Since we have an eclipse coming up on April 8th, here’s a Hindu Moon story.


The 12 Houses in the Western Zodiac, like Aquarius, Pisces, Virgo and Leo, are named after the fanciful outlines of star constellations visible from the perspective of Earth.

However, in the East, in the Asian, South Asian and Islamic worlds, for thousands of years, these “asterisms” or star clusters have been observed differently, and are more numerous. There are twenty-seven of them, called Lunar Mansions, one for every day of the Lunar Month, and observing the moon pass these backdrop star clusters is an ancient practice. Many moon stories feature these observations. Here’s one from India.



A Hindu Sacred Story

Retold by Odds Bodkin


Lord Duksha, a Hindu god with the head of an ibex and a very fat body, had sixty-two daughters and loved every one of them. All were quite beautiful, because unlike Duksha, they had ordinary heads.

One day Soma, the Moon, who was very handsome, strolled into Duksha’s palace, bowed low, and said: “Lord Duksha, I wish to be married.”

Ah, thought Duksha, he wishes to marry one of my daughters. “Which one do you love?” he asked.

Soma slid his toe across the floor. “It’s not exactly like that, Lord Duksha. I wish to marry twenty-seven of them.”

Taken aback, Duksha replied, “Soma, that is far too many wives!”

Soma blazed with moonlight. “Not for me. I promise to pay equal attention to all of them. I will be a good husband. Every night, on my journeys across the stars, I pass all of them in their star cluster bodies. Forgive me, Ducksha, but I am hopelessly in love with all of them. I need every one.”

“That’s a lot of wives to keep happy,” Duksha replied dubiously.

“I am up to the task.”

Duksha sat back. Could this god do this? “I will give you the benefit of the doubt. Which ones do you fancy?”

“Well, Rohini, Hasta, Revati, Ashwini and, well, all these others.”

Soma handed Duksha a list, which raised the king’s eyebrows. After reading the names, he said, “Well, you have chosen wisely. All are beautiful and kind. As long as you promise to treat them all equally, I agree.”

Soma bowed low to Duksha. The king informed his daughters, who were delighted to be married to Soma, and a very large wedding was held. Surrounded by his wives, Soma enjoyed the festivities.

They all went back to live in his Day Palace, which he left each dusk to ride past them as they took their places in the starry heavens.

For a while he kept his word and paid attention to all of them equally. But there was one, Rohini, who was so beautiful and magnetic that even while he was with one of her sisters, he kept thinking about her. As time passed, he spent more and more time with Rohini, and less and less time with the other twenty-six. Even Rohini noticed and said, “You’re neglecting my sisters, Soma.”

“Am I?” Soma asked dreamily.

“You are. I love you, but they love you, too. I see it in their eyes. They’re angry with me. You should be fair to them.”

But Soma paid no attention and just as Rohini warned, soon her sisters, who’d noticed one by one their husband’s absences, began to talk among themselves.

“How long has it been since Soma spoke to you?” one would ask.


“What about you?”


“I don’t like it. I feel rejected.”

“He’s always with Rohini, have you noticed?”

“Of course.”

Soon all twenty-six realized Soma hadn’t spent time with any of them at all, except for Rohini. They became very jealous and dissatisfied.

Not long afterwards, Duksha had just taken his throne when in stormed his twenty-six disgruntled daughters. They explained what was going on and Duksha grew furious. “Not in months?” he asked.

“Months, father.”

“So,” fumed Duksha, “this Moon God thinks he can get away with this? No! He has broken his word to me to treat you all equally.” He stood, summoning his powerful dark mantras. “Soma the Moon,” he began, “You will never have children! In fact, I curse you to wither away and die!”

Thinking that was a bit extreme, the daughters asked him to go easier on their husband, but there was nothing they could do. Their father was angry, and once he was angry, that was it.

The next dusk, as Soma’s ten white horses champed at the bit, ready to gallop up into the sunset, he didn’t quite feel himself. Thinking not much of it, he made his nightly journey, bathing the earth below in silver light. “What is wrong with me?” he wondered at dawn as he tied up his horses. The following night, he felt even weaker. Gazing down at himself, he realized he’d lost weight. By two weeks later, there was hardly anything left of him, but he had no choice but to ride his chariot each night. No longer was he round and full, however. The light that poured from him became dimmer and dimmer. He’d begun to disappear. People on Earth were terrified.

But Duksha’s curse was powerful. Soon, Soma knew, if this kept up, he would die. The Moon would be gone forever.

Now, Shiva, a god infinitely more powerful than Soma or Duksha, was sitting on his bull when Soma staggered up to him.

“Lord Shiva!”

“Soma. A little skinny, aren’t we?”

“Duksha has cursed me to wither and die.”

“What did you do to anger the old man?”

“I didn’t pay attention to twenty-six of my wives.”

“I have but one. Parvati is one of Duksha’s daughters, too. She’s plenty for me. She scares me.”

“Please, I beg you, Lord Shiva, help me. I will honor you forever. I think only you can save me.”

Shiva sat back and considered. Although very little in the universe intimidated him, he wondered what would happen if twenty-seven of Parvati’s sisters were left without a husband, even if he wasn’t a very good one. No Moon? What would that be like?

“I cannot completely undo Duksha’s curse,” he lied, since he could, of course, but Soma didn’t deserve a full pardon for his neglectful promise-breaking. “However, I can save your life. Each month, following his curse, you will waste away, but just as you are about to die, drink this.” He handed Soma a gourd full of an elixir. “And you will be restored to your full size and be given another month.”

Just a wisp of his former self now, Soma drank down the liquid and was delighted to feel his strength return, along with his roundness. He blazed with full moonlight and felt much better. “Shiva, I will worship you forever.”

“See that you do.”

That night Soma blazed across the night sky, making the world below silver again.

Ever since, the Moon has waned, but then grown full. The elixir the gods drink is called Soma. And Shiva is often pictured with a crescent moon in his hair.

