Category Archives: Meaning

Loosening the Literal

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Third Eye_NEW

 

This year the work for me is to try and dislodge the firm hold of the literal.

lit•er•al (lĭt′ər-əl) adj.:
1. a. according with the letter of the scriptures
b. adhering to fact or to the ordinary construction or primary meaning of a term or expression
c. free from exaggeration or embellishment
d. characterized by a concern mainly with facts
2. of, relating to, or expressed in letters
3. reproduced word for word: exact, verbatim

At one time I prided myself on not being a person who took things literally, but honesty eventually compelled me to admit I am bound as tightly as any to adhering to facts.  The problem is that the more we know about the factual the more we discover that there ain’t no such thing.  Of course, that’s actually a double negative and so does not “really” mean what it purports to mean. Catch my drift?

 
Which brings us to the third eye or as Hindu’s call it “Shiva’s eye. Eastern thought places the third eye in the middle of the forehead, slightly above brow level.  Western Theosophists associate it with the pineal gland at the back of the head.  In either case this eye is said to open upon a different reality or possibly more of reality than we perceive with normal vision.  It is the eye of non-duality, the place of perception from which we recognize the unity of all things. It allows us to see visions and pierce the veil of time.   New Age thought associates the third eye with enlightenment; a word which could meant ‘to bring light to’ but, I like to think of it as ‘to make lighter’  as in less heavy, as in feather-light on the scales of Ma’at.

 
I really love symbols, love the idea that a (literal) object can provide entrance to a whole field of dynamic tangible and intangible associations and meanings, but when it comes to depicting such abstractions artistically I find it incredibly difficult to jump the tracks and toot around in Rumi’s field.

 
I think it may be related to the extreme near-sightedness that afflicted my eyes most of my life (till laser surgery in my fifties).  Nobody noticed until I was six years old and started school.  I still remember the amazing clarity of that first pair of glasses and how quickly I became frightened of losing them.  I think that fear has made me hold tight to the “facts “of what I see.  Now, I want to loosen that grip a bit.  I once had a mentor who told me “we teach what we need to learn.”  My husband and I teach each other many things.  I taught him to “soften his gaze.”  It took a while for me to explain it clearly and him to understand what I meant.  Now, he has incorporated it so thoroughly he uses it as a teaching tool professionally.  Meanwhile, I am still struggling to learn  the difference between discernment and judgement, to soften the gaze of my inner critic while pulling the veil from in front of that lidless third eye.

 
So here is my depiction of it – the third eye set in an energetic field of non-being.  I don’t really like it.  It doesn’t fit my aesthetic and feels raw and unfinished to me.  I’m uncomfortable with it.  But isn’t that the point?

 

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” doesn’t make any sense.

Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi – 13th century

 

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The Three-Way Motif

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The Three Graces

The Three Graces

 

The Three-Way Motif
The Month of April

This month, April, we will be exploring the number three and how it manifests in Story. It seems that in many tales the number three is an integral part of the telling. For an example in the story of Aladdin’s Lamp, the hero gets three wishes from the Genie. In the story of the Lazy Spinner, she gets three rooms of flax to spin. Often there are three main characters in a story, such as The Three Little Pigs. What is it about the number three that repeatedly shows up in story?

Three is a about multiplicity, creative power, growth, forward movement, overcoming duality. Three is the first number to which the word “all” has been appropriated and “The Triad is the number of the whole, inasmuch as it contains a beginning, middle and an end. The power of three is universal and is the tripartite nature of the world as heaven, earth and waters. It is man, as body, soul and spirit. It is birth, life and death. Beginning, middle and end. It is past, present and future. It is the father, mother and son. In folklore, there are three wishes, three tries, three Princes or Princesses and /or three fairies. In the wizard of OZ, there are three witches, two good witches and one bad, there are innumerable trinities of Gods and Goddesses…

The chief symbol of three is the triangle. Other symbols of three are the trident, fleur-de-lis, trigrams, and the trefoil. There are three charities, graces, and sirens. Cerberus is triple-headed; the Chimera has three different animal parts, the head of a goat, a lion, and a serpent. In Christian beliefs, the Magi brought three gifts to baby Jesus. Peter denied Christ three times. There were three crosses at Calvary, and Christ was dead three days before he rose again.

