The Magpie is Australia's Bird of the Year, narrowly defeating the Ibis in second place and poor old kookaburra in third. I do happen to love magpies, they often to drop in for a visit. Sometimes if we are up late they stand at the back door and sing for their breakfast.
This is a Magpie story I wrote some years ago.
The Magpie’s Song
Once upon a spring time, this story and a song were hatched.
As three magpie chicks pecked through their shells and spilled into their nest, it was apparent, even to the dimwitted parents that while their first two hatchlings were perfectly ordinary magpies, there was something extra ordinary about the third hatchling…and as the third chick grew feathers… her beauty became apparent for all to see. With feathers black as midnight and feathers whiter than starlight, they named her Mirrabooka, after the stars in the night sky.
And so it was that Mirrabooka grew into a bird of spectacular beauty. While the other magpie chicks were learning to catch food and build nests, Mirra was kept in the nest and taught how to preen. Mirra longed to hunt and fly like the other young birds but her parents were only concerned with her appearance so Mirra, with feathers black as midnight and feathers whiter than starlight stayed in the nest and preened.
Long after all the all other chicks had left the nest, Mirra’s parents persuaded her to stay behind, so they could bask in the glory of their daughter’s beauty. They even continued feeding Mirra so that her time could be better spent preening.
One day, when Mirra’s parents were sitting on the ground discussing which angle was best for viewing her beauty, a couple of neighbourhood cats pounced on the dimwitted birds and gobbled them all up. Alone in the nest, Mirra preened tears of sadness into her feathers black as midnight and feathers whiter than starlight.
Mirra was terribly lonely and she was very, very hungry. The only skill Mirra knew was preening and preening did not fill her belly. Eventually loneliness and hunger drove Mirra from the nest, but her flying was feeble and her hunting skills poor. Mirra called to the other Magpies but they thought her vain and they left her alone. Each night Mirra, with feathers black as midnight and feathers whiter than starlight returned to her nest to preen, hungrier and lonelier than the day before.
On the third day Mirra woke to find a scruffy, old magpie sitting in her tree. His feathers were grey rather than black and white and they weren’t smooth and sleek like Mirra’s but sticking out at rather odd angles. The old bird cocked his head and sang. Despite his appearance he had a fine strong voice and Mirra, with feathers black as midnight and feathers whiter than starlight listened and preened as the old bird sang.
He sang of flight and beating wings,
Of long fast glides on freezing winds.
He sang of practice and determination,
Skillful maneuvers through hanging branches.
He sang of flying for pure joy,
Of reaching heights only gods enjoy.
Then Mirra with feathers black as midnight and feathers whiter than starlight, beat her wings and flew. She flew for the learning, she flew for the yearning and she flew for the sheer joy of being a bird.
The next morning Mirra was delighted to find the old magpie still sitting in her tree. Mirra, with feathers black as midnight and feathers whiter than starlight listened and preened as he began to sing again.
He sang of worms and early morning,
Foraging for food under leaves fallen.
He sang of patience and keen sight,
Of creeping danger and delectable delight.
He sang of hunting as employ,
Of feeding his soul with pure joy.
Then Mirra with feathers black as midnight and feathers whiter than starlight, beat her wings and flew and hunted. She hunted for hunger, she hunted in wonder and she hunted for the sheer joy of being a bird.
The following day, after filling her belly, Mirra looked to find the old bird still in her tree. So Mirra, with feathers black as midnight and feathers whiter than starlight, listened and preened as he began to sing again.
He sang of friends and companionship,
Of lasting ties and fellowship.
He sang of friends won and lost,
Of what he gained and what it cost.
He sang of care and company,
Mutual respect and harmony.
Then Mirra with feathers black as midnight and feathers whiter than starlight realised that though the old magpie’s voice was strong and clear, his body was old and his eyes weak, and so she flew and hunted then she shared her food for fellowship, and the sheer joy of companionship.
