writer. Publications include A Multiple Intelligences Road to an ELT Classroom and The Power of Metaphor for Crown House, and Tell us a Story for Brian Friendly Publications. Books published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing include The Nature of Shamanism and the Shamanic Story (2007), Soul Loss and the Shamanic Story (2008) and Divination and the Shamanic Story (2008). His latest book, Shamanic Journeys through Daghestan, was published by O Books in 2009. Michael has been involved in teaching and teacher training for over thirty years, has given presentations at Conferences in more than twenty countries, and hopes to have the opportunity to visit many more yet. For further information please visit www.Thestoryteller.org.uk