The Three Sillies

There was once a young man who went a courting a young woman. Each night he would visit her house and her parents would welcome him to the fireside and pour him a mug of cider. This night they ran out of cider and the girl’s father sent her down to the cellar to draw some more from the barrel. The girl put her jug underneath the tap and let the cider out. As she did so she looked up at the ceiling and saw an axe blade lodged in the beam.

‘Oh my,’ she thought, ‘what if I were to marry my sweetheart and then we were to have a son and he grew up into a fine young man who came down here to the cellar to draw some cider and that axe head dislodged itself and fell on his head and killed him?’

And she wept, and her weeping soon turned to sobs and there she sat in the middle of a puddle of cider, bawling her eyes out.

After a time, the mother began to worry about where her daughter was, so went down to the cellar, where she found her in a right mess. She sat down beside her and asked the cause of her sorrow. The girl explained and the mother too was upset by what could happen to her future grandson that she joined her daughter and they wept together.

Upstairs the father was wondering where his daughter and wife were, so he came down to the cellar to find them both huddled in a puddle of cider crying their eyes out. When he asked the cause of their distress his wife explained, then he too set up a wailing about what terrible future awaited his grandson.

Meanwhile the young suitor was puzzled by the absence of his sweetheart and her parents and descended the stairs to find the cellar flooded and all three overcome with grief. He went straight to the barrel and turned off the tap then asked the cause of the distress. When his sweetheart explained, he looked up at the ceiling and laughed.

‘I’ve never met three sillier people in all my life,’ he said, ‘but I will go out into the world to see if I can find some, and if I do I will come back and marry you next week.’
With that he set off up the stairs and out into the wide world, in search of  sillier folk than his sweetheart and her parents.

It wasn’t long before he came upon a woman who was pushing her cow up a ladder on to the roof of her house.

‘Why are you doing this?’ he asked.
‘Because there is fresh green grass growing on the roof and I want my cow to have it,’ she answered.
‘But why not cut the grass and toss it down?’ he continued.

The woman gave one mighty shove and the cow was now standing on the roof.

‘Because,’ she answered.
‘So are you going to stay up on the roof with the cow while she eats the grass?’
‘I’ve got better things to do than watch my cow eat grass,’ she replied, ‘I will be inside doing my chores.’
‘But what if your cow falls off the roof?’ he asked.
‘I’ll stop her,’ she muttered. ‘I’m very attached to my cow and won’t let anything like that happen. I’ve tied a rope around her neck and I’ll feed it down the chimney then when I’m inside the house I’ll tie that rope to my wrist and that way I’ll make sure my cow doesn’t fall,’ she said.

The man shook his head as she climbed down the ladder and went inside.

‘I think that is a silly idea,’ he said and walked away. ‘Now I know there’s at least one sillier woman than my sweetheart.’

That night he was approaching an inn when a fellow carrying a rake ran up to him and said, ‘Have you heard the news about the double death?’
‘No,’ he said.
’Silliest thing,’ said the fellow, ‘ a cow got hung from the roof of a house and her owner got suffocated in the chimney. Folks say she was very attached to that cow.’
The young man shook his head and surveyed the older man in front of him.

‘Tell me sir, where are you off to this night with a rake?’
‘It’s that time of the month again, when the moon falls into the river and we all take rakes and brooms and shovels to try and get it out. You can help,’ he said. ‘Follow me.’

The two hurried to a river where the whole village were roaming up and down the banks dipping their implements into the water and shouting. The young man looked up at the full moon rising and said to his companion, ‘ Look up into the sky man. The moon’s still there. That’s just its reflection in the water.’

A chorus of laughter greeted him.
‘You’re looking at the sun my good fellow,’ said his companion. ‘Don’t be looking up there, look in the water, that’s where the moon is, and we have to try and get it out before it drowns.’

After a few more attempts to persuade the moonrakers to give up their senseless quest, the young traveller returned to the inn and passed the night there. He had found a whole village of people sillier than his prospective in-laws.

The following morning he was awakened by the sound of thumping against the wall and upon investigation saw a man jumping off a cupboard in an attempt to get into his trousers which he had slung over a chair. He decided there and then to show the man a simpler way to put his trousers on. The fellow was very grateful to have been shown this simple trick and thanked the traveller profusely. However as the young man left he heard thumping again, and turned to see that the trouserwearer was attempting to leapfrog into his shoes. He shook his head in dismay and left the inn, determined to return home and marry his sweetheart. The following evening he asked permission to marry her.

‘So we are not the silliest people in the world after all,’  said the young bride to be.
‘Not by a long shot,’ he replied. ‘I have encountered many sorts of silliness,’ he replied. ’The silliness of being too attached to something, the silliness of not looking at a situation from different perspectives and the silliness of replacing bad habits with more bad habits.’
‘And what of my silliness?’ she asked.
‘The silliness of not living in the present can bring much needless grief,’ he said, and reached for his sweetheart’s hand. ‘So let us forget the past and not worry about the future but enjoy living now.’

And so they were married in the Spring and the following year they had a son who grew into a fine young man who was a credit to his parents and his grandparents, and he lived to be a wise old man who told silly stories. And this is one of them.



Photo: The Zealous Axeman  by Atlanta Clapton

Storytelling or Teaching with Turtles

How effective is our teaching in equipping children with the tools and desire to pursue meaningful lives and enabling them to make positive choices?

