The International
School of Storytelling

Newsletter No 9: January 2013


People often ask me, ‘What made you become a Storyteller?’ I always pause before answering, weighing up whether the questioner has the time and the genuine curiosity to take up my answer. For the truth is: ‘I started as a storyteller because of my interest in death and dying.’

When I was fifteen my mother gave me a book called Testimony of Light by Helen Greaves. In it the author describes a friend of hers, Frances Banks, who after her death remained in touch with Helen describing her life in the spiritual world, her encounters there and the experiences she was undergoing. The book blew me away: here was evidence of a world before and after this one that made sense of why we are here and how our learning never ends. In it Helen directly relates what Frances asked her to tell of her new existence, her teachers and the compassionate lawfulness that operates in the invisible worlds; even the meeting between a Nazi perpetrator and one of his Jewish victims. This was a very early ‘channelling’ book of which there are now many but it started me on a lifelong pursuit of how to reconcile the realities of the two worlds that we inhabit and to find a profession and language that does both justice.

Imagine then what a homecoming it was to find storytelling, a calling with roots that go back to the beginnings of things that practically tries to find ways to work with the genius and disciplines of both worlds, which listens with one ear to the Earth, the other to the Heavens. As Rumi puts it ‘Everything visible has its roots in the unseen world’.....’work in the invisible world at least as hard as you do in the visible.’ We storytellers are midwives between the worlds, sometimes ’yes’, pure entertainers but often illuminators of other perspectives, healers and carriers of different kinds of consciousness. There’s an old Celtic saying used by storytellers as a ritual opening to an evening’s telling that runs,

Under the Earth I go

On an oak leaf I stand

I ride on the filly

That never was foaled

And I carry the dead in my hand


In this newsletter, you’ll find echoes of these things in Raphael Rodin’s work with Meeting the Other and Karmit Even-Zur’s listening to the stories that the Earth seems to need at this time. It was also these thoughts that led us to invite the award winning Nigerian author Ben Okri to give a keynote speech at a special gathering of storytellers ‘Everything Under the Sun’ that we are planning in August (see below). To our delight he has accepted. As we approach our 20th year all kinds of new works are unfolding across the world. We wish you also an abundant 2013.

Ashley Ramsden



A Summer Storytelling Festival and Alumni Gathering to mark our 20th Anniversary 21st – 26th August 2013.

Alumni Gathering 6pm Wednesday 21st – 5.30pm Thursday 22nd August for all students who have completed a minimum five weeks training course with us.

The Festival opens on the evening of Friday 23rd August with a keynote speech from award winning poet and author BEN OKRI followed by three days of fabulous storytelling performances, workshops and happenings for adults and children, celebrating all the talent, initiatives and creativity that have blossomed under the sun of the ISOS.

Alumni Gathering and Festival programme online and being updated regularly from Easter. Check the website or join our Facebook page for immediate updates on performers, events etc.

Limited accommodation onsite, including camping, so register your interest online and put the dates in your diary!


Meeting the Other

Thoughts behind our Healing Words initiative in the Middle East from Raphael Rodin

In 1946 in Palestine a book named 'Salamandra' was published. In a direct an uncompromising way it contained a vivid description of the horrors in Auschwitz. The book was signed by the name - Ka-Tzetnik, its meaning in Yiddish "Concentration Camper". The real identity of the author was unknown.

During the years that followed, in the newly established Israeli state more books were published under the same name. As Ka-Tzetnik became famous, the readers tried to figure out who was behind the name.

The mystery was revealed In the Trial of Adolf Eichmann, a man called Yehiel De-Nur identified himself as Ka-Tzetnik and testified in the trial. De-Nur survived two years in Auschwitz.

To explain his borrowed name Ka-Tzetnik, he would claim: "the inhabitants of the planet of Auschwitz had no names, they had no parents nor did they have children. ........; they did not live - nor did they die ......"

In 1976, in search for the healing of his identity, Yehiel De-Nur subjected himself to a form of psychedelic psychotherapy from Dr. Jan Bastiaans that included the use of LSD. During this therapy, his memories from Auschwitz were revived, vivid visions, hallucinations, experiences from the camp came back to him. Then he closed himself in a room in solitude for two weeks, and came out with the book, Shivitti.

In one of his visions, he found himself again perceiving the Auschwitz's sky at dawn, while in the truck, he was surrounded by walking human corpses. He clearly saw in his vision the same morning sky he saw on that morning when they headed on the truck towards the gas chambers. But now in his vision, the sky was covered by images of lions and Hebrew words from the ornamental curtain of his synagogue.

