I have been a tour guide for the last 20 years in a town that’s famous for its myths and legends: Glastonbury. It’s such a normal part of my day – and in the world and lives of others working in the tourism industry of this town – that I was interested in asking tour guides from around the world how myths and legends were part of their work. I was fascinated by the response. Most of them said that it was a crucial element of their work; it made the stories they told come to life.
I would personally go as far as to say there’s often more truth in a myth or legend than the official history. It is often politics that have swayed the folklore. There exists this strange belief that if something is written down then it is the truth – I would be more likely to trust an aural tradition, but sadly that is quickly becoming a thing of the past. It wasn’t that long ago that grandparents held the magic of sharing the tales that their grandparents told them, but now these tales are seen as silly or irrelevant. We have lost of much of our culture due to TV, computer games, and a busy and ambitious life style.
Tour guides are really one of our last hopes to keep the myths and legends alive - as well as the folklore. Even fairy tales! Telling people whilst in the landscape of these stories is even more powerful because people can feel the history and sense the magic of the story. Also, when people are drawn to a certain place to explore, they have already opened their mind to the spell of that place and are open to learning of the magic in this land.
I asked professional tour guides from around the world for their takes on myths and legends:
“Without them it would be just old stones.” Susanne Griesl, Naples, Italy
This is so true. Take Stonehenge, for example; this is a site which has nearly two million visitors each year. It’s a site where new excavations rewrite history on a regular basis – just last week they found a massive outer stone circle around Durrington Walls henge, which is part of the Stonehenge landscape. This is a circle they had no idea was there and have no idea of its purpose. Facts cannot be used to share the stories of these sites with visitors, even though this is what they try to do with only presenting a proven history. I and other tour guides that take people to Stonehenge are permitted more of an artistic licence; often tour guides have chosen their profession because they have an interest in the subjects they are talking about. So, it is always better to go with one of them than to just believe the watered down information that the official organisations are permitted to tell you.
“My experience is that general guests remember far better what you told them when you combine it with a story, myth, or legend, than just listening to dry facts.” Bianca Meeuwissen, Holland.
It is our role as tour guides to give the visitor a life-lasting experience, not to tick boxes. This is a role that many have taken on with great joy to become storytellers, not just tour guides.
“Without myths and legends there would be no travel, nor any history of travel. Think of all the myths and legends that include travel.” Lee Tomkow, Poland.
Culture has never been something set in one place. A story travels, evolves, and lives. Behind every story is an element of truth - and the stories that last have an element of truth worth remembering. The movement of our ancestors kept them alive, sharing and creating new life. It is only that which moves that lives; if you stand in one place you will turn to stone and be forgotten. The power of story is about survival. It isn’t just survival of the fittest, but the survival of the legends… and legends can also be the fools, beggars, or braggards, as well as kings, queens, pirates, and Vikings.
“Myths and legends are great tools to connect a destination and its culture to the guests... it’s a great link to turn the story into an experience.” Jaya Chandran, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala
Myths and legends have survived for the purpose of belief. Stories made by the ego or with an agenda do not survive; they often get twisted and then lost. A myth or legend exists for the purpose of empowerment. It’s possible that they have been created and recreated for far longer than we believe, but the stories of man which live on tell of a code of conduct, of being a good and conscious person with a positive mission.
“It turns facts into stories! People rarely remember facts, but remember stories for the rest of their lives!” Sandy Greer Tours, Vancouver, Canada.
The lasting power of these ancient myths and legends are the reason they continue to live. When people are empowered by the essence of the story – the mural of the story – they choose to continue sharing these stories and evolving them, but not changing them. There is no need to; they are perfectly formed and would lose the empowering essence if they were altered in any way.
In conclusion, we need myths and legends to stay alive and to honour the story tellers, not to belittle them as silly and fanciful. It’s too easy to do this in the culture of mass media which we all get stuck in. That culture is untrustworthy and fleeting. The stories will never die, but they may fade away, so let’s not let this happen. Learn and share the stories, tell friends and families around the fire, tell you kids as they fall asleep, and share them on tours. We are all natural story tellers, like our ancestors, so don’t let the tradition fade away.