Tag Archives: Horse

Groking the Goose

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The Goose girl

As a child, one of my favorite stories was The Goose GirlGruesome as it may seem, the character I loved best and remember most clearly is the faithful horse Falada, whose head gets chopped off.  Even in death he remaines a faithful helpmeet.  Of course, Falada was a magical horse and the magic was always my favorite part.  I also liked stories with blood in them.  I think there may be arcane bits of knowledge we’re born with or are privy to through the collective unconscious.  Or maybe, the deep knowledge of blood mysteries is part of a woman’s heritage, encoded in her DNA from birth.  The magic associated with blood runs like a red thread through fairy tales and myth.  In The Goose Girl the mother pierces her finger and lets three drops of blood fall on a handkerchief which she gives to her departing daughter as a magic talisman.

Then, there’s geese.  Geese have always been great favorites of mine – possibly because I liked this story so much and read it so often.  In ancient Egypt the goose was thought to have laid the primordial cosmic egg, but also to have hatched from it as the sun.  Geb the Earth god was sometimes called The Great Cackler!  (Egyptian mythology is terribly confusing – mostly because we don’t know enough and try to interpret things according to current cultural sensibilities.)  In north Africa it is still (4,500 years later!) customary to sacrifice a solar goose at the solstice.

Egyptian Geese

In Rome a sacred flock of geese lived in the grounds of Juno’s temple.  Their duty was to raise an alarm if and when the city was attacked.  Indeed, in 390 C.E. they did foil a stealthy night raid by enemy Gauls.  To this day people use geese to protect their property.  In my collage a large goose stands behind the girl in a protective stance.  It “has her back.”

Obviously, geese represent return journeys and thus the “heroine/hero’s journey” of Campbell fame.  The journey for the quest of self includes leaving home, descending into the dark, facing one’s demons and returning to the community with a treasure.  The Goose Girl story follows this formula, taking our heroine through an initiation from childhood to adulthood.  Like so many of these stories, this one served me well.  The Goose Girl taught me to value courage, perseverance, and ingenuity.  I wanted to make them my own.

I didn’t realize how much she meant to me until years later, well into my fourth decade, I encountered a terracotta sculpture called Gaia Goose Girl.  I wish I knew the name of the sculptress.  Her goose girl was a near life-size figure of a lovely young woman with a face full of strength and character accompanied by a goose.  Seeing it brought back every feeling of identification, love and longing I felt when first reading this tale.  That kind of experience is what makes art so important.  The art piece acts like a catalyst, constellating a host of amorphous feelings and associations in a way that captures both memory and significance, but at the same time, allows new insights to unfold.Goose GirlGöttingen_Gänseliesel_März06

My sculptress is not the only one to find inspiration in the goose girl. In Göttingen town, famous for its old university (Georgia Augusta, or “Georg-August-Universität”), which was founded in 1737 stands a decorative fountain whose main figure is called the Gänseliesel (Goose Girl).  On the day they are awarded their doctorate degrees, students are drawn in handcarts from the Great Hall of the university to the Gänseliesel-Fountain in front of the Old Town Hall.  There they have to climb the fountain and kiss the statue of the Gänseliesel. This practice is actually forbidden, but the law is not enforced. She is considered the most kissed girl in the world.  The students remind me of Little Conrad (Kürdchen) in our story.

Most interesting, in light of the conjunction of horse and geese in our story, is a report by Vasily Vasilievich Radlov that in the Altai mountains (mountain range in East-Central Asia, where Russia, China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan come together), after the ritual sacrifice of a horse, the shaman ascends on the back of a goose in pursuit of its soul.

All the bits and pieces, hints and allegations are what truly fascinate me about these tales.  This story has everything – wise elders, a nefarious villainess, a faithful spirit guide, a sacrifice, a mistaken identity, importunate young men, a charming prince, restoration and retribution, but other fairy tales are often thin on plot and sometimes appear simplistic on the surface.  However, no matter how simple, the  tale usually contains a detail or two rich in association and resonant with meaning.  For me, it isn’t so much about deciphering that meaning as relishing its presence.  It’s the ambiance of the stories that make them so endlessly fascinating.  The grok is everything.

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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.