My grandmother opened up a vast spiritual world, one which held no grounds for
"holy" wars, and set me on the path to becoming a storyteller. I hid storybooks inside my schoolbooks. On gloomy nights at home, I'd weep over Hans Christian Andersen's "Little Mermaid" or "Little Match Girl," and rejoice when plucky little Gerda melted the Snow Queen's icy grasp. In college, I discovered the great moral epics, Paradise Lost, the Fairie Queene, the Divine Comedy, and creation myths from around the world.
Later, I raised two children who loved all of fairyland and world mythology. In a
neighborhood school in my garden, there was always a troop of children to entertain. Then the owner of a lively children's bookstore asked me to tell stories in her shop and in schools farther afield via a bookmobile. One night at a storytelling conference in Santa Fe, a Tewa-Hopi elder with long white braids told me he had learned as a child to listen for Spider Woman "who offers advice on the risky road of life - if you listen."
I began to listen and to research the wise female archetype in stories from Asia,
Africa, the Americas, Europe, and India. I worked with Joseph Campbell on a recording of creation stories for PBS. Then I wove a Spider Woman costume of black lace with a headdress of ironweed and jasmine from my garden. Children liked the mix of fun, fear and fascination that came with spider stories. "Spider stories help you gain spider wit without getting bit," I told children in schools, libraries and botanical gardens.
At a school in Louisville, after my first show, Sara Buchanan, a composer and
music teacher adored by the students, offered to create music for my stories. So we collaborated on Spider Secrets, an audio tape of spider stories from five different cultures. Now we're creating our third CD of cross-cultural stories. Each collection has a theme that links diverse cultures. In our latest, Spark Catchers, the old but unwise title character of "The Old Woman in the Vinegar Bottle" unwisely makes ever-grander wishes, but the wise and kind tiny fairy who grants them has the final say. Spider wisdom, sweet and sour, prevails, if we remember to listen!
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