Storytelling Ceremonies Among Indigenous Peoples

Among the ceremonies of indigenous peoples, imagination abounds.  Costumes,  headdresses, masks, chants, musical instruments, colors, fire—all are employed. 

Hopi dancers representing mixed wildlife come together to dance for the people in Tewa village/First Mesa, 2013. Uploaded to Youtube by Paa-qua Hoya

I remember visiting the Field museum in Chicago and standing in front of a huge wall of ritual masks from the Native American tribes of the Seattle northwest area.  Each of these masks depicted a different mood the human soul undergoes.  I realized why that culture did not need psychologists.  It already had a rich way to tell soul experience and to do it in the midst of community ritual.

Storytelling is important to indigenous people’s prayer.  Jeanette Henry and Rupert Costo, in their book A Thousand Years of American Indian Storytelling, tell us that

“The myth of Aboriginal stories being myths” Jacinta Koolmatrie recounts how the ancestral memories of Australian aboriginal people contain the evolutionary wisdom and natural history of the continent. Uploaded to youTube by TEDx Talks/TEDxAdelaide.

Storytelling, from ancient times and among all peoples of the earth, had a special role in the life of the people.  Storytelling educated the young; it provided entertainment for the grown men and women; it made possible the knowledge of a people’s history which was passed on by word of mouth from generation to generation: and it served to teach lessons about how to be good people with care for others and respect for all of life.

In other words, the art of storytelling was a primary form of education, instruction, immersion into the universe, the community and ancestral history.  Thus, it also established a common ethic.   How to survive.  And why survive.  Aboriginals in Australia tell me that it is from our Dreamtime that we learn rules for living in our environment, Dreamtime, of course, being the inherited and on-going creation stories of the Aboriginal people.

Storyteller/musicians Gumaroy Newman, Eric Arthur Tamwoy and Norm Barsah perform variations on Aboriginal stories of the Dreaming in this draft video for the Australian Museum for their Dreaming Stories. Uploaded to YouTube by fintonm.

Many art forms were employed in the telling of a story, one experienced the antics of a mime, the music of a song, the sounds of a chant, and the gestures of a skillful actor or actress.  And many stories were spun on and on, embellished as they extended far into the night.  It was fun.  It was marvelous, and a splendor of the spirit to experience. 

A creation story of the desert areas in the west of South Australia tells how the Creator, Bunjil, made all of Creation but was lonely.  

He felt the need for companions with whom to sing and dance, and so he decided to make a man.  He searched for the finest clay, fashioned a man to his own likeness, and added some finely shredded tree-bark for the hair.  Bunjil was so pleased with his creation that he immediately made another.

“The Secret of Dreaming: A Tale from Indigenous Australia,” adapted by Rowan Walking Wolf. Anti-copyright, 2009, in Uploaded to YouTube by Midnightsunvideo

When both figures were finished he breathed on them to give them life…. Bunjil stayed with the two men for a long time.  He taught them to sing and dance, and under his guidance they gradually became wise in all things.  Eventually they, in their turn, could pass on Bunjil’s wisdom to all the Aborigines who followed them.

In this story it is of the very purpose and essence of humanity that we sing and dance—this pleases God and relieves God’s loneliness. 

Adapted from Matthew Fox, One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths, pp. 223-225.

See also Matthew Fox, Creation Spirituality: Liberating Gifts for the Peoples of the Earth.

Banner Image: “Dreamtime Story.” Street art, Adelaide Central, Adelaide, South Australia. Photo by Michael Coghlan on Flickr Used at, and

How do these instance of storytelling move you?  What examples do our culture and religions offer of storytelling?  Might the cosmology of Genesis 1 as well as the cosmology of the new creation story from science be such an invitation to storytelling as ritual?

One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths

Matthew Fox calls on all the world traditions for their wisdom and their inspiration in a work that is far more than a list of theological position papers but a new way to pray—to meditate in a global spiritual context on the wisdom all our traditions share. Fox chooses 18 themes that are foundational to any spirituality and demonstrates how all the world spiritual traditions offer wisdom about each.“Reading One River, Many Wells is like entering the rich silence of a masterfully directed retreat. As you read this text, you reflect, you pray, you embrace Divinity. Truly no words can fully express my respect and awe for this magnificent contribution to contemporary spirituality.” –Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit

Creation Spirituality: Liberating Gifts for the Peoples of the Earth

Fox’s spirituality weds the healing and liberation found in North American Creation Spirituality and in South American Liberation Theology. Creation Spirituality challenges readers of every religious and political persuasion to unite in a new vision through which we learn to honor the earth and the people who inhabit it as the gift of a good and just Creator.
“A watershed theological work that offers a common ground for religious seekers and activists of all stripes.” — Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, Spirituality and Practice.

Upcoming Events

Mirabai Starr and Matthew Fox teach a 7-week course: Julian of Norwich: A Bold Gentle Visionary on Living in a Time of Pandemic. Beginning Wednesday, December 2, 2020 and running through January. On The Shift Network, Wednesdays at 8pm ET and 5pm PT (GMT/UTC-8). Registration is open until December 15: enroll HERE.

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