Category Archives: Fairy Tales

Kwan Yin and the Fox

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Kwan Yin and the Fox

One foggy night, long long ago, Kwan Yin, Goddess of Compassion, was passing through the narrow streets of a small rural town on the banks of the river Mu. Smoke from cooking fires combined with the damp cold air to produce fevers and loud hacking coughs that shook the thin paper walls of the houses and caused the entire population to toss and turn in fretful sleep.  Kwan Yin moved tirelessly from house to house laying cool fingers on hot foreheads, dripping her sweet balm onto the parched lips of sick children.  With so much human misery voicing discomfort and fear it was astonishing that her ears picked up the faint whine of a distressed animal.

It was coming from beneath an old overturned rowboat on the banks of the river.  A bent oarlock kept one side barely raised above the mud, while the other lay half-buried in muck.  Bending down to peer beneath the boat, Kwan Yin spied two emerald green eyes glowering from a far corner.  The smell of blood and urine and the sharp musk of fox told her all she needed to know.  The animal had become trapped, who knows how many days ago; faced with starvation, unable to extricate itself, it had begun to gnaw at its own paw in a last desperate attempt at freedom.

“Hush,” she hummed. “Hush, now.  Lie very still.”

Grasping the edge of the splintering wooden boat, the goddess heaved with all her strength, but he boat refused to budge.  Dropping to her knees, she dug a small hole in the dirt.  Placing her lips close to the ground she called softly, “Izanami, Sister Earth, can you hear me?”

The ground trembled beneath her knees.

“Please, dear sister. Grant your unworthy little sister this one small favor.  You hold a rowboat, old and crumbling, painted blue, half-buried beside the River Mu.  It holds one of your living creatures captive.  I beg you to release the fox into my care.”

The sound of tumbling rocks grinding against each other rose out of the hole.  Kwan Yin listened patiently to the familiar grumble.  She knew the lecture by heart – “Stop interfering, taking every disaster to heart, attempting to change the natural course of things …”Finally, the lengthy tirade ground to a stop.  The hole snapped shut as the river bank gave a convulsive twitch and flipped the row boat up in the air.  It landed with a splash, half in and half out of the water, drenching Kwan Yin’s white kimono.

She shook out her wet robes and tore a strip off the bottom of her underskirt.  The fox bared its teeth as her hand approached the mangled paw, but the fight went out of him at her touch.  His heavy sigh, sounded like a sob, like giving up, and for a moment she thought him expired.  Then his pink tongue, rough as a cat’s, licked feebly, twice across her fingers.

At that moment lights appeared at the end of the cobbled lane.  Gongs sounded, men shouted, and cymbals clanged.  A shaman’s voice rose above the crowd, exhorting the angry mob to search out the fox spirit who had brought sickness to their village.  Scooping the fox up in her arms, Kwan Yin stepped quickly into the rowboat.  The sudden redistribution of weight dislodged the boat from its loose mooring.  A moment later a strong current seized them in its grip and bore them away.

Muffled in darkness with nothing to see or do, the unlikely companions soon fell fast asleep.  They awoke in the midst of a snow-covered forest.  The boat drifted along more slowly now, closer to the banks.  Once or twice, Kwan Yin managed to snatch a branch of frozen berries from an overhanging bush.  She fed them one by one to the fox along with mouthfuls of snow, melted in her cupped palms.

The fog had dissipated and though the days remained overcast, at night the skies cleared to reveal a strange star burning large, low and bright on the western horizon.  The beautiful compelling light seemed to be guiding them. The two companions took to sleeping during the day and sitting awake at night to sing and yelp at the beautiful sight.

As the fox recovered, his red fur began to shine and his nose gleamed shiny and black. The green eyes sparkled with mischief and his scraggly tail fluffed out into a glorious bush.  One day he spoke.  “Tonight is the longest night,” he said conversationally,

Kwan Yin glanced at him, “You needed have bothered pretending not to talk.  I can read minds and I speak the tongue of every sentient creature.”

