Category Archives: Motherhood

Folklore and Number 3

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Folklore the Number 3

Folklore the Number 3

Rumpelstiltskin and the Number 3.

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s the One!

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That's the One!

“THAT’S THE ONE!”

This is the story of the Little Prince’s first Christmas Tree.

Once upon a time, when the Young Prince was a tiny wee child his mother and father, Prince John and Princess Margaret, decided that they would go out and select his very first Christmas tree. Usually the trees that were cut and brought into the castle for the Winter Celebrations were selected by the King and Queen’s gamekeeper, but this year, this special year, the Prince and Princess decided to do the selecting themselves. They arranged for the red sleigh and a pair of dabble grey horses, Molly and Pie, readied.

The gamekeeper and the groom cleaned and polished the sleigh and groomed the horses. The Prince and Princess and the little Prince were dressed in their warmest winter clothes. They hurried out to the stable and climbed into the sleigh. The gamekeeper placed a huge white bear skin over their laps. “You have a fine clear winter day to go Christmas Tree cutting,” the gamekeeper said. “The best of luck to you. “ He gave Molly a slap on the rump. Prince John snapped the reins and Molly and Pie stepped forward. Soon the sleigh was moving smoothly over the snow, the bells on the horses jingled as they rode along. The sun was bright and the forest was near. Across the meadow, the royal family rode leaving behind a sleigh trail. The Prince knew just were he needed to go. He had talked to the gamekeeper early that morning. It was cold and crisp and everything was blanketed with snow from the snowfall of the night before. The forest trees had snow patches on their limbs. The little Prince was sound to sleep in his mother’s arms.

The Prince and the Princess commented on the beauty all around them. It wasn’t long after they had moved beyond the castle gates that they came to a huge Black Oak. “Grandfather Oak has lost all his leaves,” the Princess said. “He looks so different.” The large tree was the site of many a summer picnic. Next, they could see the small like. It was frozen over. Soon they would be entering the Pine Grove. The Prince knew the grove and he thought it a fine place to find the perfect Children’s Winter Tree.

The Princess had asked her maids to bring down the decorations from the storage room. “Put the one marked Children’s Tree in the Nursery. “ It contained all the special ornaments for the Little 1’s first tree. She had talked with the Cook earlier and knew that the kitchen staff was busy making cookies and dainties for the tree. She was thinking about the special decorations that were saved from her special first Winter’s tree. They were in the trunk with the Prince’s special trinkets from his first winter celebration. She remembered that on her first tree there was a jeweled star that her mother always placed on the very top. There were also shiny red balls that sparkled in the fire light. She was hoping that they could find a pine tree that was similar to the one she had as a child. She could picture the tree in her mind’s eye.

A woodsman’s axe was on the floor of the sleigh along with rope to tie the tree down. When they came to the grove of pines Prince John slowed the horses down. “Keep a look out for the tree you want,” he said. “Over there,” she said. The sleigh moved over near where she had pointed. The Prince got out, took the axe from the sleigh and headed to the small tree. “Stop,” said the Princess, “Now that I can see it up close, I think it is too small. “ The Prince got back into the sleigh and Molly and Pie walked on. The Princess turned her head this way and that. She considered all the trees she could see. “Let’s go over there,” she said, pointing down hill… The Prince turned the sleigh and headed the horses in that direction.  “What about that tree,” the Prince said. “I like that one,” he started to get out of the sleigh. “No, that won’t do,” the Princess replied. “It’s lopsided.” The Prince pointed at another tree. The Princess shook her head no. The Prince moved the sleigh again to a new location in the grove. “Do you see anything promising over here, my darling?” The Princess looked around. She frowned and shook her head no. The Prince snapped the reins and Molly and Pie pulled the sled farther and farther into the forest.  “Which one of these beauties shall we pick?” the Prince asked, stopping before a cluster of trees. The Princess handed the Little Prince to her husband and got out of the sleigh. She carefully inspected several trees. Came back to the sleigh and stated none of them would do. The Prince looked down at the little Prince and said, “My goodness, your mother is after an extraordinary tree.  It will have to be quite special,” the Prince said, handing the bundled child back to the Princess… Again, Prince John moved the sleigh. “There! Over there!” said the Princess. “That’s the One! That’s the perfect tree.”
The Prince got out of the sleigh, got the rope and axe and headed towards the tree. “Which one is it now?” The Princess was so excited she carefully laid the Little Prince down on the Bear Skin, making sure he was well covered and got out of the sleigh. “This one,” she said, pointing at the mid-size Pine Tree…

The Prince chopped down the tree and the two of them dragged it back towards the sleigh. The first snowflake softly landed on the Princess’s nose. “Oh, no,” she said. “We’d better hurry. It’s starting to snow.”  The two of them had been so interested in finding the Little Prince’s tree that they fail to notice that the sky had darkened and the weather had completely changed. The snowflakes fluttered down… Soon the snow fell like rain and they could hardly see the horses or the sleigh. The Prince and the Princess ran dragging the tree behind them. “The Little Prince,” Princess Margaret yelled, letting go of the tree and running for the sleigh. The horses were uneasy. Molly and Pie were straining at their harness and the red sleigh was being jerked this way and that.