Sometimes we learn of the tragedies and triumphs children experience in their adult lives, but this is not necessarily an indicator of the outcomes of what we imparted to them. We may get direct feedback from them as adults; an acknowledgement of their love of the library story times they attended as toddlers, their gratitude for the extra homework help in primary school, the encouragement to follow their dreams or a particular career path. More often than not we will never know. We are left to trust that we are doing the best we can with what we have at that particular point in time.
The joy of being a storyteller is that above all else the immediate moment is paramount. If a listener takes the story itself or the experience of storytelling beyond the present moment to share in future contexts, then that is a bonus. It is enough to awaken the listener’s senses by enabling them to be present in the telling. Reflecting,  retelling and doing further inquiry are additional actions that the initial experience can generate. Creating an environment which fosters the desire to build on the primary activity is what most educators try to achieve. As to whether the listeners are receptive to the wisdom of our words, then, a story will have to suffice.
This tale can be found in many collections including The Panchatantra, Aesop’s Fables and The Jataka Tales. The endings of the stories differ in the manner of the death of the tortoise or turtle. It always falls to earth and its shell is either cracked on rocks, it is torn to pieces or eaten. The fall is the punishment for the tortoise being ‘talkative’ and not listening to the birds.
However I am posing a different ending to the tale here. Like the turtle we all fall by ignoring the words of our teachers, but its where we fall and what we do in our new circumstances.

There was once a turtle who lived in a pond at the foot of the mountains. He spent his days swimming around and around in circles in the water, chasing the fish and playing with the frogs. What he loved most of all were visits from his friends, the birds. He would sit on the bank of the pond and look up into the sky as the birds emerged from the clouds.

As soon as they landed he would ask them to tell him of their adventures. Where had they been, what had they seen and what news did they bring. For hours the turtle would sit, spellbound by the birds’ tales. They spoke of snow-covered mountain peaks, sandy deserts and the wide-blue sea. They laughed about the strange creatures they met and their different customs. All the while the turtle saw pictures of the birds’ journeys in his own mind, and a deep longing to see them for himself grew in his heart.

One day he ventured to tell the birds of his desire. They shook their heads and told him that unlike them, he had no wings and therefore could not travel to these distant lands. But turtle remained undaunted.

‘You could be my wings,’ he announced. 

The birds were puzzled. The turtle could not ride on their backs. Although they had claws but they could not grasp the turtle’s shell. The turtle thought and thought, but the birds finally came up with an idea. They collected a long stick and told the turtle that they would clasp either end of it with their claws and turtle was be in the middle of them and clench his mouth hard on the stick. In that way they could carry him through the sky.

‘Where do you want to go?’ asked the birds.

‘I want to cross the wide-blue sea,’ said turtle.

‘Then we shall,’ said the birds, ‘but you must remember to keep a tight hold, and that means no talking.’

The three set off, the birds flapping their powerful wings, lifted turtle up into the air. On they flew and turtle could barely contain his excitement as he looked down at the pond below him disappearing from view, as they rose higher and higher, catching the currents of the wind. Soon turtle realized he was far away from his home and was now looking down on the wide-blue sea. It was bigger and bluer than the sky. It was so beautiful he just had to express his amazement.

‘WOW!’ he said, and as he opened his mouth he fell down to the ocean below.

Plunging into the waves, turtle realized that here he could swim for ever and ever. The wide-blue sea became his new home and he swam across it,  sharing the stories of his adventures with whoever he met on the way. 


Photo by Roman W. Schatz

Learning Outcomes for All is Connected: A folktale from the Democratic Republic of Congo

Prepared for the Annual Children’s and Youth Services meeting of Public Librarians in North East Zone NSW, Australia, 2014

Previously I have told this folktale as a story of empowerment. However, in the context of the Children’s Librarian’s meeting with it’s focus on developing links with their communities in their literacy and learning activities, there are a number of ideas the story suggests that Children’s and Youth Librarians may want to consider. As community leaders, initiating, facilitating and mentoring community members, they also have to consider funding requirements, statistics, local politics, library policies and lobbyists in their work. It is all too easy to be swamped by bureaucracy and lose sight of the importance of advocacy work. Here is the story, and following is what the story offers up to those who want to promote a harmonious community.

All Is Connected

There was once a chief who brought his people to camp on the edge of a swamp. They lay down to sleep that night to the sound of the frogs’ song. The array of rhythmic croaks and calls brought great comfort to the people because it signified the harmony in which they all lived. But the chief was outraged with the ribbitting racket of the swamp dwellers and screamed for them to shut up. They were disturbing his sleep. But the frogs paid no heed to the rantings of the chief and continued their song. The chief tossed and turned and bellowed his fury at the frogs, but they continued their song well into the night. At dawn the chief had worked himself into a state of rage not only at the frogs’ song but their refusal to be silent. He called his warriors together and demanded they bring everyone before him. When all the people were assembled the chief proclaimed that the frogs were to all punished for disturbing his peace. Everyone was given a large stick and ordered to enter the swamp and beat the frogs to death. If they refused to carry out the chief’s orders they would be beaten instead.
With great reluctance the people took the clubs and trudged into the swamp. All except an old woman who refused to take a stick and remained steadfast in front of the chief.
“Why do you defy me?” demanded the chief.
“Because all is connected,” she answered.
“What do you mean?” asked the chief.
“You will find out,” she replied.
The chief glared at the old woman, then shouted for her to leave him before he beat her himself.
Later that day the people sat around their camps, disheartened by the dreadful deed they had carried out. That night an eerie silence filled the air. The people found it hard to sleep, knowing that the frogs were no longer their companions. The chief however slept soundly, that night and the next.
It was the third night that he was awakened by an annoying hum. Swarms of mosquitoes descended on the camp. The mosquito larvae no longer eaten by the frogs had all hatched and the swamp was infested with millions of mosquitoes. The night air was filled with the drone of mosquitoes punctuated by the sounds of people slapping their bitten skin.
“Enough is enough,” they cried, and quietly gathered their belongings and moved away from the swamp and their chief.
At dawn the following day the chief, who had barely slept a wink, stood up and looked around. He was all alone, except for the old woman who had refused to kill the frogs. She stared at the chief’s bite ridden face and body and shook her head.
“Now do you understand what I said about all being connected?” she asked. Then she turned from him and walked away, leaving him with no one to rule over but the mosquitoes.

