Category Archives: Women

The Fearsome Wild Hag

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Baba Yaga flies away

Baba Yaga flies away

Baba Yaga

The Fearsome Wild Hag

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Baba Yaga – Ancient of Days

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Baba Yaga

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Sarah, Hagar and Ishmael

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Sar and Hagar

There’s so much to say about this story it is hard to know where to start.  We usually begin with an overview.  So, here we see Sarah the barren old woman who has been promised a child by God himself.  Even after the promise, this mythical child is a long time coming.  Worried about Abraham not having an heir from their own family (Sarah was Abraham’s half-sister) , Sarah has sent her handmaiden Hagar to lie with Abraham and bear his child.  That child, according to Jewish tradition, now belongs to Sarah and Abraham.  (Echoes of this practice reverberate down through the centuries in both real life and story.  Consider surrogate mothers and Margret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale).

The starry heavens behind the three characters represent God’s covenant with the two women – he has promised them both that nation’s will arise from the seed of their sons.  In this collage Isaac has not yet been conceived and Ishmael is still a little boy.  Jealousy has already begun to bedevil these women.  The heavens also represent the ubiquitous God, who just can’t seem to keep from meddling in these people’s lives in the most clumsy manner.

In reading the Bible stories about women, keep in mind how seldom women are named and how little description surrounds their names. When a woman is named we can assume her story held great import for her contemporaries and that the story associated with her holds enough meaning to continue to reverberate down the millennia.

Hagar looms the largest for me in this story. She is the least powerful figure here; even her fertility can be co-opted.  Nevertheless, Hagar haunts every action and even God keeps track of her comings and goings.  We can deduce from the story that she is a straightforward woman, lacking in subtlety or cunning until motherhood empowers her and she becomes proud, defiant, stubborn and ambitious for her child. I can’t help but identify with her.  She seems to represent the status and position of so many women today, in this country and around the world.

Perhaps Hagar and Sarah together represent the precarious nature of motherhood.  The women in this tale are both hostages to fortune.  They live and die at the whims of men and their gods.  On the one hand, fertility bestows a certain amount of power; on the other, women are easily interchangeable. Perhaps the meaning lies in what these women fail to do, rather than in their actions.  Perhaps, we are being shown how divisive and enervating jealousy can be; how it saps the strength and diverts the will to the point that the welfare of children becomes compromised rather than enhanced.

We don’t know how Hagar felt about being sent to Abraham’s bed.  Was she repulsed by his age?  Or attracted by his power and prestige?  Whichever it was, once pregnant she began to enjoy her new status.  No doubt, as her time approached she was relieved of many duties and when she gave birth to a son – well the feasting and rejoicing are easy to imagine.  It all went to her head, and she began to put on airs and disrespect Sarah.

Remember that Sarah and Abraham are very old by this time and Sarah has spent decades living down the shame of being barren.  The fact that she has been a beautiful and desirable woman makes it all the worse; makes her feel like a fraud.  Perhaps, all along she has harbored a sneaking suspicion that her childless state may be the fault of Abraham.  Now that the younger woman Hagar has borne a son, even that secret comfort is denied her.  Hagar’s airs, which may be just the normal delight and pride of a new mother, act like salt in Sarah’s wounds. The humiliation and shame of a lifetime overcome her.  Sarah beats Hagar and Hagar runs away, taking the baby with her.  However, God isn’t done with these people.  He sends an angel to talk to Hagar and convince her to return.

There’s a blank in the story here – one of many.  In Jewish tradition the rabbi’s often make up a scenario to fill in the blanks.  These are called midrash and they are teaching anecdotes that carry a moral or make a theological point.

What I imagine happened here is that when Hagar ran away, Abraham was furious and worried.  I imagine he berated Sarah for driving Hagar away.  Perhaps Sarah, too, was horrified at losing her son.  No doubt they sent out search parties and prayed for them to return.

We can extrapolate from other stories in the Bible, that Hagar would have been welcomed back with rejoicing and forgiveness.  In my version, when Hagar and the baby came back, the two women come to an agreement; sharing the child and living harmoniously for a time –  at least, until Isaac arrives on the scene…

To Be Continued…

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.

Those Bloody Shoes

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Those Bloody Shoes 3I must confess the reason I pushed for the Grimm version of Cinderella was the bloody shoes.  Cinderella’s slipper differentiates it from all other “rags to riches” stories.  It’s importance is heightened in the Grimm version by the dreadful acts of the two step-sisters as they actually slice off parts of their body in order to cram their feet into those shoes.

