Category Archives: fairy tale

The Frog and The Princess – First Encounter

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First Encounter - Frog Prince

Here we see that a privileged princess with a huge sense of entitlement has carelessly dropped her golden ball down the well. The frog, on hearing her piteous tears, has struck a bargain – bed and board with the Princess for the return of the ball.  The Princess, who has no intention of honoring her promise, is lying through her teeth.

On the one hand, this is a story about how power and privilege, carelessly handled, can corrupt decency and erode compassion.  The princess has forgotten that with power comes responsibility – the ability to respond – to stay fully present in each moment, giving one’s full attention to the person(s) and events at hand.  If she had remembered, she would have thought carefully about the consequences of any promises and lies she might make.  She might have considered alternative ways to retrieve the ball, or perhaps just left it down the well.  Instead her power has bestowed a false sense of superiority, not only towards others, but also to the normal rules of decency, respect, integrity and courtesy governing relationships.

The frog is just as deceitful as the Princess.  He has seen an opportunity to advance his own agenda and seized it.  In a culture supporting a more equitable distribution of wealth and power, the frog might have performed a random act of kindness and simply returned the ball.  But deprivation and the princess’s callous behavior have hardened his heart.  With no other resources to fall back on, desperation has made him manipulative and sly, ready to take advantage of any weakness to exploit another and further his own ends.

Coded in fairy tale form, we find the base cause of social unrest and incipient rebellion.  Because it was dangerous to discuss such matters, people’s concern, fear and rage were folded in to the tales and disguised as simple set-ups for happy endings.  Despite pretty descriptions of beautiful girlish princesses and faithful servants, dark feelings imbue these tales and often include brutal acts of violence on the way to resolution.  Vicious episodes, such as the step-sisters mutilation of their feet in Cinderella, the streak of fish blood in The Fisherman and His Wife or the devouring wolf in Little Red Riding Hood speak to a time as turbulent, chancy and violent as our own.  They warn of the dangers of extreme polarization and hint at the possibility of revolution.

On the other hand there is always another, more personal way to read the story.  Water symbolizes both the emotional life of our surface personas and also the inaccessible depths of the personal and collective unconscious.  The Princess, that young, naïve, immature Queen-to-be, represents the un-individuated self.  She has lost her golden ball.  Gold represents fertility, life, dominion, warmth and generosity, it is pure and incorruptible.  So far, the Princess possesses none of these qualities and thus cannot keep hold of her treasure.

The frog, an amphibian, can live and breathe in two realms.  This makes him a spirit guide, or psychopomp – a being who can travel back and forth between worlds.  The word for frog in Japanese is kaeru which also means “to return”.  Traditional beliefs state that however far you may transport a frog, it will always return to the place of departure.  Another meaning ascribed to frogs by the Japanese is “stand-ins.”  Some people carry lucky frog charms and believe that when something threatens them, the frog may “stand-in” and face danger in their place.  In this story the frog displays all these attributes as he dives into the well to rescue the Princess’s best qualities, which she has shoved into the shadows and neglected.  The story reminds me that we can ignore talent and nobility as deliberately as we deny less desirable attributes.  It asks me to consider how I sometimes denigrate or reject my own abilities.

Like with dream work,  one may read a collage or a fairy tale as if every character and object represents a part of oneself.  Taking this approach I’m working with the idea of deception.    If everything in the story represents myself,  what lies do I tell myself and why? What have I lost and how may I retrieve it?

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The Fearsome Wild Hag

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Baba Yaga flies away

Baba Yaga flies away

Baba Yaga

The Fearsome Wild Hag

     Baba Yaga is a Slavic folklore supernatural being, one of 3 sisters with the same name who appear as deformed and/or ferocious-looking women. Baba Yaga flies around in a cauldron shaped like a mortar, dwells, deep in the forest in a hut, usually described as standing on scaly yellow chicken legs, that walks about all by itself, sometimes twirls around and around like an ecstatic dancer. Her fence is usually decorated with human skulls. As she travels, she rows her vehicle with an oar shaped like a pestle. All the while she sweeps out the tracks of where she has been with a broom made from the hair of a person long dead.

 Baba Yaga is fearsome, for she represents the power of annihilation and the power of the life force at the same time. Even through Baba Yaga threatens, she is just. She does not hurt anyone as long as they treat her with dignity and respect. She expects honesty, courageous and straight talk. You must be able to accept her as she is warts, wisdom, and all. Respect in the face of great power is a crucial lesson. So many of her feminine attributes and forces are vast, all are formidable. It is understandable that the first time we come face-to-face with the Old Wild Powers, both men and women take one anxious look and make tracks.

She may help or hinder those that encounter or seek her out. At times Baba Yaga plays a maternal role. She is closely association with forest wild life. She sometimes frights a hero, (promises to eat him,) but helps him if he is courageous. According to Vladimir Propp’s folk tale morphology, Baba Yaga commonly appears as either a donor, Villain or maybe altogether ambiguous. A donor in a fairy tale is a character that tests the hero, or heroine and provides magical assistance to them when he/she succeeds. In many folktales she kidnaps and eats naughty children (usually roasts them in the oven.) She has her familiars, the three horsemen, red, white and black.  And of course, she has at least one black cat and crow.

