Tag Archives: Little Red Riding Hood

The Frog and The Princess – First Encounter

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First Encounter - Frog Prince

Here we see that a privileged princess with a huge sense of entitlement has carelessly dropped her golden ball down the well. The frog, on hearing her piteous tears, has struck a bargain – bed and board with the Princess for the return of the ball.  The Princess, who has no intention of honoring her promise, is lying through her teeth.

On the one hand, this is a story about how power and privilege, carelessly handled, can corrupt decency and erode compassion.  The princess has forgotten that with power comes responsibility – the ability to respond – to stay fully present in each moment, giving one’s full attention to the person(s) and events at hand.  If she had remembered, she would have thought carefully about the consequences of any promises and lies she might make.  She might have considered alternative ways to retrieve the ball, or perhaps just left it down the well.  Instead her power has bestowed a false sense of superiority, not only towards others, but also to the normal rules of decency, respect, integrity and courtesy governing relationships.

The frog is just as deceitful as the Princess.  He has seen an opportunity to advance his own agenda and seized it.  In a culture supporting a more equitable distribution of wealth and power, the frog might have performed a random act of kindness and simply returned the ball.  But deprivation and the princess’s callous behavior have hardened his heart.  With no other resources to fall back on, desperation has made him manipulative and sly, ready to take advantage of any weakness to exploit another and further his own ends.

Coded in fairy tale form, we find the base cause of social unrest and incipient rebellion.  Because it was dangerous to discuss such matters, people’s concern, fear and rage were folded in to the tales and disguised as simple set-ups for happy endings.  Despite pretty descriptions of beautiful girlish princesses and faithful servants, dark feelings imbue these tales and often include brutal acts of violence on the way to resolution.  Vicious episodes, such as the step-sisters mutilation of their feet in Cinderella, the streak of fish blood in The Fisherman and His Wife or the devouring wolf in Little Red Riding Hood speak to a time as turbulent, chancy and violent as our own.  They warn of the dangers of extreme polarization and hint at the possibility of revolution.

On the other hand there is always another, more personal way to read the story.  Water symbolizes both the emotional life of our surface personas and also the inaccessible depths of the personal and collective unconscious.  The Princess, that young, naïve, immature Queen-to-be, represents the un-individuated self.  She has lost her golden ball.  Gold represents fertility, life, dominion, warmth and generosity, it is pure and incorruptible.  So far, the Princess possesses none of these qualities and thus cannot keep hold of her treasure.

The frog, an amphibian, can live and breathe in two realms.  This makes him a spirit guide, or psychopomp – a being who can travel back and forth between worlds.  The word for frog in Japanese is kaeru which also means “to return”.  Traditional beliefs state that however far you may transport a frog, it will always return to the place of departure.  Another meaning ascribed to frogs by the Japanese is “stand-ins.”  Some people carry lucky frog charms and believe that when something threatens them, the frog may “stand-in” and face danger in their place.  In this story the frog displays all these attributes as he dives into the well to rescue the Princess’s best qualities, which she has shoved into the shadows and neglected.  The story reminds me that we can ignore talent and nobility as deliberately as we deny less desirable attributes.  It asks me to consider how I sometimes denigrate or reject my own abilities.

Like with dream work,  one may read a collage or a fairy tale as if every character and object represents a part of oneself.  Taking this approach I’m working with the idea of deception.    If everything in the story represents myself,  what lies do I tell myself and why? What have I lost and how may I retrieve it?

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Cross-Pollination

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IMBOLC

One of the joys of working with Michelle has always been the cross-pollination of ideas. There's a wonderful book by James Surowiecki called The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few that talks about the benefits of shared wisdom. Certainly our long partnership in leading workshops and sharing studio space has proved this true for me. We spark each other’s ideas and expand each other’s vision. Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “”Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.” I’ve found this to be true and I couldn’t be more grateful; it’s one of the things that makes the internet so valuable. It’s why we welcome comments and wish for playmates in this process of collaging the tales. Happily, we’ve found one – Sally-Shakti Willow has been collaging and sharing her thoughts about Red on her on insightful blog Inner Nature. I hope you’ll visit there and see for yourself how cross-pollination takes us down new paths.