Story Suggestions for the Promotion of a Harmonious Community:

– The actions or inaction of one person can impact on a whole community.
– It is the moral duty of the most powerful to respect and protect the least powerful in a community.
– Silence is not consent.
– The dispossessed, displaced and disenfranchised also have voices that need to be heard.
– Those with the loudest voices are not always right.
– A tolerant community means that even if you don’t like someone else’s song, or choose not to sing it yourself, that you still respect their right to sing.
– Rule by fear will always have a bad outcome.
– Momentary gratification should not be at the expense of ancient wisdom.

Story Source:
Eleven Nature Tales: A multicultural journey by Pleasant DeSpain
August House, Little Rock Arkansas US copyright 1996

Picture by Roman W Schatz of Morgan conducting a storytime at an Australian preschool




The Head and the Body Must Serve Each Other

Today I had my blood taken by a woman skilled in the practice of blood extraction. No she wasn’t a vampire. There was no fear or horror engendered by her actions: it was quick, painless and accurate. I related my mother’s positive experience of having blood taken by the pathology nurses, and her dread of ever having a doctor perform this fortnightly task on her. For each time a doctor had performed this task, she invariably ended up with multiple jabs and bruising on her arms, as they couldn’t find her veins. This was never the case with the nurses.

The phlebotomist smiled and said that she recently had a doctor who needed his own blood taken, and had proceeded to tell her how to go about her job. Needless to say she was not amused by his condescension. 
Our discussion reminded me of a story from the Wolof people in Senegal; a tale I have read but not told, because the right audience had not appeared in my life. However, if called upon to choose an appropriate story to tell to those people for whom humility is a stranger and arrogance second nature, or perhaps as a reminder that we all serve humanity, whatever our position in society, then this is the tale to tell. It was collected by Harold Courlander and can be found in his book, The King’s Drum and other African Stories (1962) Harcourt, Brace and World, New York.

THE KING OF SEDO  A story from the Wolof Tribe, Senegal

In the town of Sedo in northern Senegal there was a King named Sabar. His armies were very powerful and they conquered many towns, and the people of these towns paid tribute to him. Neighbouring chiefs who passed through Sedo always bowed down to King Sabar and gave him gifts. And the King enjoyed the obedience and respect everyone accorded him. But as he grew older he would proclaim his greatness and boast that there was no-one to contradict him because his word was not only law in Sedo but and all the surrounding land.

One day a griot came to Sedo and he entertained the King and his entourage. He recited a story of praise for King Sabar and and his ancestors. He then sung a song:

The dog is great among dogs,

Yet he serves man.

The woman is great among women,

Yet she waits upon her children.

The hunter is great among hunters,

Yet he serves the village.

A griot is great among griots,

Yet they sing for the King and his servants.

After the griot has finished the song, King Sabar asked him to explain the meaning of the song. The griot replied, that the song meant that all men serve, no matter what their station. But King Sabar was adamant that this was not so, because although he  was a man, he was the King of Sedo and he did not serve anyone. Others served him. When the griot did not speak, the King demanded to know whether this was the truth. The griot humbly bowed before the King and asked, “Who am I to say the King of Sedo speaks what is not true?”    

At this moment a holy man wandered through the crowd of people. The griot seeing him, immediately asked the King’s permission to feed him some of the food from the King’s bowl which he had not eaten. The King acceded to the griot’s request, eager to return to their discussion. The griot then asked the King to hold his harp while he took some food from the King’s bowl to give to the holy man. The King took the harp and held it while the griot fed the holy man. When the holy man had finished eating, the griot once again stood before King Sabar, and he spoke. “You have said that all men serve the King of Sedo and that he does not serve others. Yet you have given a wandering holy man food from your bowl, and you have held the harp for a mere griot while he served another. How then can one say a king does not serve. It is said, ‘The head and the body must serve each other.” The griot then took his harp from the hands of the King and sang:

The soldier is great among soldiers,

Yet he serves the clan.

The King is great among kings,

Yet he serves his people.” 

Photograph by Roman W. Schatz












Strength: the truth teller or the opinionator

Early morning conversation between storyteller and husband


I’m just working out what I want to write in my blog.

And what country are you going to upset today?

