Bringing History to Life: Sharing Our Story

Discovering Shenandoah’s Sacred Bundle

Stories are portals through which humans expand their understanding and learn about their origins. Stories add meaning, embody our values and give us the clues from which we can discover what ultimately matters.

Like a picture, a good story is worth a thousand words. Whether told by a beloved teacher, a loving parent or an outrageous friend—a well-told story can frame truths, bypass cynicism and help us contemplate the answers to deep questions about who we are and where we belong. Authentic stories possess the power to inspire creativity, build community and shape society. In today’s fast-paced, technology-infused world, it’s easy to forget that life becomes meaningful when we connect with others. The stories we share—on the playground, in class, in coffee shops or simply walking with friends—connect us in the most intimate and personal ways possible.

Symbols As Storytelling Devices

Throughout history, humans employed visual tools to help tell their stories. Native Americans, like the Pawnee and the Lakota, used stories and legends to reinforce their culture, spirituality and history. These oral—and later written—traditions helped tribal societies remember their ancestors, celebrate victories and explain human suffering. Elders carried artifacts in leather pouches called “sacred bundles.” These artifacts—simple, everyday objects like stones, feathers, bones or carved wooden art—became symbols of shared experiences often repeated at community gatherings. They reinforced the group’s culture and way of life. By retelling stories—using artifacts as devices to initiate conversation—they identified the group in ways that reinforced and shaped their society.

Shenandoah, as an organization, possesses symbols that unite its community through shared memories, traditions and stories. The meaning behind these symbols—like logos, honor chords and mortarboards—as well as ritualistic events—like freshman convocation and graduation—remind us of our connection to each other and to this vibrant, academic community. Like the sacred bundle of the Lakota, they resonate with deeply held, social values—like loyalty, a sense of belonging, creative expression, lifelong learning, global outreach and service to others.

A well-told story has the ability to stick with people long after the facts and figures have faded. So, as Shenandoah’s storytellers gather around institutional campfires (i.e., the classroom, the boardroom or Shentel Stadium), we continue to recall our legends and share new tales. By touching the hearts as well as the minds of others, we all leave a legacy of shared experiences that will inspire generations to come.

Exploring the Meaning Behind the ‘Sacred Bundle’

“The ‘sacred bundle,’ is a metaphor representing the social meaning for why we’re here and why we exist,” said School of Education & Human Development Professor John Goss, a social and cultural anthropologist. “Symbols are the basic blocks of meaning systems, and they carry powerful intellectual and emotional messages.

“The sacred bundle holds what T.S. Elliot called ‘the permanent things’—those social experiences shared within a society,” said Dr. Goss. “The moral imagination is grounded in the permanent things. It’s the essence of who we are; it’s about why we’re here. It represents our obligations to others and self. We have an obligation to understand ‘the other’ and to make sure our actions are understood. Culture itself is built on the concept of shared identity, which includes story. All societies have a creation story. Shenandoah has a creation story.”

The Role of Mythology in an Institution

The anthropological meaning of the word myth refers to a set of interlocking stories and rituals that contribute meaning to the group. The purpose of an organization’s mythology is to answer the same questions that myths have answered in cultures everywhere:
· Where did I come from?
· What is the purpose of my life?
· With whom do I belong?
· What are my duties and obligations?
· What is taboo?
· Who are the enemies?

Excerpted from Peg C. Neuhauser’s 1993 classic “Corporate Legends & Lore”