It can jog the memory, too. Uncovering old leave strewn ways that we haven’t trod for a while. Sally-Shakti’s comments connecting Imbolc and Red reminded me that I let Imbolc slip by this year without honoring dear Brigit on her day by constructing a special altar or pouring milk upon the ground. I’m planning to rectify that oversight (well, undersight really) later today. Meanwhile, I also remembered the greeting card I created several years ago to honor Imbolc. As you can see Little Red Riding Hood is there in the company of older women grinning at me. I think she gets the joke. I’m fascinated that my unconscious made Saly-Shakti’s connection long ago, but even with all the focusing, searching for images and writing I’ve done in the last month I wasn’t able to bring it into the light without the aid of someone else’s wisdom. Basically a lost piece of myself is found. I might look at why I forgot- there’s no end of those kind of lessons, but right now what interest me is the benefit to be found in sharing, expanding, sparking and illuminating each other’s ideas.

Relating it to the story I’d say that if we will overcome our fear of the wolf – of exposure, vulnerability, theft, ridicule, deceit or heartbreak and open ourselves to others then our emotional lives will be richer, our ideas more fertile and our happiness more lasting. Looking at the Imbolc card I’d say it speaks to the shared joy of camaraderie. Please do go to Sally-Shakti’s site and read what she says about marrying the wolf and may we, like Little Red, go more merrily on our ways.

Week Four: Light

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Light is the prompt that Leah Piken Kolidas chose for this month. I was having a hard time connecting Red Riding Hood to the concept except in the most abstract way. Then I discovered this interesting quote in John Thackery Bunce’s Fairy Tales, Their Origin and Meaning. It still seems a bit of a stretch to me, but at least I’ve got something to go on.

One of the fancies in the most ancient Aryan or Hindu stories was that there was a great dragon that was trying to devour the sun, and to prevent him from shining upon the earth and filling it with brightness and life and beauty, and that Indra, the sun-god, killed the dragon. Now this is the meaning of Little Red Riding Hood, as it is told in our nursery tales.
Little Red Riding Hood is the evening sun, which is always described as red or golden; the old Grandmother is the earth, to whom the rays of the sun bring warmth and comfort. The Wolf–which is a well-known figure for the clouds and blackness of night–is the dragon in another form; first he devours the grandmother, that is, he wraps the earth in thick clouds, which the evening sun is not strong enough to pierce through. Then, with the darkness of night he swallows up the evening sun itself, and all is dark and desolate. Then, as in the German tale, the night-thunder and the storm winds are represented by the loud snoring of the Wolf; and then the Huntsman, the morning sun, comes in all his strength and majesty, and chases away the night-clouds and kills the Wolf, and revives old Grandmother Earth, and brings Little Red Riding Hood to life again.
Or another explanation may be that the Wolf is the dark and dreary winter that kills the earth with frost, and hides the sun with fog and mist; and then the Spring comes, with the huntsman, and drives winter down to his ice-caves again, and brings the Earth and the Sun back to life.

~John Thackery Bunce Fairy Tales, Their Origin and Meaning

In the Shadow of the Forest

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Waiting in the Shadow

To me, the scariest part of the Red Riding Hood story comes when the wolf dresses up in Grandmother’s clothes. He pretends to be something he’s not in order to fool Red while intending her harm. It’s pretty easy to figure out why this is my negative – I grew up with a mother prone to fits of rage – she could turn on a dime from ordinary mom to a raging fury. Scary. The huntsman could easily be a stand-in for the dad meant to protect me. Although he never approved of her angry outbursts, he believed parents should “present a united front.” Their behavior left me with a lifelong aversion to hypocrisy and a desperate (at least for the first couple of decades) need both to understand how things work and to see them for what they really are. All in all, not such a negative legacy. Both traits stood me in good stead. The drive to understand is a blessing, for as I’ve come to learn, understanding engenders forgiveness and provides the ground from which compassion may arise.

