Category Archives: birds

The Language of the Birds

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Lakshi Listened

The language of the birds has a venerable history dating back to the ancient Greek world.  Aesop was supposed to have understood it, as did Tiresias.  The figurehead of Jason’s ship, the Argo, carved of wood from a sacred grove of trees at the oracle site of Dodona, could speak with birds.  The priestesses of Dodona received their prophecies from the rustling leaves of the oak.  Herodotus reported that:

“… two black doves had come flying from Thebes in Egypt, one to Libya and one to Dodona; the latter settled on an oak tree, and there uttered human speech, declaring that a place of divination from Zeus must be made there; the people of Dodona understood that the message was divine, and therefore established the oracular shrine …”  

Sacred trees and birds naturally share a long association, one I am sure will reveal itself in artwork to come.  Meanwhile, we can’t leave Greece without mentioning Aristophanes and his satirical play The Birds, in which two men conspire with a hoopoe bird to try and overthrow Olympus.

The hoopoehoopoe was valued for his virtue by Persians, but seen as a harbinger of death in Scandinavia.  He introduced King Solomon to Sheba.  In Egypt they painted his sacred image into the walls of their tombs.  Jumping ahead two thousand years to the work of the Sufi mystic poet, Farid al-Din Attar, we find the hoopoe leading a Conference of Birds on a quest for enlightenment.  About the same time, on the other side of Europe, troubadours were thought to write poetry and sing in the language of birds, while alchemists claimed that same avian lexicon as an arcane mystical language holding the secrets of the universe.  Others considered the language of the birds another name for angel-speak.

As you can see, it’s a fascinating topic.  There are even some fairy tales written about it, giving me enough material to inspire several weeks of work.  This week I started out as usual to create a collage, beginning by digging out my bird file and cutting images for a couple of hours.  However, I couldn’t make them coalesce into anything interesting.  Instead, I wrote a poem, Lakshmi* Listens, and illustrated it with a power point slide.  I then saved the image as a jpeg and posted it here.  I am still not as “outside the box” as I would like to be, but already the chains feel a bit looser…

* Lakshmi – the Hindu goddess of spiritual and material prosperity, wealth, purity, generosity, and the embodiment of beauty, grace and charm.

MADRE LAKSHMI

  Lakshmi Listens

Living alone

she learns to listen

distinguishing tweet from chirp

 chitter from squawk, constricting

 tongue and throat, rasping 0ut

syllables harsh enough to splinter ice;

whistling refrains so sweetly pitched

Lakshmi stoops to overhear, dripping

nectar tears

into the dimpled lake.

©2014 Christine Irving

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And NOW for something different!

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And NOW for something different!

The two of us are pleased that we’ve stuck with our blog for a year but we are also very excited about starting this next year with a fresh new focus. We decided to continue with Myths, folktales, stories, poems and tall-tails but to broaden our approach. Instead of picking the tale/story first we are going to take an element, category or aspect of story and approach the creative work in an open-ended way. It is my hope this will expand the imagery to include some surprises and to connect to myths, stories and folk tales in a new way.

February is going to be about BIRDS. We are going to work with the idea of birds. Birds, all types of birds: sea birds, raptors, ducks, forest birds, open field birds, night birds, water fowl, big birds, tiny birds, birds as spirit, their feathers, beaks, feet, eggs, and nests, birds as totems, bird wings, bird flight, soaring, gliding, and flightless birds, diving birds, bird plumage, song birds, bird symbols, and their predators. We will be considering all of it.

Another change is that we are going to take turns posting. Each week one of us will be responsible for the blog post and art piece, (a mixed-media and/or collage) plus an essay, poem or story. Of course, we can always post more often but for sure every other week. We plan to give this format a 3 month trial and then decide to continue with it or make more adjustments.

The idea of this blog is to continue our collaboration, which we both love, to create an art piece on a regular basis, and to focus on the study and application of symbols, story, story telling and creative writing. We welcome your feedback and suggestions. If you’d like to play along with us let us know.

Folklore and Number 3

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Folklore the Number 3

Folklore the Number 3

Rumpelstiltskin and the Number 3.

In the end, Rumpelstiltskin becomes the tricked instead of the trickster. First, he is the trickster and then the others turn the tables and trick him. By calling out his name, he looses his powers. In my collage, Rumpelstiltskin has come to claim the first-born and I am showing the moment just before the group chants out his true name.

One of the aspects of the story that I liked was the use of the power of three.  The spinning wheel goes whirl, whirl, whirl turning the straw into gold.
Rumpelstiltskin gives the Millers daughter 3 days to guess his true name. She has to turn three rooms full of straw into gold. He comes for the baby three months after it is born. The Jaybird, the squirrel and the foxes attract the Game Keeper. He hears the voice of Rumpelstiltskin and watches while the goblin sings and dances around the fire.