My Love Affair with Telling THE ODYSSEY

My Love Affair with Telling THE ODYSSEY

“I can tell the whole thing,” I lied rather boldly, and a week later, I got the job. Strange but true. The only problem was, I had to deliver a 3-hour storyteller’s version of Homer’s epic in 90 days. At a school in Vermont.

Another problem was, I didn’t yet know the story. And so I read the Fitzgerald translation and wrote down all my favorite characters and scenes.

Suffice it to say that here, decades later, I’ve performed this story with my 12-string guitar at least a thousand times, if not more. Festivals. Universities. Private and public schools. Across America and abroad. And I still love it.

I love playing the haunting score I created so long ago.  I love doing the voice of Odysseus, wishing I were a guy like him. I love becoming the giant cannibal Cyclops, relieved that I’m not a guy like him. I love entering the visual dream of this tale, one that is always a little different each time I go inside and peer around my version of an ancient world.

It’s a curious alchemy of music and the narrative muse.

You can witness this alchemy live. My performance is coming up:

Sunday March 10

Doors open at 5 pm

Grendel’s Den, Harvard Square


Odds Bodkin

THE ODYSSEY: Belly of the Beast

A full evening’s entertainment.

Tickets: $35




Which story is this?

Well, it’s a challenging one.

It’s my storyteller’s version of Beowulf, the old Viking story about a hero who kills a monster who can’t be killed. Spears and blades don’t work against the towering beast, Grendel, a beast who can sweep strong fighters away like tiny birds. And who takes them home to his cave to eat them afterwards.

Horrible, I know. Yet this ancient tale has fascinated generations. I admit, it fascinates me as well, and I’m looking forward to performing it again. Why would I spend years perfecting an old Viking story? Years developing character voices and a lush, compelling 12-string guitar score? At first glance there’s not much to it: big strong guy who’s braver than everyone else kills monster and becomes legendary hero. There are dozens of such stories. But in a careful reading long ago I found a reason beyond those outer trappings for Beowulf to journey to the Mark of the Danes–Denmark in modern parlance–to help old King Hrothgar.  A reason beyond a simple lust for glory and riches. Although Beowulf is brave and craves renown, in my version, it is gratitude that drives him. It turns out that as a boy, Beowulf sailed to Denmark with his father, who had killed a Wylfing warrior. As it often was in those ancient clan times, the Wylfings had put a blood price on his father’s head. Sounds like John Wick, I know.

Pay us, said the Wylfings, and we won’t hunt down and kill Edgtheo. Or pay others to do it. A common thane like Beowulf’s father could never pay so much gold, and so he’d sailed to ask King Hrothgar–the richest man along the Baltic–to help him. Generously the Danish king paid the blood price for his father and in so doing saved his life.

The little boy, Beowulf, never forgot it.

And so here, years later, Beowulf is willing to die for old Hrothgar by killing his Grendel beast, who for twelve years has decimated the Danes.

This heartfelt detail is in the original text, although usually not brought to the forefront. To my way of thinking, it humanizes an otherwise dark warrior tale while still honoring the original epic narrative.

I’ll be telling Beowulf: The Only One on Sunday, February 4th at Grendel’s Den on Harvard Square in Cambridge, MA. Doors open at 5 pm. You can drink, eat Viking food, and then sit back for this feature-length evening of adult storytelling. Tickets are $35.


Sunday, Feb. 4 at 5 pm

Grendel’s Den, Cambridge MA

Tickets: $35



The Impact of Storytelling on Kids’ Brains

Storytelling stokes creativity in children


by Gavin Bodkin

The art of storytelling is inherently human, and it’s no wonder children gravitate to it like butterflies to flowers. It has fascinated children’s minds for thousands of years. Most of us view it with an almost fantastical perception, which tracks considering it has been used as a tool to stimulate the imagination of listeners. If you have ever witnessed a child’s face while a fairy tale is being told, you’ll have all the proof you need. But what is going on in children’s brains while they are experiencing storytelling? Can it be used to positively influence brain development? This article will examine how storytelling effects children’s brains and what implications that has on learning and brain health.


Key Takeaways:


  • The art of storytelling has been associated with increased prefrontal blood flow when compared to reading, which implies increased brain stimulation.
  • Storytelling can help support cognitive skills like problem solving in children. Active listening lets children effortlessly problem solve, connecting characters to plot events in an attempt to organize the information they are being presented.
  • Empathy and social awareness are key developmental advantages of storytelling. Children are able to reference social frameworks that are presented in storytelling, which can fortify their understanding of right and wrong.
  • Storytelling has been linked to a reduction in children’s physical and psychological stress. It can produces oxytocin and reduces cortisol, which are used as biomarkers to indicate a decrease in stress and pain in a short amount of time.


What is Storytelling?


Storytelling is the interactive communication of thoughts and ideas to reveal a narrative created by one’s imagination. This is typically achieved through speech and music from a storyteller to an audience. It has had a dramatic effect over the development of humans by sparking the imagination of deep thinkers, reinforcing narratives to preserve culture, and to generally entertain audiences. While there are more modernized forms of storytelling, the original and most popular form is spoken-word storytelling.


Why is Storytelling Important?


The imagination is responsive for the world’s most original thoughts. From the conception of the first spear designed to penetrate the hide of a mammoth, to the Wright brother’s development of the first airplane, the imagination has been the driving force that has turned fantasy into reality. It is our guidebook on how to take unlike concepts and combine them to create something new.


In the digital age, our imaginations are at risk of becoming atrophied by the ubiquity of screens, pictures, and the general outsourcing of them to AI. The imagination requires only a few ingredients to produce mental imagery, namely words, music, and meaning. If we are already given the imagery, we are limiting our capacities to produce new ideas, which is particularly important when considering children’s brains and their development.


How Does Storytelling Affect Children’s Brains?


Storytelling affects children’s brains in a myriad of ways – both short-term and long-term. There have been countless studies performed on the benefits of storytelling on the brain including cognitive, creative, emotional, memory, and even studies on family bonding. Some of the studies suggest storytelling can act almost as a superpower. In aggregate, all of the evidence points to the same conclusion – storytelling is beneficial to childhood brain development.