Much has changed since my childhood – more relevantly, much has expanded – mind, heart, memory, information, compassion and comprehension have all increased in capacity. The space taken up in my interior landscape by childhood trauma is decreasing proportionally. In fact, I can now fit it onto an 8×10 piece of canvas covered cardboard. Not that the over-size fangs, preternatural hearing and x-ray vision don’t still lurk in the shadows. Of course, they do. The evidence of their power is right here; captured in the imagery I chose to use.

But let’s go back to the benefits of my shadowy legacy. Not only was I frightened of those huge teeth, ears and eyes – I wanted their power for myself. Just now, writing these words I didn’t expect to say, that have never even occurred to me before, I begin to understand. I used to think I owed my talent for acute observation to the need to gauge my mother’s moods quickly. Probably true, but also (also being one of my most favorite words), I now see that I probably sharpened the acuity of my own senses in order to acquire some of the power those amplified sense organs could bestow.

See how this process works? I could have sworn I’d figured out everything about the dynamic between my young mother and the girl-child I once was. Yet, the collage has revealed a new piece of information. I understand more about why I am what I am. Once again I get to marvel at the interrelatedness of the universe, the prevalence of synchronicity and the elegance of cosmic timing. I am more connected; more humble, easier than I was when I started. Halleluiah.

They got it all wrong

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Little Red picks flowers and enjoys the forest..

Little Red picks flowers and enjoys the forest..

They Got It All Wrong

What the story doesn’t tell you, the information they (the Brothers Grimm) left out is … The wolf and Little Red had met before. They were already friends. See, what the brothers didn’t know was Red Riding Hood often snuck off to the forest and played under the tall trees and along the small stream. She was a wild spirit, that’s right, Red was wild at heart. She loved watching the animals and being in nature. In fact, that’s how she had met Mr. Wolf in the first place.

During that faithful visit to the woods, Mr. Wolf had just had a big meal where he stuffed himself, and I mean stuffed. He had eaten a whole deer, granted it was a bit on the small side. He had also had several rodents and a good size bird that flew into a tree trunk and practically dropped dead on Wolf’s head. Mr. Wolf had waddled over and fallen sound to sleep under a shady bush. Little Red was playing hide and seek with a raccoon when she tripped over Wolf. They got to talking and discovered they both loved the wilderness and disliked rodents. Wolf wisely didn’t mention the ill-fated deer he just ate. So you see there was no reason for Little Red Riding Hood to be afraid of Mr.Wolf.

When her mother told her “Don’t talk to strangers” and “Stay on the path, go straight to Granny’s cottage”, Red knew it was a hard directive to follow but planned to do her best. She struggled to ignore the two deer, the four blue jays and eight butterflies that scurried past her and disappeared into the trees. When she unexpectedly ran into Mr. Wolf of course she told him where she was going and why, he wasn’t a stranger, he was her friend. When Wolfy learned that Granny was ill he suggested a bouquet of wildflowers as the perfect gift to cheer the old gal up. It is then that Little Red lost her self, mentally pictured the bouquet and ran off on a flower-picking quest.

But, you might say … what about Mr. Wolf gobbling up Granny? Or you might ask … Didn’t he eat Little Red? See, they got that part wrong too. All that stuff is an out-and-out lie … he never ate Little Red. In fact, he didn’t even growl at her. The truth be told, As Wolfy explained it was the whole incident was caused by his unresolved hunger issues. He hadn’t eaten in several days. He was out of his mind ravenous. Wolves get ravenous. When he got to Granny’s cottage Granny was a lot sicker than any one knew. She was very, very sick … at death’s door… likely to die soon, very soon. She even said she wished she were dead. Now while Wolf was explaining the Granny excuse his posture changed. His head hung lower and lower, he tucked his tail between his legs… He even rolled over onto his back, wincing and crying. Well, the Woodsman and Little Red took pity on him. He was so pathetic. He clearly had lost control of himself. They agreed to let him go back to his pack.

