Tag Archives: fairy tale

Death and Ambiguity

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The Crone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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:

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.

A Little Help from Friends

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Cinderellawk#4A Happy Ending

The Cinderella Story Week#4

In the end Cinderella weds the Prince and lives happily ever after. Her step-sisters are blinded by the birds and the wicked step-mother spends the rest of her years caring for her blind daughters. Personally I thought the punishment of the step-sisters was a bit harsh. The tone was set by the step-mother; she was the example to her daughters so I think she was the one that should have been blinded. I want to give credit to Cinderella’s friends without their help the ending may not have been quite so happy. The Hazel nut-tree and the white bird who I believe contained the spirit of her beloved dead mother and all the other wonderful birds that came in from the garden to help Cinderella sort the lentils from the ashes of the fireplace should receive lots of Cinderella’s gratitude. Even the birds at the end who blind the step-sisters contributed greatly to Cinderella’s happiness.

This version of Cinderella contains a lot of birds. The bird symbol represents transcendence; the soul; a spirit, spirits of the dead, the ability to communicate with the Gods or to enter into a higher state of consciousness. The white bird at the Hazel nut-tree may have been a dove. Doves are often symbols of feminine energies of Peace, Maternity and Prophecy. It embodies the maternal instinct. That is why I believe the tree and the white bird represents Cinderella’s mother.

What is the moral of this story? If you believe in honor your mother and father, remain loyal and kind, work hard without complaint, and come from a loving soul you will be rewarded by finding a loving partner, (Prince Charming), recognition and riches. It also helps if you are very beautiful, because cute counts. Studies have been done and it is true that attractive people are more likely to be given positive attention than someone who is less attractive. People are drawn to handsome people. In most fairy tales the damsel in distress is beautiful. The males of our species are sexually attracted to attractive women? It is built-in to the male’s biology. You just wonder if the story would be quite the same had Cinderella been ugly or ordinary looking?

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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.

Ashputtel

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Cinderella is one of the oldest and most inter-cultural stories of our times.  By our times, I mean the time of existing written language.   Stories of Cinderella’s ilk actually have their roots in ancient days we remember now, only in trance and dream.   Going back in time, the paper trail grows thinner very quickly, but in our day academicians are magicians; creating volumes of learned lore out of the tiniest scraps of script.  I’m extremely wary faced with any of their superlatives, particularly ones like first, oldest, purest, etc.  Having said that, folklorists have found dozens of variations on Ashputtel, as the Grimm’s version is called.

Cinderella 1

I voted for Grimm over Perrault even though it means giving up the fairy godmother, because the Grimm story seems to retain more traces of its pagan origins.  True, Perrault kept the word fairy, but in the sophisticated court circles he frequented,  everyone accepted that fairy indicated a light trifling bit of nonsense rather than a supernatural being of immense power capable of inspiring shock and awe.  Though the story dealt with magic, still a dangerous subject to touch on in the late 1600’s, he covered himself nicely by making his fairy a godmother.

A century later, the Grimm brothers faced the same fear of church censorship and toned down the sex while upping the violence in the tales they collected.  Ashputtel’s piety is stressed several times in the tale.  However, she knows enough hedge witch lore to ask her father for a branch from a living tree.  The hazel twig he returns with is planted on her mother’s grave and watered with Cinderella’s own tears.  How did she know how to do that?  We can only surmise that her mother taught her this ancient lore.  Hazel trees, in Celtic tradition, represent wisdom.  Druids held them sacred and believed they could induce invisibility by wearing crowns woven from supple hazel twigs.  Later they became known as wishing caps, able to grant their wearer’s wishes.  In the Grimm version of this tale  the tree,  in company with a  white bird, responds to Ashputtel’s tears and desires by letting three ball gowns fall from its branches.  Is this white bird, probably a dove (symbolic of the Holy Spirit) another nod to the church, mitigating the power of the tree?  Or is it just a natural combination of Pagan and Christian symbols intermingling as one culture supersedes the other?

