Monthly Archives: August 2013

A Little Help from Friends

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Cinderellawk#4A Happy Ending

The Cinderella Story Week#4

In the end Cinderella weds the Prince and lives happily ever after. Her step-sisters are blinded by the birds and the wicked step-mother spends the rest of her years caring for her blind daughters. Personally I thought the punishment of the step-sisters was a bit harsh. The tone was set by the step-mother; she was the example to her daughters so I think she was the one that should have been blinded. I want to give credit to Cinderella’s friends without their help the ending may not have been quite so happy. The Hazel nut-tree and the white bird who I believe contained the spirit of her beloved dead mother and all the other wonderful birds that came in from the garden to help Cinderella sort the lentils from the ashes of the fireplace should receive lots of Cinderella’s gratitude. Even the birds at the end who blind the step-sisters contributed greatly to Cinderella’s happiness.

This version of Cinderella contains a lot of birds. The bird symbol represents transcendence; the soul; a spirit, spirits of the dead, the ability to communicate with the Gods or to enter into a higher state of consciousness. The white bird at the Hazel nut-tree may have been a dove. Doves are often symbols of feminine energies of Peace, Maternity and Prophecy. It embodies the maternal instinct. That is why I believe the tree and the white bird represents Cinderella’s mother.

What is the moral of this story? If you believe in honor your mother and father, remain loyal and kind, work hard without complaint, and come from a loving soul you will be rewarded by finding a loving partner, (Prince Charming), recognition and riches. It also helps if you are very beautiful, because cute counts. Studies have been done and it is true that attractive people are more likely to be given positive attention than someone who is less attractive. People are drawn to handsome people. In most fairy tales the damsel in distress is beautiful. The males of our species are sexually attracted to attractive women? It is built-in to the male’s biology. You just wonder if the story would be quite the same had Cinderella been ugly or ordinary looking?

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Lentil Sorting

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Cinderella Sorts Lentils #3

Lentils to Sort

I’ve never sorted Lentils but I’ve sorted beads, hundreds of beads. It was a boring, mind numbing job. It took me hours to complete the task. In the Grimm Bros. version of Cinderella she is asked twice by her step-mother to sort Lentils. This is after the wicked step-mother dramatically dumps them into the fireplace ash and coals. The Step-mother assumes that she can then tell Cinderella, “no. You can not go to the Ball because you haven’t finished your tasks.” What the Step-mother doesn’t know is Cinderella has helpers. The birds come and do all the sorting, a rather easy task for them to accomplish.

In my collage the ugly step-mother is pouring the lentils into the ashes while the step-sisters are watching. Behind them gathered on the molding of the door frame are a few birds waiting to assist Cinderella.

As Cinderella accomplishes everything the step-mother asks of her the step-mother is forced to tell Cinderella she can’t go to the ball because she does not have the proper clothing, i.e. a Ball Gown. Therefore, she will embarrass the entire family. The step-mother concludes with, “You don’t know how to dance.” This time Cinderella is helped by the giving tree and the white bird. She is given a beautiful dress and shoes but when she goes to the Step-mother the mother has already left.

What is the meaning of the impossible task? It is a way of shifting blame from the step-mother to Cinderella. The step-mother didn’t say no to Cinderella’s request to go to the Ball, she just told Cinderella that she had to finish all her tasks. The plan is that Cinderella won’t be able to finish in the allotted time so it is her own fault that she had to stay home.

In the kitchen Cinderella is sitting by the fireplace. The kitchen looks shabby. Years ago I went on a tour of a very stately mansion. I was shocked at the discrepancy between where the owners lived and where the help worked and lived. It was quite a difference. The library was magnificent, beautiful wood panels and shelves. A lovely oriental carpet graced the inlayed wooden floor. In the maid’s quarters upstairs the room was estire and denuded of any adornment what so ever. A single light bulb hung from the ceiling, the walls were grey the overall look was that of a jail cell. So of course the kitchen, the servant’s domain, would be shabby. The only concern would be to have it be function able.

