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.
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.