Tales told in tents

Although I love to tell tales outside, inside and all over the place really, theres something very special about tales told in tents.

For centuries humankind have been called to gather within the cotton canvas walls, traditionally made from either felted fleece or animal skins depending on the region, and I got to experience a particularly beautiful modern day version of a tipi last weekend within the gorgeous Dreamweaver Tipi at The Avalon Fete.

Unlike my own magical Storytent which I also love dearly, this giant tipi was a real treat to move and jump about in while I caught stories to share with the lovely children of the Northern Beaches of Sydney. But it wasn’t just the size that made it special.

Like many tipis or yurts, when I stepped inside the Dreamweaver Tipi I was magically transported away to another world, a world far away from the pet show and rides and disco music just outside. It was a more ancient, quiet-feeling space – almost like a cocoon – where the children, adults and myself could more easily drop into the story, and ultimately, drop into ourselves. And it’s creating this space that is the true work of a story maker.

To be honest I’m always amazed and impressed by a young child’s ability to get lost in a ‘telling story’ without the help of pictures or puppets to hold their attention. I love how easily and quickly a child can simply jump into their imagination on the wings of a tale…often leaving their parents wondering where they’ve gone!

And to be able to do this within the busy environment of a festival or fair is even more amazing! I am very grateful for that ancient ‘cocoon’ of a tent to help hold that energy but it’s not just that physical barrier either that draws us to tents and yurts.

One of my all-time favourite collections of kids stories (actually they’re just as good for adults as they are for children!) is a fantastic book called ‘Tales told in tents‘ by wonderful UK storyteller Sally Pomme Clayton. The stories hail from the steppes of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kryzigistan, Kazahkstan, Tadjikistan and Afghanistan and serve as a fantastically poetic and rich introduction to Islamic culture.

When I first read this book I was enchanted by the opening story, a personal account of the author’s childhood of creating ‘pretend tents’ with her sister with ‘pretend fires’ where they would tell stories for hours and hours upon end. The imagery of this and her later experiences inside Mongolian yurts experiencing ritual and culture and learning stories from nomadic tribes filled me with a sense of wonder and longing for this kind of tradition for myself and my children.


And perhaps even when we gather to share story magic within the walls of these contemporary versions of these ancient places of ritual and connection, we’re somehow fulfilling some deep innate understanding or yearning for this – even if we realise it or not?!

When I asked the children in the Dreamweaver Tipi where stories come from I was deeply touched by their answers. The more common responses from school classrooms and library settings is books, libraries, authors and sometimes our imaginations. But the first boy to answer cried out ‘shells of course’. Then a little girl responded with ‘from the water’. Another thought they came from the sand of the beach. Were these children particularly switched on to the experiences of mother nature (quite possibly) or were the ancient spirits of the tipi there with us that day?

Well who can really tell, but there’s no doubt there was some Spring story magic present in that Tipi last week in Avalon and it’s such a beautiful and nourishing experience to gather together inside and share.


Traditional tipis used on the plains of native America also carried their own stories. They were made from the hides of hunted animals and crafted by the hard work and ceremony customary to each particular tribe. While it was considered women’s work to erect the tipi when the tribe had moved camp, it was the men’s job to paint the outside of the tipi according to their own totem or spirit connections. 

I haven’t yet had the opportunity to tell tales in an authentic tipi or yurt filled with its own handcrafted creation story and I very much hope one day I will. But until then I guess I can only continue to catch and share my own stories with children within cotton canvas walls that continue to be filled with our own stories.

What I do feel quite certain of however, is that tales told in tents like the Dreamweaver Tipi naturally provide a powerful receptive space for a story to live and breathe and wander freely about in, until it finally finds its way into the ears and hearts of others.

x Annie


Annie Bryant is a storyteller & musician from Mullumbimby, Australia who loves to share her seasonally-inspired stories for kids and songs for kids at live performances and on The Seasonal Collection of Winter, Spring, Summer & Autumn recordings. Through kids stories and kids songs Annie explores the magic and wonder of childhood. Her collections of waldorf-inspired tales and songs are perfect as bedtime stories, for long car trips or to settle into a quiet afternoon. To listen to her stories & songs or find out more click here   


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