Three is a magical number in fairy tales. In most cultures and religions, numbers are carriers of symbolic meaning with often-complicated significance. Numbers are frequently expressions of the cosmic and human order or of the harmony of the spheres.

Three is a particularly significant number for most peoples. It is the synthesis of one and two, the symbol of the principle that embraces all, the image of mediation, and the number of sky (heaven) in contrast to that of earth the number four. The symbolic meaning of three probably relates to the elementary experience of productive fulfillment in the trinity of man, woman and child. Three also forms the basis of numerous systems and ideas of order.  Multiplicity; creative power; growth, overcoming duality, expression; and synthesis are associated with the number three. Three is the first number the word “all” has been appropriated. The number has a beginning, middle, and end. It is man as body, soul, and spirit. It is birth, life, death, past, present and future. It represents father, mother and child.  Once, twice can be a possible coincidence, but three times carries certainty and power.

Folklore has three wishes, three tries, three princes or three princesses, witches, fairies. Three being equivalent to the many, can symbolize a large number, a crowd, three cheers, and signifies fulfillment. Lunar animals are often three-legged. Three is the number of good fortune. Bad luck comes in threes. Counting to three is the minimal amount of counts while setting the rhythm or rate. The third time is a charm. In baseball, the batter gets three strikes before he is out. There are three outs and the side is retired.

In this story of Rumpelstiltskin, the number 3 plays a key role.  In the collage, and old woodcut shows a spinning wheel and a woman spinning. The Miller and the Goblin accompany her.  The King, Queen and the first-born are watching. The Miller stands defiant determined to foil the goblin. When he hears his name chanted Rumpelstiltskin  is so enraged that he stomps his foot driving it into the ground and then yanks his other leg so hard that he splits himself in two.

“What’s His Name?”

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Scan_Pic0016Rumplestiltskin (revised)

“What’s His Name?”

Once upon a time there was an attractive young woman who was an excellent spinner. She worked very hard at spinning and her yarns were known across the kingdom. A Goblin had noticed her and imagined that one day he would have her first born child as his very own. (This is the way goblins think.) The idea that he would father a child with the beautiful girl was highly unlikely since the imp was quite ugly, and the young woman would never agree to such a thing. He was going to have to rely on trickery. He spent most of the next 3 afternoons considering ways he could make his day-dream come true. He loved the idea of having a child.  Someone he could teach all his acquired skills plus the ways of magic. He became obsessed with the idea.

Finally, he could stand it no longer, he had a plan and he set about manifesting what he wanted. First he made an appointment to see the King. The King found the Goblin so repulsive he made the imp stand facing the wall so that he did not have to look into his bitty eyes, nor consider his bulbous nose. The Goblin went on and on about this young woman who could spin yarn. He told the King that she could spin straw into gold. “Besides that,” the goblin said, excitedly, “she is quite beautiful.” The King was thankful for the information; he did not want to anger the Goblin so he gave him a spot of tea, a pot pie and a coin of silver and sent him on his way.

Next the goblin went to the Miller, the young maiden’s father and whispered in his ear. “Miller, How would you like to be appointed the “King’s Miller”! The Miller’s eyes brightened. “I know a way that you can impress the King and get the appointment to Master Miller. Would you like me to tell you how? “

The Miller invited the Goblin into his office and offered him refreshment. “Yes,” said the Miller. “Tell me what I’d need to do.”

The Goblin began. “Dress your daughter in her finest. Take her and her spinning wheel along with several bags of straw to the castle and get an audience with the King. Tell the King that your daughter has come to show him how she spins straw into gold.”

The Miller could hardly believe his ears. “What is that you say?” The Goblin repeated himself, speaking slowly and clearly. “But, Sir,” the Miller said. “My daughter is a wonderful spinner, but she can not spin straw into GOLD.”

“The King doesn’t know that,” the Goblin said, smiling. “It is my plan to trick the King. I plan to come along, disguised of course. I’m going to use my magic to create the illusion that she is actually spinning straw into gold. The King will be so impressed he will ask your daughter to marry him. She will become the Queen.”

“I don’t understand,” said the Miller. “Why are you doing this magic?”
“I want your daughter’s first born child.”
“Heavens NO! That’s a terrible idea,” said the Miller.
“Wait hear me out,” said the imp. “Once your daughter becomes Queen, she can demand the King make you his Royal Miller and require all the farmers in the kingdom to have their grain milled here at your place. Don’t you see, you will become rich.  Your daughter will become Queen, she will have lots more children. She will hardly miss the first born. If you will help me, I shall do all the rest. What say you about this idea.”

