Monthly Archives: February 2013

Cross-Pollination

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IMBOLC

One of the joys of working with Michelle has always been the cross-pollination of ideas. There's a wonderful book by James Surowiecki called The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few that talks about the benefits of shared wisdom. Certainly our long partnership in leading workshops and sharing studio space has proved this true for me. We spark each other’s ideas and expand each other’s vision. Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “”Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.” I’ve found this to be true and I couldn’t be more grateful; it’s one of the things that makes the internet so valuable. It’s why we welcome comments and wish for playmates in this process of collaging the tales. Happily, we’ve found one – Sally-Shakti Willow has been collaging and sharing her thoughts about Red on her on insightful blog Inner Nature. I hope you’ll visit there and see for yourself how cross-pollination takes us down new paths.

It can jog the memory, too. Uncovering old leave strewn ways that we haven’t trod for a while. Sally-Shakti’s comments connecting Imbolc and Red reminded me that I let Imbolc slip by this year without honoring dear Brigit on her day by constructing a special altar or pouring milk upon the ground. I’m planning to rectify that oversight (well, undersight really) later today. Meanwhile, I also remembered the greeting card I created several years ago to honor Imbolc. As you can see Little Red Riding Hood is there in the company of older women grinning at me. I think she gets the joke. I’m fascinated that my unconscious made Saly-Shakti’s connection long ago, but even with all the focusing, searching for images and writing I’ve done in the last month I wasn’t able to bring it into the light without the aid of someone else’s wisdom. Basically a lost piece of myself is found. I might look at why I forgot- there’s no end of those kind of lessons, but right now what interest me is the benefit to be found in sharing, expanding, sparking and illuminating each other’s ideas.

Relating it to the story I’d say that if we will overcome our fear of the wolf – of exposure, vulnerability, theft, ridicule, deceit or heartbreak and open ourselves to others then our emotional lives will be richer, our ideas more fertile and our happiness more lasting. Looking at the Imbolc card I’d say it speaks to the shared joy of camaraderie. Please do go to Sally-Shakti’s site and read what she says about marrying the wolf and may we, like Little Red, go more merrily on our ways.

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Little Red Riding Hood and the Light

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"The morning sun begins to bloom."

“The morning sun begins to bloom.”


Little Red Riding Hood and the Light
(Week #4, prompt Light)
February 25, 2013 by Michelle O. Anglin

As a solar story, Little Red Riding Hood is the sun. The Wolf is the night and he swallows the sun. Once the Huntsman cuts open the wolf, night, darkness, danger and evil is out in the light. Grandmother and Little Red escape death; resurrected, they can bring us the morning sun. There is even a Norwegian Folk Tale about the Wolf swallowing the sun, which the night seems to do every evening.

I had a hard time figuring out what to do with the images I’d selected for this week’s project. I arranged and rearranged them repeatedly. Nothing seemed to suggest the prompt Light. Finally I added the piece depicting the night sky and the rest of the symbols worked. The three women, grandmother, mother and maiden are grouped together. The Huntsman with his rifle is standing over the up-turned wolf. The sunflower stem with the opening bloom reaches up for the light.

In my project the main players of the fairy tale, the Wolf, the Huntsman, the Mother, the Grandmother and Little Red Riding Hood are all present. Little Red Riding Hood says, “it was dark and cold” inside the Wolf’s belly. Once Granny and Little Red are free to jump out into the light, they are wiser for the experience. This part of the story reminds me of the “dark night of the soul”. The experience of being devoured is the crisis needed to change our heroine’s perspective of danger and awakens her to the power of her mother’s wisdom, “Don’t talk to strangers and be cautious if you leave the trail.”

The golden Sunflower in the collage represents the seeds of potential, the beauty of the sun and the glory of mature growth. The dark at the bottom, the upturned wolf and the heavenly cosmos fill the picture frame. At the top is the new day dawning and new possibilities. Grandmother sewing, Mother watching, and Little Red
starting out once again on a new adventure.