In the cool of the morning Mirra, with feathers black as midnight and feathers whiter than starlight listened and preened as the old bird began to sing once more.
Love & Family
He sang of passion and of love,
Of sweet young partners long since gone.
He sang of romance and delight,
Of responsibility and sacrifice.
He sang of families he loved best,
Of joy and sorrow and empty nests.
Then Mirra looked at the old Magpie and saw his eyes growing dim. As a cold wind blew up and swirled around them she stretched her wing and sheltered him with feathers black as midnight and feathers whiter than starlight. Together they perched in companionable silence while the winter storm raged around them.
In the morning, Mirra listened… but there was no song, her tree was empty. Below the tree, she found the old magpie, as cold as the frozen winter earth. Then Mirra, with feathers black as midnight and feather whiter than starlight flew down and kept vigil, preening the old bird’s feathers with her tears.
As the golden light of the next day dawned, Mirra felt an unfamiliar pressure building…building, building in her chest. Feeling like her heart would burst, Mirra, with feathers black as midnight and feathers whiter than starlight gave her friend a parting caress and then took to the sky.
Up and up, she flew, higher and further than she had ever flown before. Mirra flew over gardens and towns, rivers and lakes, over valleys and plains and she flew to the highest mountain and there her chest burst open… and out flew a song;
Hopes & Dreams
And she sang of her friend and his life so swift,
Of her profound love and his great gift.
She sang of her joy and of her sorrow,
Of her hopes and dreams, for tomorrow.
She sang of a young bird lost and alone,
And a friend who found her heart and home.
Mirra sang from the depth and the breadth of her heart and when at last her song was done; she found to her surprise, another Magpie listening. He was a fine, handsome bird. Mirra looked down at her own feathers...she couldn’t remember the last time she had preened. Her feathers were scruffy and dull, but he didn’t see her feathers, he saw Mirra, with heart brighter than sunlight, and heart softer than moonlight …and together they sang:
Love & Joy
And they sang of love fresh and new,
Like mountain streams and morning dew.
They sang of happiness, joy profound,
Of hopes and dreams in each other found.
They sang of life and building nests
And they sang of an old magpie, who was heaven sent.
At last our Government has recognised that all love is equal, and now it will also be recognised as legal. Ulf and I had the honour of performing a handfasting ceremony for my daughter Jessie and her partner Hayley a few days before the announcement. (love has it's own timetable) These two wonderful women celebrated their love, their commitment to love one-another always in front of family & friends. And we found the perfect story to tell at their ceremony which speaks about the awesome power of love.
Love is Love is Love
Lindy: And soon we will celebrate the day, when all love is recognised as equal and legal. For Love is love is love… and heaven knows, the world needs more love. A very wise man Plato once said;
Humans have never understood the power of Love, for if they had they would surely have built noble temples and altars and offered solemn sacrifices; but this is not done, and most certainly ought to be done, since Love is our best friend, our helper, and the healer of the ills which prevent us from being happy.
Plato said that to understand the power of Love, we must understand that our original human nature was not like it is now, Plato tells a very different creation story…
A Very Different Creation Story
Ulf: In the beginning human beings were not singular beings as we are today but a fusion of two beings into one- each of these ancient beings had two sets of arms, two sets of legs, and two faces looking in opposite directions. So of course there were not just two sexes man and woman… There were three manwithman, womanwithman & womanwithwoman. The unified beings of two men were called the Children of the Sun, the second unified being of man and woman, were called the Children of the Moon and the third unified beings of two women called the Children of the Earth.
The power of these original unified human beings was great. So great that the Gods themselves felt threatened. So they looked for a way to end the humans' power without totally destroying them.
Mighty Zeus cast down his thunderbolt and split these unified-beings in two. Alas, not only reducing their power but rendering them incomplete, so that for evermore each half would long and search for their missing part. … And if by chance they found one another again they would throw their arms about one another, desperately trying, to be one united being again.
