By Vin Fraioli

How Storytelling Feeds the Soul

Cathy Pagano, storyteller, screenwriter, Jungian therapist and friend, has a natural gift for helping writers and artists find their way to the vast personal archives of memory, dreams and the greater wheels of Myth.

She is a kind of story doctor, a guide who leads you to a path, a tunnel, to the vast ocean of the Self and the collective unconscious. You can find her in the little historic village of Wickford, Rhode Island, where we are now sitting, on the little lane near a small church, drinking coffee and watching the errant fluttering of sparrows waiting for crumbs from my cinnamon roll. Wickford itself is a quaint haven of unspoiled late 17th and early 18th Century homes. Founded by the ancestors of writer John Updike, it was the setting for his novel THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK, a perfect location befitting bards and October spells.

Outside Wickford Village, ancestral home of the Updike family and setting for THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK.

Painting by Providence Artist, Alfred DeCredico - dipping the brush into the stream of the dreamworld

“Hollywood is our major storyteller,”says Pagano, “but most of the stories coming out of there are so boring, simply the same story told over and over again as if Hollywood were some ancient Alzheimer’s’ patient who can’t remember from one moment to the next, that he’s told the same story for the thousandth time. Most movies are second-rate “knock-offs” of hits that aren’t very interesting to begin with. Do any of these stories help us to understand ourselves? The people running Hollywood have killed our imaginations!”

There’s a glint of mischief in her brown eyes as her voice rises. “Hey! I’m passionate. What do you expect from a Hungarian-Italian!”

What Pagano says doesn’t crack my sidewalk. I know Hollywood is about making money, not good movies. I spent years standing with my head tilted, reading the titles in the ‘foreign film’ section of video stores. I now delight in watching the creative horse of independent filmmaking breaking through the tight corral of Hollywood.

I ask her what horses symbolize and she shoots back, “What do you think? Start with the fact that a horse is a living embodiment of a spiritual principle. Oh! And is the horse a stallion or a mare?”

That’s pure Cathy Pagano! She studied at the C. G. Jung Institute in Zurich (while raising four kids) so her vocabulary and imagery are rich with myth and symbols, and she drinks from the pool of the Granddaddy of Archetype, Carl Jung, and the Uncle of Myth, Joseph Campbell; two individuals who renewed and reminded us of our Inner World projected onto the Outer in Myths, and then back again to the Inner, as reflected in dreams, images, art and most importantly, stories.

Carl Jung, Grand Daddy of Archetypes
and the Collective Conscious. Should he
be running Hollywood? 

“Real stories feed the soul in us,” she continues. “Sometimes people need real stories more than they need food. Is it any wonder that Americans are so overweight? Neither our food nor our stories nurture us! We sit around our television sets and watch movie after movie, without taking time to digest what we’ve just watched. Instead of filling us up, movies turn us into junkies who need our next fix.

“So many of Hollywood’s movies are stories that are made up consciously - to sell an idea or recreate a big moneymaker. True stories and images come from the soul. These are the kinds of stories we need to teach our children how to be human beings. Religion used to teach us how to live, but for many people it now no longer fits the bill. Stories can do that same thing - teach us about life and how to live it - but unfortunately, the messages told to us by the corporate media have one basic message - Consume!”

“To get back to the real stories, the important stories, we need to understand the archetypes that shape us,” says Pagano. “And most importantly, writers and musicians have to understand the archetype that sits at the center of our own being - the archetype of the Bard. Archetypes are energetic patterns, like instincts, which make up our experience of being human. They are eternal, but their archetypal images are not. These images lose their power over time and when they do, they become stereotypes. And that’s what has happened to the archetype of the bard. We are left with the stereotype of the entertainer. Like the Greek bard Orpheus, the ancient figure of the bard has been dismembered, its parts scattered to many other occupations. The ancient bard was shaman, shape shifter, wonderworker, magician, jurist, historian, spy, messenger and newsperson, warrior, visionary, prophet, poet, truth speaker, teacher and councilor to kings. The bard held the keys to tradition and wisdom. Their training was long and arduous, their memory stretched back to the beginning of time, and their purpose was to serve their people by helping them to understand what it means to be human. I’d bet you most artists and writers didn’t know that!”claims Pagano. (By the way, Pagano’s license plate - and we Rhode Islanders take our license plates seriously - spells out BARD. Maybe not so surprising…)

So, what would she tell those people writing movies today?

“Well, the ancient Celtic bards trained for 20 years, learning the sacred art of communication, learning to know the difference between what was coming from themselves and what was coming from the greater collective unconscious. Today, that same training comes from life experience, and it’s sad and ironic that it’s mostly young men who are writing the movies - young men who haven’t worked out their own inner stories yet. And the advice I’d give them is to either ‘go into therapy’ or wait until you’re older to tell the stories. But I’m realistic. These guys didn’t go to Hollywood to tell stories…they went to make money.”

I know she’s not picking on men in general, just those who don’t recognize the “feminine” side of their consciousness - the part that is in touch with the greater life of this planet and its people. And just for the record, Pagano adores men; she has three sons, all in their twenties, who not only look like they could walk right into GQ but could probably write for the Atlantic Monthly as well.

Pagano asserts that, “stories come from the deep unconscious and we get to them through the feminine side of our nature - our feeling and intuitive side. You have to be open to possibilities, to improbabilities, where anything can happen. When you’re a writer, it’s about letting go, about certain selflessness, removing the obstacle of your ego. You have to stop asking ‘am I good or not’ and just let yourself channel characters, the story. Editing comes later.”

Cathy Pagano's favorite writer is
Scheherazade who changed her world by
telling the Sultan stories for 1001 nights.

Back to the bards and their role in society.

“The archetype of the bard includes entertainment as part of its function in society. Storytellers, poets, musicians, actors, writers; part of their function is to entertain through the gifts of artistic expression. But that is only one small part of their purpose. When I hear someone like Robert Redford say that he’s in the business of entertainment, when I hear him say that he was naïve to think that he could change the world with his films, I know that he has lost conscious touch with the archetype at the center of his being. If you study his films, a theme runs through all his works - the question of what makes a man if not his honor, his integrity, his principles, his sense of self? More than most actors and directors, he has followed the path of the bard in trying to make sense of a situation men find themselves in today. He doesn’t believe anymore that he can teach with his works. And yet he does.”

I agree with her. There’s a resonance, which goes beyond yourself. We have stories sewn into our genetic web, dyed into our psychic fabric. And yes, Cathy Pagano, you have given me a glimpse of the Holy Grail of storytelling: something made by human hands, which travels through us and keeps the imagination on a nomadic feast through discovery, associations, memory. Much like magic, which shifts, turns and transports, like fire, the primal, archetypal television set, or the sky with its moving cosmic components as our first movie screen, and in front of the fire, under the stars, the Storyteller.

So, one wonders, who’s her favorite storyteller.

“Why, Scheherazade of course!” Pagano says without hesitation. “She risked her life to save the women of her country. She took on the Sultan, who felt so betrayed and hurt that he was destroying people’s lives. And how did she change this very powerful man? By telling stories! For 1001 nights, she told him stories about the trials and tribulations of life. What a wonderful example for all of us! Our stories can change the world if we are true to them.” Words that surely any writer would love to hear.

You can find Cathy Pagano in Wickford, RI. Contact her at

Vin Fraioli, born in Providence, is an author of numerous articles, and the book, “Change of View.” He still lives in Rhode Island with his wife and two kids when not traveling around the world giving lectures and concerts as a classical guitarist. He is also a sometimes actor.