Monthly Archives: March 2013

April’s Tale: Pandora’s Box

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Pandora’s Box

Monthly tale for April 2013

 Our next tale is from Greece. Pandora’s Box is a very ancient Greek myth from the 7th Century BC.  According to Hesiod who recorded the myth, Pandora was the first human woman. Each Greek god helped to create her … she was all giving, all gifted. There are several early Greek versions of the story but all address the question of, “Why are there so many evils in this world?”

Over the 2,000 years the story has been told and retold, it has had many modifications or new interpretations.  In the earliest tellings of Pandora’s Box the container she was given was a jar. A large jar, which contained all the evils of the world. The original Greek word was Pithos meaning a large jar. Jars were used in ancient times for the storage of wine, oil, grain, or other provisions, or ritually as a container for a human body for burying. In the case of Pandora, this jar was probably made of clay or bronze metal. A mistranslation of Pithos is usually attributed to the 16th century humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam who translated the tale into Latin. He rendered pithos as a Greek word pyxis meaning “Box”. Pandora’s Box has endured ever since.

Another detail of the story that causes contention for some readers is the spirit Hope, which was left in the container. Does the holding of Hope in the box/jar mean it is being preserved for Man, or does it mean Hope is being kept away from man? Friedrich Nietzsche argued that Zeus did not want man to throw his life away. To that end, he gives man hope. In truth, it is the most evil of evils because it prolongs man’s torment. However, M.L.West says, “Hope is preserved as a benefit for humans.”

There are many versions of the myth. In all the versions, Pandora is the creation of all the Greek Gods, beautiful, curious, and talented. In other tellings, she is beautiful but “Sheer guile”, great trouble, no helpmate in hateful poverty, but only in wealth.”

In a modern telling Pandora is an innocent victim of Zeus’ trick on mortal man. When Hera gave her the gift of curiosity and Hermes hangs the key that opens the locked box around Pandora’s neck, it was only a matter of time before she’d open the box. In the end, Pandora saves the day by re-opening the box and letting Hope fly free to comfort mankind.

To read the Tale CLICK on Pandora’s Box under Monthly Tales on our Menu above.  We will be posting our artwork and essays on Monday.     April 1.

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Zero In on the Problem

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A Colorless LifeWeek #4 Black & White

A Colorless Life
Week #4 Black & White

A Colorless Life

(Week #4 Black and White)

 In one version of this tale the last line the fish says is “Wilt thou be the lord on high? Then back with thee to thy pig-sty.”  And at the very end of the story the last line reads … “There they are to this day.”

So I decided to zero in on the problem. Let’s look at the couple today … put them in the spot light. I imagine they are still fishing and still hoping to catch again the magic fish or some other enchanted creature. Because in their world it’s all about The Golden Fish. It is clear that the only way to get ahead is to get lucky and to get lucky means catching the Enchanted Fish Prince and start demanding wishes.

The prompt this week is black and white. Light and dark, opposites and contrary are all synonyms associated with the idea of black and white. The Fisherman and his Wife seem to be opposites, but are they really? The wife is the Fisherman’s anima and she exemplifies his inner feminine. In the story, she gets the job done where he hasn’t been very effective. She makes demands and he goes along with her requests. Today I suppose she greets him daily and asks if he has seen the Golden Fish? The two of them are still stuck in a colorless world, only the Golden fish shines.

If this story were a dream, the fish might represent spirituality and the Fisherman could be seeking patience and understanding. He is plumbing the depths of his own subconscious in order to find spiritual food. The wife is only interested in material things and positions of power. In this way, she is not looking after his inner feminine. They are acting contrary.

Looking at the other symbols as part of this dream the Sea often represents the realm of emotions. Emotions are  life – sustaining, cleansing and healing. Only the Ocean demonstrates the story’s main emotions. The Fish does not. The Fisherman grumbles and the Wife demands. Water is life, sacred and healing. The sea is the source of all life, the unfathomable. It also symbolizes infinite wisdom. The Ocean is associated with the Tao and the Great Mother.

Nature in its divine wisdom, knows that things are out of balance and makes the needed correction. If the couple wants their life to change, they must stop expecting magic. They must work together in a positive way, they need to recognize their emotions and accept that they are not the center of the universe. They must change their greediness into generosity and their dissatisfaction in to joy. They must learn to balance their opposites.