Children’s enhanced cognition has been linked to the effects of storytelling in several cognitive studies. Yabe et. al. 2018 compared children’s brain pre-frontal blood flow levels in two scenarios. A group of 21 children (age 4-11) were exposed to a series of stories told by an experienced storyteller. Then, the same group of children were presented with a series of picture books. Over the sessions, the blood flow increased in the pre-frontal areas of the children’s brains when exposed to storytelling and decreased when exposed to picture-book readings. This suggests that brain activity increased over the course of the experiments as children were working through the spoken narratives.


While it’s always difficult to attribute causality to the experiment considering dependent variables that might exist, the results were conclusive. Cortical areas of the brain are stimulated more by storytelling than by picture book reading (this is also consistent with previous literature on the topic). This raises the natural question, why?


Children’s brains undergo more creative rigor when they have to imagine for themselves. The leading theory is that storytelling engages the imagination of the listener, challenging them to create mental imagery to conceive the story. It also requires them to actively project what might happen in the future to continue to make sense of the story. When presented with visual imagery, a more passive interaction with the information occurs, leading to less stimulation and lower brain activity.


Problem Solving


Being able to navigate complex situations requires an important skillset. Whether it be creative, analytical, theoretical, or emotional in nature, problem solving is vital for brain development for any person. Children must be exposed to situations with complex nuance to learn how to determine cause and effect, how to use reason with imagination, and ultimately how to interpret right from wrong. “The process of improvised storytelling and role-playing helps children anticipate possible situations and outcomes and prompts their visions of alternative endings and solutions.” (Charney 2002; Worth 2008). Worth goes on to argue that storytelling helps to develop “narrative reasoning”, which helps us make sense of our own personal lives and the world around us. It isn’t enough to simply show or tell children how to solve a problem. They have to experience the situation for themselves to go through the mental process subjectively. Storytelling is an approach that achieves this through an objective lens.




Storytelling has also been used to enhance children’s language development. Children are able to comprehend spoken word stories by listening to intonation and cadences and by seeing gestures and facial expressions. There is simply more information that the child is able to draw from to form an idea of what a word, phrase, or story might mean. Using storytelling to fortify language can not only expand vocabulary and develop comprehension, it can be used to broaden children’s communication and interpersonal skills overall.


In a 2004 pilot study, a group of researchers investigated the language development of preschool children when exposed to storytelling. There was a marked improvement in grammar, vocabulary, length of utterance, and sentence formation when subjected to storytelling. Furthermore, the study suggests, “The use of storytelling with young children supports early literacy development and expands the creative literacy potential in young children.” (Speaker et. al. 2004). By witnessing storytelling, creative and predictive interaction is demanded from the listener, building synaptic networks of understanding, especially in young children’s brains.




“Tell me a fact and I’ll learn. Tell me the truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.” – R.M. White


Any parent knows that children can lack perspective, especially after hours of working, cleaning, cooking, and playing. When was the last time you heard a child say, “thank you for playing with me!” It’s a rarity indeed, but it’s not their fault. Children don’t typically have frames of reference that allow them to feel appreciation or empathy for their parents, grandparents, or other close family members unless they are exposed to situations they can identify with.


A study was conducted that exposed children to oral storytelling to understand their perspectives on situations in a library setting. In the study, elementary school students were offered stories via oral storytelling and then interviewed afterwards to gain access to their psychosocial perspectives. The study documented “the benefits of oral storytelling to children in relation to a complex of processes tied to the opportunities afforded by oral storytelling for self-expression, identification with story characters, empathic understanding of self and others and bi-directional communication.” (Hibbin 2016). There are a number of past studies that reinforce this notion over the topic’s empirical history, all with unequivocal findings even when compared to reading. Somehow the act of listening, viewing, and actively thinking connects children to emotionally weighted concepts. They are able to place themselves in the shoes of characters, which forms a sense of identity and emotional understanding.


Pain and Stress


Seeing children in pain and stress can be overwhelming for all parties involved. Whether a hospitalized child undergoing treatment, or a child being bullied, the psychological effects can be devastating. This more controversial topic involving child pain and stress has started to become more clear with technological advancements in biomarker reading.


A recent study in 2021 looked at the effects of storytelling in hospitalized children. Eighty one children were involved with symptoms most commonly stemming from asthma, bronchitis and pneumonia. Children were exposed to storytelling and riddles on separate occasions, and levels of oxytocin and cortisol were measured before and after each session. The results found that “compared with an active control condition, one storytelling session with hospitalized children leads to an increase in oxytocin, a reduction in cortisol and pain, and positive emotional shifts during a free-association task” (Brockington et. al. 2021). Storytelling can be used as a therapeutic tool to enhance the quality of life of children who are suffering. The researchers hypothesized that this is due to the transporting effect storytelling has on children’s minds. While these have obvious short-term benefits, longer-term benefits include the ability to reframe experiences, regulate mood, and broaden perspective.


Storytelling is a powerful tool, and goes far beyond being a mere form of entertainment. While we might consider storytelling an archaic form of record-keeping and fireside fun, it has practical and lasting cognitive and social benefits, especially for children.


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Photo Credit:

<a href=””>Image by pikisuperstar</a> on Freepik

Top 10 Most Important Aspects of Storytelling

Odds bodkin storytelling live


The art of storytelling is an ancient craft, practiced by mystics, troubadours, and bards alike. A common question I get, and a challenging one at that, is Odds, how do you do that? In short, it requires building a world inside your imagination and reporting what you see as you proceed down the narrative’s road. If you would like to start to develop your storytelling skills, I’d like to help demystify the process by contributing some helpful tips.