But, Little Red cried and cried about Granny because she loved her so. The Woodsman suggested that she demand that Wolf pledge with a cross your heart and hope to die promise, to never, ever eat people again and Wolf promised. He hated to see Little Red so unhappy. He told her no matter how hungry he was he would leave people off his menu. However, later he told me that eating Granny had helped satisfy his hunger, and for that he was grateful but… he also said she really tasted awful and in fact had put him off people meat forever.

So you see the Brothers Grimm and a lot of their stories about wolves eating people and stupid little girls blindly embracing danger just doesn’t jive with the facts. The Grimm boys just got it wrong, all wrong.

Shape-shifter

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Werewolf RRh-300

I wish I’d originated the idea of Red Riding Hood as a Werewolf, but I came across it watching Once Upon A Time, a TV show about fairy tales. It appealed to my dark sense of humor and spoke to my abiding interest in all things shamanic. Also I love werewolves. Synchronisticaly, I’ve been re-reading Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ s book, Women Who Run With the Wolves (if you’ve never read it run don’t walk to the nearest bookstore or keyboard). So when I found a red cape with an empty cowl all I could think of was a snarling wolf head.

The idea of drastic transformation into another species in order to gain perspective on your own is one of my favorite story motifs. Lots of contemporary fantasy writers of the werewolf and vampire genre use it, but my favorite example is still The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White. In it young Arthur Pendragon (Arthur means “bear”) is changed into a series of animals (fish, hawk, ant, goose, and badger) by Merlin the magician.

This collage shows Little Red Riding Hood turned into a large imposing figure of a snarling wolf draped in a long red cape. By transforming into a wolf, she is claiming her inherent wildness the part of her that cannot be contained by culture. We forget so much of the time that we are animals- the same creatures as the ones we watch in nature documentaries with such avidity, love and longing. Their beauty is our beauty; their cunning our cunning; their endurance our endurance. But we forget.

As a wolf, Red Riding Hood is restored to her senses- nose, ears, eyes, mouth regain their direct access to her brain, their messages undiluted , uncensored by the strictures and caveats of her brain. As a human girl she is terribly vulnerable. Basically blind, deaf and dumb, she goes into the dangerous forest bereft of her natural resources. No one has taught her how to move with caution, hide in plain sight or fight. Naiveté is her only protection.

She wears her cloak to remind her to return to the human world- she cannot be wholly herself as just wolf. Civilization restricts but it also offers freedoms the wolf cannot comprehend. Butterflies flutter around her, symbols of transformation. There is one fly. Flies and butterflies are pollinators and thus symbols of fertility. Sex is the underlying theme of the Red Riding Hood story. The girl stands on the cusp of womanhood wooed by both the wolf and huntsman, stalked by her own burgeoning sexuality. The wolf picks her own mate and explores sexual feelings without shame.

Flies are also psychopomp- they convey souls safely into the afterlife. The fly reminds us that death always lurks nearby; the huntsman still patrols the forest. Transformation is a tricky thing- will Red forget her human self, will she be able to change back? Will she remember and learn or continue to cling to innocence? Lots of questions. No answers except your own.

Positive

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One of my big struggles as an artist, whether I’m writing or patching together a collage, is literalism. Literal, literacy, literature, litigate, liturgical all have their origin in the mysterious word “littera” meaning a letter of the alphabet. To use the alphabet, everyone using a particular alphabetical system must agree on what the signs mean. Strict adherence to those meanings is imperative. To be a literate person one must agree and abide by those values. In a sense, everyone who reads is trained to work with fixed meanings.

Writing strives to be literate. Even the most far-fetched fantasy uses words to paint realistic details, which encourage the reader to suspend his belief in his own preconceptions of reality and his disbelief in things that contradict that reality.