Black/White

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Taijitu Entangled

Taijitu Entangled

Black and white, held to be polar opposites, both contain within themselves diametrically opposed meanings. White can be cold, sterile, barren, the color of funerals, grieving and death, Black can represent decay, despair, sin, funerals, grieving and death.  White can be purity, spiritual ecstasy, new; death can be fecund, rich, warm, the source of the divine spark of life.

No wonder the Chinese married these opposites into a timeless symbol of wholeness – the immediately comprehensible Taijitu.  The moment one sets eyes on this figure one knows what it means.  Two opposing, yet complementary flowing black & white figures, each containing a piece of the other, fit together to form a complete circle.  The inextricable oneness of  yin (feminine) and yang (masculine) is obvious, especially to a Jungian who can easily perceive the anima and animus in the contrasting dots within each figure. The two halves of the circle resemble fish  and people have been running with that association almost since it first appeared.  When I considered the black and white prompt for a story about out-of-balance femininity and masculinity involved with a fish, the Taijitu figure was a no-brainer.

Tajitai

I decided to enclose my fisherman and his wife in an entangling net to represent how stuck they were in their marriage, their poverty, their assumptions, etc.  The story of the Fisherman and His Wife disturbs and intrigues.  It affects us.  So, the net also represents the world net of Shiva, which one cannot touch without setting off vibrations that echo through the cosmos.    Just as in the story, though it isn’t mentioned per se, all the changes effected by the wife and fish touch on hundreds of lives.  AHA!  I do believe I’ve just unraveled the meaning of those staggered, stepped maidservants, soldiers and flames, which so puzzled me.

I had great fun making Zen tangles out of the squares of the fish net.  I used a Sharpie marker to draw them and the fish.  The lines are rough and crude without the definition of a fine-tipped pen, because the story is kind of rough and crude itself.

The tangles represent the changing nature of the sea – its many moods and manifestations.  They also stand for the shape-shifting nature of the fish who is also human.  The Taijitu figure is derived from an intricate system of solar measurement used to determine the calendar.  In my collage, along with the other meanings, it refers once again to the unchanging change nature of the natural world. The whole philosophy of Taoism rests on an idea inherent in this symbol – the complementary nature of opposing components.  It is also the basis for the system of divination called the I Ching.  So it is appropriate to use it to represent both the universal nature of storytelling and the divinatory way in which we use collage to reveal hidden meanings in our lives.

I’m very grateful to Leah Piken Kolidas of Creative Every day for sprinkling a bit of magic on this site with prompts that always send us in new directions.

The Sun, Moon and Stars

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The Sky is the Limit

The Sky is the Limit

The Fisherman and His Wife

(Week #3 The Negative aspect.)

 The Sun, Moon and Stars

 When someone says, The Sky is the Limit,” they could be talking about the Fisherman’s wife. She wants the Sky, the Sun, Moon and Stars. Why not? All her other wishes to date had come true. However, this wish is different. This time the wish becomes “The end”! The Magic Founder takes it all away, everything. The Sky was the limit.

What is interesting about this tale is the lack of rules. When the Magic Fish is caught and released, the Prince Fish says nothing. The story does not explain the parameters, limitations or expiration of the Fish’s enchanted magic. The fish doesn’t say, “I will grant you 1, 2, or 3 wishes.” There are no boundaries stated in this story; nothing is specified. Is the Sky the limit?

When the Fisherman’s wife suggests to the Fisherman that he is entitled to ask for a wish because in essence he saved the fishes life, we don’t know what to expect. Perhaps there is an unwritten rule covering this event. The Fisherman’s wife seems sure that this is the case while the rest of us reserve our opinions until later. We don’t know the rules about magic fish. We gasp at the wife’s demands. We are appalled at her greediness. Yet the Magic Fish continues to grant wish after wish.

We are not sure how long the Enchanted Fish will demonstrate its gratitude.  We wonder when the pay back is exhausted.  We question why the Fisherman is entitled to wish granting.  Is it because he let the fish go? Alternatively, is it because the fisherman now knows about the fish’s magic and, therefore; is entitled to use its powers?