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Those Bloody Shoes

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Those Bloody Shoes 3I must confess the reason I pushed for the Grimm version of Cinderella was the bloody shoes.  Cinderella’s slipper differentiates it from all other “rags to riches” stories.  It’s importance is heightened in the Grimm version by the dreadful acts of the two step-sisters as they actually slice off parts of their body in order to cram their feet into those shoes.

Shoes are fascinating symbols in themselves.  They represent ownership.  In ancient times the Irish sealed a real estate deal by taking off their shoes and handing them to the buyer.  New land was claimed by setting ones shoes on the property.  In Cinderella, the Prince was setting out to claim ownership of Cinderella, but he needed both shoes to do so.  On the other hand Cinderella was claiming the palace as her own by leaving a shoe there.  The missing slipper also underscores Cinderella’s ambiguity in the household.   She is the rightful heir of her father’s estate, but cannot claim her birthright.

Shoes are also sexual in nature.  Think of the vaguely phallic shape of the foot  slipping snugly into a well-fitting shoe and you get the idea.  Hence, the shoe fetish.  High heels and the outlawed art of foot-binding are both examples of the perception of the foot as a sexual  symbol.  Both involve suffering pain and physical humiliation.  The self-mutilation of the step-sisters is shocking not because it presents us with an alien idea, but because we so easily understand it.  Consider that some women pay thousands of dollars for a pair of shoes.  This story speaks directly to the desperation inherent in the competition for attention from powerful men and women.  The shoes send a sexual  message of availability.  It’s why they’re called “F***- me-shoes.”

Cinderella, like many stories starring a maiden, contains coded warnings, comments or instructions for young women.  Whenever you find young women and blood together in a story it refers in some way to menstruation and/or the breaking of the hymen.  Blood is one of humanity’s most potent  and complicated symbols because it stands for both death and life.  It is a sacred fluid full of spiritual and magical abilities; Odysseus uses it to speak to the dead, Abel’s blood cries out from the ground to the Lord.  In our story the birds speak for the blood.

Oaths sworn in blood are considered binding for all time.  The step-sisters shed their blood to seal a falsehood.  The consequences are bound to be dire and they are.

The bloody shoes may presage the tearing of Cinderella’s hymen once the Prince takes possession of her.   Yet the tearing is a necessary precursor to both pleasure and reproduction.  The blood in this story represents lifeblood, women’s blood.  Perhaps, that’s why the step-sisters are blinded rather than killed in punishment for their cruelty and deception.

Because of the blood, I wanted to make my collage red.  The red on red on red motive symbolizes the layers of meaning inherent in red blood and in the color red itself.  It is difficult to see into them, just as it’s difficult to untangle the various disparate yet connected strands of love, property, individualism, family, truth and lies that make up the tapestry of this story.  The shoes are bleeding for all the literal and metaphoric reasons stated above. I set them in a border of flowers because this is a maiden story.  It speaks of women’s mysteries and women’s doings and women’s solutions.

Cinderella’s Devotion

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Cinderella's Devotion

Cinderella’s Devotion

What are the positive aspects of the story?

   One of the most positive aspects of the story is how Cinderella’s love and devotion to her mother never changes. Her mother had told her that if she remains good and pious that God would take care of her. I also like the idea that her mother’s spirit is alive in the Hazel nut tree. The white bird acts as her mother’s helper. Praying at the tree makes Cinderella feel safe and understood

   When she is given a ball gown of silver and gold Cinderella puts it on and attends the ball. I think that every young girl thinks it would be wonderful to have the most beautiful gown at the festival. This part of the story is dreamy and fun to entertain. When Cinderella arrives at the ball she looks so beautiful that even her family doesn’t recognize her. The Prince notices her and sweeps her off her feet. He exclaims that “she is my dance partner” to all other suitors. The story suggests that at first he may have been attracted to Cinderella because of her beauty but as he gets to know her he falls in love with her. It is a real love story. We all want to find a Prince Charming who will think we are the prettiest woman at the ball. Who would search for us and want to marry us even if we are the scullery maid who sleeps among the ashes.