I’m not selective, but I do want to write about yesterday’s incident. Some people would say that I stepped into a minefield for challenging the sanctity of the americans’ belief in their right to bear arms, but I reject that metaphor. When there are kids in the world today having their legs blown off by land mines, how can we in all conscience, make light of that by using that terminology to describe a conversation.  It’s like when people say they are starving, or that some one was their slave, or someone is a fascist.  These flippant exaggerations trivialise the reality of the lives of millions of people, past and present. 
No I am not being politically correct. That accusation is levelled at truth tellers as a denigration, because people don’t like being reminded of their insensitivity or privilege.
Truth teller?  Is that how you see yourself? I’ve always thought of you as a professional liar. 
But I know when I’m telling lies, and if other people are telling lies then I want to set them straight; especially those that think they are telling the truth. 
So whose truth are you telling? 
My own of course; everyone has there own version.
What about opinionator? Isn’t that closer to the mark? 
Everyone’s entitled to my opinion.


Here Lies Truth


Yesterday I encountered people who believed passionately in lies. Let me begin with the last one. This is instantly recognizable because its an ‘internet story.’ It is sincere, purports to be the truth, and includes factual information to assist in its credibility. I believed it when I heard my colleague tell it to the library crowd. We discussed it afterwards and I went home and retold it to my husband, who was immediately skeptical. I, being entranced by the tale had suspended disbelief, but then went in search of a source. I wanted it to be true. Numerous sites posting the story came up, but all with no source. My further research showed no evidence of the story’s validity. It was folklore, a lovely story, but not a true story. And so I will tell her what I have discovered, which doesn’t mean she shouldn’t tell it, but does mean that she needs to tell it in a truthful context. I’m a professional storyteller and I feel beholden to know the sources of my stories and credit them when possible. I also like to differentiate between the possible and the actual. 


This takes me to my first encounter, with a number of people who believed they had the right to own and use guns chiefly to protect themselves against their government. No these weren’t citizens living under a dictatorship; they were americans, living in a democracy. Every person over the age of 18 can vote in that country, although many don’t exercise that right. While the US government is currently proposing legislation that threatens the civil liberties of all people living there, the response by these people was not to mobilise citizens to vote or to protest, but to arm themselves with weapons.


They seriously believe that in a democracy all people have the right to carry and use guns, and that this will protect them; from their own elected government.
I understand that there is a valid reason for some people to carry a gun, such as putting down a sick farm animal, or if you are under attack from a bear, or an alligator, but that’ s probably not such a big threat in most American cities. 


As to the other reasons like defending your person and property. Property is just stuff; inanimate things. Nothing worth killing for. As to defending yourself and family? From what? Bears? Oh no its gangs. And they have easy access to weapons that they will always get illegally so gun control won’t affect them, or so I’ve been told. But how do you know if you’ve never done it?


What if the US government decided that everyone had to hand in their guns, unless they had a bear or alligator problem or were farmers (all of whom have no need for automatic weapons). What if?
Undoubtedly there would be outrage by some sectors of the US community; a sad indictment on the morality of that country. But I hold to the vision of a world where strength is not measured in armaments or weaponry but in humanity.


Strength (A Limba Tale from West Africa)


All the animals gathered together and elephant announced his idea to have a contest to discover who has strength.
On the appointed day each animal was to display their strength. Everyone arrived and last of all came Man, who had brought a gun with him and left it in the bushes.
Chimpanzee went first. He held his arms up in the air and shook them, then ran up the trunk of a small tree, bent it down and tied it into a knot.
He climbed back down and asked, ‘Strength! Strength! Was that Strength?’
And all the animals cheered. ‘Strength! Strength! Strength!’
Then Deer leaped up into the air and ran five kilometres into the forest and back again without being out of breath.
She looked around and called out, ‘Strength! Strength! Was that Strength?’
And all the animals cheered. ‘Strength! Strength! Strength!’

Leopard then jumped up and drew out his long claws and began to scrape the earth. The dirt flew left and right and the animals had to moved out of the way.He turned to the assembly and growled, ‘Strength! Strength! Was that Strength?’

And all the animals cheered.
‘Strength! Strength! Strength!’Bushbuck strode forward, lowered her horns and he ploughed a road through the canefields.

She turned to the crowd and shouted, ‘Strength! Strength! Was that Strength?’

And all the animals cheered.
‘Strength! Strength! Strength!’Elephant then leaned his shoulder against a clump of trees and each one of them broke and crashed to the ground.He turned to the other animals and trumpeted, ‘Strength! Strength! Was that Strength?’

And all the animals cheered. ‘Strength! Strength! Strength!’

 And last it was Man’s turn.  He whirled and he twirled about, then he did somersaults and cartwheels and handsprings. When he was finished he turned to the animals and asked, ‘Strength! Strength! Was that Strength?’

And all the animals all looked at each other and slowly they answered.

‘It was exciting but we’re not sure if that’s strength.’

So  Man climbed a tree and he threw down the palm nuts. he climbed back down and asked,’Strength! Strength! Was that Strength?’ 

Once again the animals looked at each other and said, ‘You climbed a tree, which is great, but that’s really not strength. Can you do anything else?’

Man was angry.

He ran into the bush and retrieved his gun. He ran back with it, pointed it at the elephant and then pulled the trigger.


The elephant fell down dead.

Man jumped up and bragged. ‘Strength! Strength! Wasn’t THAT strength?!’

But there were no animals to answer him. They had all fled into the forest, where they huddled together and talked.

‘Did you what he did? Was that strength?’ 

There was silence while they all pondered the question.  

‘No that was not Strength.  That was DEATH.’

Since that day the animals will not walk with Man.

When Man enters the forest he walks by himself. And they still talk of him. Man; the creature who cannot tell the difference between strength and death.


