Monday, March 6, 2017

A Ball of Fire

I've had a long break from storytelling--since the end of December in fact. It's been nice in some ways. Having time to do little things that get put off, time to enjoy being home, time to work on furniture again and organize my booths better, time to cook and read and clean. I have to admit that a ball of fire I have NOT been even though I have been busy.

But I have missed storytelling. There is something about sharing stories with others that just makes my heart sing. The history, the folklore, the humor and magic of stories bring people together in a way no other art can do.

I have not been slacking altogether. I've been planning my summer program for libraries and mailing out publicity, organizing my ghost stories at last into a book that I may publish this year, reordering CDs and reading, reading, reading to develop new stories.

But today I was back out telling tales and talking about ghost stories with college students in a class at the University of Charleston. It felt so good! It also made me realize again that when I do this presentation, as I have been twice a year for the past 5 years, I am trying to compress a whole semester's work into one hour. How to crowd in the background of storytelling in our region, the heritage and beliefs that lead to a belief in spirits, the process and research of developing an anecdote into a full story, the sources, and then actually telling a few stories and singing a few ballads? Somehow it gets done, and I come away feeling satisfied and yet wishing I could have more time to really get into the process and the tales.

One of the stories we explored today had to do with a ball of fire. I have heard from multiple people who say they have seen a random ball of fire just roll down a creek or across a field, with no apparent reason or source of the fire.

In several of these stories, the ball of fire was an omen of impending death. Superstitions about balls of fire (some say this is ball lightning) abound in cultures around the world but it was new information to these students.

The picture above was a door prize at the WV Folk Festival's 60th anniversary festival, and I was the lucky winner. It's true folk art, made by a man who knew the story, its location and the book in which a version of the tale was published. I treasure this thing! The class I spoke with is studying Dr. Ruth Ann Musick's book, so the picture and the story fit right in to today's presentation.

The illustration in the Tell-Tale Lilac Bush that inspired the woodburned version.

I also brought with me a first-edition copy of the Telltale Lilac Bush that I recently bought online. I had not seen the original with its lilac-purple cover, and it was pretty cool to bring these two pieces together.

This story, along with another I told, led to a discussion of peddlers and their role in the early days of settlement in the mountains--which led to talking about the development of the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike and its role in the California Gold Rush and then on to another story of a haunted railroad tunnel. That's how it is with stories as one flows and overlaps into another.

I came home to emails and phone calls for possible future storytelling events, and I can see that this time of rest is a good thing as the summer and fall are already looking busy. I will continue to enjoy my time home, but my eye is on the calendar as the days fall away one at a time and the real storytelling work begins again. I can't wait.
Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.


Mac n' Janet said...

I'll bet they were fascinated by your stories, it all sounds so interesting.

Suzanne A. said...

Love folklore! I had never heard of the superstition behind "Balls of Fire" before so I also learned something new. On Twitter, I follow "Folklore Thursday" from the United Kingdom. Their many tweets provide inspiration for researching unusual folktales. I have written a couple of picture book manuscripts based on folktales as well as an original "pourquoi" tale.

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