Another twist to the tale is it’s the Fisherman’s wife making all the demands and not the Fisherman. She didn’t catch the fish. She didn’t give the fish back its life. However, she is the one running the show. She feels entitled to her demands because she is married to the Fisherman.

The “bad guy” in the story is the wife. The wife may have become evil (greedy) because the fish didn’t set parameters, and the fisherman never stands up to her demands. I was continually annoyed with the Fisherman. He is an example of an enabler. He plays the role of the long-suffering husband. “What’s a fellow to do?”  He protests but weakly and ineffectually. He and the fish become the slaves of the wife.  He allows her to be the center of the universe, making wishes that always escalate never being satisfied.

What is the significance of the fish being a flounder?  Who in the story is floundering around?  The Sea demonstrates our emotions as the wife increases her demands?  The Sea is the reflection of the force of Nature, and the gauge of Divine wrath over the natural order of things. When the Wife asks to rule the moon and sun she is saying she wants to be in charge of the cosmos. “Dark and stormy,” the Sea Rages its fury.

In my collage I show the fisherman’s wife asking for the Sun, Moon and the Stars.  Finally, we discover when “Enough is enough!”  The Tale is over. Asking to be a God is over the top. The Sea, the Magic Fish, the Heavens all say, no more and everything is changed back to what it was in the beginning.  The Fisherman and his Wife live once again in their shack and order has been restored.

Unfolding Emptiness

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Developing the Negative

Unfolding Emptiness

For this week’s prompt I chose to illustrate emptiness.  Not that I think emptiness is a bad thing.  I consider it more as the “negative space” defined in art as “the space around and between the subject(s).”  In art, empty space can be used to create a silhouette, a background, a balancing counterpoint to an object or group of objects, or a place for the eye to rest.  In life, emptiness can give the mind or heart or emotional body time to rest, recuperate and regroup.  In metaphysics, emptiness is the void from which the spark of life arises and in physics emptiness is the great mystery.

Tao Te Ching: Chapter 11
translated by Ursula K. Le Guin (1998)

Thirty spokes
meet in the hub.
Where the wheel isn’t
is where it’s useful.

Hollowed out,
clay makes a pot.
Where the pot’s not
is where it’s useful.
Cut doors and windows
to make a room.

Where the room isn’t,
there’s room for you.
So the profit in what is
is in the use of what isn’t.

Sometimes we need emptiness to understand the true utility or meaning of a thing, concept or action.  When we first read this story we found it almost devoid of content; but the longer we spend with this seemingly empty story, the more it holds.

Genesis tells us that in the beginning was the sea – … and God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.”  The Judeo-Christian religion is not alone in thinking the world evolved from water; many other theologians, scientists and psychologists agree.  The sea encompasses this story – the story bobs up out of its depths.  This fact alone is enough to make us sit up and take notice.

The watery background of this collage forms the negative space around two objects, the fish and the boat carrying a woman and her sand castle.  You may recall that the sea changes its appearance and mood each time the fisherman makes a new request.  When he approached the shore to ask for the castle, the sea “looked blue and gloomy, though it was very calm.”  The sea here is blue and a bit gloomy and very calm; empty of any kind of disturbance.  It conveys a brooding season of waiting.

My idea of Hell is waiting in an endless line without anything to read.  I really dislike waiting.  So my personal negative space carries undertones of frustration and impatience.  I suppose it’s why I fall in so easily with the idea of “staying in the moment.”   If the moment is all there is, then one never has to wait!  The trick is practicing this sense of presence in the dentist’s waiting room!

The fisherman’s wife is adorned with elaborate seashells.  If you hold a seashell to your ear you can hear the ocean.  What needs to be heard?  Who needs to be listened to?   For me, sitting on an empty beach surrounded by the rhythmic sound of waves is the closest I get to perfect harmony.  I suppose it’s a point of arrival.  At the very edge of the known world there is nowhere left to go, nothing to do except be one with the elements.

Shells are wampum, a form of money in both South American and African history.  The conch, sliced cross-ways, forms a perfect spiral, ancient symbol of rejuvenation and rebirth.  Gods are born from seashells and this is the wife’s ambition – to become a god.  Transcendent religions teach us that it is humankind’s best and truest aspiration to reclaim his/her god nature. To do so usually involves a trip to the underworld, as represented in the traditions of many sea-faring nations.