Sources: Limba stories and story-telling [compiled and translated by] Ruth Finnegan Published 1967 by ClarendonP. in Oxford, UK   MacDonald, M. R. (1992). Peace Tales: World Folktales to Talk About. Linnet Books, USA

Look out for Bears


The Dream Serpent

To what degree are our thoughts and actions influenced by our family, friends, the culture and country we live in and our environment?  One thing that used to annoy me as a young adult was the attribution of a ‘talent’ to others, most often said in phrases like ‘she must get that from her blah blah because none of us are interested in it.’ While modeling and mentoring cannot be underestimated in the socio-political development of a young person, neither can their own independent choices. In my case, the fact that I loved to write was not due to an inheritance from a relative who had a preponderance for writing dreadful poetry; I read books and wrote stories because they were my ways of coping with my world. 

Later I read books and met people who were to influence my actions and world view;  the Women’s Liberation Movement being the most influential because it provided both a theoretical framework for understanding my experiences and that of other women, as well as empowering me to challenge injustice. Today I still call myself a feminist because I believe that if one woman is not free then none of us are. Interpret ‘us’ and ‘free’ however you like. I think of ‘us’ as humanity and ‘free’ as able to enjoy all human rights. But who is telling us what is going on in the world? Are we to believe the sources of our ‘news?’ Propaganda masquerading as information, vested interests posing as authorities, advertising disguised as research. If we do not question what is served to us through mainstream media then we are liable to become and remain complacent, compliant and disempowered. Pastor Martin Niemoller’s (1892-1984) words spoken during the reign of Fascism in Germany are still pertinent today.

First They came… – Pastor Martin Niemoller

First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.


The following folktale from Georgia speaks to me of the need to understand what influences our choices and why me must continue to question them.

The Dream Serpent

There was once a King who was troubled by a dream. He called his advisers together to divine the meaning of the dream but none could. ‘Surely in all the land there is someone who can tell me what it means to dream of a fox suspended by his tail, from the ceiling of my palace,’ he announced.  And he called his men to gather all the people together at the palace so see if there was one who could interpret it for him. 

So the people came from the north, south, east and west to be interviewed by the King. Among them a farmer from over the mountains. On the way to the palace he had to travel along a narrow path, bounded by mountains on either side. In front of him, lying on the path was a serpent. As the farmer came closer, the serpent reared up and spoke. 

‘Where are you going and what is your purpose?’

‘To see the King and tell him the meaning of his dream,’ answered the farmer, taken aback by the the serpent’s speech.

‘Do you know what it means?’ asked the serpent.

‘No idea,’ replied  the farmer.

‘I do,’ said the serpent, ‘and I will tell you if you agree to bring me half the reward the King gives you.’

‘I agree,’ said the farmer, and listened as the serpent explained the meaning of the dream.   

When the farmer found himself called before the King he answered. 

‘The hanging fox means that your kingdom is like a den of foxes, where cunning, treachery and mistrust abound.’

The King was pleased with the farmer’s interpretation and rewarded him with two sacks of gold. The farmer left the palace but returned home the long way, thereby avoiding the serpent’s path and not honouring their agreement.

Time passed and the King had another dream. In this dream a sword hung suspended from the roof of his palace, dangling over his throne. The King wasted no time in summoning the farmer. Reluctant as he was, the farmer knew that if he wanted to find out the meaning of the dream he must go by the way of the serpent.

Once again the snake lay across the path and asked where he was going and for what purpose. The farmer answered that he had been summoned to tell the meaning of the King’s dream.

‘Do you know what it means?’ asked the serpent.

‘No idea,’ said the farmer.

‘I do,’ said the serpent, ‘and I will tell you if you agree to bring me half the reward the King gives you.’

‘I agree,’ said the farmer, and listened as the serpent explained the meaning of the dream.   

When the farmer found himself called before the King he answered. 

‘The sword means that war is about to take place. Men are sharpening their weapons in preparation for battle.’

The King was pleased with the farmer’s interpretation and gave him four sacks of gold and bade him return home quickly as he had a war to wage.

The farmer returned along the way in which he had come and met the serpent on the road.

‘Have you half the king’s reward for me?’ he asked.

The farmer was angry at the serpent’s request and drew the sword he carried by his side and waved it at the serpent.

‘All I have for you is black stone and burning cinder,’ he threatened, and chased after the snake, who slithered down his hole, but not before the farmer sliced off his tail.

Time passed and once again the King had a dream. This time he dreamt of the slaughtered carcass of a sheep hanging from his roof. Straight away he called for the farmer to come. Upon hearing the news the farmer was distressed. He knew he had to see the serpent to know the meaning of the dream. He set off and soon found himself in the presence of the snake, who asked where he was going and for what purpose. The farmer answered that he had been summoned to tell the meaning of the King’s dream.

‘Do you know what it means?’ asked the serpent.

‘No idea,’ said the farmer.

‘I do,’ said the serpent, ‘and I will tell you if you agree to bring me half the reward the King gives you.’

‘I agree,’ said the farmer, and listened as the serpent explained the meaning of the dream.   

When the farmer found himself called before the King he answered. 

