Updated: Aug 29
Craig Chalquist, PhD
Have you noticed how a lot of what matters to us involves some kind of story?
What is your name, who gave it to you, and what does it mean? Story time.
Who has been most important to you, and why? Explanation = a story.
What do you value? What is your work ethic? How do you see your place on Earth? To convey these, you must have recourse to some kind of story.
When we look for scientific findings, it’s not just the facts we need. What do the facts really mean? What is the truth behind the news? Why do certain work tasks keep bogging down while others work? Why is the daily schedule so unmanageable? We need more than data to answer these questions. We need to know the inside story.
Even mental health can sink or flourish depending on our stories—conscious or unconscious—about our origins, what we need or want, what hurts us, what serves us, what we are not finished with and keep repeating. What is the psyche made of? Stories all the way down. Particularly keystone stories: the tales we tell ourselves about how things are with us, each other, the time, and the world.
I coined “loreologist” because my professional background—including depth psychology, psychotherapy, folklore and myth studies, philosophy, ecopsychology, terrapsychology, higher ed teaching, administration, dream studies, and consulting—prompted me to go straight to keystone stories when solving problems or seeking where flourishing and creativity live. Doing this tends to make for deeper lasting insight, growth, change.
Stories hide in names and words. Lore goes back to “learning,” “being taught,” teachings passed on from person to person, and a Proto-Indo-European root meaning “furrow” or “track.” The word exudes an air of privately attained learnings in depth, at the ground level. It feels alchemical. Logy recalls “tell,” “collect,” and “gather” and refers to a discipline or study. Our guiding stories are our lore.
We also have much still to learn from the wisdom held in ancient stories, including those of folklore. When the mythic goddess Nuwa alchemically repaired the falling sky, what did she know that we need to know? How did wise Manawydan avoid capture while his heroic friend Pryderi plunged heroically forward, only to disappear? What shapes can we discern in Spider Woman’s elaborate weaving? What can Nekumonte the hunter tell us about finding and bringing the cure hidden in snow-covered soil?
A loreologist is a mentor, teacher, or consultant with resources for exploring the limits and possibilities of the personal and collective lore we navigate by to deepen, expand, or replace it. Why? So we can move from being confined by our stories to authoring them. Instead of the story having us, we retell the story in ways that confirm and empower, finishing old business so we can transition to what's new. Of particular interest is how we borrow from various kinds of fiction, whether popular or of the ancient past, to craft the lore by which we live and work.
Loreologizing also updates the old category of wisdom guide or teacher with an emphasis on stories and ideas that we live. Too often, "wisdom" has shown up in philosophy as a wrestling match of abstractions, of arguments about what a chair is or why things exist. Loreology as philosophy is practical, embodied, and actively exploratory. If we can't live it, we don't do it.
Loreology diagram. Click image for a larger version.
Practicing loreology, the craft, study, and philosophy of how we shape and are influenced by the fiction-fueled keystone stories we tell ourselves and each other, includes fomenting enchantivism: responding to chaos, rupture, or injustice by daring to imagine the kinds of supportive, joyful, nature-connected community we most desire. How can we achieve it unless we can envision it?
Part of loreology is undertaking to craft a loreway: a body of fiction, practice, ritual, ethics, etc. that provides a set of stories not to believe, but to believe in.
Here are a handful of examples from my work with people to illustrate this crucial transition:
A student who realizes that her “self-sabotage” at school contains a hidden tribute of loyalty to the women in her family who got no schooling is able to honor them and graduate as the first woman in her family to earn a college degree;
A researcher with writer’s block discovers the inner self-protective presence behind it and converts it into a writing ally;
A business unit stuck in an old story about how to write contracts saves itself during a downsizing by inventing a time-saving shortcut that triples departmental productivity;
A company revamps its mentoring branch by going back to what the old stories, including folktales and myths, have to say about inclusivity, passion, teamwork;
An executive working for a shady real estate company uncovers her deep love of nature and Earth and transitions into a fulfilling career aligned with her true passion;
A certificate participant with a chronically sore back realizes that the pain is pushing him to go outside and reconnect with the natural world, after which his back improves and his life changes for the better;
A former sergeant emerges from guilt and depression after realizing that making a “better” decision during a deadly firefight would have multiplied casualties and not reduced them;
A workshop participant learns that the names she was given connect her to an ancestral legacy in need of healing and justice;
A man with a long history of violence and jail time fashions for himself the life path of a nonviolent warrior;
A class takes note of the water imagery in the architecture of buildings near their school and learns of a hidden spring flowing underneath the streets;
A nonprofit manager gains a new sense of mission by understanding the old stories that first drove the business and the deeper story of change waiting below them;
A graduate student learns to interpret life transitions with the tools used to interpret dream symbols.
Story is somewhat like the Mercurius spirit of ancient alchemy: “For helpful I can be, but also poisonous.” Outworn stories trap us, limit us, blind us to new ways to move forward. Stories reimagined bring choices and possibilities we never suspected await us.
Consider consulting with me about this. For a longer discussion, see "The Wisdom in Enlivening Fiction: Loreologized Truths to Live By." For a brief article on the importance of the stories we navigate by, see "Nothing Changes Until The Story Changes."