Category Archives: Greed

“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.

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How Twitch This Tale?

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Rumplestiltskin2

Earlier I mentioned that I thought poor Rumpelstiltskin got a raw deal, but of course there are other ways to look at the story.  Change perspective and the rather dim-witted, gullible and mendacious maiden becomes a clever and enterprising young woman who must use subterfuge and beguilement to protect herself from the machinations of greedy and lascivious men.

What was the Miller’s motive in making such an extravagant claim in the King’s hearing?  In the pre-industrial age millers were incredibly important entrepreneurs.  Grain was of no use to anyone until it had been ground into flour.  Local agricultural communities depended on their mills to provide the means to sell a cash crop.  The millers not only ground the grain they helped the farmers sell it.  They were canny sophisticated men, well versed in local politics and unlikely to blab recklessly in the presence of their betters.  So why did the Miller make this boast.  Did he want to get rid of his daughter?  If so why?  Was she already pregnant?  Could the baby have been his?

On the other hand, maybe his daughter was already pregnant with Rumplestiltskin’s child.  The story says nothing of his age or looks, just that he was short.  Perhaps the maiden devised this plan to buy time, find a husband and get rid of a fascinating but creepy suitor.

The story seems to hinge on the value of the newborn child.  Maybe it’s a story about how crazy the longing for a child can make a person and what lengths someone will go to in order to fulfill that longing.

The more I studied this story, the sadder everyone seemed.  The king and the maiden in my collage are both unhappy looking.  Rumple is merely manic.  The message this story carries may be simply what it seems – riches cannot buy happiness.

I gave this story a green background because the forest plays such a large part – at least in my imagination.  The woods are Rumplestiltskin’s stomping grounds.  His magic seems to derive from his relationship to the woodlands.  It is the one place he feels safe enough to utter his true name.

Names are very important in magic.  They hold a person’s personal power.  If the true name of an enemy can be discovered, then he can be forced to do your bidding.  If the true name of a plant or mineral is known than you can use and manipulate it for your own ends. Remember, in the Genesis creation story Adam was granted the right to name each animal and thus define it.  In other words, he was given dominion over the animals.

The sunlit grain fields, the clearing in which the mill stands and the walled extravagance of the castle all speak of land that has been tamed.  The forest is a wild place and maybe Rumpelstiltskin wants only to protect the legacy of wildness for his child, or by extension, all children.  The story may well be a protest against the groundswell of technology presaged by the invention of watermill and spinning wheel.

Different meaning, different issues, different interpretations make these tales timeless.  We see once again that the personal is political and vice-versa.   Every time we revisit the tales, the wheel spins again and straw is spun into gold.

 

Yashoda and Krishna

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Yashoda and Krishna 1

I’ve loved this story ever since the first time I heard it – maybe because giving birth seemed like such a cosmic event to me.  For me this story is about motherhood.  I’ve always felt so entrusted with my children-not in any way proprietary, but rather as if some awesome power had delivered them into my care – mine to love, but never own.  Khalil Gibran, the Lebanese poet/philosopher said it more eloquently than I ever could:

“Your children are not your children.
They are sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you.
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the make upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness.
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He also loves the bow that is stable.”

(Sweet Honey in the Rock sings The Prophet’s lyrics)

There’s another story in the Krishna cannon in which Yashoda becomes completely frustrated with her son and tries to catch him and tie him up – to no avail.  In this story too she must come to terms the fact that though her child looks like a little boy, he is in truth a divine being over which she has no power. Reading these stories again, I am struck by the similarity to the stories about Mary as a young mother found in the Apocrypha.  Mary, too, has problems raising her baby god, who insisted on going his own way to the point of actually killing other children who harmed him.