‘This is a sign that now everywhere peace and prosperity prevail upon the land.’
The King liked the interpretation. It had been two years since the war and now life was returning to normal, the crops were bountiful and the people were happy. He gave the farmer six sacks of gold.
The farmer thanked the King and made his way home. When he came to the place where the serpent lived he stopped and begged the serpent for forgiveness. He offered him all six sacks of gold to honour his commitment of half the King’s rewards he had received over the years.
The serpent asked that the farmer listen to him while he explained what happened each time they had met. 
‘When you first came to me, the people of the land were like the foxes; cunning, deceitful and treacherous. And you too, were a deceiver because you did not honour your agreement with me, but took another path home. The second time you came to me, war was at hand. You too took up arms and used them mercilessly, cutting off my tail. And now, when peace is upon the land and all are content and trusting, then you too can be generous and just. But I have no use for your gold. It is wisdom that is truly valuable. Go in Peace.
The serpent then turned away from the farmer and disappeared down his hole leaving the farmer alone with the gold. 


Georgian Folk Tales TRANSLATED BY Marjory Wardrop, Published by David Nutt in the Strand, London [1894] 

Retelling of a Georgian Folktale by Hugh Lupton in Riddle Me This: Riddles and Stories to Sharpen Your Wits Barefoot Books United States, 2007

Artwork: Perspective, Roman W. Schatz, 2010, acrylic on cardboard, 



The Mischief Maker

In a time when people are traumatised, shocked and particularly vulnerable, the mischief maker comes to the fore and sets about causing as much distress, confusion and fear as possible. They spread misinformation, create and inflate rumours and cause unrest. To what purpose? Their own enjoyment of of course. You can be sure that whenever there is a natural disaster, they will surface, like cockroaches scuttling out of a drainpipe. In the recent floods in Brisbane and the surrounding areas, warnings were consistently issued by the media to check the sources of information, particularly on social network sites, where rumours and misinformation abounded.

I was reminded of the Burmese folktale about the mischief-maker’s tree, or the ‘gon-bin’ and I think it a most appropriate tale in light of understanding the power of the mischief maker. This is my retelling of this tale.

The Mischief Maker

Many centuries ago a raft carrying three people washed up onto the shore of the Burmese coast. They had all been banished from their country for the following reasons. One man was a thief who had stolen food, a woman was accused of witchcraft and another man a mischief maker who told lies about people.

When the King heard of the new arrivals he ordered hi ministers to give a thousand pieces of silver each to the thief and the witch and the mischief maker was to be executed immediately.

The King’s courtiers were shocked and asked the king why he had decided thus. The King replied.

The thief stole because he was hungry and if he is given enough money to grow his own food, then he will have no need to ever steal again. The witch too is poor and was envious and unhappy. If she is given money she too will have enough to live on and be a good person. But the mischief maker will always be a mischief maker.

So the mischief maker was taken to a beach and beheaded. The next day one of the King’s courtiers saw the head on the beach, its eyes and mouth wide open and it spoke.

‘Tell your King to come and bow before me or I will knock his head off.’

The courtier was so shocked, he ran back and told the King. But the King did not believe him and accused him of making fun of him. The courtier convinced the King to send another courtier with him to witness the mischief maker’s words. The King agreed to send another man, but when he appeared before the head, it said nothing. The courtier returned to the King and the King in anger, ordered the first courtier to be taken to the execution grounds and be dispatched for lying.

When the mischief maker saw that he had caused the death of another he laughed at the executioner and said.

‘I may be dead but i can still cause trouble.’

The executioner reported what he had heard to the King, who was filled with remorse for what he had done.

He ordered that the only way to stop the mischief maker was to bury his head deep in the sand. the executioner did that, but the next morning a strange tree grew in the spot. It grew and grew and finally it produced a most unusual fruit. It was shaped like the mischief makers head, complete with two eyes and a mouth. The King took the fruit and shook it and to his surprise he heard a gurgling sound inside, as though the mischief maker’s spirit was inside whispering his lies. 

The ‘gon bin’, which is now called ‘ohn bin’, in English is known as the coconut palm. 


Photograph by Roman W. Schatz


Visions and Illusions

My daughter related a tale of her friend having a series of visions. One such vision was of a character from a computer game she played, being present in the room with her. When her friend told her mother of these visions, the mother immediately began researching biblical interpretations of them! My daughter’s response to her friend’s confession, was to tell her that she was spending too much time playing games on the computer. 

I thought her pragmatic approach was possibly a more useful one for her friend to keep a handle on reality. It also challenged me think about what I see, how I perceive it, and who shares my vision. 

Late last week a tragedy took place in Australian waters when fifty Iraqi, Iranian and Kurdish people drowned. They were passengers on a small boat heading from Indonesia to Australia. Refugees. Could their deaths have been prevented? Ian Rintoul, founder of the Refugee Action Coalition, an Australian refugee advocacy group sees that the Australian government contributed to the deaths of these people in the following ways: Australia pressures Indonesia to detain asylum seekers, regardless of whether they are mandated refugees under the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Seekers are held in detention centers sometimes funded by the Australian government. Until this year, Australia did not routinely resettle UNHCR refugees from Indonesia. This year, the Australian government said it will take 500 refugees from Indonesia, although, so far, fewer than 100 have been resettled, and the government has not guaranteed numbers for the future. It sometimes takes months for UNHCR to register asylum seekers and then more months for those claims to be processed. Once determined to be refugees, they can wait years for the UNHCR to find a country willing to resettle them. Understandably, other resettling countries consider asylum seekers in Indonesia to be Australia’s responsibility. The lack of any guaranteed resettlement is another powerful incentive for asylum seekers to take the boat journey from Indonesia to Australia.

If Australia were willing to process asylum seekers and guarantee resettlement, far fewer asylum seekers would want or need to take the boat journey. Yet Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s Labor government takes proportionally fewer refugees than was the case under the conservative John Howard government. 