Bringing Back the Light

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An archetypal content expresses itself, first and foremost, in metaphors. If such a content should speak of the sun and identify with it the lion, the king, the hoard of gold guarded by the dragon, or the power that makes for the life and health of man, it is neither the one thing nor the other, but the unknown third thing that finds more or less adequate expression in all these similes, yet-to the perpetual vexation of the intellect-remains unknown and not to be fitted into a formula.
~ Carl Jung”The Psychology of the Child Archetype,” CW 9i, par. 267

This piece rose out of Bunce’s Hindu interpretation of the Red Riding Hood story, which I posted last week. Here you see Indra the Sun god (represented in the story by our huntsman), dancing light back into the world. As the dark clouds roll away the Radiant Child is reborn once again. She carries our sun in her hand as she returns to bless Earth with warmth, light and life.

The Radiant child is an archetypal image carried (if you agree with Carl Jung and I do) in the collective unconscious of all Homo sapiens. He defines archetypes as, “Collective universal patterns or motifs, which come from the collective unconscious and are the basic content of religions, mythologies, legends, and fairytales.” The Hindu Krishna and the Christian Christ Child are examples of such arising.

The Radiant Child links the past to the future and represents a reconciliation of opposites. She/he is an androgynous figure who synthesizes consciousness and unconsciousness. The child is godlike, surrounded by an invulnerability born out of the wisdom of innocence. The Radiant Child inspires love and rejoicing, but also awe and fear. This particular manifestation of the godhead can be more terrifying than an angry Thor or Zeus; in its innocence the child sees through all hypocrisies and fabrications, like the boy in another tale who noticed that the emperor wore no clothes.

Nakedness is one of the Child’s attributes. It is a symbol of manifestation the transformation of energy from spirit to matter. It also represents purity and primeval essence that knows no fear.

Naturally all these words and ideas have their shadows, represented in my collage by the rolling clouds and dark tones, but notice they are essential to my composition. The darkness frames and defines the light. The clouds, with their life-giving moisture and soothing shade are not banished – simply pushed aside to create a balance. The dancing golden god/man represents that equilibrium as he balances on the toes of one foot.

Since I posted this morning, I’ve read a paper by my friend Jack Meier in which he explains the reason I felt compelled to add Van Gogh’s olive trees to this collage before I finished it. (Oh yeah! olives i.e. Athena – a radiant child in Her own right, fierce Wisdom). What Jack said fits perfectly with my own interpretation of this picture:

What this image of vegetation refers to is a continuation of the life process, which lasts forever and is beyond the opposites of life and death. This image is not to be understood concretely, but as a symbol for something psychic; existing beyond life and death, a mysterious process which survives the temporary blooming and dying of visible life, which is, after all, a changing of form.

Week Four: Light

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Light is the prompt that Leah Piken Kolidas chose for this month. I was having a hard time connecting Red Riding Hood to the concept except in the most abstract way. Then I discovered this interesting quote in John Thackery Bunce’s Fairy Tales, Their Origin and Meaning. It still seems a bit of a stretch to me, but at least I’ve got something to go on.

One of the fancies in the most ancient Aryan or Hindu stories was that there was a great dragon that was trying to devour the sun, and to prevent him from shining upon the earth and filling it with brightness and life and beauty, and that Indra, the sun-god, killed the dragon. Now this is the meaning of Little Red Riding Hood, as it is told in our nursery tales.
Little Red Riding Hood is the evening sun, which is always described as red or golden; the old Grandmother is the earth, to whom the rays of the sun bring warmth and comfort. The Wolf–which is a well-known figure for the clouds and blackness of night–is the dragon in another form; first he devours the grandmother, that is, he wraps the earth in thick clouds, which the evening sun is not strong enough to pierce through. Then, with the darkness of night he swallows up the evening sun itself, and all is dark and desolate. Then, as in the German tale, the night-thunder and the storm winds are represented by the loud snoring of the Wolf; and then the Huntsman, the morning sun, comes in all his strength and majesty, and chases away the night-clouds and kills the Wolf, and revives old Grandmother Earth, and brings Little Red Riding Hood to life again.
Or another explanation may be that the Wolf is the dark and dreary winter that kills the earth with frost, and hides the sun with fog and mist; and then the Spring comes, with the huntsman, and drives winter down to his ice-caves again, and brings the Earth and the Sun back to life.

~John Thackery Bunce Fairy Tales, Their Origin and Meaning

The Sorceress and The Wild Beast

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Scan_Pic0003One interpretation of “Little Red Riding Hood” is that the story is about the power of sex. Sex causes men and women to lose their self-control.