Discover Your Imagination


Imagination is the key skill of the storyteller. Your imagination is your memory, just taken a step further into “dreaming while awake.” For instance, make a picture in your mind of your bedroom. Focus on the bed. Now, imagine there’s a blue ball of light hovering above it. You’ve just added a bit of imagination to a familiar memory image. If you like, you can make the blue ball hum in a friendly way. You can make it float up to the window. So if you think of your memories as a palette of bright paints, imagination is taking your memories and painting with them. You can invent landscapes, events, characters and actions. It takes practice, but once you’ve learned to train your imagination, it can produce anything—and become your storyteller’s most prized tool.


“But I don’t have a good imagination,” you might say. I’d respond, “No, you have an undiscovered imagination.” Ever had one of those long, complex dreams at night, filled with amazing detail? Most people have them all the time. Sometimes these dream narratives outdo cinema and video games in their vividness. If your unconscious mind can produce such amazing stories as you sleep, then you have that authorial power in you somewhere. It doesn’t need to remain locked away during sleep. A storyteller’s job is to dream while awake, and to use words to describe those visions. It’s not inspiration, it’s a skill.


Use your Five Imaginations


To truly immerse yourself in imagination, learn to use all five of your sensory imaginations:


Visual – the chief driver of your imagination. Learning how to imagine settings in three dimensional space in real time is your most important skill to hone.

Auditory – imagining how things sound is critical, especially if you’re making sound effects.  Believe it or not, this too can be taught, but it starts with hearing the sound you’re trying to mimic in your mind.

Kinesthetic – movement is key in storytelling. This is perhaps what sets it apart most from storybook readings, and creates a much more dynamic telling as the world moves within your mind..

Olfactory – when telling stories, sharing how something smells is one of the best ways to evoke  a memory in your audience’s minds, and thus a visceral response. Practicing smelling and describing scents is a great way to practice this skill. 

Gustatory – similar to your olfactory imagination, taste is directly linked to memory. As a storyteller, utilize this in your stories by describing what a character tastes to tap into your audience’s  imaginations on a deeper level. .


Let’s take the example of the blue ball hovering above your bed. If you make it hum, that’s adding auditory. If you make it smell like peppermint, that’s olfactory. If you walk up to it and touch it and it’s cool, that’s kinesthetic. If you lick it and it tastes like peppermint, that’s gustatory. If you can learn to combine all five of your imaginations while you tell stories, it’s lots of fun and gives you many more ways to remember your material. That, and it provides a richness that is almost like being there, even if it’s all just imaginary.


Internalize the Story

Painters keep a notebook full of sketches. For storytellers, it’s a notebook full of story sketches. Modern people have all kinds of devices to help them remember things nowadays. Voice memos, text messages, hard drives, cloud storage, all of these things hold data. However, when it comes to learning to tell new stories, nothing can replace the simple paper diary or journal for keeping them in one place where they can grow.


I tell over a hundred stories, some of them long-form, an hour or longer – Beowulf. The Odyssey. David and Goliath. Hercules in Hell – what I call feature-length tales. I’ve written down my own versions of them in my journals and still keep them to this day. Each of these long tales I’ve found in literary sources, but since I follow the ethic that these tales must emerge in my own words (no plagiarism or ChatGPT allowed) to escape any previous author’s words, I’ve taken each story through a process that allows me to make the story mine.


Firstly, I read a new story from start to finish and make mental images as I go. However, those are another author’s words and they may be elegant, but I don’t want them. Instead, I want the imagery—an inner movie of the story itself. Next, I read it again, but I take notes, brief phrases that describe key events, scenes and characters. I make a character list, too, so I’m familiar with the cast of players in the tale. I try to imagine what they look like and how they might sound. Again, I’m careful to jot these ideas down in my own words. After that, I put away the book (or books) I’ve used to find the story’s essence, and work from my notes from there on out. I call this “Escape from Word Land.” Now I’m free to craft my own version in my own words, not somebody else’s.


Build Your Wordless Outline


Storytelling isn’t reading, it’s creative remembering 


Of course, since storytellers are not actors who memorize lines, just like in a stage play they still need to parse the stories into scenes that follow one another in order to make sense. If, say, in Hansel and Gretel, you put the witch’s gingerbread house in the story before the opening scenes where the kids’ father leads them out into the woods to abandon them, then the story collapses. So I write out my stories, scene after scene, in those same brief phrases. That’s my written outline.


Bear in mind, we’re talking about spoken word storytelling, and so a Wordless Outline made of pure imagination is what you need to build next. Other than finally telling your story before people for the first time, this is by far the most mentally taxing part of the creative process. 


Here’s an example. Years ago a teacher sent out a letter to storytellers in New England asking if they could tell an episode from Homer’s The Odyssey. I didn’t know the story and hadn’t read Homer’s classic, but I wrote the teacher back and told him I could tell the entire tale. Just hire me and I’ll do it. Yes, it was a false claim but I had faith in my process. He hired me. I had three months to prepare a three-hour version. My reputation was on the line, so I read it, sketched it in my journal, and began the arduous imaging work of creating my Wordless Outline. In other words, I needed to create a movie of the story in my mind, one that would play in real time as I spoke.


In the end, I built a Wordless Outline with 42 episodes and practiced and practiced. Living with this entity growing in my thoughts for those three months, my journal notes were a constant companion. While rehearsing, if I forgot what came next (which I did often while learning the story), then I cracked open my journal and there the next episode was sketched. “Oh, yes, that’s the next scene.” 


At last, the three-day residency arrived. Before each hour-long performance I was buried in my story sketch and Wordless Outline until the second before I went onstage. But storytelling isn’t reading, it’s creative remembering. Once out there, I began and the story started to flow.  As I’ve told students in the past, “You really learn the story the first time you tell it.” So true. The school invited me back to tell The Odyssey for many years after that. Each time I told it, it became easier. Since those early days I’ve told this story a thousand times for a thousand audiences. I leave my journal at home now.


Learn to Trust Your Muse


Because storytellers are spoken word artists, unless they record their stories, their tales live only briefly in space and time. Audiences may carry them away in their hearts, but performances are ethereal things and only last as long as the teller is there. On one hand, that’s show business and is true of many performing arts. On the other hand, that transitoriness gives your Muse a chance to flourish and take chances with even tried and true tales.