Third, the Australian government’s move to criminalize people-smuggling (and by association asylum seekers themselves) in Indonesia and Australia also provides a powerful disincentive for asylum boats to contact Australian authorities should they require assistance.

But how do we see tragedies like this? Can we convince ourselves that it is awful but inevitable, or of no concern to us, because there’s nothing we can do anyway? Do we look for a justification of our response, or lack of one, to what we see? Or do we simply interpret our experience to suit our beliefs?

Truth tellers and whistle blowers; those people who have had the veil of deception lifted from their eyes, are punished and, or ostracised. Witness the demise of the Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange. They can also suffer the curse of Cassandra, the Trojan princess, a visionary, but doomed never to be believed. 

Once you ‘see’, you cannot ‘unsee’, but you can choose whether to speak about what you see.

This brings me to a folktale of Celtic origin, that assumes the existence of parallel worlds; that of mortals and the mystic world of fairy folk. Just because you can’t see them, does that mean that they’re not there? I value this tale, not because I’m an exponent of the world of fairy, but because, like so many folktales, it offers a vision for us to understand our lives and the lives of others. It also serves to show both the power and vulnerability that comes with having ‘the sight.’

Pali the midwife, was preparing supper when she heard a knock at the door and before stood one of the fairy folk, begging her to come quickly to the assistance of a fairy princess who had need of her presence to safely deliver her baby. 

Pali immediately took her bag and climbed onto the back of the horse the fairy man brought. Off they went at a gallop, and Pali felt as though the horse’s hooves barely touched the ground as they rode into the night. Finally he stopped outside what appeared to be a grand palace. He led Pali through a torch lit hallway that opened into a chamber where the Fairy princess lay in childbed.

In due course the fairychild was born and the fairy princess bade Pali to rub the child with a special ointment, but to be wary of getting the ointment anywhere on her own self, except her hands. Over the next few days Pali looked after the mother and child. It was a strange place she had been brought to. She saw no-one but the princess and her baby and yet food appeared each day. One morning after she rubbed the newborn with the ointment, she felt her eye itch and without thinking, rubbed it. Some of the cream on her fingers went into it. From that time on, she saw the fairy folk. They came and went, chatting with the fairy princess and bringing her tasty morsels of food to eat. That evening Pali said to the fairy princess that she should sleep early today because she had so many visitors.

The fairy princess turned to her and flashed an angry look.

‘So you disobeyed me and rubbed your eyes with the ointment,’ she accused.

Pali was embarassed and nodded.

‘Quit by accident, though,’ she said apologetically.

‘Then it is time for you to go,’ said the fairy princess, and she deposited a purse filled with gold coins into her hand.

Pali was escorted by the fairy man back to her house. The following day she told the village people about her adventures and come market day, she was able to see the presence of the fairy folk trading amongst the stalls of the villagers. Often she would see the fairy folk going about their business, and she would let the villagers know if they were ever up to mischief. One day, while at the market, she saw a grand procession. There in the centre was the fairy princess herself. Pali ran up to greet her.

‘How lovely to see you here,’ said Pali.

‘You have no right to be seeing me at all,’ hissed the fairy princess, and spat in Pali’s eye.

When Pali rubbed her eye, the fairy folk had vanished. And though she looked for them day and night, she was never able to see them again. 


Sources: Celtic Folklore, Welsh and Manx, by John Rhys  (1901) e-text at the Internet Sacred Text Archive neu/ cfwm/ index.htm

Stories of Wales: Forty-one tales from the Celtic heritage told for children by Elizabeth Sheppard-JonesJohn Jones Publishing Ruthin, North Wales © 1997


Photo ‘visions and illusions’ Roman W. Schatz  



Each year I am asked to tell a story to celebrate Christmas at my local library. It is an event I always enjoy, because it enables me to share my gift with others. I chose this particular tale because it reflects my philosophy on fulfilment.


There was once a father who called his three sons together and asked them to prove their love for him by undertaking a challenge. They had one afternoon to fill a barn with whatever they chose, as long as it was with their own hands. The son who could fill the space would be the winner.

Each son left and thought about the best material he could use to fill the barn. On the allotted day, the father invited all the townspeople to witness his sons show the extent of their love for him.

They all sat outside the barn and watched as the eldest son brought armload after armload of hay into the barn and the middle son bring in bag after bag of feathers. By sunset the barn floor was covered in feathers and the walls were high with piles of hay.


During the afternoon the father sat on a chair in the centre of the barn and watched his son’s endeavours. In the twilight he called for his sons to stop and come to him.


‘My eldest son, you have brought loads of hay into the barn. It will feed the cows and the sheep and the goats. And my middle son, you have brought in feathers to make pillows and mattresses for our beds. But where is my youngest son?’


In the darkness, the silhouette of the youngest son appeared.


‘What have you brought to fill the barn my son?’ asked the father.


There was the sound of a match being struck and the lamp which he was carrying was lit, illuminating the barn. And then he began to sing.


The townspeople filed in to the barn which was filled with light and the sound of the youngest son’s song. The father smiled at his sons and knew that each one loved him, in his own way.


‘We are like this barn and need to be filled,’ he said. ‘We need to fill our bodies with nourishing food, we need to fill our time with creative work and most importantly we need to fill our hearts with the light of love.’


And everyone began to sing and the barn overflowed with light and joy and love.