There are many divine deities that have triple aspects; Isis, Osiris, and Horus; Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva; In Christianity there is God the father, Jesus the son and the Holy Spirit. From Japan, there are three Treasures, Mirror, Sword, and Jewel. In Mexico, the Trinity is represented by three crosses, one large cross and two smaller ones.

In my collage, “The Three Graces” dance together in celebration of Aphrodite. They celebrate beauty and joy. They bestow beauty, kindness, love tenderness, pleasure, creativity, artistry and sensuality. They dance for the quality greater than faith or hope; they dance for love.

The White Ibis

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The White Ibis

The White Ibis

 

The White Ibis

We are still exploring “Birds”. I’ve selected this week the White Ibis. Back in the 1980’s I had a retail store called, Ibis gifts and jewelry. The shop was located on the corner of my local shopping village in Oakland, CA. When I decided that I was going to open a retail store it needed a name. I wanted to use the name of an animal or a flower. I briefly considered the flower Trillium. A Trillium is a tri-flower perennial herb that is part of the Lily family. I was looking for a symbol to use as the logo.

I finally chose an Ibis to be my store’s symbol. The logo was two Ibis heads looking into the future. They were framed by an arched window with the words Ibis gifts and jewelry written below. I loved the curved beaks of the bird design. We had wooden exterior  signs made and painted the birds in flight high on the tall long wall of the store. Like cranes, herons and spoonbills the Ibis looks quite graceful in flight.

In my collage I have a white Ibis and the Ibis headed Egyptian god Thoth. Thoth is the god of knowledge, hieroglyphs, wisdom, the moon and magic. In nature the long-legged birds wade in shallow water, their long down-curved beaks searching the mud for food, usually crustaceans through they also eat snails, small lizards, flies, crickets, beetles and grasshoppers.. Most Ibis nest in trees. The word Ibis comes from the Greek/Latin and probably ancient Egypt. There are 28 different species. I took a field trip to the San Francisco Zoo to visit the Ibis that live in Northern California.

In Steven D. Farmer’s book, “Animal Spirit Guides” the Ibis is listed as a bird that reminds you that everything is sacred. Call on Ibis when you want to “Follow your heart and trust in its wisdom.” Ibis seem to know when weather will turn bad. When a storm is brewing, the Ibis are the last to leave the shore-line and the first to return when the worst has passed… If an Ibis is part of your life “Keep your eyes, ears and heart open in order to notice the miracles around you each and every day.

“A Little Bird Told Me …”

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"A Little Bird Told Me ..."

“A Little Bird Told Me …”

“A LITTLE BIRD TOLD ME …”

“A little bird told me …” is a common saying in the American English language. It denotes that the speaker has learned something that he wants to tell the listener but doesn’t want to divulge how, where or who gave him the information.  In Aesop tales there are lots of stories where birds “sing” out the moral lessons to the uninformed.
Here is a brief list of some of the tales.

The Cock and the Pearl … In this fable the rooster finds a pearl lost in the hay and because it is something shiny he is pleased it is his. The other chickens would rather have barley-corn, something they can eat. The message being …”Precious things are for those that can prize them.”

The Swallow and the other Birds … In this tale the Swallow warns the other birds to pick up every one of the seeds being sown by the man or else they will repent it. The birds pay no heed to the Swallow’s warning and the seeds grew into hemp that is made into cord, and the cord into nets that catch the birds to their demise.  “Destroy the seed of evil, or it will grow up to your ruin.”

The Jay and the Peacock … In this story a Jay finds several Peacock feathers and ties them all to his tail. He struts among the Peacocks who note right away that he is a fraud and drive him away. When he returns to the Jays who have also witnessed his behavior he is shunned. “It is not only fine feathers that make fine birds.”

