The practice of storytelling is an intensely important spiritual element in many Native American cultures, encompassing both entertainment, moral guidance on the proper way to live, and connection to a shared past. In Ceremony, Silko honors the power that storytelling carries in these communities, weaving elements of the traditional Native American art of oral storytelling into a modern narrative story that seeks to educate and instruct readers about ways to heal the world. Interspersed through the episodes of Tayo’s return from war and quest to build a new ceremony are poem-stories that reveal lessons that apply to Tayo’s search for healing, as well as giving the reader a small look into the stories that govern spiritual life, education, and daily actions in Native American communities. Silko marks out the ancient stories in broken lines that look more like poetry than the prose that makes up the majority of the novel. In the poem-stories, Silko does not limit herself to chronological storytelling, instead weaving the many stories together to highlight how each influences or comments on another. A story contains the ability to speak something in to being, whether literally as when the story of a Native American witch speaks white people into existence, or metaphorically, as when a community chooses to act according to the ideals set forth in a particular story. Because of the intense power of stories, each word in a story must be carefully chosen so that it brings healing to the world instead of harm. By deliberately and respectfully using the stories of many different Native American tribes, Silko commemorates the strength of these stories throughout native history and grounds Ceremony itself in that storytelling tradition.
Tayo, as the main character in his own story, gains both comfort and inspiration from the native stories of his past. Betonie, a Navajo medicine man, tells stories that show Tayo a path to reconnect with his past as well as the possibility of building a new future for himself. Another story about Fly and Hummingbird’s attempts to end the drought mirrors Tayo’s journey to heal his own spiritual drought, and words from the ancient poem-stories are spoken by some of the characters in prose in moments when Tayo needs strength most. Yet Silko also marks out some of Tayo’s memories and experiences in Ceremony in the same poem stanza form she uses for the ancient poem-stories she includes. By doing this, she makes Tayo a part of the grand storytelling cosmology from which he draws strength. In Ceremony, then, Tayo functions as a kind of living story, carrying forward the traditional storytelling practice with the addition of modern situations and problems. Just as Tayo listened to the stories and learned how to live in a way that respects the Earth, respects other cultures, and strives for balance in all things, Tayo’s story as written in Ceremony can now act as a guide for others who want to accomplish the same goals.
Storytelling Quotes in Ceremony
I will tell you something about stories,
They aren't just entertainment. Don't be fooled.
They are all we have, you see,
all we have to fight off
illness and death.
He rubbed his belly.
I keep them here
“But you know, grandson, this world is fragile."
The word he chose to express "fragile" was filled with the intricacies of a continuing process, and with a strength inherent in spider webs woven across paths through sand hills where early in the morning the sun becomes entangled in each filament of web.
Take it back.
Call that story back."
But the witch just shook its head
at the others in their stinking animal skins, fur and feathers.
It's already turned loose.
It's already coming.
It can't be called back.
'it never has been easy. It will take a long long time and many more stories like this one before they are laid low. …
"He reasoned that because it was set loose by witchery of all the world, and brought to them by the whites, the ceremony against it must be the same. …
This is the only way,' she told him. 'It cannot be done alone.
'We must have power from everywhere. Even the power we can get from the whites.'
…occasionally a calf bolted away bucking and leaping in a wide arc, returning finally to its mother when it tired of playing. Tayo's heart beat fast; he could see Josiah's vision emerging, he could see the story taking form in bone and muscle.
"The end of the story. They want to change it. They want it to end here, the way all their stories end, encircling slowly to choke the life away. The violence of the struggle excites them, and the killing soothes them. They have their stories about us – Indian people who are only marking time and waiting for the end.”
It had been a close call. The witchery had almost ended the story according to its plan; Tayo had almost jammed the screwdriver into Emo's skull the way the witchery had wanted, savoring the yielding bone and membrane as the steel ruptured the brain. Their deadly ritual for the autumn solstice would have been completed by him.
"I guess I must be getting old," she said, "because these goings-on around Laguna don't get me excited any more." She sighed, and laid her head back on the chair. "It seems like I already heard these stories before . . . only thing is, the names sound different."