What’s your Muse? Simply put, it’s inspiration in the moment. It’s a state of mind where some superior part of you seems to take over during a performance and things become lucid and unhurried. Athletes speak of being “in the zone.” In storytelling, it means you or your characters say things you’ve never said before, and they amaze even you. When eloquence—that ability to string words together beautifully and convincingly—shines through you and you forge ahead into wonder, that’s the Muse at work. “Am I even saying these things?” you ask yourself. “Is this me doing this?” That’s a very interesting question, because there are those who are convinced that, at certain times, it is not you who is doing them.


Consider this quotation from Carl Jung, the great psychologist:


There are literary works, prose as well as poetry, that spring wholly from the author’s intention to produce a particular result. He submits his material to a definite treatment with a definite aim in view; he adds to it and subtracts from it, laying on a touch of colour here, another there, all the time paying strict attention to the laws of form and style… Nor need I cite examples of the other class of works which flow more or less complete and perfect from the author’s pen. They come as it were fully arrayed into the world, as Pallas Athene sprang from the head of Zeus. These works positively force themselves upon the author; his hand is seized, his pen writes things that his mind contemplates with amazement. The work brings with it its own form…he is overwhelmed by a flood of thoughts and images which he never intended to create and which his own will could never have brought into being…as though he were a second person; or as though a person other than himself had fallen within the magic circle of an alien will.


Calliope (cal-lie-oh-pee), who among the Nine Muses in Ancient Greek mythology was the Muse of Eloquence, is the inspirational figure you want to consider. According to Homer and Virgil, she came to help them out quite regularly. Calliope remains an active force today in the imaginative lives of artists. Some people prefer to call this source of inspiration the Holy Spirit or the Presence of God. Those terms work just as well. Others prefer “the life force” or “the collective unconscious.” Whatever you want to name it, this inspirational force is quite useful in artistic endeavors, even if you don’t believe in it.


Choose a Story You Love 


If you’re not writing a story yourself, but instead you’re choosing a story from “the canon” of public domain stories, be sure to read a lot and find a story that speaks to you. Make sure there’s something in the theme, or something about the characters, that you find fascinating. If you love the story, your audience will sense that. Remember, every story that you can tell in 12-15 minutes needs a beginning, a middle and an end. Stories give emotional rewards. They don’t need to be new; old stories work well. Even new stories are just old stories authors have changed around a little. Superhero movies are old myths in new technological clothing. You’ve still got the same “payoffs” as screenwriters call them. Love triumphs. Bullies get put down in the end. Kids grow up. Heroes protect the helpless. It takes courage and perseverance to live this life. Free will will always struggles with destiny. On and on.

Consider these categories for performance tales:

  • Children’s Stories
  • Fairy tales
  • Traditional folktales from your region
    • Old myths from various traditions
    • Bible stories, or other sacred tales from your religion
    • Legends
    • Supernatural or spooky stories
    • Fables
    • A personal narrative from your life

Develop Your “Storytelling Voice”



Some people ask, “What about my voice? What if I don’t like my voice?”


People listen to all kinds of voices in the media nowadays, and are fairly open to just about any intonation. My voice has changed a lot over the years. At one point, I spoke with a pronounced Southern twang. And my voice was much higher pitched than it is now. The best advice I can give is to avoid using your informal voice, the one you use around the house or when goofing with friends. Instead, try to find your “elegant” voice. That means paying attention to your diction, above everything else. If you’re working in English, no matter your accent, make sure your sentences start and finish properly. And that your verbs and subjects agree. Consider this your “storyteller’s voice.” Try to avoid using “uh” and “like” and “you know” during a story. That’s just filler language. Sometimes it’s hard to learn not to do that, but it’s better simply to pause in silence while you think than to use filler language. And believe me, while telling a story, you’ll need to pause to think. People will appreciate that, and they’ll wait for you. It takes mindfulness and practice to do it, but the more often you remind yourself, the easier it gets.


Choose Age-Appropriate Stories for your Audience


Young children are very tender, and if you’re telling stories to them, always bear in mind that you can actually scar a child with the wrong story material. Educators and families have trusted me with their young audiences for decades because I tell stories that are safe for them. Even if, to your adult mind, a children’s story seems silly—anthropomorphic animals learning life lessons—know that children’s minds live in these realms and kindergarteners have no need to hear about violence, monsters, sex or death. Lessons about sharing, perseverance and friendship are all they really need. That, and simply to be told stories by trustworthy adults. Listening to stories stimulates their brains even more than picture books do, because as they listen they’re assembling “what-ifs” in their minds and developing neural networks and lifelong cognitive powers. Studies have shown that while being told a story or engaged in creative play, children’s prefrontal cortexes blaze with activity in a way unrivaled by the stimulation of books or television.


Basically, for 3-7 yearolds, animal stories and fables work best. For ages 8-9, children’s brains develop to where they can take in simple creation myths, Bible stories, complex folktales, benign legends and fairy tales. For ages 10-11, their mental sophistication admits to more complex plots and grown-up themes. Characters can face death, loss or injury, and tales that feature gods and goddesses, heroes and heroines facing dark challenges are appropriate. Evil characters teach them that the world is not all goodness and light, and that good tends to prevail over evil. Supernatural tales just thrill, but don’t frighten them deep down. Kids are able to follow long stories now, and understand humor much better. Once they reach the age of 12 and enter puberty and the teen years, most have seen enough TV and movie and videogame sex and violence that stories without these elements no longer interest them. Telling stories to teen audiences is highly challenging, but highly rewarding: they still need to hear adult, moral tales to reinforce their sense of right and wrong.


Practice Your Story


As I mentioned earlier, you won’t really learn a new story until you tell it for the first time. A wondrous alchemy between memory, your Muse and your listeners takes place. One word of advice: memorize your opening line. After that, you can work from your Wordless Outline, but always have that first line ready to get you started. Remember: telling a story means you need to gather listeners together who are willing to sit still and go on this journey with you. So that means friends and family, mostly, unless you are in an academic setting. Or else join a storytelling circle where novice storytellers test out their projects among others doing the same thing. Google a storyteller’s circle in your area and join. They exist in many communities around the world. Go to storytelling festivals and try the open mic. Once you start searching, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to get started.