Shoes are fascinating symbols in themselves.  They represent ownership.  In ancient times the Irish sealed a real estate deal by taking off their shoes and handing them to the buyer.  New land was claimed by setting ones shoes on the property.  In Cinderella, the Prince was setting out to claim ownership of Cinderella, but he needed both shoes to do so.  On the other hand Cinderella was claiming the palace as her own by leaving a shoe there.  The missing slipper also underscores Cinderella’s ambiguity in the household.   She is the rightful heir of her father’s estate, but cannot claim her birthright.

Shoes are also sexual in nature.  Think of the vaguely phallic shape of the foot  slipping snugly into a well-fitting shoe and you get the idea.  Hence, the shoe fetish.  High heels and the outlawed art of foot-binding are both examples of the perception of the foot as a sexual  symbol.  Both involve suffering pain and physical humiliation.  The self-mutilation of the step-sisters is shocking not because it presents us with an alien idea, but because we so easily understand it.  Consider that some women pay thousands of dollars for a pair of shoes.  This story speaks directly to the desperation inherent in the competition for attention from powerful men and women.  The shoes send a sexual  message of availability.  It’s why they’re called “F***- me-shoes.”

Cinderella, like many stories starring a maiden, contains coded warnings, comments or instructions for young women.  Whenever you find young women and blood together in a story it refers in some way to menstruation and/or the breaking of the hymen.  Blood is one of humanity’s most potent  and complicated symbols because it stands for both death and life.  It is a sacred fluid full of spiritual and magical abilities; Odysseus uses it to speak to the dead, Abel’s blood cries out from the ground to the Lord.  In our story the birds speak for the blood.

Oaths sworn in blood are considered binding for all time.  The step-sisters shed their blood to seal a falsehood.  The consequences are bound to be dire and they are.

The bloody shoes may presage the tearing of Cinderella’s hymen once the Prince takes possession of her.   Yet the tearing is a necessary precursor to both pleasure and reproduction.  The blood in this story represents lifeblood, women’s blood.  Perhaps, that’s why the step-sisters are blinded rather than killed in punishment for their cruelty and deception.

Because of the blood, I wanted to make my collage red.  The red on red on red motive symbolizes the layers of meaning inherent in red blood and in the color red itself.  It is difficult to see into them, just as it’s difficult to untangle the various disparate yet connected strands of love, property, individualism, family, truth and lies that make up the tapestry of this story.  The shoes are bleeding for all the literal and metaphoric reasons stated above. I set them in a border of flowers because this is a maiden story.  It speaks of women’s mysteries and women’s doings and women’s solutions.

Cinderella’s Devotion

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Cinderella's Devotion

Cinderella’s Devotion

What are the positive aspects of the story?

   One of the most positive aspects of the story is how Cinderella’s love and devotion to her mother never changes. Her mother had told her that if she remains good and pious that God would take care of her. I also like the idea that her mother’s spirit is alive in the Hazel nut tree. The white bird acts as her mother’s helper. Praying at the tree makes Cinderella feel safe and understood

   When she is given a ball gown of silver and gold Cinderella puts it on and attends the ball. I think that every young girl thinks it would be wonderful to have the most beautiful gown at the festival. This part of the story is dreamy and fun to entertain. When Cinderella arrives at the ball she looks so beautiful that even her family doesn’t recognize her. The Prince notices her and sweeps her off her feet. He exclaims that “she is my dance partner” to all other suitors. The story suggests that at first he may have been attracted to Cinderella because of her beauty but as he gets to know her he falls in love with her. It is a real love story. We all want to find a Prince Charming who will think we are the prettiest woman at the ball. Who would search for us and want to marry us even if we are the scullery maid who sleeps among the ashes.

    It bothered me that Cinderella’s father never came to her aid. I understand that the step mother has colored his perception of Cinderella. At one point in the story the father describes Cinderella as deformed. Even so, I still found it unbelievable that he was ambivalent about her circumstances. In my readings of variations of the story there is one that suggests that her father wasn’t her biological father. Cinderella is her mother’s child. This makes more sense to me and explains why Cinderella didn’t have a living advocate.

    It wasn’t unusual a couple of hundred years ago for families to have step children or step parents, or half brothers and sisters etc. Many men and women died young. In fact, women died in child birth leaving a father with children to care for. Since the majority of families worked on farms this would be especially difficult. So men remarried and often they married the woman hired to care for their motherless children. I know that is something that happened in my family. My great-great grandfather had a son to care for after his first wife died. He hired a young woman to take care of his son. After several years he married her and they had my great grandmother.

I also wondered why Cinderella always runs away from Prince Charming. In the Disney version it’s because the Fairy Godmother told her to be home by mid-night when the magical spell stopped working. But in our story it doesn’t say why she ran away. My guess is Cinderella was afraid that if the Prince knew about her humble circumstances he would not want her. Plus, she didn’t know what her “parents” would do if they found out that she had gone to the Ball. It wasn’t until the Prince insists she try on the slipper that she realizes its okay for her to reveal herself.

