Storytellers are regular folk with a gift. Storytellers have jobs, get married, take a shower in the morning. Storytellers are educated, though that education is not necessarily formal. No one needs a college degree to tell a good story. They do need to be rabid readers, like writers. Because the more you read, the more stories one can tell.
In the days of old, storytellers were of the propertied class as storytellers, then, like now, are educated. Whilst the storytellers would visit the vast populations of slaves and bonded servants, to entertain them, it was unusual for the tellers of tales to come from those classes of people. Such a person would need a mighty talent to be recognized among the ruling and merchant classes. But exist they did.
The typical storyteller of the Middle Ages was someone of the minor nobility. Or above. This is when storytelling reached a zenith because these tellers wrote their stories down. They were multi talented and skilled in music and poetry as well. The storytellers who could write a song and then sing it, or compose a poem and recite it were called troubadours and bards.
The troubadours were usually the younger sons who would not inherit their father’s estate. So they would, literally, hit the road as entertainers. Many of these young men were also knights, who could kill a Saracen during the day, and sing a love song around the campfire at night. When there were no crusades to fight, they returned home to find themselves brides to marry. Those with a talent for the arts found noble houses to take them in as a live-in entertainer.
Women too, could be troubadours. Daughters and wives of the nobel houses could certainly practice the art right in their own courts. And the sisters or cousins of musicians could be the writers of the lyrics and the singers of the songs. The elder storytellers, male and female, not only would narrate everyone’s favorite story, they passed on a wisdom that was valued. The elders were those who gave the eternal lessons of passions and grace.
Sometimes the troubadour was the owner of the county and castle himself. One of the most renowned nobleman bards was William X, Duke of Aquitaine, from 1126-1137. His daughter, Aliénor, wife of Henry II, also kept a court of writers and performers. Her daughter, Marie de Champagne, is perhaps the most celebrated keeper of the arts.
Outside of France, Germany too promoted and supported troubadours. One of the greatest stories, Parzival, was written by a Bavarian, Wolfram von Eschenbach. His story was based on the old legend of the Gral or Grail. The French troubadour, Chretian de Troyes, also wrote a romance (story) about Parzival.
The troubadours were a part of the objective story telling practice. They didn’t talk about themselves.That would be frowned on during the Middle Ages as this was a time of the community of man or personhood. Individualism was not yet in existence. People wanted to hear new stories and favorite stories of heroes and of their relationship with others or with God. Indeed, Parzival is a religious story. It’s not about God, but about a spiritual or soulful quest. It is a hero’s journey story. When we tell such a story, or listen to one, it broadens our understanding of life as an inward quest. This is best summed up by Carl Jung’s statement, “He who looks outward, sleeps. He who looks inward, wakes up.”
As a storyteller, my mission is to wake you up. I encourage you to look inward, to the fantastic universe that is your soul. That is your connection to the expanse of the shared consciousness of all humanity, with God.