Power may well be the operative word here.  We’ve all heard the saying “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  The child parent relationship can be viewed as a power struggle from day one.  The danger of corruption inherent in this situation between large functioning adult and tiny helpless infant is obvious.  The danger is equally obvious when we see large functioning adults emotionally in thrall to a tiny scrap of humanity.  Happily for us in many families these two situations balance out  into a fairly equitable balance of power.  Still this doesn’t solve the problem of corruption.  That can only be dealt with by a different  kind of power – power that comes from within and is connected to the universe of all -that-is.

These stories seem to question the usefulness of punishment as a teaching tool; especially in the face of that inner power.  We can of course get many human children to shut-up by punishing them, we can even get them to stop acting in certain ways, but are their minds changed, have they actually learned anything?  Or have we really taught cunning, resentment, stealth and prevarication? These stories seem to be saying that the only effective energy one can bring to relationship is love.

They also teach that the sacred is all around us – the Kingdom of Heaven i.e. the cosmos, exists within every speck of dirt and inside every child.

Coyote’s Blanket

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Coyote's blanket

Coyote’s blanket

One of the best things for me about my friendship with Michelle is how differently we view things.   Over the years we have both benefited from an expansion of vision, learning from each other how to see from a different perspective.  We’ve learned to trust each other’s vision and follow along even  when we don’t “get it” right away.

Last week, I was utterly swamped, enmired in a project with a deadline I was having trouble meeting, so when Michelle offered to pick the story and present it, I was delighted.  We’d agreed earlier that we wanted to work with a Native American tale and Trickster Coyote is an old favorite of ours.  We created a workshop around him several years ago, using collage to do shadow work.  Coyote loves to dance with the shadow and he proved a perfect mentor for those workshops.  Still, when Michelle picked this blanket story it left me at a bit of a loss.  It’s a teaching story, so it must be teaching something, but what?  It seemed way too elaborate a set-up to say something so obvious.

It wasn’t until I finished my collage that I realized what a big part landscape plays in this story.  First of all Coyote’s antagonist is a rock!  It’s one thing to see a biological creature as a character in a story but a talking stone that feels cold…?  Then there’s that detailed description of all the places Coyote runs through with the rock chasing him – hills, thick forest, a river, prairie.

As it happens the project I’d been working on was a talk and slide show about pilgrimage.  It’s my contention that our human habit of going on pilgrimage is a direct result of the nomadic lifestyle practiced by all Homo sapiens for at least 40,000 years.  I won’t repeat my reasoning here, suffice it to say my theory has to do with the importance of landmarks.

In part this story seems to talk about the importance of maintaining and honoring an intimate relationship with one’s geography.  The intimacy is underlined by the symbol of the blanket.  In many Native American traditions blankets are strongly associated with the bonds of kinship.  When publically given, a blanket acknowledges those ties to the whole community. In this story we see Coyote giving the rock the blanket in front of Iktome.  He makes a point of the gift, proclaiming the change of ownership in front of a witness.  His failure to respect his relationship with the land (symbolized by the rock – think basics, bedrock, bones of Earth, foundation) has dire consequences from which he barely recovers; just as our failure to maintain a relationship with the land results in floods, landslides, and dust storms that flatten us.

You see how my faith in Michelle’s vision is justified?  This story contains a powerful teaching for me.  Not only as a concept but also more immediately; I spent all last week hunched over my computer.  I did manage to walk every morning, but I walk with a friend and we talk the whole time, so I haven’t really been outside and present for days.  This collage made me long to be out alone under the sky, tiny as distant Coyote in my picture. – I think I’ll take tomorrow off and go wrap the landscape around me like a blanket…

The Sun, Moon and Stars

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The Sky is the Limit

The Sky is the Limit

The Fisherman and His Wife

(Week #3 The Negative aspect.)

 The Sun, Moon and Stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unfolding Emptiness

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Developing the Negative

Unfolding Emptiness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Fisherman and His Wife

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FishScan_Pic0005The Fisherman and His Wife

(The Brothers Grimm)

Week #1 The Big Picture

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caught Between

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fisherman and wife 300

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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