The fox looked crestfallen for a second.  “I knew there was something funny about you – you never eat or drink.”

“What do you mean – the longest night?”

“You mean you don’t know everything?”

She shook her head.

“It means the year is changing.  Winter is coming, but at the same time the light returns, the days get longer.  Tonight is a magical time of transition. Anything could happen.  Perhaps, our journey will finally come to an end”

No sooner where the words out of the fox’s mouth when the boat bumped into the bank and stuck fast in a tangle of roots.

“It’s almost midnight, “whispered the fox.

“Somewhere, a baby’s being born, a radiant child, a special child.  I can sense the mother’s labor pains and feel her joy,” replied Kwan Yin.

Above them the star flared.  It shone on the snow shrouded trees where one bare branch burst into flower.

“Time to go,” said the fox.  He jumped into Kwan Yin’s arms, licked her face and jumped.  The snow flew up in flurries, sparkling in the moonlight.  She blinked and he was gone.

 

 

The Winter Crow

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Brigit's Crow_0001

There was once a mad, bad, white, winter crow so impertinent and insolent and filled with such insouciance that nothing could humble him. Tiring at last of his disruptive nonsense, the Goddess Brigit set out to enchant him and he fell in love, promising anything for just one kiss.  Brigit, binding him with his own words, made him messenger to the gods.  From that day forth he flew back and forth between worlds, diving into the Below, soaring into the Above visiting the abodes of gods, elementals, angels, djinns and humans; observing innumerable acts of kindness, greed, compassion, love and terror.  At first his own feelings bewildered him – rage, pity and mirth cracked his heart open; tears of laughter, grief and frustration moistened it and caused it to soften and expand.  Gradually, Brigit, keeping her side of the bargain, tamed his feral spirit until he began to take pride in his job, venturing now and then beyond the strictly necessary to work his own magic on situations and circumstances in order to better the conditions of the beings he encountered on his errands.

Usually, the crow flew home to Brigit on Solstice night to celebrate the Return of the Light with her and all the other animals.  Deep within the forest they gathered in a grove of evergreens to sing and chant, honoring the Darkness, praising the Light; celebrating the mystery of Life and Death.  Over the years, humans had heard rumors of these rites. They had begun to imitate them, or at least the way they imagined them to be, by cutting living branches and taking them into their own homes to decorate with nuts and berries; making up their own songs and ceremonies for they, too, recognized the turning of the wheel of the year and wished to honor it.

This year was a special year, one of the rare times when the full moon coincided with Solstice, illuminating the longest night with her magical light. The crow was late and tired, but as he flew through the forest, determined not to be late to the convocation, his concentration was interrupted  by an oddly sorrowful creaking.

“It’s only the wind rubbing against the bare branches of that sleeping oak,” he thought, though it sounded like something crying. He flew on, but the sad sound followed him. Giving a weary sigh, he circled back and landed on a branch.

“You’re supposed to be asleep. Why aren’t you sleeping?” asked the crow.

“I’m lonely,” wailed the tree.  “My branches are bare. The people who love me in the summer for my delicious shade have gone inside, taking the evergreens with them, leaving me alone.  The evergreens are wearing the ribbons maidens wind around my trunk in May!  They are cradling beautiful red apples their needled branches never bore and flaunting the many nuts my cousins and I worked so hard to grow while I must stand here with only the cold North Wind for company, too far from the Brigit’s congregation to hear the singing!”

The crow shifted impatiently on the branch waiting for the tale of woe to subside.

“Everything has a place and a season and a purpose, “he explained, reasonably.

“But it’s not fair,” groaned the tree.

“Nothing’s fair,” thought the crow crossly. “It’s not how things work.”

A faint vibration ruffled the crow’s feathers – a padding of paws, a fluttering of wings as animals began to gather deep in the heart of the forest.  Suddenly he felt sorry for the poor silly tree; rooted in place; tossing and turning its branches; fretfully awake while his brother and sister trees dreamed sweetly of summer and the rest of the world celebrated.