The wife in my picture is plump, naked and crowned in a rather ridiculous headdress, all of which might indicate empty (endless) greed and desire.  On the other hand she also appears poised, calm and completely self-confident.  Perhaps, her crown connects her to Persephone, Queen of the Underworld.   Perhaps, her actions in the story stem from a profound comprehension of the workings of fate and the sea.

Her castle is made of sand – transient, ephemeral, easily washed away it’s a thing of illusion, yet the child’s pink bucket has been left in plain sight.  Children are naked and truthful in the expression of desire; they know how to play and use their imagination.

The boat, a tool of the fisherman’s trade, has become a frivolous pleasure boat.  If this collage were the fisherman’s dream, we might ask him if his work gives him pleasure.  Is he “following his bliss?” as Joe Campbell would ask.  If so, does the fish bless him by returning him, at the end of the story, to the profession he loves?

The golden fish is as enigmatic as any fish.  Why does he do what he does?  His mouth is open to speak, but he also bleeds from it.  (Remember the bloody streak in the water when the fisherman lets him go free?)  Bleeding is a kind of emptying out and links the story, once again, to the feminine.  It also implies the kind of sacrifice in blood that magic and gods sometime demand.

The wounded Fish/Prince is reminiscent of another story – Parsifal and his encounter with the wounded Fisher King.  In that story, the hero, long dominated by an overprotective mother, doesn’t ask the questions he should ask at the beginning of the story.  As a result he must take a long roundabout adventure that brings him back to where he started.

There is one more story I’m reminded of.  The “Arabian Nights” contains a tale about a fisherman who nets a jar containing djinn who threatens to kill him when the fisherman uncorks his catch. Through trickery, the man talks the djinn back into the jar and then returns the imprisoning container to the sea.  To me, our story seems like a reverse mirror image of that one.  In both, magical creatures, fishermen and the sea are involved and in both stories the characters end up in the same place they began.  As in the tales from “A Thousand and One Nights,” our story contains the seeds of another wonder tale. How and why has the enchanted prince been turned into a fish?

The story of the Fisherman and His Wife contains plenty of emptiness in which one may float questions; lots of room into which imagination may expand …

 

PS on the Papess

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Echoes of Pope Joan! I just found this on SurLaLune – its an annotation to The Fisherman and His Wife” by Christine Ethier:

There was an Isabella (Isabill – fisherman’s wife) Geelvinck who lived in Bodensee, Germany in 1640 (Leon 138). Geelvinck disguised herself as a man and served in the army for a total of 15 years (Leon 138), serving as both a trooper and cook (Leon 138). After leaving the army, Geelvinck, still in male disguise, worked as a valet in Amesfoort in Holland until she decided to leave and stole some of her employer’s silver (Leon 138). She then went to Utrecht, where she worked as a maid until she was caught stealing more silver (Leon 139). She was allowed to finish out her contract (Leon 139). When her contract expired, she tried to burn down her employer’s house, was caught, tried, and sentenced to death.

The Magic Fish

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The Fisherman and His Wife FishScan#2_Pic0005(Week #2 The Positive)

The Magic Fish

 There are several things to like about this story. I liked the fisherman calling to the magical fish. The chant he uses is the same each time. I like that the Fish/Prince always comes. I also like the idea of a Magical Fish and wondered what an enchanted Prince would look like as a “special” Flounder?

Any one who has ever gone shore fishing at the Ocean or Sea knows that it can be cold and damp, especially in the early morning or as in our story, at the end of a long day. While sitting and waiting, watching your fishing pole, listening to the sounds of the surf, trying to keep warm it is easy to wonder what kinds of fish live in the deep waters. When the fisherman catches the talking fish, we know the fairytale has begun. The fish tells the fisherman that he isn’t an ordinary fish but an enchanted prince and he demands to be returned to the sea.

I was surprised when the fisherman gladly complied.  Perhaps the fisherman, who was trying to catch something to eat was befuddled, unable to make a mind shift  from eating to a talking fish,  so he let the fish go. This gave me pause. Why wouldn’t the fisherman be fascinated by a talking fish?  The Fisherman is a dullard. On the other hand why didn’t the Prince/fish thank the Fisherman for giving back his life?

