"Art ... is the origin of the essential provenance of a work,
which is neither a mere thing nor a piece of equipment,
but a place where truth occurs"
-- Martin Heidegger
This quote from Heidegger explains the magic and mystery of the "talking stick" and why I chose the name "The Talking Stick" for Moonfire's Newsletter. It is where truth occurs - the truth within us, between humans and between humans and all of nature. For seven years thousands of women, men and children have used our talking stick in countless Moonfire circles and celebrations. They have safely expressed what is true for them while creating a strong bond with one other and with all their relations. How did all of this come to be, you ask? In 1990 I was gifted a very beautiful and ornate wand, of sorts, from my dear friend, Barbara Gess. She crafted it for me using drift wood, shells, stones, feathers and other natural treasures she collected during her stay in Hawaii. At the time, neither one of us knew what it was or what it would be used for or the power that it concealed. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this tool, it looks very much like Maggie Goodale's sketch on our cover.
Later that year I began facilitating my first women's circles and used Barbara's gift as a way of focusing the exchange among the women at the gatherings. As the circle work at Moonfire developed and spread, the use of the talking stick evolved organically. Eventually it became an integral part of our circles, an essential tool in deepening the intention of our sharings and teachings. Mysteriously, the safety and sacredness of the spaces within which we gathered: home, office, library, store, etc. became palpable.
This simple tool, the talking stick, is passed from one person to another during classes, circles, celebrations, councils and the like. The person who has the stick has the floor, so to speak. Only she /he has the right to speak while all others are silent. It's a marvelous technique for preventing people from interrupting the flow of thought of those who prefer to take their time and a fantastic way for children to be honored and feel respected by adults.
I always instruct people to hold the stick for a moment before speaking, and then to speak with the words from their heart and not from their heads. Likewise, I encourage people to listen with the ears of their hearts without the usual judgment, criticism or chatter they often experience from listening with their heads. It's astonishing the depth of experience the stick "affords" us in communicating.
It's the single most important "way" to help realize the depth of bonding that takes place during a retreat weekend or even a 3-hour empowerment circle. What a powerful community builder! It's a wonderful tool to take out and use anytime you want to be heard and taken seriously by another or by an entire room full of people. Many parents, teachers, guidance counselors and therapists have made talking sticks of their own and used them very successfully after being introduced to it's powerful results at a Moonfire event. Try it and let us know your experience.
It's difficult to imagine the wonderful sense of support it fosters when trying to articulate something difficult to put into words. C.G. Jung explains that sometimes a personal problem which might seem merely subjective, "coincides with external events that contain the same psychological elements as the personal conflict." Then, according to Jung, the personal problem "acquires a dignity" that it originally lacked. When one person is freed to speak their own deep feelings with the support of the talking stick, it frees others who may also share that feeling. We at Moonfire have experienced this liberation time and time again.
It can't be known how ancient this tradition of using a talking stick is, or how it came about, but suffice to say, the stick and its great grandparent the staff are found in many cultures throughout the world, and throughout time. Here's an ancient Greek reference. In "The Anger of Achilles," Robert Grave's translation of the Illiad, Achilles announces to the War Council that he is withdrawing from the battle of Troy and takes a vow on the "gold - studded wand which gave him the right to uninterrupted speech":
By this dry wand no more to sprout,
Or put green twigs or foliage out
Since once the hatchet, swinging free,
Cross chopped it from a mountain tree,
Then trimmed away both leaves and bark,-
By this same wand, which men will mark
Ancient traditions marked by Zeus,
Have set to honorable use
In ruling their debates: I vow,
That all you Greeks assemble now
Before me - mark these words....
We've all seen the significance of the staff in Charlton Heston's memorable portrayal of Moses in the movie, The Ten Commandments. Why, even dominant male chimpanzees have been observed using a "staff", not unlike Achilles, when asserting their superior position before the other, younger males. Although unable to facilitate verbal conversation amongst the animals, as far as we can tell, the staff does serve to foster communication through their body language.
"Batons" found in Upper Paleolithic caves in France may have been used as "staffs" in ritual. In the Tue d'Audoubert cave, there are "so-called batons made of bone". The staff has been the mark of leadership in many cultures, but of course we do not know whether they were used to facilitate communication between leaders and their followers or merely as symbols of power.
Moonfire's Talking Stick will serve as a space where "truth occurs" and "affords" all of us an opportunity to communicate.
Moonfire Meeting House
1691 County Rd. 39
Southampton, New York 11968
phone / fax 631-287-9000