After much thought the Miller agreed. So he went to the King and bragged that his daughter could spin straw into gold. “Well” said the King. “Bring her here. I  want to see this phenomenon.”

The next day the Miller dragged his daughter into the Kings chambers set her on her stool and put her spinning wheel in front of her. The Miller’s helper, who was the goblin in disguise,  brought in several bags of straw and set them next to the bewildered daughter.
“Now,” said the Miller, “My daughter will spin this straw into GOLD.”

“What are you talking about,” said the daughter. “Straw into Gold? Are you crazy? Straw can not be spun into gold.”

The Miller lend over and whispered to his daughter. “Try it out! This spinning wheel has been turned into magic. I bought it special for you. Take a handful of straw and start spinning. Do it, you will see.” The daughter did as her father asked. She grabbed a handful of straw and twisted it around the spindle, whir, whir, whir went the wheel and the spool filled with gold. The King sent for more straw. All through the day and night, handful after handful of straw was turned into gold. The King was astonished. The daughter was amazed. Even the Miller was delighted. The Goblin, in his helper’s cloak, began to hum softly. The King called for his men. When they arrived he had the Miller, the Daughter, and the Miller’s helper locked up in another room.

“Bring me the Royal Spinner,” the king yelled. When the old woman arrived she looked at the spinning wheel and then at the King. “You called,” she asked.

“See that, that spinning wheel,” he said. “It spins straw into gold.” The old woman looked at the King as if he was crazy. “Impossible,” she said.
“Here is a bag of straw. I want you to spin it into gold.” The Old woman sat down at the wheel and tried to spin the straw. No matter how hard she tried she could not spin straw, let alone spin it into gold. The king called for another woman and ordered her to spin the straw into gold. She too failed. Then he called another woman, and then another. When the last of the women gave it a try and failed he sent for the Miller’s daughter. He ordered her to spin straw into gold. “Whir, whir, whir went the wheel and the spool filled with gold.”
As the King watched the Miller’s daughter spinning he saw that she was in fact quite beautiful. He loved all the gold she was spinning and he realized he loved her too. So he got down on one knee and asked the Miller’s daughter to marry him and she agreed. She had always wanted to be a Queen. Plus, the King wasn’t all that bad to look at.  It wasn’t long after the marriage that the King made the Miller the official Royal Miller and all the farmers had him grind their grain.  Everyone was very happy. Especially the Goblin. His idea was working.  About 10 months later the new Queen gave birth to a darling little Prince.

The Prince was a healthy, happy baby and one day when the Prince was exactly 3 months old, the Goblin appeared before the Miller. “Well now Miller,” said the imp. “I have come for your daughter’s baby.” The Miller had forgotten about the agreement. “How in the world am I going to get my daughter and the King to give you their little Prince?”

“You will think of some way. Besides I kept my part of the bargain. Now it is time for you to keep your part,“ said the Goblin. “I shall return in 3 days to collect MY little Prince. And I warn you, he had better be here waiting.“ The Miller got tears in his eyes. I can’t do it. That dear little prince belongs with his mother. Taking him away would break my daughter’s heart Take pity please.” He fell down on his knees and begged the goblin to reconsider.  He offered to give the Goblin all of the money and treasures he had received since becoming the Royal Miller. “No” said the imp. “A deal is a deal!”

The Miller was depressed. He didn’t know what to do.  That evening he went to the King and Queen. He told them about the terrible agreement he had made with the Goblin and how the Goblin had played a trick on all of them by using magic to spin straw into gold. The King was outraged. He wanted to cut off the Miller’s head but the Queen  took pity on her father. And after a sleepless night, the three of them came up with a trick of their own. Well, they didn’t exactly come up with the idea by themselves; it was the Royal Sorcerer, Merlin who gave them the answer. Merlin said, “If you can figure out the Goblin’s true name he will have to leave the kingdom because when  his real name is spoken out loud he will lose all his power.  Basically we will neutralize him. The trick will be to figure out his true name. The King beseeched his people to help him find out the True Name of the Goblin.

On the third day at noon the Goblin was due to come and collect the little Prince. At quarter of 12 the Queen was crying for they had not figured out the Goblin’s true name. Into the King’s chambers ran the official Games Keeper “Your Royal Highness,” he said trying to catch his breath. “I think I know the Goblin’s true name. “
“Out with it. Tell us the name.” said the Queen. “Hurry! Please!”
“I was out in the woods this morning and I heard the squirrels barking. I heard the birds, especially the blue jays squawking, and I heard the Foxes crying.  What was all the ruckus about, I wondered. I crept through the bushes and saw an ugly little man, the goblin I think, dancing around a fire.  He was singing and clapping his hands. I continued to hide and I listened to him and what he was saying… “Today I bake, tomorrow I brew, next day, it’s the young child that’s mine just the same as Rumplestiltskin is my name. “

As the Royal clock struck noon, the large chamber door swung open and in strolled the manikin. “So,” where is he”, the Goblin shouted, looking around the room. “Where is MY little Prince” The King, and the Miller stood with their arms folded over their chest. A few feet behind them the Queen was sitting and holding a bundle of blankets. The little Prince was staring at the ugly goblin.