The Wee little Prince with his soft rabbit skin cap was snuggled in his blankets. The Princess scooped him up and climbed back into the sleigh covering them with the bearskin. “Hurry,” she said, as the Prince tied the tree to the rails. The Prince called out to the horses, snapping the reins, “Take us home, Molly. You know the way Pie.” The horses pulled and nothing happened. The Prince stood up and worked the reins again. “Let’s go,” he called… Finally, the sleigh jerked forward. The snow was really coming down. “It’s a good thing we aren’t too far from the Castle,” said the Prince… The Princess and the Prince could hardly see the horse’s rumps the snow was coming down so hard. “I can’t tell which way to go, “the Prince said. “I’m hoping Molly and Pie know the way home. “The Princess held the baby close. “How is the Little Prince doing?” asked the Prince. “He seems fine,” said the Princess. She could see her breath as she spoke. Her lips were so cold it was hard to form her words. “I’m amazed that he is still asleep.  Look at his pink cheeks.” The Prince looked over and he could see the Little Prince’s rosy nose…
Snowflakes coated the Prince’s hat and beard. “Can you make the horses go any faster,” she asked. The Prince shouted, “Come on Molly, Come on Pie. Step it up.” The horses got into a rhythm just short of running and the sleigh sailed along. The Prince yelled, “We just passed the Old Grandfather Oak.” The Princess nodded her head.  We are almost home, she thought. “It’s a good thing the horses know the way because I can’t see very far. “. The ride was jerky and the sleigh bumped along but they were making good progress. The Prince knew that they needed to slow it down a bit or the sleigh could over turn. He talked sweetly to the horses reassuring them that they were doing a fine job. The red sleigh glided over the fields and through the Castle gate, across the meadow and into the courtyard. The gamekeeper was there waiting for them. “Hurry,” he said. “Get inside. I will take care of the horses, sleigh and the tree.” The Prince helped the Princess out of the sleigh. She had wrapped the little Prince inside her coat. They entered the castle and moved quickly to the fire burning in the huge fireplace.

“That was a close call,” the Princess said. “I’m so relieved to be inside were it is safe and warm.”
“How is the Little Prince?” Prince John said.
The Princess opened her coat, and then unwrapped the babe. His eyes opened, his little face puckered up and he let out a cry. “Look! We’ve disturbed him.“ The Prince and Princess looked at each other and laughed. “Now you cry, little one. You missed all the excitement,” the Prince said. “He is hungry,” the Princess said, leaving for the nursery with one of the Maids.

That evening the gamekeeper brought the Christmas tree up stairs. It was ready to be decorated. The trunk had been bought from the storeroom and sat open. Everything was made ready. The Princess came into the nursery and spoke to the gamekeeper. The Maids set to decorating the tree.  The tree was lovely. The cook brought up all the cookies and the dainties and they were tied on the tree.

The next morning the Prince, the Princess and the Little Prince came into the Nursery. The Little Prince sat up and clapped his hands. His eyes twinkled. The Princess got tears in her eyes. “It is perfect. This tree looks just like my tree when I had my first winter celebration. Later in the afternoon all the children around the castle would come to the nursery and sing songs. Then they would raid the tree and eat all the wonderful things that the cook and her staff had prepared.

The Prince smiled and handed the Princess a gift all wrapped in silk cloth with a wonderful green ribbon tied into a bow. “This is for you, my darling,” he said. The Princess opened the gift. It was a carved wooden red sleigh with two dappled gray horses that look a lot like Molly and Pie. The Princess kissed the Prince and put the carving near the top of the tree just under the sparkling jeweled star. “This is wonderful,” she said, giving the little Prince a kiss on his cheek. “When he gets older I will tell him the story of Molly and Pie and how they saved us and the perfect Christmas Tree.” The Prince put his arms around his little family and remember the day before when all depended on his dappled gray horses. He was grateful to Molly and Pie. Their Christmas Tree cutting could have come out so differently. “I told the gamekeeper to give the horses some extra oats,” the Prince said. “Yes,” said the Princess. “They deserve it.” The two loving parents looked at their son and at the Children’s Christmas Tree. The room was all decked out in evergreens.. The fire in the fireplace made the room warm and when they looked out the window they could see that the snow was still falling.

Abraham and Sarah The Big Picture

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AbrahamSarahScan_Pic0003Abraham and Sarah

 This story comes from the Bible and the book of Genesis. About 2,000 BCE Abraham lived in Mesopotamia what is modern day Iraq. Abraham’s father, Terah was the tenth in descent from Noah. Abraham believed in one god, Yahweh. At that time, the majority of the people worshiped many gods. In Egypt there was Isis and Osiris, in Sumer the people were familiar with the story of Inanna and Dumuzi.

 In a dream or vision Abraham’s God told him to leave his home, the place where his family had lived for almost 75 years. God said he would lead Abraham into the desert to Canaan, the promised land, where he would start a new nation. God said he would bless Abraham with sons. God also said that if Abraham was obedient and make God his only God, Abraham and his children would be God’s chosen people. This was the covenant Abraham made with God.

 Abraham was married to Sarah. Sarah was barren. The couple had no children. They were both elderly. But Abraham believed in God and knew that what God told him would come to pass. God said, “Look up at the stars, you will have a son. He will have children, and from them a great nation will come. Because of God’s promise all people on earth would be blessed.

 Sarah felt bad that she had not given Abraham children and decided to offer her husband Hagar, her maid servant. Hagar was young and Abraham agreed. After Hagar got pregnant with Abraham’s child her behavior changed and Sarah got angry and treated Hagar poorly. In time Hagar runs away. God appears to Hagar and promises her that if she goes back and serves Sarah that he will make sure Hagar will see that her son Ishmael will be the father of so many children that no one would be able to count them. When Ishmael is born Abraham was 86 years old.

 When Ishmael is almost 14 years old Sarah conceives Abraham’s son Issac. This is a miracle because Sarah was over 90 years old and Abraham was almost a hundred.

 In my collage I show Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Issac and Ishmael. From Abraham and Sarah comes Issac, and Issac gives birth to Jacob and from this line comes Jesus. From Hagar and Abraham comes Ishmael and from this line comes the life of Mohammed. From the figures in my collage comes 3 major religions.. They are Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

 

 

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.

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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.