“Listen,” he said suddenly.  “I’ll tell you a secret I’m not supposed to talk about.”

He dropped his harsh caw to a croaking whisper.

“The animals aren’t the only ones that sing tonight. All the planets join in and the stars keep them company.  If you are very still and quiet, you might hear them. The stars are good fellows, always ready to share a lark and a laugh.  They owe me a favor.  So stay very quiet.  No more moaning!  I’m going now, but be patient. Keep very still and wait to see what happens!”

Giving a jump he flew straight up the sky and circled the stars muttering a little rhyme.

                                                                              Little Stars, come settle down

                                                                              Upon these branches bare

                                                                              Glimmer soft this solstice night

                                                                              And pretty twinkles share.

One by one the stars dropped softly down, clinging to the tangled branches of the bare tree.  The Earth had begun to hum and the stars sang along in a sweet shrill counterpoint, voices rising to join the solar song.  The tree stood straight and tall, all his grievances forgotten, shivering with pleasure and delight; hung with a thousand points of lovely light.

Another Twist to the Tale!

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abstract xmas tree        Language is originally and essentially nothing but a system of signs or symbols, which denote real occurrences, or their echo in the human soul.

CARL JUNG, Psychology of the Unconscious

This month we’ve decided to reverse our process and write our own tales based on the collages we create using the Christmas Tree motif.  We’ll take our inspiration either from the image as a whole, or from some detail within the picture.  Of course, we’d love it if you played along!  Send us a tale based on one of this month’s pictures or on a Christmas Tree inspired piece of art you created and we will post it with a link to your page.  Happy holidays to all whether you are celebrating Yule, Solstice, Hanukkah and or Kwanzaa or simply soaking up the ambience.  For those of you not so fond of this season, we suggest creating a piece that reflects those bleaker associations.  Sadly, the holidays can be a time of terrible strife and stress in some families and those scars can ache with every festive manifestation of the season. 

Solstice celebrates the dark as well as the light. Darkness, long associated in our culture with evil, distress and despair can also be a refuge and a comfort.  Human beings go crazy sicken and die with too much light and no sleep. Seeds need the dark earth in which to germinate and sprout; babies need nine months gestation in the dark cave of their mothers’ wombs; bears need to hibernate; trees need periods of dormancy. Learning to love, understand and embrace the dark within and without one’s can banish many fears. It teaches compassion, humility and forgiveness.

Here at Two Twitch a Tale we value the darker side of the tales for richness, resonance and reality.  We find no wisdom in a tale that does not include its shades and shadows.

“It is Lost”

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Scan_Pic0006The Frog Prince
“It is Lost”

The frog is a personal symbol of mine. I call my art studio, Leap Frog Studio Collage Works. In my book, “Crying Woman”, one of the major characters is a Frog. My Frog character has lost his family. He has lost his “Frog“ voice and can not call to them. In the Grimm Bros. story “The Frog Prince,” the frog by the pond is actually a handsome prince longing to return to his kingdom and be the Prince he once was. When the Princess cries out that her golden ball has been lost, Frog sees an opportunity to help the Princess and break the evil spell that has been cursed on him. I wonder, “what if you found yourself turned into another creature, unable to communicate with others of your species and unable to contact those you used to love. How sad, how sad indeed.

My real life Prince Charming died. Perhaps he too was turned into a frog. I could no longer be with him. I couldn’t talk to him nor see him.  In every sense of the word he was lost. I cried out, too. Was there a way the evil spell could be broken. Could I do something to make him return?  Perhaps he was sitting by a pond waiting. Perhaps his voice had changed and he no longer could call to me.  I got to thinking about what it might be like for him.

I imagine when you die at least your spirit moves on. What if he was off on a new adventure but could not communicate with his family. There would be a sadness that surely he would feel, a longing.. Like the loved ones he left behind, he would wish to be reunited with his beloveds. Just as the Frog Prince must long to see his father and mother, the King and Queen.