In fact throughout the story no one is ever thankful, not the fish, not the fisherman, not the wife. The fisherman on occasion says something to his wife about being satisfied but he never thanks the fish nor apologizes. Perhaps this tale is all about gratitude. Perhaps the reason the Fish Prince was turned into a bottom feeding fish, a Flounder, because he was not grateful. There is a sense of entitlement shown by the fish and by the greedy wife.

At first when the wife insists the Fisherman go back and ask the fish for a small cottage to live in I wondered if the fish’s magic could comply. Like the genie in the lamp or the leprechaun caught by a human the question becomes will the wish be granted, will there be some kind of trick. or is there a loop-hole that makes the discovery of the magical one null and void?

In the beginning when the Wife gets what she asks for and each gift is even more wonderful than imagined, you wonder when the fish is going to say “No!”  When is he going to say, “enough is a enough?”

The story ends as it began, “O man of the Sea, hearken unto me. My wife Iisabill will have her own will, and hath sent me to beg a boon of thee!”  And the Fish Prince replies,  “Well, what does she want now?” After the fisherman tells the fish of his wife’s demand, the fish’s reply is the same, “Go home” he tells the Fisherman. But now the change … “Go Home to your pigsty again.”  Finally!

It isn’t until the wife asks to become a God that the Fish Prince puts down his foot.  All the wife’s  gifts are forfeited, the husband and wife are sent back to square one where they started.  The ending line, “And there they live to this day,” clearly implies, game end,  enough is a enough, story over.

The Papess

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Pope Joan with pigs 200

La PapesseDivinatory meaning
~Upright ~

Intuition, wisdom and secret knowledge, the feminine side of the male personality. Something remains yet to be revealed, but patience must be observed. Duality and mystery. Hidden influences affect both home and work and intuitive insight suggests new solutions. The influence of women.

~Ill Dignified or Reversed~

Lack of personal harmony and problems resulting from a lack of foresight. Suppression of the feminine or intuitive side of the personality. Facile and surface knowledge. Repression and ignorance of true facts and feelings. In women, an inability to come to terms with other women or themselves. Things and circumstances are not what they seem.

The most interesting part of this story for me was the odd inclusion of the Pope in the wife’s list of ambitions. Those of you who have read my novel Magdalene A.D. know how interested I am in feminine Christian religious figures. It’s taken years for me to accept my Christian cultural heritage because of the long history of misogyny so deeply entwined in it. Only by going back to the beginning and learning how the divine feminine insisted on her reappearance, despite concerted efforts to excise her, could I finally begin to reclaim some part of Christianity as my own. Magdalene A.D. was an exercise in active imagination in which I rewrote a traditional story, filling in the blank spots with my own midrash in an attempt to help heal this deep historical wound.

So, of course the idea of a female Pope fascinated me. There is a legend, dating in written form back to the thirteenth century, describing the reign of Pope Joan. As the story goes, enamored of learning, she disguised herself as a man and became a priest in order to peruse her studies. (It’s hardly unusual for women to disguise themselves as a man).  Joan, erudite and wise beyond her years, rose quickly in the estimation of her peers to the point that they elected her Pope. Perhaps she had a lover; perhaps she was raped – at any rate two years and seven months into her reign she gave birth to a baby boy during the middle of a public procession right in the middle of the street. Some versions say she died; others that she was done away with; still others that she repented and spent the rest of her life in a convent doing penance.

As with many other traditional tales, one can safely assume that oral traditions long predated the actual inscription of the story. The story of Pope Joan may antedate the written account by two or three centuries or more. The most interesting part for me is the persistence of this legend. The Papess found her way into the earliest tarot decks and also into folk tales like The Fisherman’s Wife. Why did so many people believe it? What, about this particular story, appealed to the popular imagination so much that scholars and novelists wrote about it and engravers illustrated it?