Sex is viewed, by some, as a base animal instinct and women are the “Hall Monitors” of sexual behavior. She is responsible for keeping sexual encounters within culturally prescribed parameters. When there are any sexual missteps, women are to blame. A woman must manage her feelings and those of her partner. Men are highly sexed and women, who are the “Fairer Sex”, are less driven by sexual desires; therefore, the task of maintaining proper sexual behavior falls to the woman.

Another belief prevalent in our society is that women are supposed to keep themselves pure and virginal until marriage. Men, on the other hand are supposed to be wily and have as many sexual experiences as possible. So there is a double standard. Since the sixties, this standard has softened.

Like the wolf in our story who is always hungry, men are always thinking about sex. They are on the look out for easy targets. Little Red is at the right age but way to young and naive to have good monitoring skills. She will be easy to trick.

When it comes to sex, men are often turned into beasts. Women are Sorceresses. They know how to cast spells over men. They can make men helpless, out of control and wild as wolves.

In reality, this is not true. For some men, those who refuse to take responsibility for their sexual behavior, it is convenient to blame their woman partner. They protest that once they are aroused they are compelled to have sex. Women are always to blame. “She was asking for it”, the man says.“Look how attractive she is, or sensual or charming. Look at her clothing; look at how her skin shows. She shouldn’t have come here alone. She was acting sexy.”
The male is the victim. We all know how women are … What’s a guy to do?

Some women are very aware of their powers. They use them, and sex to manipulate the men in their life. Women are punished when they abuse their power. They are judged, labeled, and called names … bitch, whore, witch. Unfortunately, this can happen to women who are unaware of the effect they have on men. These women have simply failed in their Hall Monitor Duties.

My collage illustrates this phenomenon … the blame and shame game forced on the sexes. Men are not beasts and Women are not sorceresses. The blame game keeps us a part. We worry about the others intentions. We fear being hurt. I find this negative because it stops us from trusting each other. It stops us from being open to Love.

In the Shadow of the Forest

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Waiting in the Shadow

To me, the scariest part of the Red Riding Hood story comes when the wolf dresses up in Grandmother’s clothes. He pretends to be something he’s not in order to fool Red while intending her harm. It’s pretty easy to figure out why this is my negative – I grew up with a mother prone to fits of rage – she could turn on a dime from ordinary mom to a raging fury. Scary. The huntsman could easily be a stand-in for the dad meant to protect me. Although he never approved of her angry outbursts, he believed parents should “present a united front.” Their behavior left me with a lifelong aversion to hypocrisy and a desperate (at least for the first couple of decades) need both to understand how things work and to see them for what they really are. All in all, not such a negative legacy. Both traits stood me in good stead. The drive to understand is a blessing, for as I’ve come to learn, understanding engenders forgiveness and provides the ground from which compassion may arise.

Much has changed since my childhood – more relevantly, much has expanded – mind, heart, memory, information, compassion and comprehension have all increased in capacity. The space taken up in my interior landscape by childhood trauma is decreasing proportionally. In fact, I can now fit it onto an 8×10 piece of canvas covered cardboard. Not that the over-size fangs, preternatural hearing and x-ray vision don’t still lurk in the shadows. Of course, they do. The evidence of their power is right here; captured in the imagery I chose to use.

But let’s go back to the benefits of my shadowy legacy. Not only was I frightened of those huge teeth, ears and eyes – I wanted their power for myself. Just now, writing these words I didn’t expect to say, that have never even occurred to me before, I begin to understand. I used to think I owed my talent for acute observation to the need to gauge my mother’s moods quickly. Probably true, but also (also being one of my most favorite words), I now see that I probably sharpened the acuity of my own senses in order to acquire some of the power those amplified sense organs could bestow.

See how this process works? I could have sworn I’d figured out everything about the dynamic between my young mother and the girl-child I once was. Yet, the collage has revealed a new piece of information. I understand more about why I am what I am. Once again I get to marvel at the interrelatedness of the universe, the prevalence of synchronicity and the elegance of cosmic timing. I am more connected; more humble, easier than I was when I started. Halleluiah.

Week Three Prompt: The Negative Aspect

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“Little Red Riding Hood”.

Finding the Negative Aspects in the story.

Our next challenge is to select an element from Little Red Riding Hood that we find the least appealing. What are the dark elements of the story itself? Review the shadowy aspects of each character? Look at the wolf, the woodsman, Little Red Riding Hood, her mother and her Granny? Choose an element or shadow and base your artwork on that aspect.

