Songlines: the Power and Promise book on memory coming November 2020

I just ran across this forthcoming book on songlines, indigenous knowledge and memory systems in Australia, to be published by Thames & Hudson in November 2020 by Margo Neale and Lynne Kelly.

I’m sure fans of Kelly’s The Memory Code, Memory Craft, and Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies will be excited to bookmark it for purchase when it’s released. I can’t wait to get a copy.

Is anyone else actively practicing these sorts of techniques–particularly with song/dance components?

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Quick update to indicate that @LynneKelly’s most recent book was just released in the United States. Still patiently waiting for my copy to arrive.

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Looking forward to it!

Looks good. I picked up a copy.

Thank you so much for mentioning my new book. Thank you for the tag, chrisaldrich. It is written with Aboriginal co-author, Margo Neale and through the National Museum of Australia. It is wonderful that memory techniques are being recognised as a critical component of societies for millennia. I am really pleased to have such a significant Indigenous endorsement of my work - it can be tricky as a white person writing about Indigenous knowledges.

The theme includes the idea that by incorporating memory techniques in contemporary life, along with writing and technology - we can have the best of both worlds.

I incorporate all the techniques described in my memory experiments - and there are practicing Indigenous elders and cultures still using them. But I also mention the broader picture of memory techniques globally and in contemporary society. I’d love to know if others here are using song and dance as well as story and lively characters to encode knowledge. It is a combination which works a treat.

Now to change the world of education, and lifelong learning. Mnemonics rule, OK?!

Lynne

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Hi!

Just finished reading Songlines. It was great! It finally tied in all for me - when I was done reading the other books I dabbled in creating a khipu and also a Lulian circle, but the information hadn’t been interacted with enough and it wound up not working well.

Now I know exactly what to do. As soon as quarantine lifts I’m going out to encode information in the nearest forest, and make songs and vivid images for it. Then I’ll walk it again and again for revision.

I just want to thank you @LynneKelly, this is possibly life changing stuff! I’m very grateful for your work. Bless you!

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Hi SuperCameos,

Thank you so much for saying such lovely things. It’s comments like this that make all the work feel worthwhile. Songlines has been shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards, which was a delightful shock. That already means that people are reading it who would not normally read anything about memory systems. If it wins, it will give me a platform to push this fantastic art form further out into the big world.

Thank you again,
Lynne

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Does the book discuss using nature for memory palaces? That’s something I haven’t tried, probably due to a lack of familiarity with nature. Trees and rocks and such seem too irregular and non-distinct to serve as effective memory palaces. I would love to not think that way, if possible, though.

Hi QiJitsu,

Songlines does talk about using nature, including in the chapters by my Aboriginal co-author, Margo Neale, so from an indigenous perspective. The songlines are entirely linked to natural objects, from rocks and caves, to trees and mountains.

I talk a little bit about this in Memory Craft. In The Memory Code, I talked about about the reasons stones are particularly valuable in Neothlithic monuments such as Stonehenge and the thousands of stone circles in Western Europe/UK and in many other places in the world. Stare at stones and rocks and you will find that each one has an individual character. The bluestones which were transported to Stonehenge (the smaller ones, not the great big trilathons) are particularly blotchy, especially when wet. You can see endless images in them. A stone circle of bluestones, as Stonehenge was for 500 years before the big guys were brought in, would make an amazingly effective memory palace. But I even use a stone wall made of much smaller stones, as a palace. Each stone is so distinctive.

It works much better, though, if you move along a path in nature, as is the case for Australian Aboriginal songlines, Native American pilgrimage paths, Pacific Islander ceremonial roads, Inca cheques … they are all memory palaces in nature.

I use natural features a lot in my memory palaces. Every tree is absolutely distinctive, not only because of its shape and the images in the bark, but also for the context. I have one tree for the Chinese character for heart, for example, and I use the branches and trunk to map the character. It took a few moments imagination, but now when I look at that tree, the relevant branches stand out and make the character for me every time.

The fact that trees and rocks are so irregular is what makes them so good for memory locations - you can imagine anything into them - your brain will do it naturally, just as it does for clouds. The idea that they are non-distinct is not an issue, because plenty are distinct and these are the ones that you chose as a location. You don’t use every rock and tree, only the distinct ones.

Please try it. You will be surprised how perfectly it works. Also name each tree or rock or crevice or stream, path twist or natural step - and name something useful as indigenous cultures do. We tend to name things after dead people, but they will name it as ‘the rock with the red top’ - which I’d call Red Rocky for fun.

Just start at one point and find a distinctive rock, tree or start to a walking track. Then walk on a few metres (I usually do 10 - 20 metre distances) and look around for something distinctive for the second location. It works a treat!

I do hope that you tag me in any response if you do get a chance to try it.

Lynne

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Thanks Lynne! That’s exactly what I needed to get started. I’ll let you know how it works out!

I look forward to it.

Lynne

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Hi Lynne! I went out to a trail near my home and practiced picking out loci. It was actually a lot of fun and the most interesting thing I noticed about it is that I naturally started to create myths around some of the loci. For example, a tree snapped in half and it looked as if the local parks department must have cut up some of the limbs leaving what looked like a big slingslot laying on the ground. I imagined that a giant had snapped the tree in half and fashioned a slingshot out of it. Then I realized, yep, this is how myths probably got started as loci - just like my ancestors, the songlines, or anything must have been. It was really cool to get a great memory palace and also feel a connection with my ancestors in that way.

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Love it. That’s exactly what happens to me. Stories just come and I love developing new memory palaces. I love the way you are feeling connections. Without trying it, people can’t imagine how emotional and positive that connection can become.

Enjoy!