I imagine that most Frog Prince’s and Frog Princess’ are people who died young. Because I would think that if you were old and all your loved ones had already “Passed On”, then you’d be ready to make the transition yourself. There would be no need to hang around longing for them to return.

In our story, “The Frog Prince” knows that IF he can get a Princess to take him home and let him sleep on her pillow for three nights that he will be turned back into the handsome prince. There are tales where the spell will be broken if the frog can get the Princess to kiss him.  Regardless, the spell can be broken. It may seem nearly impossible for the event to occur, but there is a chance, there is hope that things well return to “normal”.  In real life when a loved one dies they don’t get to come back. There are no spells, or caveats.  When you die you are gone from this earthly place.  There is no coming back.

What if in life you had that chance to be reunited, if only for a few hours would it make a difference? In the story of the Frog Prince his situation is temporary. He is turned back into a handsome Prince and the Princess falls in love with him and the story ends with everyone living happily ever after. In my story the Princess realizes that the frog needs to come to terms with his loss and  longing, the same as she must must do, but she gives him hope. They part knowing that each must go on their separate ways.  In the old way they are lost to each other.  But in a new special way they are tied to each other forever.

Talisman

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Baba1Sadly, Michelle’s new computer has also malfunctioned so her silence is based on a lack of means rather than will or desire.  We wonder if we have slighted some creature of myth or overlooked some entity in one of the tales.  If so, we are heartily sorry and do here apologize.

I on the other hand am stuck!  I simply can’t find any more images, so far, that resonate for me with Baba Yaga.  I think we erred in picking an iconic figure rather than delving into a particular story, though it does underscore our point about the efficacy of story in deepening self-knowledge, connecting to community and inspiring creativity.

As I mentioned earlier, Baba Yaga has been part of my personal mythic line-up for a long time.  Several years ago, I created a Baba Yaga figure out of one of those small wooden anatomical figures used by artists to remind them of the proportions of the human form.  I decided to photograph her for you in lieu of a collage.

Much as I love collage, if one is not a painter (I am not; Michelle is.) it can be very restrictive if one is attempting to express a specific idea – for example finding the picture of an ugly old woman is difficult.  Google springs immediately to mind- but somehow to me it feels like cheating.  Silly isn’t it! Or I could go out and buy a new magazine, but that seems to violate the element of serendipity I value in my work.  Collage, the way I do it, has to do with recycling, rearranging and refreshing already created images into new contexts and juxtapositions.  The work reflects the larger work of nature, in which basic elements are constantly being shuffled and redealt into new alignments to produce a novel shape or configuration.  Collage is humbling because one can never forget that the parts and pieces, the ideas and symbols are part of a larger whole and derive from many sources.  Painting, drawing, sketching leaves more room for ego and idiosyncrasy.  In it, connections, borrowings and derivations are more subtle and the unique contributions of the artist more immediate and visible.  I often long to be able to paint what I see, but there is some disconnect between hand and eye for me that increases my frustration level to the point it is no longer satisfying to attempt.

Doll making on the other hand – at least with a basic body shape to work with, seemed more within my grasp.  Actually assembling the pieces parts was rather like making a collage.  My Baba Yaga wears purple velvet pantaloons tucked into felt boots sporting pearl buttons.  Her long-sleeved peasant shirt is silver to represent the moon.  She wears a fur-lined vest in the colors of autumn leaves and her fur-collared velvet cloak is springtime green.  I sewed three small brooms to the hem so she can sweep away her footsteps as she goes.   A tiny skull hangs around her neck, reminiscent of her Indian cousin Kali.  A babushka – the traditional head scarf worn by Russian women – covers her gray head (I donated a lock of my own hair) and her face is fierce and smeared with red.  Nose and teeth are made from real shards of bone.  She wears a bunch of keys at her waist because she holds the keys to our questions about the mysteries of Life/Death, our relationship to nature and our connection to the past and future.