The problem is this- how does one break the bonds of that literalism? Beginning writers often struggle in incorporating scenes from memory into story because to fit the plot some detail in the anecdote must be left out, added or tweaked. A feeling of wrongness steals over them because “it didn’t actually happen that way.” In other words it wasn’t written that way into memory.

You may think that understanding this tendency would serve to correct it- not so. It just becomes more subtle. This week, striving to use my own first prompt, I got hung up on the word positive. I define the word as meaning something one is attracted to, nevertheless a little voice in my head keeps harping on the literal meaning of positive. So I looked it up and found that its roots lie in the French word ponere meaning ‘to put” or “place.” Not until 1916 did it acquire its psychological sense of “concentrating on what is constructive and good.”

 Good brings us right back to Red Riding Hood and her story, which tells us terrible things happen to good little girls who act badly. Even though, like Red, I prefer to make my own rules, part of me still wants desperately to hear a parent say, “Good girl!”  However, I like outcasts, lone wolves and strangers and I find the bleaker side of human nature fascinating in its complexity and grim sadness. Like most humans I had some grim sad moments of my own as a child; hence, my affinity for fairy tales.

In summary, I want to appear to be positive (good), though in the case of Red Riding Hood I really relish the odd and grotesque details of her story.

So here’s what I am going to do- concentrate on placing the elements at hand in positions that satisfy both my aesthetic and my need to play in the shadows once in a while. Whatever happens I’ll call it “good.”

Michelle’s thoughts about Little Red Riding Hood

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Red Riding Hood tells the Wolf she is going to Granny's

Red Riding Hood tells the Wolf she is going to Granny’s

Chris and I decided to post thoughts about the artwork and prompt after we finish our artwork. Here are some of my thoughts.

Little Red Riding Hood

Week #1 The Big Picture: Illustrate the story … Little Red Riding Hood, its theme or significance. I have chosen to illustrate the story. One of the things that her mother had said to Little Red Riding Hood before she left for Granny’s house is …”Don’t talk to strangers”. Little Red not only speaks to the wolf but she tells him where she is going. That is what I illustrated.

Since this is an old tale, I decided to include the illuminated letter “R” which was used in old times to beautify hand written manuscripts. I wanted to give the piece a “Once Upon a Time Feel.”  Little Red Riding Hood is instructed to take a basket of goodies to her grandmother who is not feeling well. Granny lives in the forest. The forest is a scary place. The trees are tall and dense and they block out much of the sunlight. You cannot see what is up ahead. There are wild and dangerous creatures living among the trees. Red’s mother tells her to stay on the path. This is another admonishment little Red fails to heed … she does not listen to advice.

Originally, this fairy tale was a cautionary one. There were packs of wolves that did attack and kill people. The forest could be dangerous. People did get lost and disappear. Predatory animals do pry on the weak, the young and the very old.

The story however has many other meanings. The big bad wolf could represent a man who takes advantage of younger women. Red Riding Hood could be a woman who brings out the beast in men. Granny is frail and helpless. The woodsman is the good guy, the hero who saves the day.

What came up for me was …How am I like Little Red Riding Hood … naive and unconscious? How do my actions affect others? Do I listen to good advice? My focus was on “Red’s” red riding hood cape. I spent time creating the cape, I wanted it to be very red … sexy?  I wanted the forest to be dense and the path to be curved.  I wanted the wolf to surprise Red by appearing out of nowhere.

I started out with one idea and ended up with something different. I was going to paint the background and the trees but used collage instead.  I got excited when different parts of the piece came together. I had to remind myself to stay positive through what I call the uglies.  I reminded myself not to compare my work to others or to what I imagined the piece SHOULD look like.  I like my work to evolve. In the end, I told myself, “This is my answer today for Little Red Riding Hood the Big Picture. There are lots of answers and I may have another one tomorrow. I then called this piece done.

That’s all for now, I’m sure I’ll have more to say later.  Michelle