Lynne

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I did a hike up mt Goshiki placing Loci and I can still recall them vividly if I peruse the list. I also intuited how well I could potentially navigate without a trail using these. It’s fun to experience a little bit of the magic of a songline in this way.

Here’s the list if anyone is interested:
tree bends the path

rope descent to the riverbed

the fertile trough

Jormungu(is that the world devouring snake?) and the world tree

the tree loyal even in death

the druid’s cauldron

Heartstone

The Moss Garden

The bouquet tree

Bear Cave

Mole caves and then Indiana Jones

Green Arcadia

Bird-tree

Half-cauldron

Druid Throne

I can elaborate with a description of what these refer to and how I named them if anyone is interested

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I am so glad to hear that you have experienced the magic, Mountainmystic. I’d love to hear a bit more about how you named each location. I find that giving a good name is hugely valuable in remembering the locations in order.

Wow, thanks for asking @LynneKelly. Im binging 3 of your books at the moment. Im greatly flattered that you asked!

tree bends the path
The tree fell along the path and i had to bend around it, this mnemonic was specifically to prevent me from missing the trail on the way back

rope descent to the riverbed
A rope acted as a rail entrance to a dry creek bed, but it expanded in my head to a more mythic descent

the fertile trough
The exit from the riverbed occurred right in front of a bed of clover growing in the bed past where the trail exited.

Jormungu(is that the world devouring snake?) and the world tree
A woody vine wrapped around a tall tree like a snake

the tree loyal even in death
A tree had a signpost nailed to it, and the tree fell in a direction pointing towards the trail

the druid’s cauldron
In the hollow of a stump was a mossy growth and a few clumps of grass, and i thought of a drew “brewing” a potion but unlike a witch does it by growing plants together in a bowl.

Heartstone
Rock on the trail shaped like a heart

The Moss Garden
Small plants sprouted from a moss covered fallen tree and it looked like a garden in miniature to me grown by tiny folk

The bouquet tree
A very strange plant which had a difficult to describe green flowering protrusion

Bear Cave
A narrow crevice above the trail that looked like a bear might live there

Mole caves and then Indiana Jones
Smaller crevices on the trail itself. Then the trail scaled up some rocks that looked like an indiana jones set piece just before reaching the ruins of an ancient city

Green Arcadia
Green plants grew over the trail forming a roof of green (like an arcade? Is that an enclosed walkway?) felt like the entrance to a fey realm

Bird-tree
The top of a bare, dry tree looked like the carved head of a bird totem

Half-cauldron
The opposing mountain looked like its cauldron (caldera?) collapsed on one side and spilled its contents down the side

Druid Throne
Moss grew up a tree trunk curved at waist height. I took a break sitting on it and it was really soft and comfortable

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They are wonderfully imaginative. I have named the locations on my songlines in the bush, but with less imagination than yours. I’m going to have more fun like you do. Love the druid’s cauldron!

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Place names and songlines together reminds me of a great BBC segment “Disappearing Welsh Names” I saw recently:

It highlights by analogy the value of indigenous culture, knowledge, and creativity which the survival of songlines also provides us with. (It also saddens me because it starkly reminds me of all the knowledge and languages we’ve lost already.)

I’ve been learning Welsh since the pandemic started and just a few simple words of Welsh has given me a far greater appreciation of places in the UK and what they mean. It’s helped not only to expand my vocabulary, but increased my creativity in creating local songlines. It’s also made it much easier to learn to say and remember the town of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.

Cymraeg Meaning
Aber Where one river flows into another body of water (example: Aberystwyth)
Ban, Bannau Peak(s), beacon(s)
Bron Breast of a hill
Bryn Hill
Caer Fort
Cas Castle
Crug Hill, tump
Cwm Valley
Derw, Deri Oaks
Dinas Hill-fort
Dyffryn Valley, vale
Ffin Border, boundary
Isaf Lower, lowest
Llan Church, church land (often followed by the name of the saint to whom the church was dedicated, eg, Llangatwg - a place with a church dedicated to St Catwg)
Morfa Salt-marsh
Nant Brook, dingle
Pont Bridge
Porth Gate
Rhos Moor
Tyle Hill-side, ascent
Uchaf Upper, highest
Ystrad Vale

It also uncovers quirks of place names like Breedon on the Hill which translates from Brythonic, Saxon, and Modern English to “Hill Hill on the Hill” and crystalizes, as if in amber, the fact that Brythonic, Saxon, and English speakers all conjoined for a time on a hill in England. Similarly there’s also Barnack Hills in England which translates from old Celtic (barr), Scottish Gaelic (cnoc) and English as “flat topped hill hill hills”. It’s almost hillarious.

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I got my copy for The Memory Code. It sparks the joy of reading especially for memory topics. I was searching for how to create songlines and read posts here by @LynneKelly

Would this book Songlines show how to create songlines? I’m interested to know more about songlines. I searched it on YouTube as well. Is it sets of songs in English?

Edited:

I went for a run and searched songlines in Spotify. I found this one podcast. Spotify

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Hi homchange,

Thank you for your lovely comment on The Memory Code.

The reaction to that book was very much asking how to implement the memory techniques in more detail, so I wrote Memory Craft. It is the practical version. Songlines: the power and promise gives the story of songlines from an indigenous perspective (Margo Neale) and my non-indigenous memory system version. It shows how they are very similar but thought of quite differently. I do explain how to create them from a non-indigenous perspective in that book.

I think the best for your needs might be Memory Craft. But I think I describe it in enough detail in podcasts - try searching my name + memory + podcast. At a simple level, songlines are really very like memory palaces, except you physically go out and walk the locations - which many people do with memory palaces anyway.

I can’t remember the podcast you have pointed to. I have done a lot of them, and that was a few years ago. But most of what I would have said back then will still be what I would say today.

Please just ask if you want me to be less vague!

Lynne