Working with the doll, gluing my own hair on her head, engendered a more profound grasp of what it means to be a crone, a wisdom holder, an elder and a quintessentially wild woman.  As always, I am deeply grateful to my estimable guide Clarissa Pinkola Estes. She is a mentor par excellence; her book Women Who Run with the Wolves is one of my Bibles.  In it Dr. Estes explores Vasilisa, the story most often associated with Baba Yaga.  It contains many parallels with Cinderella (the reason M. and I chose to concentrate on the witch).  However, in Vasilisa the dead mother is represented by a doll.  Not until I reread the chapter for this essay did I realize the connections between my doll and the one in the story.

The talismanic numen of the doll is that it reminds us, tells us, sees ahead for us.  This intuitive function belongs to all women. It is a massive and fundamental receptivity … possessing immediate access to a profound wisdom that reaches to women’s very bones.    ~ Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Baba Yaga provides a direct connection, not only to our own old age, but also to our oldest ancestors.  (From another perspective – our youngest predecessors) Her lineage is very old.  I think she probably first came to consciousness among the hunter-gatherers of the primeval forests of Northern Europe.  As people became more agrarian and expanded the clearings and meadows into farmland they kept her stories alive. As Pupul Jayakar states so eloquently in her book The Earth Mother, speaking of Indian history:

    … like a spiral it coils and uncoils.  Within this movement nothing is totally rejected, nothing discarded, no issues polarized. The alien and heretical are neither confronted nor destroyed; instead they are transformed.  The rural tradition has a skill of genius, in inventing myths and reinterpreting texts, that reduces the alien to familiar symbols and metaphors.

    The gap between orthodox dogma and heretical belief is never unbridgeable. Deities and systems maligned and ostracized in one age become benevolent and respectable in another.

This is why folk tales are so important because they contain the seeds of the past and future.  Seeds thousands of years old, found buried in tombs or encased in long-forgotten storage jars have been sprouted by anthropologists.  Just so, ancient concepts and insights can be held in folktales to re-emerge centuries later and blossom into something with contemporary relevance.  Who knows what of our wisdom, understanding or technology will disappear to re-emerge in the future?

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Death and Ambiguity

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The Crone

While Baba Yaga may have her more benign moments, in truth, she is a terrifying creature of great power; a cannibal, said to have devoured the flesh of those whose flaming skulls form a palisade around her chicken-legged hut.  Cannibalism seems repulsive and horrible to modern eyes, but originally people ate bits of the dead in order to share their manna, their spirit, and make it their own.  Taking a bite of one’s ancestor meant incorporating some of her/his power and wisdom into oneself and opened a door to communication with the dead.  In the same way, eating some of one’s enemy allowed access to their courage and intelligence. In a way its about conservation, recycling and continuity; learning from the past and bringing its lessons forward.

Skulls served the same purpose.  Many ancient cultures from Celts to Mayans collected skulls and incorporated them heavily into their culture and art considering them the repository of intelligence and  home to the soul.  Within it repose the organs of all the senses including touch (though skin spreads across the rest of the body as well). To behead a person is to sever his/her connection to Earth; to collect it is to retain some of their essence.  To preserve the skull of one’s ancestor maintains an immediate and personal souvenir, which acts as both a mnemonic device and a means of communication with the dead.  Read more about skulls on Magdalene A.D.’s Facebook page.

The skull has long been a symbol of death, but in more ancient times it also stood for rebirth.  After all, bones last longer than any other part of us – sometimes for century upon century – look at our own far distant great, great, great, great, etc. grandmother Lucy!  Thus, in a weird paradox bones represent both immortality and mortality.  The witch Baba Yaga embodies that same ambiguity with capricious displays of ferocity and benevolence. So too, do her familiars the cock and the cat.  These animals are powerful symbols in many cultures around the world – sometimes for good, sometimes for ill.  Both are psychopomps – spirit guides who move between worlds carrying messages and leading souls through the veils that separate one plane from another.  Out of all the tangled myth and meaning associated with these animals two things stand out for me.

