Thursday, April 5, 2012

E is for the Elements

All right, so this post will be brief (not PowerPoint brief, but kinda sorta crap-I-need-to-get-my-thesis-done brief). I have just watched Legend of Korra recently (WHEEE, by the way), and I thought talking about tales of the elements would be a fun thing to do. I don't particularly sign up to any ezoteric stuff, but as any good storyteller, I do believe in stories. So, here is a storyteller's perspective on the elements:

Once a few years ago I have designed a full hour storytelling show around the theme of Fire, for Physics Day in a local school. It was a lot of fun; I gathered dozens of folktales, legends and myths, and even made a video that was probably more fun to make than to watch, but it helped me realize how common fire-based superpowers are, both in tradition and in popular culture.
As for the stories: there is an endless treasury of fire tales. Coyote or Prometheus stealing fire; Princess Iron Fan dancing fire; the Phoenix being reborn from fire; Pietro Baillardo the Medieval fire-mage; fire spirits, fire gnomes, will-o-the-wisps, and of course, fire-breathing dragons. There is the epic fight between fire and water in Inca mythology; the folktale of Fire Boy and Snow Girl; fire fire fire everywhere. Great stories, all of them!
One thing I learned after I did the show repeatedly for a full day and then I zonked out for about 15 hours: fire stories come with a very strong burst of energy. It was a great storytelling high to be on for a few hours; I put all my energy into telling the tales, and doing them justice; and when it was over, and I just dropped from blazing to ohmygodIneedtosleeprightnowzzzzz. I still do most of those stories; but not in such a high concentration.
Unless someone happens to pay me for that program again.

If I had to choose an element for myself, it would undoubtedly be water. Not just because of the whole symbolic thing, but also because it is an endless realm of many of my favorite tales. Sailors' tales, mermaids, sirens, water spirits; the Underwater Kingdoms of the Arabian Nights, endless sea voyages to the edge of the world, goddesses of the ocean with their long green-blue hair; storms, suprestitions, sunken treasures.
Stories with water in them are usually long-ish, and charged with deep emotions. They are also very beautiful, and sometimes dark at the same time. I have never done a full hour water-themed performance before, but I do a lot of river and lake stories from Hungarian folklore. My favorite is the legend of Lake Balaton, which takes about 30 minutes to tell if I do it right. It has a Medusa-like lake fairy in it, snakes and all.

Two words: underground kingdoms. I have always had a fascination with two earth-bound things: caves and gemstones. As an archaeologist, I love legends about hidden cities; as someone who would choose the magpie as her spirit animal, I love everything shiny. Once I constructed a full storytelling performance based on gemstones; I would have tiny pebbles of them in a puch, and each one had its own folktale, legend, or myth. If I had a small enough audience, people could pick pebbles from the pouch, and I would tell them that story. I also has tales for birth-stones, in case the audience was ezoterically inclined.
Earth stories feel ancient and mysterious. They feel like something other than life; other than trees, animals, humans. They are old, eternal, and unnaturally beautiful. The underground realm in many stories usually signifies hell, or some form of an underworld; but it can also mean elves, goblins, and most of all, dwarves chipping away on stone, working in their hidden caves, creating weapons and jewels fit for the gods...
(The cave in the picture, by the way, is the Skocjanske Jama, in Slovenia. Most amazing place on Earth I have ever been to, and I mean it.)

I don't think I have ever done an air-themed storytelling performance before, but I can tell you what I did do: I keep thinking about flying, and things that fly. I tell tales from ancient times about winged horses, winged wolves, flying ships, flying carpets, chariots riding across the sky - and think about the times when people made up these stories, when flying like the birds seemed impossible. I have a Hungarian folktale called The Boy Who Wanted to Walk on the Clouds - and every time I travel on a plane, I think about what people a few hundred years ago would say if I told them about it. Flying is part of our most ancient desires, and some of our most fascinating stories. We take it for granted these days; but that does not mean the magic of it is completely gone...


  1. That wasn't a short post but I loved every bit.

  2. Yeeeah once I start writing...:D
    Thank you! :)

  3. If that was your "brief", then I'm not sure I could handle your lengthy! :)

    It was interesting though.

    DL Hammons @ Cruising Altitude 2.0
    Co-Host of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge.

  4. Grandpa had an air-themed performance. It started with, "Pull my finger...."


  5. Lovely post! And I like your theme for the challenge!


  6. I think this is my new favorite blog!