The Peacock and Juno …This tale tells of a Peacock that petitions the Juno to have a voice of a nightingale in addition to all his other attractions. The Juno refuses his request. “Be content with your lot; one cannot be first in everything.”

My favorite is the fable of The Crow and the Pitcher.”  The Crow that is half dead with thirst comes upon a Pitcher which has water in it. The water however is in the bottom third of the pitcher and the neck of the pitcher is to narrow for the Crow to reach the water. The Crow finds a pebble and drops it into the pitcher. He continues to drop pebble after pebble, one at a time into the pitcher until the water rises to a level that the crow is able to quench his thirst. “Little by little does the trick.”

In my collage the little bird is a Chickadee. A song bird that loves the forest. This puts me in mind of W.C. Fields and Mae West in the movie called “My little Chickadee.” Mae West often wrote her own lines for the movies, W.C. Fields did too. There are many funny lines in this old movie from 1940 worth repeating.
Cuthbert J. Twille: W.C.Fields
Flower Belle Lee: Mae West

Cuthbert: “… Whom have I the honor of addressing, M’Lady?”

Flower Belle “Mmm, they call me Flower Belle.”

Cuthbert “Flower Belle, what a euphonious appellation. Easy on the ears,    and a banquet for the eyes.”

And
Cuthbert: “I’ve been worried about you, my little Peach Fuzzy. Have you been loitering somewhere?”

Flower Belle: “I’ve been learning things.”

Cuthbert: “Unnecessary! You are the epitome of erudition … a double superlative. Can you handle it?”

Flower Belle: “Yeah, and I can kick it around, too.”

And

(Last line of the movie – each saying a line associated with the other)

Cuthbert: “If you get up around the Grampian Hills – You must come up and see me sometime.”

Flower Belle: “Ah, yeah, yeah. I’ll do that, my little Chickadee.”

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.

 

“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.

The Goddess in the Details

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TerebinthI couldn’t help noticing while researching this story and reading the passages in Genesis over and over, how often the word terebinth appeared.  I wasn’t even sure what a terebinth was, though it seemed like some kind of tree.  And then there was the Oak of Mamre, named as if it were a landmark of some kind.  The inclusion of these details fascinates me.  The centuries act like sandpaper on stories; planing and refining away extraneous detail until only their essence survives.  Ergo propter hoc,the details must hold some significance.

abraham terebinth

Terebinth of Hebron in today’s Israel

The Oak of Mamre mentioned in Genesis may in fact be a terebinth.  There seems to be much confusion in translation around oaks and terebinths. Both trees are found in Palestine with the terebinth filling the oak’s niche in the south and east where the climate is warmer and more arid.  The terebinth, of which there are many species, is a gnarly tree with a full bushy canopy. The leaves can be used medicinally, as a culinary seasoning, the shoots may be eaten as vegetables and its bark oozes aromatic resin and may be tapped for turpentine. Galls, produced on the leaves as a result of insect bites, were once used for tanning leather. “As ordinarily met with today, the terebinth attains the stature of thirty or thirty-five feet. The root is substantial, and penetrates deeply into the ground; the boughs spread widely, and at a considerable angle, and being clothed, except in winter, with dark and shining foliage, the tree presents, during the larger portion of the year, a beautiful and conspicuous spectacle. The reddish hue of the branches and of the petioles, especially while the parts are young, contributes to the pleasing effect.” The trees usually stand alone, providing recognizable landmarks in the stark landscapes they prefer. To this day terebinths are often chosen to mark the graves of nomads who die in the desert.

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Terebinth in full glory – notice the resemblance to pomegranate seeds. The pomegranate figured prominently in Temple decor and is another ancient symbol of feminine spirituality.

Terebinths, including those at Mamre, have long been associated with cultic sites and have a venerable association with concepts of death and rebirth across eastern Mediterranean lands possibly because of their deep roots, regenerative properties and red inflorescence.  In ancient Israel the terebinth was associated with Asherah, a Hebrew goddess thought by some scholars to be the consort of Yahweh, by others as the feminine aspect of God.