    It bothered me that Cinderella’s father never came to her aid. I understand that the step mother has colored his perception of Cinderella. At one point in the story the father describes Cinderella as deformed. Even so, I still found it unbelievable that he was ambivalent about her circumstances. In my readings of variations of the story there is one that suggests that her father wasn’t her biological father. Cinderella is her mother’s child. This makes more sense to me and explains why Cinderella didn’t have a living advocate.

    It wasn’t unusual a couple of hundred years ago for families to have step children or step parents, or half brothers and sisters etc. Many men and women died young. In fact, women died in child birth leaving a father with children to care for. Since the majority of families worked on farms this would be especially difficult. So men remarried and often they married the woman hired to care for their motherless children. I know that is something that happened in my family. My great-great grandfather had a son to care for after his first wife died. He hired a young woman to take care of his son. After several years he married her and they had my great grandmother.

I also wondered why Cinderella always runs away from Prince Charming. In the Disney version it’s because the Fairy Godmother told her to be home by mid-night when the magical spell stopped working. But in our story it doesn’t say why she ran away. My guess is Cinderella was afraid that if the Prince knew about her humble circumstances he would not want her. Plus, she didn’t know what her “parents” would do if they found out that she had gone to the Ball. It wasn’t until the Prince insists she try on the slipper that she realizes its okay for her to reveal herself.

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The Giving Tree

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The Giving Tree_NEW

Several years ago Rhonda Byrne wrote a book called The Secret, which basically re-packaged the words of Christ, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”  Of course this idea goes back much further than the Bible, back to the first philosophical musings of humankind.  For the mind is truly a mysterious and magical force whose energy has re-sculpted the world’s history again and again and may yet lead to our ultimate destruction as a species.

Cinderella is about wishing – that is to say hoping, desiring, longing for, envisioning, affirming, etc.  It’s about the energy inherent in an all-consuming desire and also about the constant, always present, possibility for change.

In the late nineteenth century a quasi-philosophy called New Thought began to arise out of the great spiritualist movement that swept the newly industrial western world.  It arose as a reaction to TMI and too much technology, too fast.  It continues to this day, transmogrified into a fusion of world religions and historical esotery we call New Age, though even that term is becoming a little shop-worn.

Say what you will about it, enough experiential and anecdotal evidence has occurred over the centuries to make “the law of attraction” as Byrne’s calls it, one of the enduring belief systems we humans hold in common cross-culturally.  Hence the great durability and popularity of the Cinderella story.

And why not?  The world is scary enough and in truth we are almost powerless.  This story tells us not to despair in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds because we can affect outcome with the power of mind.  Even if that isn’t the case, the one truth we can count on is the consistency of change.  Everything changes all the time, both incrementally and in giant leaps. The possibility for alteration is always present.

The vehicle of change differs widely in Cinderella stories from around the world. In France we find a fairy Godmother, in Germany a tree, in Egypt a bird and in the Far East a red fish.  My mixed-media collage carries all these symbols in the branches of its “Giving Tree.”

The Giving Tree refers to a story by Shel Silverstein; a moral fable that explores what happens to a giver who gives too much and to the child who continues to take forever.  How much is enough? Does one really need three new ball gowns? The question highlights the avaricious implications inherent in The Secret’s philosophy.

The Giving Tree took off and sold like wild fire, translated into eleven different languages.  In 2013 Parent and Child Magazine listed it among the top 100 children’s books of all time.  Obviously, it’s appeal, like Cinderella’s, is universal.  Personally, I find the book dreary and disturbing, but I think the two trees are joined at the root.

 

Cinderella

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Cinderella dances

Cinderella dances

Cinderella

 

This fairy tale seems to be told, at least some variation of it, by different peoples all around the world. It is an old tale going back as far as the Greek’s telling of a maiden who is bathing and a bird steals one of her sandals and drops it in the lap of the king. The king thinks it’s an omen and goes in search of the owner. When he finds her they marry and the sandal owner becomes the queen.

 The story we’ve selected is a bit different than the Walt Disney version of Cinderella. We selected the Bros. Grimm telling because it is richer and more detailed. In this telling Cinderella is helped by her mother’s tree and a white bird. The magic comes from them. The tree symbol suggests that her mother’s spirit with the help of the white bird is watching and taking care of her. In the Walt Disney version it is Cinderella’s fairy god mother who is the magic maker.