“Not so fast,” said the King.
“Listen here,” said the Goblin. “I don’t want any trouble.” he smiled, his sharp green teeth showing. “If you don’t cooperate I will be forced to use my magic to take the Child in the most unpleasant way.”

“We don’t think so. Your power is no good around here, Rumplestiltskin,” they shouted. Then everyone in the room yelled over and over again. ‘RUMPLESTILTSKIN, RUMPLESTILTSKIN, RUMPLESTILTSKIN!”
The goblin got so angry he whirled around, whirl, whirl, whirl, stomped his right foot so hard that it sank into the earth. Then he pulled at his left leg with both arms and split himself in two. That was it. He was never seen again and never again was straw spin into gold.

The King, the Queen, the Miller and the little Prince lived happily ever after. The end.

Cinderella BCE

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Hawk 4

In this collage I return to the oldest known Cinderella story, Rhodopis.  It comes to us from the Greek geographer Strabo (64/63 BCE – c. 24 CE) who heard it in Egypt.  Another account of Rhodopis has survived in Aelian’s (175 – c. 235) writings implying the Cinderella theme remained popular throughout antiquity. Interestingly, the story mentions Aesop of fable fame who lived 500 years earlier, indicating that the story probably originated much earlier than the 1st century CE. Aesop used stories featuring animals to teach lessons in morality; from her very beginning, Cinderella is doubly linked with the animal world.

In this version Rhodopis is a slave girl who is teased unmercifully by the other servant girls for her fair complexion.  After her master gives her a pair of rose-gilded slippers, they dislike her even more.  At the next feast day they give her so many chores she cannot attend the celebration.  As she washes clothes in the Nile, her slippers get wet and she puts them on the bank to dry. The god Horus swoops down in his falcon form, flies off with her sandal, and drops it in the Pharaoh’s lap.  He goes in search of the owner and you know the rest of the story!

I’m struck by how very old this story is and how long it retained the shoes and the bird as part of its bones. In my last post I mentioned the symbolism of ownership and possession inherent in the shoes. Years ago, I moved to Saudi Arabia where I lived for sixteen years.  One of the first things I learned was not to ever point the soles of my shoes at someone.  It is considered an insult.  I always thought it was because shoes touched the dirt and were unclean.  I see now that it might imply ownership.  In a part of the world where slavery existed officially until very recently and still continues unofficially in some households, I understand how this might indeed be a grave offense.  It also explains why shoes are left at the door of the mosques (and in other countries and faiths, the temples).  The holy places belong to God and no human can possess them or claim ownership.

Of all the places in the world where one might need shoes, the desert takes the cake.  Given the heat, the stones, the difficulty of walking in sand, a shoe offers freedom of movement and the ability to travel long distances.  Freedom and travel are hardly synonymous with possession and ownership, in fact they seem opposed.  Like many seeming opposites, they simply occupy different ends of a spectrum.  Or perhaps they are mirror images of each other.  Maybe the point of them, in this story, is to teach that two things can be true at the same time. Or that one thing can simultaneously be true and not true …

In my collage there is only the god Horus, the sandal, the sky and the desert.  I wanted to capture a tiny bit of the majesty and terror and beauty of this stark realm.  The collage represents a moment of suspension, of transition and transformation.  In a moment the shoe will drop into Pharaoh’s lap and everyone’s life will change.

The collage recalls a passage in my novel Magdalene A.D. in which Mary Magdalene, the protagonist, has been stung by scorpions.  Lying in a fever, near death, she dreams three dreams.  In the second dream she falls through the sky like the sandal in my collage.  In the third, she dreams of flying over the desert in the shape of a sacred vulture.  These images also recall my vision quest in the Mojave, during which I spent three days and nights in the desert in the company of a Joshua tree.

I feel deeply satisfied with this image (though the blue of the sky didn’t scan very well because I used a metallic electric-blue paper that was really hard to work with).  It seems a far cry from all the busyness of the story and its complex overlay of worldly socio-economic concerns, yet somehow Cinderella brought me to a place of immense solitude and hushed expectancy.  Cinderella consistently retains its ties to the spirit world – whichever of the many versions one reads there is always some mystical connection made by an animal, plant or ancestor that connects the feminine to the divine.   Perhaps this is the true meaning of the story.   Buried in a midden of lust, ambition, greed and cruelty the heart of the world still beats for us, still offers connection.

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.