3 lessons from myths to storytellers

Published Feb. 28, 2022, 11:23 a.m. by Sini-Maria Melanen

You might think myths and folklore are just about dragons and fanciful heroic quests, but their relevance to corporate storytelling might surprise you.

With all the complex issues that marketers need to tackle, it’s easy to lose sight of what kind of content really captivates us. Sometimes it’s good to take a step back from all the noise in the content space and turn to the roots of storytelling for clarity. And I mean way back to our collective storytelling roots!

Myths continue to fascinate us as we’ve seen with the popularity of Netflix series like The Witcher or films like Marvel’s Shang-Chi. These epic tales deal with archetypal themes, like an epic quest or a paradise lost, and they answered profound life questions people once had about the world and how it functions. Folklore, on the other hand, describes how people dealt with everyday life issues. Various modern-day fiction is based on stories and characters found in epics, such as the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf, the Icelandic Edda, and the Kalevala, the national epic of Karelia and Finland. Magical beasts and whimsical gods aside, myths and folklore can provide great inspiration for modern-day storytellers.

Stories that keep on living

Epics or folk epics were created by the people on the one hand, and on the other hand, through scholarly selection. For instance, the Kalevala is based on stories and poetry collected by Elias Lönnrot who roamed the Finnish and Karelian countryside in the 17th century in search of the Finnish cultural identity. Before they were made into literary masterpieces, myths and epics were passed on through oral traditions and song. Stories were recounted during everyday labour, festivities and leisure. The most popular narratives were repeated by many and passed on to the next generation eventually ending up in epics or folklore collections like the Ancient Songs of the Finnish People.

It could be argued that myths and folklore bring us back to the ancient, collective part of ourselves that’s deeply human. And what better source of inspiration for storytellers than the stories that have survived through the rise and fall of civilizations?

3 lessons from myths and folklore:

Myths cover topics and themes that still excite and interest people today. Thanks to the universal and archetypal nature of these stories, they have been strong enough to withstand the test of time. Popular mythical and folklore themes include rising above poverty and misfortune, discovering the origin of a material or a natural force and prospering through resourcefulness.

Lesson: To create truly powerful stories, keep in mind what’s at the heart of your story so that it resonates longer and with more people.

Epics like the Kalevala wouldn’t exist today without famous rune singers. These people had distinctive personalities and were often believed to possess a variety of extraordinary abilities like healing. People listened to and respected rune singers for their skills and eloquent expression, and that’s why collectors found their way to these individuals.

Lesson: It’s no secret that power and authority make us more convincing to others, and the power these storytellers had is a reminder of that!

Ancient stories spread by word of mouth through repetition, and the stories that did get passed on to generation after generation arguably provided a certain value. The act of spontaneous oral storytelling has diminished with the advent of social media, but we’re still compelled to share stories that evoke emotions or inspire us.

Lesson: Strive to create stories that you would want to keep repeating and sharing with others as well.