The Ancient Desire
This ancient desire is imbued in all of us. Today We still seek to return to our original double nature, reuniting two into one, and thus healing the state of humankind. Each of us when separated, having one side only, is always seeking our other half.
Those whose original nature lies with the Children of the Sun, are men who are drawn to other men. Those from the Children of the Moon, are men and women drawn to one another. And those from the Children of the Earth are women who love other women.
And when one of us meets our other half, we are lost in an amazement of love and friendship and intimacy, and would not be out of the other's sight even for a moment. We pass our whole lives together, desiring that we should be melted into one, to spend our lives as one person instead of two, and so that after our death there will be one departed soul instead of two; this is the very expression of our ancient need.
For our human nature was whole, and the desire and pursuit of the whole is called Love.
Congratulations and much love to the beautiful couple.
PS: We'll do the legal stuff after the honeymoon
Many people are still of the opinion that storytelling is only an activity for bedtime or, for entertaining the little ones but there are some who have discovered the secret power of storytelling to Educate by stealth (don’t tell the kids). Yes, all manner of educational subjects can be beautifully wrapped, delivered and wholeheartedly consumed as story. But don’t believe me, let me tell you a story…
Truth and Story
Long long ago when the world was young, Truth walked the world as an old man. Everything about him was old, his hands, his face even the remnants of his clothes. His skin was all wrinkly, his joints gnarly and his clothes so ragged and threadbare, he was just about naked.
When he arrived in a town, he would walk up to people and say hello, but people wouldn’t look at Truth, they turned and walked away. “I don’t understand why don’t people want to hear what I have to say. When I’m not around people always say they want to hear the Truth, but as soon as I am here, they avoid me”
Then Truth saw a large gathering in the town square, the people were listening to someone with great interest. He approached the crowd thinking “Surely they will listen to me too”, but as he approached the people turned and hurried away. The only person left on the street was Story. Story was dressed in beautiful robes of all the colours of the rainbow. The fabric seemed magical, it’s hues shimmered and changed as she moved.
“I don’t understand” said Truth to Story. “People just don’t want to hear what I have to say. Is it because I am old?” “No” said Story, “Look at me, I am as old as you and people still listen to me.” Looking at the state of Truth’s clothes, Story added “Perhaps the problem is your appearance, you are rather stark. Come home with me and I will give you a beautiful robe to wear.”
So, Truth went home with Story and Story dressed truth into a beautiful robe of many colours. They walked through the town arm in arm…and rather than turn away, people hurried to talk to them. Truth and Story were even invited into their homes for dinner and there, they talked with families till the wee small hours of the morning.
And that’s how it is today. When Truth walks naked in the world, people turn away. But when Truth walks with Story, they are invited into our homes and our hearts.
When Education and Storytelling Walk Hand in Hand
Today I’m writing about the “Truths” of education, teaching such things such as environmental concepts, social responsibility, emotional literacy, mathematics, science and of course history, all these subjects can be beautifully wrapped in story and delivered in an engaging & entertaining way for easy & enthusiastic consumption. Environmentalists, Educators and Scientists are rediscovering the value of storytelling, a value which has long been known by our ancestors and still practiced today by various religions and Indigenous peoples.
In the book “Storytelling for a Greener World”, they describe storytelling as “Trojan Horse”. Storytelling is offered as an irresistible gift, and once it is consumed, then the metaphors and images go to work, sneaking past the citadel of the human mind, a perfect weapon to bring important messages to environmentally jaded people today.
Not Another Lesson!
While preschoolers are certainly not jaded, some primary school children will roll their eyes and sigh, “not another lesson on Reduce Reuse Recycle and Sustainability” We recently shared two programs of stories with an After-School Care Centre, we didn’t mention the word sustainability or talk about environmental concepts, but they were the themes of our stories. After the show we had some lively conversations with children as they shared their thoughts and feelings. The stories had penetrated their inner world, evoked their emotions, sparked their imaginations and their minds. Storytelling doesn’t just teach but it encourages children to care.