In my collage I show the Prince’s castle. The Prince and Cinderella are dancing at the Prince’s Ball. I show the wicked step-mother who does everything she can to prevent Cinderella from going to the Ball.

There is an enlarged photo of Cinderella in the background. In the photo you can see just how beautiful she is. Even in her rags and wooden shoes her beauty shines through. Just before her mother dies she tells Cinderella “…remain pious and good … and I will look down from heaven and be near you.” And as the story goes Cinderella goes daily to her mother’s grave. She plants a twig that turns into a tree. It is that tree and the white bird that perform the magic in this story. They make it possible for Cinderella to have a beautiful dress and shoes for the Prince’s Ball…

The step-mother is blinded to Cinderella’s character and beauty by her jealousy. She wants her new husband to focus on her and hers, i.e.: the step-sisters. Because of Cinderella’s grief at the loss of her mother and the rejection of her step mother, step sisters and the loss of her father’s attention she lives a cold and bleak existence. The fact that she is turned into a scullery maid just emphasizes the change of her status. However; Cinderella does as her mother requested. Her reward for remaining pious and good is that the Prince recognizes these qualities along with her beauty and falls madly love and marries her.

I think most folk and fairy tales are teaching tales. They reflect the community’s belief of right over comes wrong, good conquers evil that justice will prevail, that greed, selfishness and jealousy are punished and that goodness is recognized and rewarded. This story is a classic tale because it so wonderfully illustrates the reward for piousness and good.  You get the love of a Prince. //

Ashputtel

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Cinderella is one of the oldest and most inter-cultural stories of our times.  By our times, I mean the time of existing written language.   Stories of Cinderella’s ilk actually have their roots in ancient days we remember now, only in trance and dream.   Going back in time, the paper trail grows thinner very quickly, but in our day academicians are magicians; creating volumes of learned lore out of the tiniest scraps of script.  I’m extremely wary faced with any of their superlatives, particularly ones like first, oldest, purest, etc.  Having said that, folklorists have found dozens of variations on Ashputtel, as the Grimm’s version is called.

Cinderella 1

I voted for Grimm over Perrault even though it means giving up the fairy godmother, because the Grimm story seems to retain more traces of its pagan origins.  True, Perrault kept the word fairy, but in the sophisticated court circles he frequented,  everyone accepted that fairy indicated a light trifling bit of nonsense rather than a supernatural being of immense power capable of inspiring shock and awe.  Though the story dealt with magic, still a dangerous subject to touch on in the late 1600’s, he covered himself nicely by making his fairy a godmother.

A century later, the Grimm brothers faced the same fear of church censorship and toned down the sex while upping the violence in the tales they collected.  Ashputtel’s piety is stressed several times in the tale.  However, she knows enough hedge witch lore to ask her father for a branch from a living tree.  The hazel twig he returns with is planted on her mother’s grave and watered with Cinderella’s own tears.  How did she know how to do that?  We can only surmise that her mother taught her this ancient lore.  Hazel trees, in Celtic tradition, represent wisdom.  Druids held them sacred and believed they could induce invisibility by wearing crowns woven from supple hazel twigs.  Later they became known as wishing caps, able to grant their wearer’s wishes.  In the Grimm version of this tale  the tree,  in company with a  white bird, responds to Ashputtel’s tears and desires by letting three ball gowns fall from its branches.  Is this white bird, probably a dove (symbolic of the Holy Spirit) another nod to the church, mitigating the power of the tree?  Or is it just a natural combination of Pagan and Christian symbols intermingling as one culture supersedes the other?

In my collage you can just see the tree peeking out from under Cinderella’s knee.  A white bird perches on her shoulder, fore-shadowing a change in fortune.  The two step-sisters hover in the background, whispering mean things about her.  The step-mother’s dark presence dominates the wealthy household from which poor Cinderella, perched precariously on her pile of lentils is banished.  This collage is a snap shop – a second frozen in time – that sets the scene for this story to unfold.  The father is missing, just as he is throughout most of the tale.  His absence is palpable and leaves the family, deprived of balancing masculine energy, out of balance.

