Monthly Archives: October 2013

Unfamiliar Jackal

A Kabyl folk tale tells of a mother ewe who brings hay to her children each day and speaks a password at the entrance to their cave so that they would open the door and let her in. Check out the story here

The password is, “The jug between the legs and the hay between the horns.” She says, “This is so you can recognize me by what I say and by my voice”.

When a jackal hears this and sees that he could sneak in, he learns a way, through a wise man, to alter his voice so that he can eat the ewe’s children. Read the story and its easy to hear the echoes in the Grimm Fairy Tale and in Jesus’ words. After you’ve read a few of these, talking animals can become nothing to get so excited about. In fact, when we read any story at all, we can almost immediately accept that animals might start speaking at some point, in fact, we kind of expect it.

Why have talking animals in stories? Not only does the ewe speak, she has a recognizable voice, and a code system.

Couldn’t and wouldn’t these messages arrive to us just as easily if all the characters were human? It would be something simple for the tale to read with a murderer who wanted to murder the children or even a rival tribesman who might stuff them in a sack and carry them into the night. Instead we have lambs and wolves (or jackals). Notice too, the introduction of the shepherd as a friend to the ewe in this story in particular.

When we remove the familiarity from a thing that is common, we find ourselves able to re-experience that thing. To notice it again, or possibly in a new way.  One role of story telling is to make the unfamiliar familiar by making the familiar unfamiliar (and vice versa).

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”

This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.”

John 10:1-6

What is it about the voice that is so important in these stories, so important that the animals must have voices? So important that the Jackal would subject himself to torture to have that same voice (here the voice of the shepherd).

Why does the false voice bring ruin?

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