He looked out of the track and saw that SS man, whom he remembered, wrapped in his heavy coat in that cold morning.

The SS man yawning. Seeing the soldier yawn a sudden understanding overwhelmed him.

Does he want to be here? Does he hate me? Do I hate him?

Here, in his words Yehiel De-Nur says: "He could have been standing here in my place, a naked skeleton in this truck, while I, I could have been standing there instead of him, on just such a cold morning doing my job delivering him and millions like him to the crematorium—and like him I, too, would yawn, because like him I’d certainly prefer snuggling under the covers of my warm bed on a cold morning like this. … Oh Lord, Lord of Auschwitz heavens, … you know that at this moment … two of us, dispatcher and dispatched, are equal sons of man, both created by you, in your image."

This profound understanding is the Pillar of Fire behind the Initiative of "Healing Words". The Healing Words initiative explores the use of story as a medium to dissolve borders and conflict between people. We are currently working towards establishing a permanent branch of this work in Israel/Palestine.  

In our next project, "Meeting the Other", a group of adults from all over the world will meet in Israel/Palestine and learn how to use storytelling to build bridges of understanding between themselves and people of different backgrounds and beliefs; we will use the power of storytelling to bridge diversities in search of our shared humanity. The participants will learn how to craft and tell a story as well as having the possibility to perform in a local peace festival. They will use their acquired knowledge to run workshops for Jewish and Arab teenagers who we hope, through meeting and working with us, will also be inspired to honour and celebrate their shared humanity.

In these turbulent times, when the old cultural barriers, superstition and stories of division and demonization are rising, when the words of terrorists, occupants, and fanatics fill the air, we are called to action. As Yehiel De-Nur, when surrounded by walking human corpses, could put himself into the heavy coat of the SS soldier, we too, have an urgent need to meet the Story of the Other.

For more information on or donations to "Healing Words" initiative or the course "Meeting the Other" click here


Earth Speaks

thoughts about the art of Geomancy and Storytelling from Karmit Even-Zur

'We are all the eyes and ears of the Earth; and we think the world's thoughts.'

Lyall Watson biologist / anthropologist, Gifts of Unknown Things, 1976

A good friend of mine was a nature conservationist for most of his working career. When he speaks about his work, it is always in scientific jargon, measurable and quantifiable. But when I press him with questions, he lets out a secret known to very few, that his love for nature holds within it a rich soul experience that is very difficult to articulate. And when I press even further he begins to tell tales of encounters with birds, plants and forests that leave his audience spellbound and resonates with something that we all know and yearn for; an intimate connection with nature that occurs on those rare moments when she opens up to us, revealing more than meets the eye about herself...

An intimate relationship with the landscape indeed reveals a wealth of encounters that seek to be expressed. In this context it is wise to consider our senses, feelings and intuition as ways of understanding nature, as a complement to the measuring, quantifying, assessing, that we are used to in the scientific world. This is what geomancy is about. Allowing our sensorial self to open and receive impressions so we can perceive the subtle as well as the physical aspects of a place. Siberian shamans call it 'listening with our little ears'.

In my work I offer the possibility of exploring a heart based observational approach, which enables us to experience in a simple and down to earth way the subtle layers of the land and its 'conscious' aspects. I find it very rewarding to assist people who are new to this work to awaken to their innate ability to hear, sense and respond to the elements in nature and thus enter into a deeper communication with the land itself. I am greatly curious about the interface between People and Land, about the conversation that occurs between the creative forces in the land and our human will. Nature, especially in these times of social transitions, can inspire us to new ways of thinking about ourselves and the world.

Recently while working with a group on Cape Trafalgar in the South of Spain, we witnessed the waves of the Atlantic Ocean meeting the currents coming from the Mediterranean. On the surface of the water this meeting was very visible and as we focused our attention on it a few of us felt that this encounter had a story to tell and that the story had to be heard for healing to take place. Similarly, while working with two rivers that used to feed an extended wetland area in Andalusia, we 'listened' to the sources of these two rivers and allowed our voice, touched by the fire of spirit, speak of the essence and life they had in them. By simply witnessing, listening and speaking these stories, a great healing shift of the energetic and emotional landscape occurs. Touched by the magic imbued in the natural landscapes, we can speak up, and inspire a new vision to support the global process of awakening. It is the gift of the artist to capture the spirit of the moment, to 'recruit' followers; to act as a mediator of the sacred.