In my collage you can just see the tree peeking out from under Cinderella’s knee.  A white bird perches on her shoulder, fore-shadowing a change in fortune.  The two step-sisters hover in the background, whispering mean things about her.  The step-mother’s dark presence dominates the wealthy household from which poor Cinderella, perched precariously on her pile of lentils is banished.  This collage is a snap shop – a second frozen in time – that sets the scene for this story to unfold.  The father is missing, just as he is throughout most of the tale.  His absence is palpable and leaves the family, deprived of balancing masculine energy, out of balance.

Peas

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To me this story is about power – who has it, who wants it, who needs it.  Last month we dealt with Krishna and his mother and touched on issues of motherhood.  This month the story brings me to issues of childhood.

When I was little it seemed like I was in a continuous struggle for power with my mother; a struggle into which I had arbitrarily been plunged without instruction book or reason.  Of course I’m describing my feelings – the language came with education and experience and years of introspection and reflection – but I knew instinctively, as all young animals know,  that understanding the power dynamics of my tribe was vital to survival.

I know now, she did not see me as her adversary.  In fact, the struggle I took so personally wasn’t personal at all.  Her anger, come by honestly, could not be directed at its proper target and so she turned it on herself and on me.

Peas were a huge issue.  I hated them, she insisted on serving them.  Truly they made me gag.  It was the texture more than anything else, but the color didn’t help.  In the beginning they were canned.  The frozen ones were mildly better though by the time they came around the battle lines were so entrenched no one could back down.  On the nights she served peas I often sat in front of am congealing food until bedtime.  I devised all kinds of devious ways of folding them up in my paper napkins and then excusing myself to go to the bathroom where I flushed them down the toilet. I stuffed them in my pockets, pushed them into the soft stick of butter in the butter dish, dropped them in my glass of milk, and fed them to the dog who spit them out.  He didn’t like them either.  Naturally, these stratagems usually failed, resulting in interminable lectures about starving children in foreign climes.  The slightest hint of defiance in the form of body language or glances led to high-pitched angry tirades that shattered everyone’s peace for the rest of the evening.

Years later, my mom went back to college and took all kinds of classes.  We grew to expect weird innovations in our family routines with each new course and teased her unmercifully, but I was proud of her.  She willingly embraced those new ideas, pondered their meaning and applied them to her own internal process.  One day, I was sitting on a kitchen stool chopping onions for the meal she was fixing when suddenly my mother burst into tears and said, “I’m so sorry I made you eat your peas.”

It was an extraordinary moment of contrition on her part and forgiveness on mine.  It was all that was said.  I think we were both shocked.  We didn’t talk about my childhood again until years later when I had garnered the courage and experience to be able to initiate the conversation.

My collage shows a child spitting out her peas – her mouth, like Krishna’s, is full of stars to remind us how precious children are.  There are two other little ones here – the goblin I thought myself to be and the defiant self-possessed little girl who clung to her own identity and integrity.  The fabric in the background refers to the part of this month’s story I liked best – the bed covers and mattresses of many colors.  My mom loved fabrics and patterns and taught me to love them, too.  My eye for color and talent for composition are part of her legacy.

Bed was a special place for me – the place I could be myself, escape into imagination, and read to my heart’s content with the help of a flashlight.  It was also my cache.  I hid food under the bed.  Not peas, of course, stolen cookies and forbidden chocolate made up my stash.  You can see candy wrappers and cookies peeking out beneath the pillows.

My peas, like the princess’s are like  grit rubbing against the soft vulnerable flesh of an oyster.  Year after year,  I exude nacre to ease my discomfort, working and re-working the raw material of childhood until it becomes a luminous, precious pearl that enriches and enhances my life.  The proverbial pea also provides grit in the sense of “true grit.”  I’ve found that in my life it is the dis-comforts that make me strong and build my character.

The Dreaded Pea Test

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The Dreaded Pea Test

The Dreaded Pea Test

The Princess and the Pea

Week #2

The Positive Aspect

What are the positive aspects of the story? I’ve seen many pictures of the Princess high a top the pile of mattresses and feather comforters and the “bed” its self looks very fun. It reminds me of my childhood when my father would pile the backseat of our car with a mattress, lots of pillows and blankets so that my brother and I could see over the front seats and out the front window. We were headed to the drive-in movies. The backseat bed was perfect. Before the second movie started we kids would have fallen fast to sleep, scattered about the backseat like puppies among the pillows.