Use Comic Relief


I’ve been a professional storyteller for a long time and some of the stories I perform are rugged indeed. As an example, one of my best tales is a version of Beowulf. Overall, it’s an intense and serious story with lots of death, monsters, heroism and sacrifice. Remaining fairly true to the original Old English poem—The Nowell Codex—my version begins with the predations of Grendel, a giant wolf-like demon, who terrifies the king of Denmark and his people every night. Grendel’s magical fur protects him and he can’t be killed, and so he devours hapless Danes for twelve long years. In the opening scene of the tale, the music is moody and scary. Grendel’s roar is terrifying. His actions are graphic and awful. The Danes descend into a darkness that just won’t stop and it looks like all hope is lost.


Fun, right?


Still, we’re only a few minutes into the tale. My next job is to introduce Beowulf the hero, back in his land of the Geats, sitting at a feasting table with his thanes. The first words Beowulf speaks are: “When I was five, I killed my first bear.” The music has shifted to bouncy and light-hearted. The audience chuckles.


His cousin Wyglaf replies, “Oh, Beowulf, you know that’s not so.” 


Good naturedly, Beowulf replies, tongue in cheek, “I hate when people know the truth.” This gets a laugh from the audience. Heaven knows, they’re ready for a comic line. Beowulf then follows up with, “No, no, you’re right, Wyglaf. You’re right. I was eleven.” Laughter. After this, the tale grows serious again, and has plenty of room to do so.


Using comic relief humanizes dark moments, bringing levity to your audience. I use it to comfort the audience, and will oftentimes ad lib a moment of comedy if I see the audience needs it. Use it as a touch point, however, never lean on it–unless you want to be a humorist. Plenty of storytellers are masterful humorists, and they thrive.  Think of humor as a breath of air taken while swimming a long distance. 


Character Voices, Music and Vocal Effects


All these items are optional. Some people have a talent for them, others do not. You do not need these embellishments to become an effective storyteller. Many professional storytellers make use of them, but those are aesthetic decisions. More important is to know your story well and tell it in a clear, straightforward manner. If you are confident that you know your story from start to finish and use a Worldless Outline of imagery to remember it without rote memorization, you will be successful. 


But let’s say you have a talent for voices. Accents, perhaps. Or different pitches, like squeaky down to booming. Or gravelly. Or Donald Duck for that matter. The one thing I can say helps when using multiple voices in a story, especially when they’re talking to one another and you need to differentiate them adequately enough so that your listeners can recognize and track them (in other words,  you don’t have to constantly say “said so and so”) is this: fly your imagination into the face of your character and look out its eyes. You’ll see the story imagery from the character’s unique perspective. Inhabiting characters like this builds your empathy for them, helps bring them to life and saves you, the storyteller, from becoming confused yourself. If you can’t train yourself to do this well, it’s probably best to avoid it.


Alternatively, let’s say you have a talent for sound mimicry, and you want to use it in your storytelling. In other words, you want to be a bit more cinematic and go beyond straightforward first or third-person narrative, or first person storytelling, like a comic. I myself create water droplets, galloping horses, howling wind, door creaks, whip lashes, cricket chirps, bird trills, animal sounds, snapping trees, bubbles while drowning, buzzing giant bees and quite a few other sound effects. I use them sparingly, but they are effective when done tastefully. They’re simply a way of offering imagery directly with a simple sound and audiences enjoy the surprise and creativity of it. And it can make your story more vivid.


Lastly, we have the question of musical accompaniments. I create scores for almost all of my tales, and play the music as I tell them. It’s like movie music. Fast. Slow. Minor. Major. Creepy. Relaxing. Joyous. Heartbroken. I mostly compose on 12-string guitars in modal tunings and on Celtic harp. For long-form tales, I develop full-blown leitmotifs for the story, themes that return again and again to help anchor my listeners’ emotions. And that’s what music adds: emotions. It’s like a second storyteller working with you, and over my career music has been my constant companion. The other thing I’d add is that for me at least, nothing is mapped as it is in an opera or a musical. Since I’m alone onstage, and I’m the writer, the cast and the composer, I’m free to extemporize and drop in musical ideas as I go. This relieves an immense burden of memorization and gives it up to fancy and the Muse. I’ve never told a story exactly the same way twice in all my years in the business. If the characters don’t say something new, then the music probably will.


1.On the Relation of Analytical Psychology to Poetry”. Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Volume 15, edited by R. F.C. Hull, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966, pp. 65-83.

Introducing THE ROWAN CANTICLES: Odds Bodkin has Created a New Epic

Dear storytelling aficionado,

If you’ve enjoyed my spoken-word storytellings over the years, thank you. Here’s something quite different: an immense and challenging literary work. Rhymes. Archiac words. Convoluted metaphors. In other words, literary fun that runs for 13,000 rhyming lines.

It’s THE ROWAN CANTICLES: A Tale Told in the Ancient Manner.

And you can listen to it as well. Each week I’ll be posting a new Canto (think chapter) on Substack, both in text and audio. I’ll be reading the epic myself using numerous character voices and adding background music. The Cantos run from 3 to 10 minutes long.

If you’re ready to dive in and want to start from the beginning, start with Canto I.

And to help you digest any rare or archaic words I’ve used in the text,  you’ll also find a glossary that tracks the story, right on each Canto page.

Lastly, for anyone who enjoys puzzles, I’ve woven in no few word games. As those Cantos appear, I’ll issue those challenges.

Thanks for considering visiting me once a week! Your comments are always welcome.

May the Muse be with you,



A Storyteller’s Guide to Accessing the Muse


As a professional storyteller, in the past I’ve told stories that last four hours. Often, after long story performances, people ask me, “How did you memorize all that?” My answer is always the same: “I don’t memorize anything. I work with my Muse.”