I’ve dressed my fisherman’s wife in sumptuous robes and a diamond mitre. As in the story she is surrounded in flames. I still don’t know what these staggered torches stand for. Do they echo the myriad lights carried by the faithful in religious processions? Perhaps they represent the enormous super-sized candles on the high altars of cathedrals. Candles were an extravagance and burning dozens at a time might seem the height of luxurious abandon to a woman only days away from life in a pigsty. Fairy tales were often told to illustrate the vast divide between rich and poor. They provided a safe way to criticize and make fun of the establishment (church and state) and to rewrite abhorrent circumstance into an easier more bountiful existence. The many lights might have been a critical look at the extravagance of the church at the expense of the poor. The fisherman’s wife might be an allegory for the vain ambition and worldly lusts of a supposedly sacred institution dedicated to the precepts of a Master who asked his followers to walk away from all worldly goods.

I like my little Papess. She seems to have a sly peasant twinkle in her eye, as if to say, “I’ll just play this out and see how far I can take this joke.” I think her good common sense tells her that the deck is stacked against her and this ride can’t last. I also think that under her cynicism and street smarts lies rage – hot and fiery as the flames that surround her. She’d like to burn everything down and start over- even if it means starting from scratch again in her pigsty.

Speaking of pigs! Pigs are ancient symbols of both fertility and death – earthly dwellers and creatures of the underworld linked since long before recorded history with both the moon and the feminine divine. Pigs are ferocious omnivores who will devour shit, grain, human flesh and their own off-spring with equal abandon. Fierce hunters, their tusks appear in the mouths of both demons and gorgons, but their large litters and fleshy bodies also symbolize abundant life and fertility. Their sacred nature is acknowledged in Egyptian, Semite, Indian, Native American, Polynesian, Scandinavian, Celtic, Asian and Greek myth. European culture links them most closely with Persephone and Cerridwen. Their inclusion here hints at a deeper more arcane mythic level to this story. I’m reminded of Kali dancing on the body of Shiva. The Wikipedia article explains the Tantric interpretation of that image thusly:

“The Shiv tattava (Divine Consciousness as Shiva) is inactive, while the Shakti tattava (Divine Energy as Kali) is active. Shiva and Kali represent Brahman, the Absolute pure consciousness which is beyond all names, forms and activities. Kali, on the other hand, represents the potential (and manifested) energy responsible for all names, forms and activities. She is his Shakti, or creative power, and is seen as the substance behind the entire content of all consciousness. She can never exist apart from Shiva or act independently of him,just as Shiva remains a mere corpse without Kali i.e., Shakti, all the matter/energy of the universe, is not distinct from Shiva, or Brahman, but is rather the dynamic power of Brahman.[45] Hence, Kali is Para Brahman in the feminine and dynamic aspect while Shiva is the male aspect and static. She stands as the absolute basis for all life, energy and beneath her feet lies, Shiva, a metaphor for mass, which cannot retain its form without energy.”

(More on pigs – Jack and Catherine Hart have created a wonderful mythic resource on their website – the page on pigs is fascinating.  The Harts deserve big kudos for their generous sharing.)

I mustn’t forget to mention the moon- a feminine symbol if there ever was one, and profoundly associated with water and emotion. The fisherman’s wife’s next ambition will be to become Lord of the Sun and Moon. All her efforts have been leading up to this. She wants to have mastery over both feminine and masculine – perhaps she wants equity both within herself and without; perhaps, her struggle with her husband has been all about righting the balance between masculine and feminine. But, here the Prince disguised as a fish finally balks. It’s beyond even his power to give her mastery over the Sun and Moon (i.e. masculine and feminine, in other words, herself). Maybe the lesson of the story is that equity of this kind can only be achieved internally by individual effort. No matter who we are or what resources we command, happiness and contentment are contingent on learning to know ourselves. We ignore this lesson at our peril.

The Fisherman and His Wife

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FishScan_Pic0005The Fisherman and His Wife

(The Brothers Grimm)

Week #1 The Big Picture

In the telling of this story, the Magical Fish is often a Flounder. I looked up Flounder to see what they look like. I also discovered some interesting facts about this type of fish.

Founders grow to about 15 inches and weigh around 2 pounds. They are a group of flatfish species.  They are found at the bottom of the Ocean, Pacific and the Atlantic, and in lagoons and estuaries. It is the left eye flounder that lies on its right side. They are usually brown but vary in shade depending on the color of the substratum. The Flounder in our story is “Special” he is the shade of gold. The blindside of the Founder, the side facing the bottom, usually is white.