Asherah is always identified with trees; sometimes she is the living tree and sometimes pillars of wood, called Asherah poles, or carved wooden images represent her.  The pillars of the Temple are said by some to originate in her worship. Trees are closely associated with the Tree of Life and the Menorah, both powerful symbols in Judaism to this day.  Taken together, these symbols with their deep deep roots (like the terebinth) in Jewish culture, hint at a lost tradition of  feminine spirituality that could explain why the stories of Hagar and Sophia with their references to women’s mysteries (fertility, sexuality, childbirth, blood) resonate so strongly to this day.

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Votive figures thought to represent Asherah, found in the hundreds along with their molds indicating their widespread use and popularity

And Sarah Laughed…

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and sarah laughed

One day, God took with him two angels and went visiting, disguised as a wayfaring stranger.  Abraham, obeying the ancient laws of hospitality ran out to welcome the weary travelers in.  He ordered a lamb slaughtered and sent Sarah to bake bread.  Seating the stranger in a place of honor, he offered him wine, dates, almonds and salty olives.  God, pleased with Abraham’s kindness to strangers, promised that Sarah, who had been barren her whole long life, would soon bear a son.  Sarah, eavesdropping on their conversation from within the folds of her tent laughed to herself at the idea.  God heard her and asked Abraham why she laughed.  Sarah, frightened, denied that she had. “Yes you did,” said God.

What a strange and wonderful story this is.  I’ve read several interpretations of Sarah’s laughter – some describe it as a peal of joy, others as a snort of derision.

In the entire Bible Sarah is the only person who is described as laughing.  Laughter is mentioned in a few other places and a couple of times groups of people laugh scornfully, but no other individual laughs. This is an old old story, repeated hundreds of times before it was written down more than six hundred years after it was first told.  Why did this little detail of one woman’s quiet laughter survive?

I found a great article by Richard Restak on the psychology and physiology of laughter.  Basically, laughter releases endorphins that make us feel good.  It relieves stress, alleviates anxiety and lowers our blood pressure.  Laughter also dispels nervousness, eases social situations and creates feelings of companionship and good will. Laughter can also be derogatory, self-deprecating or ironic.

Maybe God’s insistence that Sarah acknowledge her laughter was a way of underlining the importance of laughter.  Maybe, it meant, “don’t undermine your own human nature.” Perhaps it serves to remind us to stay present and take ourselves less seriously.  Consider how important the issue of reproduction was and still is to many women.  Then and now, it bears directly on honor, shame, status, fulfillment, personal happiness and identity.  Sarah had been living with the burden and shame of being barren for her whole life. Her reaction to Hagar and Ishmael indicates great defensiveness around the subject.  Maybe the story tells us that relaxing our hard grip on the identities we create for ourselves opens an opportunity for change.  Look how often women who try for years to become pregnant finally conceive after giving up and going on vacation or adopting a baby. There are many ways of being pregnant with things other than babies – dreams, projects, causes, art.  For any of them to come to fruition we need to relax, breathe, and let go of outcome.  We need to laugh.

Especially we need to laugh at ourselves and the absurd situation of being human.  It difficult to be self-aware. Consciousness is both blessing and curse, it can heal but also cripple.  Laughter, a phenomenon that even now scientists cannot entirely explain, explodes paradox and shifts our perspective. It breezes like a cleansing wind through our darkest passions and most twisted assumptions, if only we let it.  The story tells us to remember, honor, and use this gift as an antidote to suffering.

In this collage we see Abraham relaxing together under the trees, drinking wine.  Sarah, having heard her name spoken, leans against the tent pole eavesdropping on the conversation.  Traditionally in those days, when a man and woman were depicted together in a work of art, particularly if they were “man and wife,” the woman would be drawn smaller than the man.  Here I’ve reversed the tradition because it is Sarah’s story that interests us; her emotions drive the story and it is her laughter we remember.

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.

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.