The cat, a known familiar of witches, hunts in the dark, pouncing on her prey and bringing it into the light.  She symbolizes the work the Crone demands of us- to hunt through our own shadows for whatever gnaws, festers and corrupts and bring it into the consciousness.

For Malays, the foot of the rooster represents a three-way cross roads; a place where destiny can change. Hecate, ancient Queen of witches, herself the crone aspect of a pre-Olympian triple Goddess (Persephone, Demeter, Hecate) was worshiped outdoors at places where three paths crossed. The number three has been considered sacred since the dawn of time and still survives in modern Christian culture as The Trinity. Hecate’s crossroads can represent the past, present and future as well as possible new directions to take in one’s life.  It’s interesting that she offers a three-way choice, rather than an either/or decision.  Hecate, like Baba Yaga represents choice and ambiguity.

The Crone understands connection and entanglement and yet she is essentially simple, basic primitive. Her mantra is easy to understand: Change or die.  She grasps the meaning of life’s most basic paradox: the one is contained in the many and the many in the one; all entities formed from the same matter, connected by the same life force, but each one singular and unique.

This is a lot of telling to explain what the collage intends to show!  Hopefully, it’s all there.  If nothing else, the feminine symbols carved into the trees, half-hidden behind their trunks, indicate  the unequivocally feminine nature of this goddess and her mysteries. Or do they?  As humans age their bodies change; women and men become more and more androgynous in  appearance and wisdom.  Individuation is about becoming more completely human.  The true Crone integrates within herself both cat and rooster, feminine and masculine.

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. //

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.

The Ugly Duckling

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Uglyduckling#1The Misplaced Egg

The Ugly Duckling

 The Ugly Duckling is a story about an egg misplaced. Somehow a swan’s egg gets into a duck’s nest. The story doesn’t tell us how that happens. It just begins with the odd egg being a matter of fact.  A barnyard mother duck is sitting on her clutch of eggs waiting for them to hatch. Finally the little ducklings are born, all are doing well. The mother duck is upset because there is still one egg, the largest egg still to hatch. The mother isn’t sure what to do.

 An old duck comes by and takes a look at the egg and declares it is a Turkey egg which she has had experience trying to hatch. She tells the mother duck about her involvement and how it turned out to be a turkey chick and how when it was time to teach the ducklings to swim the turkey chick wouldn’t get in the water. She advises the mother duck to abandon the egg but the mother duck decides to spend the extra days sitting on the egg. When the egg cracks open and out pops the creature inside she is amazed at how ugly it is. It has big feet, grey down plumage, long neck, a large beak and is twice the size of her other babies. This poor thing is pretty unappealing, perhaps it stayed in the egg to long or maybe it is a turkey. She takes her babies down to the pond and they all jump in including her ugly duckling… As it turns out the ugly baby can swim and swim better than the others… She decides it isn’t a baby turkey.

 When she takes her babies to the barnyard all the other animals comment about the “odd” one. Everyone picks on and ridicules the ugly duckling until the ugly one runs away.

 We all have had moments, or periods in our life when we felt like a misplaced egg … an ugly duckling that can’t purr or lay eggs. These are difficult times. We wonder who we are and where we belong. We look for our tribe, our kindred souls. It is a time when we feel alone and unsupported. If we aren’t careful we can start to hate our self or hate the others. We have no role models, no friends and no sense of our worth. Hans Christian Andersen tells of the poor baby duckling’s struggles and wanderings. At one point the baby almost freezes to death.

 In the story the cygnet notices all the different animals, wonders where he might belong. When he sees the mature swans he is impressed at their beauty, skills and graceful nature. As a young one he is not old enough to join them as they migrate to their winter grounds. It isn’t until the baby finds his “people” his fellow swans that he can really see himself. When he looks at his reflection and is amazed at how he has transformed. When the children see him on the pond with the other swans and declare that he is the most beautiful of all he arches his long graceful neck and swims with pride and happiness. Like the ugly duckling all of us need to realize that are uniqueness is what makes us beautiful.