Chris and I will post our responses to this challenge on Monday February 18th. In the meantime here is the list of Negative Aspects I’ve come up with so far.

  • The forest is a very scary place, filled with dangerous things and animals.
  • Beware of Wolves they are vicious wild animals that will kill you.
  • Wolves are devious creatures and cannot be trusted.
  • Wolves swallow their food whole.
  • Wolves prey upon easy targets … the young, the old, the weak and the vulnerable..
  • If you are not very careful and do as you’ve been instructed something awful will happen to you.
  • Wearing the color red connotes that you are sexy, wild and a free spirit.
  • Even an innocent young girl can turn a man into a wild beast who wants to get in bed and make you his prey.
  • Women need to be saved from predators.
  • Woodsmen kill wolves.
  • Some men are wolves.
  • When you get old and frail you forget about danger.

Can you think of any more negative aspects to the story? What would your list look like?

Leave us a comment we want to hear from you.

They got it all wrong

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Little Red picks flowers and enjoys the forest..

Little Red picks flowers and enjoys the forest..

They Got It All Wrong

What the story doesn’t tell you, the information they (the Brothers Grimm) left out is … The wolf and Little Red had met before. They were already friends. See, what the brothers didn’t know was Red Riding Hood often snuck off to the forest and played under the tall trees and along the small stream. She was a wild spirit, that’s right, Red was wild at heart. She loved watching the animals and being in nature. In fact, that’s how she had met Mr. Wolf in the first place.

During that faithful visit to the woods, Mr. Wolf had just had a big meal where he stuffed himself, and I mean stuffed. He had eaten a whole deer, granted it was a bit on the small side. He had also had several rodents and a good size bird that flew into a tree trunk and practically dropped dead on Wolf’s head. Mr. Wolf had waddled over and fallen sound to sleep under a shady bush. Little Red was playing hide and seek with a raccoon when she tripped over Wolf. They got to talking and discovered they both loved the wilderness and disliked rodents. Wolf wisely didn’t mention the ill-fated deer he just ate. So you see there was no reason for Little Red Riding Hood to be afraid of Mr.Wolf.

When her mother told her “Don’t talk to strangers” and “Stay on the path, go straight to Granny’s cottage”, Red knew it was a hard directive to follow but planned to do her best. She struggled to ignore the two deer, the four blue jays and eight butterflies that scurried past her and disappeared into the trees. When she unexpectedly ran into Mr. Wolf of course she told him where she was going and why, he wasn’t a stranger, he was her friend. When Wolfy learned that Granny was ill he suggested a bouquet of wildflowers as the perfect gift to cheer the old gal up. It is then that Little Red lost her self, mentally pictured the bouquet and ran off on a flower-picking quest.

But, you might say … what about Mr. Wolf gobbling up Granny? Or you might ask … Didn’t he eat Little Red? See, they got that part wrong too. All that stuff is an out-and-out lie … he never ate Little Red. In fact, he didn’t even growl at her. The truth be told, As Wolfy explained it was the whole incident was caused by his unresolved hunger issues. He hadn’t eaten in several days. He was out of his mind ravenous. Wolves get ravenous. When he got to Granny’s cottage Granny was a lot sicker than any one knew. She was very, very sick … at death’s door… likely to die soon, very soon. She even said she wished she were dead. Now while Wolf was explaining the Granny excuse his posture changed. His head hung lower and lower, he tucked his tail between his legs… He even rolled over onto his back, wincing and crying. Well, the Woodsman and Little Red took pity on him. He was so pathetic. He clearly had lost control of himself. They agreed to let him go back to his pack.

But, Little Red cried and cried about Granny because she loved her so. The Woodsman suggested that she demand that Wolf pledge with a cross your heart and hope to die promise, to never, ever eat people again and Wolf promised. He hated to see Little Red so unhappy. He told her no matter how hungry he was he would leave people off his menu. However, later he told me that eating Granny had helped satisfy his hunger, and for that he was grateful but… he also said she really tasted awful and in fact had put him off people meat forever.

So you see the Brothers Grimm and a lot of their stories about wolves eating people and stupid little girls blindly embracing danger just doesn’t jive with the facts. The Grimm boys just got it wrong, all wrong.