Flatfish like Founder are unlike most other fishes in that they begin life as a bilateral animal, swimming similarly to other fishes. However, as they mature they lie on the bottom on one side of their body. At this time a metamorphosis begins and involves complex modification of the skeletal structure of the head, and rearrangement of the nervous system and muscle tissue. Additionally, the eye on the side that faces the bottom migrates to the upper side of the body.

Comparing the transformation of our Magic Founder with the stagnate Fisherman and his Wife is interesting. The Wife is dissatisfied and greedy and the Fisherman is complacent. Neither is interested in real change. The Fisherman is caught between disturbing the talking Founder who is really a prince and his demanding wife.

The Sea portrays the fish’s emotions. As the Fisherman returns over and over again to ask for more and more – he calls the fish singing the same chant and the fish replies by asking the same question. The fish never  expresses his feelings but the Sea tells tells us. Each visit the Fisherman finds a different Ocean. The waters change, the waves change, the sky changes but the Magic Fish remains the same. Whatever is asked of the fish he gives freely and in spades. The granted wish is even more lavish then the request. The Fish is very generous and abundant.

Yet it does not satisfy the greedy Wife. The hole in her life is not filled or satisfied by material “things.” Having more power does not seem to help her either. Since nothing seems to extinguish her neediness, the great fish in his wisdom takes it all back. The two are returned to their former state. The Fisherman is still complacent, he only wants his wife to stop nagging him, and his Wife is as happy with nothing as she was when she had nearly everything. There is no transformation, nothing has changed.

Caught Between

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fisherman and wife 300

Michelle picked the story this week. I only vaguely remembered it, but knowing her attraction to sea creatures and water themes, I happily agreed. It’s an odd little story – more of a ballad than a tale with a constantly repeating refrain. Nothing much happens in the overview- the man is self-deprecating, the fish accommodating, the wife greedy and these three characteristics are repeated without much variation in every verse until, at last, the cycle returns to its starting place. The richness and diversity comes in the wonderful descriptions of detail as each wish is granted. (You can find this story under Monthly Tales on our navigation bar.)

They begin with the bloody streak left behind on the water as the fish, released by the fisherman, dives beneath the waves. The story goes on to describe, gardens, courtyard, animals, golden chairs, the height of ladies-in-waiting, papal crowns, and burning lights. However, even with all that the reader gradually comes to notice that as the desires of the wife become more extravagant, their fulfillment becomes largely the same, differing only in size. The emptiness the woman feels goes unfulfilled because she can only imagine more – not “other.”

The one thing that really changes is the sea and sky. They change in color and degrees of perturbation. The wind varies from calm to raging tempest. The wave lie flat, run in crested rills, roll and crash. The sea and sky reflect the emotions of the humans (including the speaking fish, an enchanted prince) who seem unable to express them in direct speech.

My first collage of the month, the overview, contains the three protagonists and their spokesthing, the sea. The sea is reflected in the background. You see very little of it as yet, when the story opens the sea is simply the context, but even so, one can descry its complexity and movement.

The wife is represented by the naked female torso encased in black fishnet. The fishnet identifies her as the wife of a fisherman. It also stands for the state the characters are stuck in. Each one is trapped in a situation- the woman in her greed, the man in his marriage, and the fish in his enchantment. There is no way out – no stalwart heroine of hero bent on a quest to break into the status quo with new insights or ideas, no helpful fairies or animals willing to help, no drop of compassion to nourish new growth. Remember, the fisherman releases the fish because he wants nothing to do with a talking animal.

The fisherman is caught in the middle between the fish and the wife. He would like to please them both, but finds this an impossible task.

The fish is huge – commanding in its power and presence, but, like any fish, without affect. There is no way to tell what it is thinking. Fish are normally seen as signs of rebirth and regeneration, nevertheless this is not a real fish – he is simply a human decked out as a God. The fish is a traditional sign for Jesus Christ and hence the Church. The Church is also mentioned directly in the story when the wife demands to be made Pope. Maybe, the tale is meant to point a finger at the emptiness of an over-inflated church where once true spirituality made its home.

Finally, notice the tiny fish escaping the mouth of the larger fish. It is there because I wondered what made the “man of the sea” so patient with the demands of the fishwife? Perhaps, he understood her greed? After all, at the beginning of the story we find him caught on a baited hook.