All right, you might ask, what is the Muse?

Our familiar words “music”, “museum” and “amusement” derive from it. It goes back to an Ancient Greek word that described the Nine Muses, the inspirational goddesses of literature, science, and the arts in Greek mythology.

“Inspiration” means “to breathe in.” And that’s exactly what the Ancient Greeks thought happened when an artist, let’s say a storyteller like Homer long ago, started to perform one of his long tales. Homer would call upon the Muse named Calliope. Her name means “beautiful voice”, and she was the Muse of Eloquence. According to the belief, she would appear invisibly behind the storyteller and breathe ideas into his head as he spoke.

But before starting off, he would ask for her help. He would “invoke the Muse.”

The first line of Homer’s The Iliad reads:

“Anger be now your song, immortal one,
Akhilleus’ anger, doomed and ruinous,
that caused the Akhaians loss on bitter loss
and crowded brave souls into the undergloom,
leaving so many dead men…”

Homer is about to “sing” a very long story about how Achilles, the greatest warrior at Troy, became furious with the Lord High Marshall, Agamemnon, for daring to take Achilles’ girl. Homer is also about to pluck a lyre while he’s singing his story. He’s what the Greeks called A Singer of Tales. He and others like him were the cinema of the day around 700 BC. There wasn’t much else in the Bronze Age.

But notice that Homer isn’t saying, “I am now beginning my poem.” Actually, he’s surrendering responsibility for his act to “the immortal one”–to Calliope, instead becoming her vessel. As he begins the daunting task of performing a poem over 15,000 lines long, he’s asking for the Muse’s inspiration.

According to the myths, Calliope was the daughter of Mnemosyne, the Titan of Memory, and Zeus, the King of the Gods. Quite the pedigree in those times.

Homer invokes her again when he begins The Odyssey:

“Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story
of that man skilled in all ways of contending,
the wanderer, harried for years on end,
after he plundered the stronghold
on the proud height of Troy.”

Centuries later, when John Milton, the English poet born in London in 1608, wrote Paradise Lost, he invoked the Muse, too. However, since the Greek gods were long gone and he was a Christian, he invoked the Holy Spirit, not a goddess, for help:


“I thence

 Invoke thy aid to my adventurous song,

 That with no middle flight intends to soar

 Above the Aonian mount, while it pursues

Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme.”


He was trying to outdo the “Aonian mount,” otherwise known as the mountain home of the Greek Muses, of which he was quite jealous, it appears. “Hey, you oldsters ain’t got nuthin’ on this blind Brit.”

Humor aside, what does all this have to do with you accessing your Muse? Here, in modern times? To learn to tell stories in your own words, direct from your imagination? I think we can add imagination to the long list of what the Muse is. Buried inside the word “imagination” is the word “image.”  Since imagining is the summoning of mental images, let’s say that your Muse begins to work when you consciously create mental images.

I’ll explore with you my method for developing clear, living mental imagery in later blogs.

Countless times I’ve stood backstage in the semi-darkness with my 12-string guitar, walking around behind the drawn curtain, tuning and playing musical motifs I’ll use in the story. Beyond the curtain, the low roar of the audience tells me it’s almost time to step out there, sit in my chair with my microphones ready, and begin. Since I stole this trick from Homer and Milton and many others, I invoke my Muse. “Oh Muse,” I’ll say aloud, “please come to me tonight. I’m just a tiny human being and all these nice people are waiting. Please help me.”

Now you don’t have to believe in the Muse to be inspired by it. In modern language, some might call it the unconscious mind, or human creativity, or the soul, or the Holy Spirit, or simply imagination. Whatever you’d like to call it, I perform this simple ritual anyway to make myself feel better.

And usually, it works. The imagery pours into my mind and I step into a movie I can see, hear, smell and touch. After that, the words begin to flow.

More to follow.

May the Muse be with you.


–Odds Bodkin

You can find my stories at my online download shop.

Early Influences of Creator of Epic Rap Battles of History

How Did EpicLLOYD, Creator of Epic Rap Battles of History on YouTube, Take Inspiration from Storyteller Odds Bodkin?

49 million views. 141 million views. 60 million views. Epic Rap Battles of History—irreverent short videos of historic figures dissing each other in character—features a talented chameleon voice artist, musician and creator named EpicLLOYD. He’s based in Los Angeles, but he grew up in New Hampshire. As a kid, his mother took him to Odds Bodkin shows and bought him Odds’ classic recordings.

Lloyd was never the same once he listened to Odds and discovered that one person can embody a universe of characters.

“I’ve been captivated by the wondrous talents of Odds Bodkin since I was a child. His ability to bring vibrant characters to life with his many voices and simultaneously weave them together with spellbinding music and storytelling is a true gift. A gift that he was blessed with, yes, but more so, a gift for all those he shares those talents with. Thanks for all of the inspiration and wonder, Odds, your work will certainly always serve as some of the earliest seeds to any character work I’ve ever brought to life myself.”  – EpicLLOYD, Epic Rap Battles of History

Share with your family the same Odds Bodkin stories Lloyd grew up with. They’re timeless entertainment. And now, they’re downloadable. Who knows who you’ll inspire?

EpicLLOYD recently listened to Odds’ latest audio epic, Voyage of the Waistgold, and wrote back, “I am now a Waistgold fan!” If you’re an adventurous adult, you’ll become one too.

Visit Odds’ Shop and explore the many offerings, new and old. Stories for kids and adults, all with age recommendations.

Late Arrivals – A Recollection of a Past Memory

Late Arrivals – A Recollection of a Past Memory

A gentle misting rain fell through the dark as Tom and I followed the crowd through the abandoned ticketing gates. Swept up in this river of people, we had just walked twelve miles through a long serpentine traffic jam to get here, having left our Greyhound bus far behind. The driver said, “All right. Everybody out. Can’t go any further.” And it was true. That day, the road up the rolling hills was packed with cars as far as the eye could see. We stepped down into throngs of walkers, envying the college students lucky enough to be perched on the tailgates of station wagons, guzzling pink Bali Hai wine. There were beautiful girls and dudes with long hair. Pot smoke was everywhere, a strange, alien aroma that smelled of illegality to a young kid like me. As Jimi Hendrix and Grace Slick wailed from the car radios, Tom and I left the bus and started walking.