That week heart to Heart Storytelling also did an environmental program for preschoolers, again we dressed everything in story. The class then planted seeds to the rhymes and songs used in our stories. The teacher later told us “the children loved it and had some lovely reflections on the experience which sparked some discussions about caring for the earth”.
Storytelling is also a fabulous way to teach character, social skills and emotional literacy. These are some of our favourite stories, the folk tales with the wisdom of the ages which speak to the values of friendship, honesty, courage, co-operation, kindness & resourcefulness. Values like co-operation, or kindness are abstract concepts to young children, but dress them beautifully in story… then co-operation is the inner image of everyone working together to pull out The Enormous Stubborn Turnip, and kindness is understood by such archetypal characters as the helpful hen in The Rooster and the Bean.
How Many Bears?
Even mathematics can be taught by stealth, how many bears, chairs, bowls & beds were there? One of the best mathematical folk tales we have come across for older children is from India, A Grain Of Rice. In this story the Raja is hording rice while his people starve. A young girl tricks the Raja into giving her one grain of rice on the first day then, doubling the amount of rice every day for 30 days. The Raja thinks he is on a good deal till he does the sums, or better yet have your class do the multiplications.
History of course, is made of stories… then why break it down and teach names, dates and events? Rewrap history in its colourful stories, the outback explorers on exciting expeditions, the outrageous escapades of early convicts, or our seafarer’s rollicking maritime adventures.
And what better way to teach about our First Nation’s People and their rich heritage but by inviting them to come and share their stories.
Ulf and I encourage you to make story an integral part of your lessons, for when Truth, or should we say Education walks naked in the world, children may roll their eyes and turn away, but when Education walks with Story, they are invited into the hearts, minds and imagination of children everywhere.
A Grain of Rice pg. 286 The Right Story at the Right Time; Changing the Lives of Children & Adolescents One Story at a Time. M deCroes.
Storytelling for a Greener World; Environment, Community& Story Based Learning. Gersie, Nanson, &Schieffelin
The Enormous Turnip pg. 47 Once Upon a Time: Storytelling to teach Character and prevent Bullying. E.L.Pearmain
The Rooster and the Bean pg. 78 The Right Story at the Right Time; Changing the Lives of Children & Adolescents One Story at a Time. M deCroes.
Truth and Story Lindy Mitchell-Nilsson’s retelling of a Jewish Folktale
This is tale I wrote a few years ago for our local Whale Dreaming Festival.
I love to share this tale and at the end of the story, ask the audience to shut their eyes and listen for the wise song of the whale as I play a crystal bowl.
Luna is one of our many original environmental tales. We also love to share traditional folk & fairy tales and ancient myths as their environmental wisdom speaks to us across the ages. Photo; Spirit of Goldcoast Whale Watching Tour
Mythical White Creatures
In cultures all over the world, the birth or appearance of a white animal holds special significance; a prophecy or a blessing. Many myths and legends have been told about these magical creatures. In North America they have The Story of the White Buffalo, in India the Myth of the White Tiger and in Australia we have The Legend of Luna, The White Whale.
Though an old legend, this story is not ancient, for in ancient times the people of Australia lived in harmony with the land and the ocean. This story took place when I was just a girl.
One cool salty night, in warm tranquil waters, when the moon was full and high in the sky, a huge humpback whale labored long then gave birth to a female calf. Instinctively, the mammoth mother pushed her calf to the surface of the sea, and there, bathed only in soft moonlight the young calf drew her first breath.
The Moon and mother whale were amazed to see that the calf shone as white as the moon herself and they named the white whale, Luna-Moon Sister.
