The Web of Silence: Storytelling’s Power to Hypnotize

by Fran Stallings ©1988.

Entranced by Stories

“Entranced . . . complete absorption . . . captivate . . . total attention . . . completely enthralled . . . mesmerizing . . . hypnotic . . . ”

We hear such descriptions of storytelling events so often that we hardly notice the words. The authors may intend little more than poetic hyperbole. All stories have a “magic” about them, and all good tellings create a special experience for teller and listener alike.

But sometimes it goes much deeper than that. Sometimes those descriptions are literally, scientifically true. Certain stories, told by some tellers, can induce an altered state of consciousness verging on hypnosis: the “storylistening trance.”

Have you seen the faces? A columnist for The New Yorker, reporting on a Central Park festival, wrote, “…when people are listening to stories they like they sit very quietly, their breathing relaxes, and their eyes look big and luminous.” (1) Wrinkles melt, lips part, even elderly faces glow like the youngest. An audience can fall so still at a powerful telling that the space between bodies seems wider, for no one moves until the story’s end.

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Reprinted with permission of the author from: The National Storytelling Journal Spring/Summer 1988

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