Baba means Old Woman or grandmother. Yaga means horror, shudder, or chill, witch, pain or worry. She first occurred in 1755 listed among Slavic gods. The Slavic god Perun appears equated with the Roman god Jupiter. Baba Yaga appears to have no equivalence, attesting to her uniqueness even in this first known attestation.

Baba Yaga has bony legs, when inside her dwelling, she may be found stretched out over the stove, reaching from one corner of the hut to another. Her nose is repulsive, so are her breasts, buttocks, vagina.  In some tales a trio of Baba Yagas appear as sisters, all sharing the same name. Her long chin curved up and her long nose curved down, and they met in the middle. She has a tiny white goatee and warts on her skin from her trade in toads. Baba Yaga is the fearsome wild Crone.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes says, The story begins, ‘Once there was, and once there was not … ‘. This phase alerts the soul that this story takes place in the world between worlds where nothing is as it first seems. The woods can be that luminal space between realms. In my collage I show Baba Yaga flying about in her cauldron rowing with her pestle. Below you can see her hut and fence surrounded by forest. It is night and the moon is full.

Baba Yaga – Ancient of Days

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Baba Yaga

In the past months we’ve explored in some depth the feminine archetypes Maiden and Mother.   As autumn season deepens and the old pagan year ends, it seems fitting to spend time with Crone.  We’ve chosen Baba Yaga, the Russian woodland hag to represent her.  Rather than focus on a particular story we will focus on Baba Yaga herself.

Basically Baba Yaga means ‘Grandmother Witch.’  It is wise when speaking of fearsome entities to address them with a euphemistic honorific.  For instance the Irish call their fearsome fairies ‘The Gentry.’  Both appellations carry an ironic undercurrent.

Baba Yaga appears at first glance to be quintessentially Russian, but she is much much older, predating any kind of nationalistic identity with its civilized and Christian veneers.  In her stories she often uses her keen sense of smell to sniff out “the Russian scent.”  Her origin lies deep in Slavic paganism; she comes from a time of endless taiga (forest) when boreal woodlands spread unchecked across northern Europe, Asia and North America. Her roots reach deep into the dawn of human history.  She is “the Arch-Crone, the Goddess of Wisdom and Death, the Bone Mother. Wild and untamable, she is a nature spirit bringing wisdom and death of ego, and through death, rebirth.”  Like that feminine symbol the Moon, her aspect is both light and dark.

Her identity as the triple goddess archetype Maiden, Mother, Crone is reflected in tales, which include her two sisters.  Dealing with these archetypes is tricky – like all good scientifically minded children of this modern age, we want to analyze, identify, dissect, and isolate; we want to take things apart and see how they work.  But the three sisters work together and cannot be separated.  A woman is never only mother, maiden or crone. The memories, experience and intuitive wisdom of each phase mix, meld, and re-define themselves. They ebb, flow, whirl and lie in static pools of calm.  At any moment in a woman’s life she can be thirteen, thirty, or ninety-three.

And so with Baba Yaga, who can change shapes at will and replace her haggard features with young beauty any time she chooses. She can grow and shrink, fly hobble or run like the wind. She is a solar goddess governing the progression of the days with her three Knights (Red Knight = the day bright sun, White Knight = the dawn, and Black Knight = the night; red, black and white are colors long associated with triple goddesses.)  She is a lunar goddess with her thirteen fiery skulls set on posts around her chicken-legged house.  The house spins on its legs, just like the Earth and Moon when the Baba is away, flying through the air in her mortar and pestle while sweeping her tracks away with a broom.

The Crone is a rich and complex archetype but her chief attribute is wisdom.  She is the keeper of life’s memories and experiences.  She represents the power inherent in each woman and man to transform the pain and suffering of life into wisdom, the ability to learn from our mistakes.

In this collage we approach Baba Yaga carefully from the side, rather than head on. We come as the girl child who appears so often in her tales.  Children, not yet having lost their connection with the spirit realm from which their souls originate, hold their own particular brand of wisdom.  The Crone is able to return to a childlike place of open-eyed and hearted wonder and bring to it the wisdom of experience.  In between childhood and old age, we humans often bumble around on one quest or another searching for self, wealth, meaning, love, substance, answers – all manner of things. The Radiant Child and the Crone reach out to each other across that gap.  We often see this reflected in everyday life by the rapport between children and grandparents that seems to jump a generation.

The forest represents the untamed wilderness where the Baba is most at home.  Our own wild spirits, from which flow courage, grit, determination and endurance, are the raw materials we bring to the work. Baba Yaga, terrible flesh-eater though she is, responds well to respect and a willingness to learn. Beside her sit mortars in which to grind grain and herbs, baskets of seeds for planting, and pots to hold her spells. Cauldrons, pots, cups, bowls symbolically represent the womb – that most ancient vessel of transformation and birth.

For more on Baba Yaga as Crone I highly recommend the essay by Anonymous posted by Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D. on her website Mything Links:

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.

 

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.