Know Thyself

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The Ugly Duckling_NEW

We seem to be choosing stories about mothers and children lately and The Ugly Duckling is no exception.  However, my first thoughts on reading it again were not about mothers, but about belonging and not belonging.  Re-calling Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ phrase “the mistaken zygote,” I went back to my well-thumbed beloved copy of Women Who Run With the Wolves.

Let me digress a moment here and say this book ought to be every woman’s Bible.  If I were in charge (!) I would make sure every girl gets one as part of a coming-of-age package presented at the celebration of menarche. Of course I ended up re-reading the whole chapter, smiling and crying a bit to see the condition of being female so beautifully understood.  Buy it, steal it, borrow it and refuse to return it!  Get your hands on a copy and keep it close at hand.

Speaking of this story, written by Hans Christian Anderson and published in 1845, Clarissa says:

It is a psychological and spiritual root story.  A root story is one that contains a truth so fundamental to human development that without integration of this fact further progression is shaky, and one cannot entirely prosper psychologically until this point is reached.

That point is all about finding who you really are, accepting who you are, and also finding others like yourself who will affirm, confirm and value who you are. In Clarissa’s words:

The duckling of the story is symbolic of the wild nature, which, when pressed into circumstances of little nurture, instinctively strives to continue no matter what   …

The other important aspect of the story is that when an individual’s particular kind of soulfulness, which is both an instinctual and a spiritual identity, is surrounded by psychic acknowledgment and acceptance, that person feels life and power as never before.  Ascertaining one’s own psychic family brings a person vitality and belongingness.

I loved this story the very first time I read it.  Then, I got to see Danny Kaye play Hans Christian Anderson in the movies!  At age seven, I developed a mad crush on him, learned his songs by heart, and saw every movie of his my parents allowed. I still sing, “Quack! Get out!  Quack! Quack!  Get out!  Quack! Quack! Get out of town!” to myself some days.

My dad was in the army and we moved around so much I was always the new kid in town.  I never fit in at school and I felt like a stranger at home. Hans Christian Anderson could have written this story for me.  I identified completely with the ugly duckling; he sustained and encouraged me.  Having read it, I believed that one day I too could find people like me who would value me.  Looking back on my life, I am still amazed at the power of  stories, which I read as a little girl, to influence and nourish me.  In fact, I dedicated my first volume of poetry Be A Teller Of Tales to:

 Piglet & Pooh,

Ratty, Mole, Alice,

Humpty Dumpty, Br’er Rabbit,

Pinocchio, Mrs. Doasyouwouldbdoneby,

Mrs. Pigglewiggle, Charlotte, Uncle Wriggly,

Mary Poppins, Curdie, Cinderella, the North Wind, the Five Little Peppers, Heidi, Black Beauty and all

the other beloved creatures and characters

without whose leadership, companionship

and instruction I would know

nothing of storytelling

and much less

about life.

The Ugly Duckling gave me a sense of self-worth.  It inspired me to keep looking for my “pack” and gave me the courage to approach them whenever I did find another pack member.  I was very happy to return to the story after all theses years, read it again and find it as edifying and useful as ever.  I still feel heartstruck at the exile of the duckling, proving that old scars never completely fade away.  Perhaps that’s why the tones in this collage are so dark – not something I intended.  All Anderson’s stories are tinged with shadows, even those with happy endings.  I suppose it’s why I love them so. They never prevaricate or pretend. As a child, nothing was more frightening to me than lies. I could always trust Mr. Anderson to truthfully reflected the uneven mixture of pain, grief, joy and happiness I found life to be.

My collage shows the mother duck with both her own duckling and the strange creature she has inadvertently hatched.  The chickens and cat represent barnyard fowl, the ignorant nay-sayers of this world.  I included the cat because it foreshadows the danger the cygnet will meet on his quest.  The swan, is his true nature; the creature he will find at journey’s end.