Photograph by Roman W. Schatz



You will reap what you sow

What is a human being worth? Who is worthy and who determines worthiness?  Who is more worthy? Blackskin, Brownskin, Whiteskin, Oldskin, Newskin? Are all human beings worth saving?  Is some life more sacred than others? It is necessary to contemplate these questions to understand why the Western world has been so slow and parsimonious in its response with aid to the devastation of Pakistan by floods. Here is an opportunity to show the people of Pakistan that we really care about their plight, and that we will support them not only in their time of urgent need, but in the years to come. For we will reap what we sow. If we are to sow the seeds of democracy and freedom then we must begin with the action of humanity and respond swiftly and generously with aid. 

A Good Deed – A Pakistani Folktale retold by Morgan

There was once a young man whose time had come to journey from his village and collect the young woman he was betrothed to. He dressed himself in his finest clothes, mounted his horse and set off. He soon found himself in the midst of a jungle and it was there that he came upon a fight between a snake and a mongoose. He dismounted and watched the scene before him. The creatures were in fierce contention and he thought that if he could separate them, then it was possible that neither would be too badly hurt. However, every time he intervened the mongoose fought harder and looked to be overcoming the snake. Finding that his peace making efforts did not prevail, he drew his sword and with deep regret slayed the determined mongoose. He then continued on his journey, but not very far, before the snake had intercepted him. Thinking that the snake was going to thank him for saving its life, he was quite shocked when it announced that it was going to eat him. The young man protested, saying that he had just saved his life and for this good deed he was going to be killed.                                                    “Surely,” he said, “one good turn deserves another. Where I come from this is what we believe.”                                                            

  “Well in this country, the customs are different, and good deeds are returned with evil.”                                                                        

The young man argued for a long time with the snake, but to no avail. In the end the snake agreed to the young man’s request to go about his business and return to this spot in eight days, to be eaten. So he was allowed to continue his journey and after a week he and his new wife took their seats in the bullock cart and made their way back to the jungle. When they arrived at the appointed place where the snake lived, the bridegroom climbed down from the cart and announced his arrival.                                                                   “Snake, I have honoured my promise and present myself to be eaten.”                                                                                              

 His wife was surprised by her husband’s words, but climbed down from the cart and stood beside him. The snake slithered out of his hole and coiled himself around the young man’s leg.                                                                                                                                  

  “Why do you wish to eat my husband?” she demanded.                                                                                                                              

 The snake told the story of how the man had saved his life and explained the custom of returning good with evil. The young bride was outraged and asked how such a custom came to be in the first place. The snake answered.                                                            

 “Go to the five talli trees that stand over there and you will find out why.”                                                                                                  

The bride did as she was asked and addressed the trees. The first tree told her their story.    

You can see that there are five trees here, when once upon a time there were six. The sixth tree was the oldest of us and the trunk was hollow. One day a robber escaping from his pursuers came to our forest and seeing the cavity in the trunk, dived inside. He begged and pleaded to the tree to save him and the tree did, by closing the hole in the trunk, and there he passed the night in safety. The following morning the tree opened her trunk and released the man, so he made his escape to a nearby city. Wherever he went people remarked upon his scent. They could smell him, and a beautiful fragrance it was too. For the trunk of the tree contained sandalwood. One man went to the King and told him of the presence of a stranger who had brought a wonderful scent with him and that the king may wish to discover it. The king immediately summoned the thief and demanded to know where he got the fragrance from. The thief was anxious. The King said that he would not put him to death if he showed him the source of the scent. When the thief heard this, he told him his story and agreed to take the kings men to the tree. For in hiding inside the trunk, his clothes had been imbued with the fragrance and had never left him. The kings men set to work and chopped down the tree and carried it to the palace. Upon understanding what was happening the tree said,  “For saving the life of a man I am to lose my own life. From this time forth I decree that in this jungle whoever does good to another will be repaid in evil.”          

Having heard the story, the young woman returned to her husband’s side and sadly declared that she understood why the custom had come about. The snake smiled and advanced upon her husband with open mouth. The bride cried out in fear.                      

 “What about me? You will have to eat me first. I cannot live without my husband.”    

When the snake heard these words he stopped.                                                                                                                                            

 “But you have not done me any good turns at all, so I cannot do evil to you.”      

The snake was determined to solve the problem and crept back to his hole, and returned with two magic pills.                                        

“Here is your comfort for when your husband is eaten. Swallow these tablets and you will give birth to two sons who you can devote yourself to, and they in turn will care for you.”                                                                                                                                             

The bride took the pills and once more the snake opened his mouth.

 “Wait,” she said, “what about my honour. If I have two children and no husband then what will happen to my good name?”                    

 “Revenge is the best remedy for that,” said the snake. “I have more pills and all you have to do is crumble one between your fingers and when the powder falls on your detractor’s head, you will see them turn to ashes.”                                                                                    

 The young woman took the handful of pills offered by the snake and immediately crumbled one and let the powder fall upon the snake.                                                                                                            

  “Do you mean like this?” she asked innocently, and watched as the snake turned to ash.                                                                          

 Then with a smile upon her face the bride turned to her husband and said, “Who ever does good to anyone, in the end good will be done to them, but who ever does evil to anyone, then in the end, evil will be done to them.”                                                                                                                                        

And so they returned to their home together and lived in happiness and contentment with their children until the end of their days.

Source: Charles Swynnerton, Indian Nights’ Entertainment: Folk-Tales from the Upper Indus (London: Elliot Stock, 1892), no. 42, pp. 133-38

Photograph You will reap what you sow by Roman W. Schatz