Finding My Flock

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Finding Your Tribe

I can’t stress enough the importance of finding your tribe.  Wild women make up mine.  You see them here – young, middle-aged, old – maiden, mother, crone.   Sisters, companions and beloved friends, peers, these are the commadras.  Isn’t it strange we have no feminine words for buddy, pal, compadre?  I think we women need more words to signify and define the nuances of our rich femininity.

The Ugly Duckling is about finding the companionship of peers; of those who share an orientation to the Earth and life, which coincides with your own.  Of course first you have to know what that is.  Hence the quest in the first part of life.  That’s the part where we waddle and quack about the world, making mistakes getting hurt,  enjoying and suffering huge tidal waves of emotion as we come to terms with our own humanity and the condition of being human.

Not everyone makes it.  Some crack, some break, some turn away and refuse further exploration, some never engage with solitude or introspection, some become addicted to the rush of novelty.  For me, there came a time when I began to know who I am.  When that happened, I I began longing for peers – those ones who also know themselves.

Mostly, I find them among women.

Femininity encompasses another layer of belongingness.

For the first three decades of my life I didn’t like other women much.  I thought men were smarter, more interesting, and led more exciting lives because, in my family, my Dad was the good guy.  He was calm in the midst of my mother’s erratic emotion and fair in the face of her injustice.  He “got” me, in a way I believed my mother never would.   Happily, in my thirties I discovered, the Goddess, the women’s movement and consciousness raising.  It changed my life and opened interior and exterior worlds to me, expanding heart, psyche, mind, soul and body.  It also opened the door to understanding and reconciling with my mother.

They also brought me to the profound realization that the Earth is one integrated whole soulful organism of which I am an integral part.  There is nowhere I go on this planet where I do not belong because the culture of nature is deeper and more encompassing than any human culture can ever be.

This collage celebrates my journey and all the different kinds of women who travel with me – my tribe, my commadras, my peers.  They bring me happiness, vitality, joy – each one of them holds home in her arms.

Embrace Our Differences

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Uglyduckling#2 Embrace Our Differences

Don’t judge a Duck by its Early Plumage.

 In this collage I am showing a variety of poultry. I’ve got a large beautiful Swan, two swans flying over head, a gaggle of geese, a turkey, a mother duck, ( she’s in the water behind the swan), ducklings and one large oversized cygnet.  One of the things l love about the word birds is the large range of animals the term embraces. There are birds that are tiny, such as the hummingbird, birds that swim but can’t fly, Penguins, a bird that can run fast, the Ostrich, diving birds, wading birds, small wings, huge winds, no wings at all. It’s all quite interesting and wonderful.

 In my collage mother duck has taken her babies down to the pond to teach them to swim. She is in the water telling them to jump in. When my son was little, maybe 30 months old we were on a small boat dock looking at some ducks. When I turned around my son had stepped off the dock and was underwater. I reach down and pulled him back up onto the dock. He wiped his eyes and smiled. It scared me. It hadn’t scared him. Two things happened without delay. I bought a life vest and he had to wear it any time we were near water. As soon as we got home I searched around for swimming lessons. As it turned out he loved to swim and decided to join a swim team. He became a competitive swimmer and worked for several years as a life guard. He, like the ducklings and the cygnet took to the water immediately.

 This story is about personal transformation and was one of Hans Christian Andersen’s favorites. He considered it his biography. As a child Hans was picked on by the other children. He had a big nose and very large feet. When he grew up it turned out that he had a beautiful singing voice and was talented in the theater. Before he wrote this story he discovered that he was the illegitimate son of the King of Denmark, Prince Christian Frederick. To Hans, the Ugly Duckling is a story about inner beauty and talent but also about secret lineage. He may have been ugly, like the ugly duckling, but like the duckling that turned into a swan, the most beautiful of all, Hans turned out to be a member of the royal family far superior then the local barnyard rabble that had been so verbally and physically abusive not so long ago.