Gray-haired local ladies at tables waited along the roadside, handing out free lemonade to us. Everybody was grateful; it was a hot day. Other than the hippies’ little kids, who we saw later in the treehouse groves, Tom and I were the youngest people there: two sixteen-year-old boys with backpacks filled with Pop Tarts our moms had packed. Along with sleeping bags, soap, and a few bucks to spend from our after-school jobs, Tommy Burke and I had ridden from Arlington, VA to upstate New York that day, and we had just arrived at Woodstock.

We were too young to be there by ourselves, but we were there anyway.

It was Friday, August 15, 1969. About 10 pm. We’d walked for eight hours to get to these gates. Nobody asked for our tickets, because nobody from the festival was there. They’d given up and just opened the gates.

Feeling the mist on my face as I followed the crowd, I became aware of distant music. Tom and I finally crested the ridge and beheld a vast natural bowl, filled with what turned about to be 400,000 people. Far down at the bowl’s bottom, a tiny pink light shone faintly. It took me a moment to realize that it was the giant main stage, so far away it was. Sitar music wafted up clearly. Turned out to be Ravi Shankar, who eventually became one of my musical heroes. Back then I didn’t know who he was, all I knew was that as the breeze surged from below and then waned, his wondrous music grew louder, then softer, then louder again.

The crowed was shrouded in darkness. Only flames flickered here and there from cigarette lighters.

In need of sleep we found a spot beneath a swaying banner in an out of the way spot on the ridge and ate our Pop Tarts, which by now were crushed to fragments. They were tasty anyway, though, but in the morning we knew we’d need to find some real food. In my sleeping bag, I could hear the music still surging. It was a woman’s voice. We talked a little about how amazing it was that we’d both gotten here and that the Woodstock Music and Art Fair was going to be very cool, and then fell asleep.

Nobody knew what this weekend would turn out to be. Least of all our long-suffering parents at home, reading front page news in horror about rain and muddy drug overdoses. They were wishing they hadn’t let us go, they confessed later—at least mine did–and since cellphones didn’t exist in 1969, they wouldn’t hear from us until we called from the bus station, back home in Virginia four days later. “Hey Mom, Dad. I’m back. Can you come pick me up?”

Quite the four days. More in the next episode.

Tom Burke and John Bodkin, circa 1969


The Woodstock Teen Chronicles

Odds Bodkin














THE OLD MAN SPEAKS: A Storyteller’s History of the White Mountains

$24.95 Download


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Original acoustic music written and performed by Odds Bodkin.

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NEW RELEASE! ODIN AND THOR: Norse Myths Told Live by Odds Bodkin

NEW RELEASE! ODIN AND THOR: Norse Myths Told Live by Odds Bodkin

Get ready for two GIANT Norse myths–a full 80-minute show captured live at Grendel’s Den on Harvard Square–told with stunning music by master storyteller Odds Bodkin. The audience was brilliant that night. They even learned and sang an original song in one of the tales!

THOR’S JOURNEY TO UTGARD and THE MEAD OF POETRY pulse with humor, wickedness, murder and magic. After all, they’re Viking tales. Odds’ character voices for gods and giants leap to life in a bed of 12-string guitar music and vocal sound effects. Two new movies for the mind’s eye.

A great holiday gift for the myth lover in your family! Safe for kids ten and up.

$19.95. Download yours today!

My Lazarus Guitar

My Lazarus Guitar

I own a Ro Ho custom-built jumbo 12-string guitar. Had it almost 35 years. I’ve had plenty of Taylor 12-strings and all have bitten the dust except for one. I’ve had Guilds and Martins, too, but the brand didn’t matter. The huge tension of twelve steel strings on their necks proved too much for all of them. But this old Ron Ho, it’s been through a thousand venues, decades of service, and never once failed me.

So you can imagine how I felt when, after a flight back from Boulder, I discovered that its neck had snapped at the

headstock, even though I’d loosened the strings as always. Frankly, I was devastated and fell into a mild depression. Or at least a guitar depression, if that makes sense. In order to do shows, I had to rely on an Alvarez 12. No fun at all. No resonance, no bass, no crispness. This went on for a while until I said to myself, “I can’t stand this. Bodkin, you’ll never have another guitar like this. Why not try to fix it?”

I took wood glue and watered it down to a runny liquid, and slowly dripped it in between the sharp shattered needles of wood after prying it open a little, letting the waterish glue soak into the injured places for a couple of hours, then I topped it off with thicker glue. Thinking, “Well, this will either work or it won’t,” I tightened three wood clamps onto the neck and head just so and left the poor thing standing there in the kitchen for a few days, dreading the test.

The thing I’d always loved about this guitar was its action—that is, how low the strings sit above the fret board. It had always felt like butter, even at the 12th position. For a 12-string, which is hard enough to bear down on in the playing, that’s heaven. Even a riser made of one thin sheet of paper inserted or removed under the bridge can make a huge difference.

Anyway, the test. That’s when you put on fresh strings, tighten them to pitch and then play, listening for buzzes and intonation problems. It’s nerve-wracking, because if it’s too low, it will buzz somewhere, and if it’s too high, you have to take off all twelve strings and make adjustments, then tighten them all again for another test.

As I put on the strings, I could see the scar on the neck. A thin crack, filled with dark. Still, they say wood glue is tougher than the wood around it, so I strung it and gingerly tuned it to the open E flat I usually play in, expecting the neck to explode off any second. I did all this at arm’s length. 12-string necks experience 400 pounds of tension.

So imagine my relief when it held. It felt and played just the way it always had. Same resonant boom. Same super-low action. It really was as if nothing had happened. Truly, it had come back from the dead. My Lazarus guitar.

This was about ten years ago now, and it still lives