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The Giving Tree

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The Giving Tree_NEW

Several years ago Rhonda Byrne wrote a book called The Secret, which basically re-packaged the words of Christ, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”  Of course this idea goes back much further than the Bible, back to the first philosophical musings of humankind.  For the mind is truly a mysterious and magical force whose energy has re-sculpted the world’s history again and again and may yet lead to our ultimate destruction as a species.

Cinderella is about wishing – that is to say hoping, desiring, longing for, envisioning, affirming, etc.  It’s about the energy inherent in an all-consuming desire and also about the constant, always present, possibility for change.

In the late nineteenth century a quasi-philosophy called New Thought began to arise out of the great spiritualist movement that swept the newly industrial western world.  It arose as a reaction to TMI and too much technology, too fast.  It continues to this day, transmogrified into a fusion of world religions and historical esotery we call New Age, though even that term is becoming a little shop-worn.

Say what you will about it, enough experiential and anecdotal evidence has occurred over the centuries to make “the law of attraction” as Byrne’s calls it, one of the enduring belief systems we humans hold in common cross-culturally.  Hence the great durability and popularity of the Cinderella story.

And why not?  The world is scary enough and in truth we are almost powerless.  This story tells us not to despair in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds because we can affect outcome with the power of mind.  Even if that isn’t the case, the one truth we can count on is the consistency of change.  Everything changes all the time, both incrementally and in giant leaps. The possibility for alteration is always present.

The vehicle of change differs widely in Cinderella stories from around the world. In France we find a fairy Godmother, in Germany a tree, in Egypt a bird and in the Far East a red fish.  My mixed-media collage carries all these symbols in the branches of its “Giving Tree.”

The Giving Tree refers to a story by Shel Silverstein; a moral fable that explores what happens to a giver who gives too much and to the child who continues to take forever.  How much is enough? Does one really need three new ball gowns? The question highlights the avaricious implications inherent in The Secret’s philosophy.

The Giving Tree took off and sold like wild fire, translated into eleven different languages.  In 2013 Parent and Child Magazine listed it among the top 100 children’s books of all time.  Obviously, it’s appeal, like Cinderella’s, is universal.  Personally, I find the book dreary and disturbing, but I think the two trees are joined at the root.

 

Cinderella

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Cinderella dances

Cinderella dances

Cinderella

 

This fairy tale seems to be told, at least some variation of it, by different peoples all around the world. It is an old tale going back as far as the Greek’s telling of a maiden who is bathing and a bird steals one of her sandals and drops it in the lap of the king. The king thinks it’s an omen and goes in search of the owner. When he finds her they marry and the sandal owner becomes the queen.

 The story we’ve selected is a bit different than the Walt Disney version of Cinderella. We selected the Bros. Grimm telling because it is richer and more detailed. In this telling Cinderella is helped by her mother’s tree and a white bird. The magic comes from them. The tree symbol suggests that her mother’s spirit with the help of the white bird is watching and taking care of her. In the Walt Disney version it is Cinderella’s fairy god mother who is the magic maker.

In my collage I show the Prince’s castle. The Prince and Cinderella are dancing at the Prince’s Ball. I show the wicked step-mother who does everything she can to prevent Cinderella from going to the Ball.

There is an enlarged photo of Cinderella in the background. In the photo you can see just how beautiful she is. Even in her rags and wooden shoes her beauty shines through. Just before her mother dies she tells Cinderella “…remain pious and good … and I will look down from heaven and be near you.” And as the story goes Cinderella goes daily to her mother’s grave. She plants a twig that turns into a tree. It is that tree and the white bird that perform the magic in this story. They make it possible for Cinderella to have a beautiful dress and shoes for the Prince’s Ball…

The step-mother is blinded to Cinderella’s character and beauty by her jealousy. She wants her new husband to focus on her and hers, i.e.: the step-sisters. Because of Cinderella’s grief at the loss of her mother and the rejection of her step mother, step sisters and the loss of her father’s attention she lives a cold and bleak existence. The fact that she is turned into a scullery maid just emphasizes the change of her status. However; Cinderella does as her mother requested. Her reward for remaining pious and good is that the Prince recognizes these qualities along with her beauty and falls madly love and marries her.

I think most folk and fairy tales are teaching tales. They reflect the community’s belief of right over comes wrong, good conquers evil that justice will prevail, that greed, selfishness and jealousy are punished and that goodness is recognized and rewarded. This story is a classic tale because it so wonderfully illustrates the reward for piousness and good.  You get the love of a Prince. //