Wise Song of the Whales
Luna grew quickly as she swam with her mother along the whale migration lines up and down the east coast of Australia. North to the warm tropical waters of Queensland and south to the icy seas of the Antarctic …and while they swam her mother would sing. Singing, singing always singing the wise song of the whales. With each migration up and down the coast, Luna learnt the wise song of the whales. Till Luna too joined in…singing, singing, always singing the wise song of the whales.
And as Luna sang, she grew wise. And though she was wise in the way of the whales, Luna didn’t understand the way of people. Why did they dump their foul smelling waste in the ocean? Why did they use such long fishing nets to catch thousands of fish only to throw many back dead or dying? And why did they kill whales? Luna asked the whale elders and, as wise as they were, they could not answer. Luna asked her pale Moon Sister high in the sky, but the moon just shone gently down.
Luna thought perhaps the people had no one to teach them the wise song of the whales and so she began swimming, closer to shore, singing, singing, always singing the wise songs of the whales. She swam up rivers and into harbours, Luna swam around boats, singing, singing, always singing the wise song of the whales but the humans’ destructive way continued till Luna thought her enormous heart would burst with sadness.
A Gift Both Great & Terrible
At last the Moon could bare her whale sister’s sadness no more and she granted Luna a gift both great and terrible. The Moon’s gift was to turn Luna into a woman for thirteen cycles of the moon, so Luna could sing the wise songs of the whales in human form. But to do this Luna had to go against the wisdom of the whales and beach herself upon the sand.
So, one night when the moon was full and high in the sky and the tide was at its peak, Luna lunged toward the beach, thrusting her tremendous body onto the sand…and as the tide retreated… Luna lay on the coarse sand bathed only in soft moonlight.
The moonlight shone on Luna until it too retreated like the tide leaving there on the beach lay a beautiful young woman with pale white skin, hair like moonlight and eyes all the swirling, twirling colours of the sea.
Luna rose awkwardly to her feet, already she missed the gentle caress and support of the ocean but her heart was happy because now she could sing the wise song of the whale as a human and people would understand.
Thirteen Cycles of the Moon
For thirteen cycles of the moon Luna walked the length and breadth of Australia, singing, singing always singing the wise song of the whales. Luna sang to many communities, she sang for business leaders, she sang for governments. Luna sang for churches, universities and schools, singing, singing, always singing the wise song of the whale. She even sang to the whalers and fishermen.
A few people did not want to listen to Luna, and some people still did not understand her song. But many people listened and understood… and they began to change their destructive ways.
Thirteen cycles of the moon soon passed. Luna knew she had to be back on the beach when the moon was full and high in the sky and the tide was at its peak but there was one last community to sing the wise song of the whales. At last Luna arrived at the beach, the moon was full but no longer high in the sky, she disrobed and lay down upon the sand. Slowly the moon retreated like the tide leaving a lonely white whale beached upon the sand.
But Luna was late, and the tide had already retreated and so Luna lay on the coarse sand dying, bathed only in the last fading beams of moonlight.
Luna was sad she would not see her mother again, nor feel the gentle caress of the ocean once more but her enormous heart was full of joy for she had sung the wise way of the whales for people and they had listened and understood.
Raw sewerage no longer flowed into the ocean, people were demanding sustainable fishing practices and they had finally halted the killing of whales in Australia…But best of all the children had opened their hearts and learnt her song and now they were singing, singing, always singing wise songs of the whales across the length and breadth of the land.
The Moon Wept
The Moon wept tears of pearl into the ocean with the death of her whale sister… She vowed never to transform another white creature into human form… instead she blessed all white animals with the ability to inspire mankind to examine how they live and remember the wise song of the whales.
Decades have past and wise ways forgotten, since Luna sang but recently… two other white whales have appeared in our ocean, the first whale, Migaloo who’s aboriginal name means White Fella, and most recently Bahloo whose name quite magically means Moon.
Have you seen the white whale?
Do You Remember the Wise Song of the Whale?
A heart to heart blog on life, spirituality, storytelling & stories.