Lance Foster (hengruh) wrote,
Lance Foster

Winter Storm Brutus and Folktales

So this is the third day of the winter storm here in Montana, called by the weather pros "Brutus," and very light snow is still falling, with about 16 inches on the ground in one fell swoop. I wish I had a camera that worked but I don't so you'll just have to imagine it :-) I'm pretty much just hunkered down, enjoying the peace and quiet.

But this quiet wintry landscape has also brought me back to a project I have been working off and on for many years. Storytelling. Some of my past work on this subject is on this blog, here.

I am working on a collection of our Ioway tribal traditional stories, retold, the Wekan and the Worage, in part to preserve them in a more accessible way for the tribe, in part to better embed them in myself, in part to better understand them in a functional and larger context, and finally, to be able to become a better traditional storyteller to keep the stories alive as they were meant to be, through telling them as oral tradition. Also, since I am an artist, I will get to fulfill a dream of mine since childhood, which is not only to write up such a collection, but illustrate the stories as well!

The Wekan basically are considered to be sacred, as they deal with things far back in time: origins of creation, origins of clans, origins of ceremonies...but also stories of when animals talked and behaved as people do, in ancient times. We don't consider them to be secular or to be "myths" (yes I know the term means something different when Joseph Campbell etc. use it, but most Native people still think it means "untruth" so it is held to be a pejorative term). Wekan are distinguished also by the fact you can only tell them in winter. This is because the guardians of sacred things like the Wekan, guardians like the Thunder and the Snakes, are away or asleep in winter. If you tell them during the summer, they will hear, and the Snakes will come and bite you.

Worage are not sacred in that sense, though some individuals may hold them with great wonder and respect. They are basically news, things that really happened in recent times, some of them told in extended narrative forms. Even a story of a person's encounter with the supernatural, as in a vision quest, is considered to be a Worage.

I do not have a degree in folklore, but I am an anthropologist as well as a member of my tribe (I actually was appointed to be on my tribe's Elder's Committee this fall, a great honor!). In connection with this project, I am learning about the whole folktale motifs and tale types area of research in folklore, and learning about the resources from Sith Thompson and others:

"A tale type is a representative and plot outline that applies to similar folk tales from around the world. Tale types are categorized according to a type-numbering system developed by the Finnish scholar Antti Aarne and the Indiana University folklorist Stith Thompson (link to site); the numbers given to the tales are commonly referred to as AT numbers. Hans-Jorg Uther published an update of the system in 2004; these numbers are referred to as ATU numbers." (, which also has a great research guide on the same page).

A useful tool to look into Thompson's work is here:

The problem is that most of these resources are in multivolume works held in particular libraries I don't have access to (like the HRAF, Human Resource Area Files, drat) so I have to hunt and gather what I can online. I can't buy the bloody things because they range from about $100 upward for each volume, and some are multivolume sets as I said.

If anyone has any other recommendations for other useful blogs or resources on folktales (especially about the codes on motifs and tale types) please let me know.
Tags: folklore, mythology, storytelling

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