My work is energetic in its nature, and because of the abstract nature of working with energy fields, I am very excited about continuing connecting geomantic work with storytelling. Roi and I started this work last year in a very inspiring workshop which has evolved this year into a part time course. This work holds the promise of finding a new, contemporary language to describe the invisible and the intangible, to create healing stories for the land itself and to find stories that will influence environmental policy makers and conservationists. I am looking forward for us to speak the quiet whispers of a stream, the burly presence of a hillside, the heart qualities of a certain grove, and to help our growing capacity to truly understand nature's intricate language.

You are welcome to write to me about with any questions to or read more about my work in

Earth Speaks - Communicating with the Living Landscape - a part time Storytelling and Geomancy course starting 10th March 2013 with Karmit Even-Zur and Roi Gal-Or / for more information click here


Introducing one of our Trustees, Dave Adams

The path into story began, for me, as a child. On Sunday afternoons we would visit my aunt and uncle where John, my older cousin, would enthral me with tales of Johnny Wonnie Woodle, a character I realised, long after he stopped telling them, was a fictional incarnation of himself. Week by week I was transported into a world of adventure and treachery played out in the streets around Denmark Hill in south London where he lived.

Sadly I left stories behind when John began his career as an accountant and I began to think of becoming an engineer. My mind was trained to see life as a problem to be solved not a mystery to be experienced. This suited me well for many years. I learned to navigate relationships and achieve my goals with an agile mind and persuasive wit. There were obstacles, of course, but I always managed to find a way round that would put me back on track. If I ever gave an account of these experiences it would be descriptive and dry. After all my career had moved on from engineer to journalist and I believed it was important to get the facts right.

My formal education and career continued to smother the imagination of my early years. Until, that is, late in my career I took on the challenge of PhD research into my own professional practice. By then I had moved on to become a broadcast manager, media trainer and then tutor in higher education. I had travelled extensively, living and working on four continents. I had a story to tell but didn’t realise it.

As I began my research, one story, the Voyage of St Brendan, entered my life, grounding my exploration of the inner qualities of professional practice. With encouragement from my supervisor, Geoff Mead, I enrolled in the Craft of Storytelling course at the International School of Storytelling (ISOS). As we worked with different kinds of story (folk tales, wonder stories and myths) it was like water in the desert, refreshing parts of me that had been neglected since childhood.

On two occasions while doing my research I told the story of St Brendan and felt the urge to narrate it in the first person as if I was in the boat with Brendan. The Brendan story was becoming part of me as I became part of it. As I began to focus my inquiries on the wreckage of a sabotaged project I came to experience the healing power of the story. Brendan was right there, providing the imaginative space I needed to make sense of the journey. I emerged from this experience with a particular interest in the stories we tell ourselves and others, and what they reveal about our ‘selves’.

As a result I now think about story differently. The stories that circulate in our culture seem so tired and thin, like fast food, leaving us hungry. There is in our culture a deep longing for a cosmology that integrates what we now know about the universe and ourselves that can inspire more fulfilling and fruitful ways of being. The ancient stories need to be re-told in ways that fire our imaginations. We need to re-discover our own voice and recover the confidence to tell our own stories if we are to find the inner strength to act meaningfully in the world. Which is why I am delighted to continue my association with ISOS as a Trustee. This is an exciting time in the development of the School and, with my experience in Higher Education, I am particularly interested in helping our participants gain accreditation for the knowledge and skill they acquire through the courses.


Other groundbreaking news!


The Mbokodo Awards

South Africa launched a brand new award for women in the Arts in 2012. In the area of literature, there was a storytelling category which received 3 nominations. Amazingly, two of the nominees trained with the School of Storytelling! Nomsa Mdalose travelled to the UK to take the 13 week Craft of the Storyteller course in 1995 and Gilly Southwood completed the Storyteller in the Community course in Cape Town in 2009. In the end, the third nominee, Gcina Mhlophe, a wonderful storyteller who has published many books won the award but it was great that we had such a presence! If you want to find out more, look at

Sue Hollingsworth


 Back in the Eighties I was fortunate enough to hear about the remarkable story 'Tistou, the Boy with Green Thumbs'. I have since told it to the delight of families, green activists and school children all over the world. For many years this little gem of a book has been out of print but now thanks to Martin Large at Hawthorn Press it is back in circulation. He asked me to write the preface for the publication and in it I tell the rather astonishing story of how the story found me; another example of how we have so many helpers on our path as storytellers. A classic for a long time in France, on a par with The Little Prince, Tistou's name deserves to be on the lips of everyone who cares about the future of our Earth.

Ashley Ramsden

ISBN: 978-1-907359-08-8, £12.99 Hawthorn Press, 1 Lansdown Lane, Stroud, Gloucestershire GL5 1BJ, UK 

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