 The stack of mattresses the Queen prepares for the Princess would create a tower in which to observe the room from a different perspective. I would imagine from up top of the stack you might feel quite lofty.

 If you look at the story from the view point of the Prince he no longer has to search the world for the “real” princess. Since the Queen mother herself created the test and the young woman passed the Queen would give her stamp of approval. Now the prince can proceed with confidence knowing that he has found the right girl. Plus he would have his family’s approval.

 If you look at this fairy tale as I suggested last week, as poking fun at the aristocracy, there are lots of things in the story to make you laugh. Imagine the young princess at the door, like a common person, dripping wet, perhaps her tiara slipping down her hair, her fine clothes, even her lovely shoes completely soaked and on top of that she has no attendants. Most of us have gotten wet by the rain and most of us do not have attendants, but a princess, oh my, what an outrage. Poor little princess, are you wet and cold? Isn’t it just dreadful? How very un-princess like. What other un-princess like things could occur? How about a test?  Your integrity questioned. Oh no not the dreadful Pea Test! Oh sleepless night! The Princess and the Pea is a delightfully fun story.

The Pea under the Mattresses

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Who is the Real Princess?

Who is the Real Princess?

The Princess and the Pea
Essay
The Big Picture

This tale was written by Hans Christian Andersen back in 1830-1840. He was a Danish author of novels, plays, poetry and children’s fairy tales. Time has cherished his Children’s Tales, loved by adults and children alike. This story is really quite short usually less than two pages.

I think that this tale has remained popular over time because it demonstrates how ridiculous and goofy some tests can be. Many of such tests are touted as real and important and they are not. They are used by a group to insure that unknown persons are worthy of being part of the group. The tests usually either rule them in or rule them out. As a culture we find these tests everywhere. In the story of The Princess and the Pea, the Prince wants a bride but feels he must find a “real” princess. But how can he be sure that the woman claiming to be a Princess is in fact a real true, honest to God, Princess?

The Old Queen knows how to find out. She dreams up the perfect test. A single lone pea under twenty mattresses and twenty feather beds will establish whether the young woman is group worthy. If you think about it you might agree with the Old Queen’s test, for if the young woman had always been privileged, pampered, her every whim attended to, she would of course notice that her bed was not quite right. She would be use to wining and making a fuss over trivial matters. These would be the proper indicators to prove that she was use to special treatment. True to form, the self-acclaimed princess turns out to be a “real” Princess. We know that because she acted like a spoiled Princess of the highest order. She rudely tells her hosts, the King, Queen and Prince that she had a horrible night, couldn’t close her eyes, body bruised all over … “Heaven knows what was in the bed.” This is what the Prince and Queen are looking for and so the Prince happily marries her. I say, they deserve one another. They will all live happily ever after, expecting to be over indulged, pampered, because they believe and feel entitled to have their most trivial demands met.

Most of us, in the same circumstances would probably have been grateful to have such a soft bed, who even owns twenty mattresses, let alone twenty feather beds. We would have been polite, smiled and said nothing. Because we would be grateful to be in out of the cold and rain. Therefore, we would have failed the test and would not be considered a part of the Queen, King and Prince’s group. We would be ruled out because we believe in gratitude and courtesy.

I think Hans Christian Andersen was making fun of the aristocracy and their social rules and tests.

In our every day life there are lots of different tests given on a regular basis. The tests are used to pigeon hole or rank and classify individuals without having to actually get to know them. Things like … where you live, what type of car you drive, the restaurants you frequent, the name brands of the clothes you wear, your name, your age, were you work or don’t work, the charities you support; the tests goes on and on.

Education can be used to screen and rank people. Did you go to college? Which college? Was it an Ivy League college, one of the top seven located in the east? Was it Harvard or Yale? Were you at the top of your class? Each yes moves you up in rank. The subject you studied becomes important and so does advanced degrees. There are even more ways to rank or screen individuals. To discover who is a witch and who is not one, just throw the woman in the river and if she survives she’s a witch if she drowns she has been forgiven.

All this testing is done because we have ranked our self and we are looking for a short cut to find some one like us to form a familiar bond. We make up tests for ourselves and others so that we can be sure that we are one of the “REAL” people. At some point, hopefully, we realize that most of these tests are as silly as the lone pea under the twenty mattresses.

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