Shape-shifter

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Werewolf RRh-300

I wish I’d originated the idea of Red Riding Hood as a Werewolf, but I came across it watching Once Upon A Time, a TV show about fairy tales. It appealed to my dark sense of humor and spoke to my abiding interest in all things shamanic. Also I love werewolves. Synchronisticaly, I’ve been re-reading Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ s book, Women Who Run With the Wolves (if you’ve never read it run don’t walk to the nearest bookstore or keyboard). So when I found a red cape with an empty cowl all I could think of was a snarling wolf head.

The idea of drastic transformation into another species in order to gain perspective on your own is one of my favorite story motifs. Lots of contemporary fantasy writers of the werewolf and vampire genre use it, but my favorite example is still The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White. In it young Arthur Pendragon (Arthur means “bear”) is changed into a series of animals (fish, hawk, ant, goose, and badger) by Merlin the magician.

This collage shows Little Red Riding Hood turned into a large imposing figure of a snarling wolf draped in a long red cape. By transforming into a wolf, she is claiming her inherent wildness the part of her that cannot be contained by culture. We forget so much of the time that we are animals- the same creatures as the ones we watch in nature documentaries with such avidity, love and longing. Their beauty is our beauty; their cunning our cunning; their endurance our endurance. But we forget.

As a wolf, Red Riding Hood is restored to her senses- nose, ears, eyes, mouth regain their direct access to her brain, their messages undiluted , uncensored by the strictures and caveats of her brain. As a human girl she is terribly vulnerable. Basically blind, deaf and dumb, she goes into the dangerous forest bereft of her natural resources. No one has taught her how to move with caution, hide in plain sight or fight. Naiveté is her only protection.

She wears her cloak to remind her to return to the human world- she cannot be wholly herself as just wolf. Civilization restricts but it also offers freedoms the wolf cannot comprehend. Butterflies flutter around her, symbols of transformation. There is one fly. Flies and butterflies are pollinators and thus symbols of fertility. Sex is the underlying theme of the Red Riding Hood story. The girl stands on the cusp of womanhood wooed by both the wolf and huntsman, stalked by her own burgeoning sexuality. The wolf picks her own mate and explores sexual feelings without shame.

Flies are also psychopomp- they convey souls safely into the afterlife. The fly reminds us that death always lurks nearby; the huntsman still patrols the forest. Transformation is a tricky thing- will Red forget her human self, will she be able to change back? Will she remember and learn or continue to cling to innocence? Lots of questions. No answers except your own.

Positive

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One of my big struggles as an artist, whether I’m writing or patching together a collage, is literalism. Literal, literacy, literature, litigate, liturgical all have their origin in the mysterious word “littera” meaning a letter of the alphabet. To use the alphabet, everyone using a particular alphabetical system must agree on what the signs mean. Strict adherence to those meanings is imperative. To be a literate person one must agree and abide by those values. In a sense, everyone who reads is trained to work with fixed meanings.

Writing strives to be literate. Even the most far-fetched fantasy uses words to paint realistic details, which encourage the reader to suspend his belief in his own preconceptions of reality and his disbelief in things that contradict that reality.

The problem is this- how does one break the bonds of that literalism? Beginning writers often struggle in incorporating scenes from memory into story because to fit the plot some detail in the anecdote must be left out, added or tweaked. A feeling of wrongness steals over them because “it didn’t actually happen that way.” In other words it wasn’t written that way into memory.

You may think that understanding this tendency would serve to correct it- not so. It just becomes more subtle. This week, striving to use my own first prompt, I got hung up on the word positive. I define the word as meaning something one is attracted to, nevertheless a little voice in my head keeps harping on the literal meaning of positive. So I looked it up and found that its roots lie in the French word ponere meaning ‘to put” or “place.” Not until 1916 did it acquire its psychological sense of “concentrating on what is constructive and good.”

 Good brings us right back to Red Riding Hood and her story, which tells us terrible things happen to good little girls who act badly. Even though, like Red, I prefer to make my own rules, part of me still wants desperately to hear a parent say, “Good girl!”  However, I like outcasts, lone wolves and strangers and I find the bleaker side of human nature fascinating in its complexity and grim sadness. Like most humans I had some grim sad moments of my own as a child; hence, my affinity for fairy tales.

In summary, I want to appear to be positive (good), though in the case of Red Riding Hood I really relish the odd and grotesque details of her story.

So here’s what I am going to do- concentrate on placing the elements at hand in positions that satisfy both my aesthetic and my need to play in the shadows once in a while. Whatever happens I’ll call it “good.”