Fantasy is an invitation to enter more deeply into collaboration with the world.
– Andrew Slack
The forest playgroup this year is all about story. The telling of stories, the inventing of stories and the living of stories. The kids just can’t seem to get enough fantasy play. This seems just right to me as we find human society at this critical juncture, very much between stories. Clearly the old story of relentless progress, grievous inequality and dominion over nature is crumbling yet, the new story has yet to be written. And it seems just right that this next generation will be authoring our new story from a place of connection with and belonging to the natural world.
I’ve been feasting on the visionary wisdom of author and speaker Caroline W. Casey lately. Casey is an amusing and insightful scholar of language, culture and archetypal astrology. For the past fifteen years, she has hosted an intriguing radio show called “The Visionary Activist Show” in which she examines our contemporary challenges through the prism of archetypal myth. She is tracking the writing of the new story.
In a recent post, with characteristic playfulness, Casey summed up the trajectory of narrative story quite simply:
ACT 1: So, here we are.
ACT 2. Let’s go!
ACT 3: Uh, oh…
ACT 4: Chaos, death destruction, evil takes hold, etc.
ACT 5: Redemption, reconciliation, the wedding, etc.
A tragedy, she suggests is a play that ends after the 4th Act. A comedy, after the 5th.
So how did our own little mystery play enfold yesterday.
So there we were in the forest yesterday, the whole day unfolding like an epic myth. It had rained all night and was unusually warm for a January morning. Spirits were exceptionally high as the kids arrived. Tatjana and I laughed, we knew we were in for an adventure!
We began our morning conferring with nature. We went to visit our dragon as we often do and today found ourselves talking quite literally to the raindrops. We gently examined, played with and spoke to the delicate drops that hung from the thin naked branches of the forsythia bush that arches over and creates the dragons den. Oh how I love these moments of tenderness and wonder.
Lets go! Hooting and hollering we crossed the street and headed up to the forest. We stopped at the log and ate heartily. We were going to need some fuel today. One by one we finished our snack and joined the play on the muddy hillside. Soon characters began to emerge and the action ensued. The three boys quite naturally took up as three musketeers. All for one and one for all! Apparently, they were knights, with spears and weapons and the ability to stop the enemy in his tracks with their blindly shining armour. There was a daring princess and two faeries who read from their book of magic spells. The kids know me as a trusted and enthusiastic playmate so I was easily drafted into the role of the “Scary Monster. ”
“Uh oh!” I pursued the kids up the hill, and it was so slippery and muddy, we had to break character long enough to work together to find a way to the top. We learned quickly how to successfully navigate the slick terrain. There is more traction to be had on top of the dried leaves, we discovered. Then we identified which roots were strong enough to hold on to as handles to pull ourselves up the hill. It was hard. But it was do-able. And do it, we did. All of us.
Chaos! Once at the top the chaos ensued. The princess was captured repeatedly by the scary monster who was then vanquished time and again by the knights and magically brought back to life only to be vanquished again. I learned to expired gently but dramatically with the support of a mossy tree trunk. Interestingly, it was not a clear good guy/ bad guy scenario but a shifting series of motives and alliances. Suddenly the knights were in cahoots with the monster trying to capture the princess. The fairies, who had defeated the monster and rescued the princess with their magic force field and deafening shrieks, were later found consoling the monster who had tired of his lot in life.
As teachers, both Tatjana, (expertly playing the role of the faerie queen, complete with delightfully squeaky voice) were both instinctively trying to gently guide the narrative into …
Reconciliation and rebirth. With more lives than a cat, and having suffered yet another terrible demise, the monster, sad and tired, confided in the fairies and offered his perspective. He was really, in his heart, not so terrible. He was, like everyone else, simply hungry and trying to make his way in the world.
While the faeries listened sympathetically, one of the musketeers rolled his eyes, sighed in exasperation then whispered beseechingly to me, “Jane, could you please, please, please be the scary monster!”
Apparently, Act 5 will have to wait!