Tag Archives: meaning

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.

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The Positive Mother

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Yashoda and Shiva 2_

 

As you probably guessed from my last post, the most interesting part of this story is the mother.  My heart goes out to her.  To me, she represents the feminine Divine, The Mother of All, She-Who –Hears the Cries of the World.  She is Wisdom, present at the dawn of creation waiting with that same half-smile to see if her god will choose to create light. She is the Great Mother, oldest of the old, the beginning of all things.  She is Eve, genetic mother of humankind.  The stories simply don’t work without her.  Krishna, Buddha, Christ, Dionysus all had mothers integral to their stories.

The mother in this collage is fruitful, you can tell by the dates she carries.  She loves the Earth.  She is the Earth.  Whatever else may happen in the cosmos, Gaia is home to us.

If you read the history of Mary in the Catholic Church you will find she wasn’t wanted by the establishment, but there was no way to keep her out.  The Church may have wanted to excise the feminine, but the people would and could not do without it.  They knew in their bones and muscles and guts; in the primal material of their bodies that there is no life, no spirituality, no joy without the inclusion of both masculine and feminine energies.  Both inspire awe; both nurture the psyche and sustain the spirit. Without both, we wither and cannot be fruitful.

One might say a mother is defined by the children she bears, but I say motherhood lies in the quality of the love she brings to bear on the world. After all, it is the nature of children to grow up and away, to separate from their mothers.  The mother, enhanced, enriched, empowered by the experience goes on to pour out her wisdom to those whose path she crosses.  She is the mother bear who walks away one day while the yearlings play, the mother cow who turns her back on the weaned calf.

The separation works both ways.  During pregnancy the gravid mother has months to turn inward, to contemplate, and reflect. Settle and come to terms with a new way of life.  When her children leave, she goes through the same process, never forgetting them or ceasing to love, but returning to her own concerns.

Krishna may be a god, may carry the universe inside him and weaken her knees with love, devotion and adoration.  Nevertheless, he is not hers, not her and in the end he may fly through space, doing his god thing while she ponders what she ponders and dreams what she dreams.

The Bremen Town Musicians

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Bremen Town Musicians

Bremen Town Musicians

April fools us with five Mondays this year so Michelle and I have decided to each do a one-off tale of our own choosing.  I selected  The Bremen Town Musicians because it’s been a favorite of mine since childhood.  Since then I’ve revisited this tale several times, always with the same sense of delight.  I can pinpoint exactly where this sentiment resides – right at the top of my tummy – waiting to erupt into a gleeful sound, something between a chuckle and a gurgle.

In retrospect I  see that I loved the idea of animals (read non-entities and minions) upsetting the established order of things.  Their cheerful aplomb and raucous courage cheered my own rebellious heart.  I attribute that rebellious streak and longing for independence to my (at the time) terrifyingly angry mother, the strict hierarchy imposed on our family by the military culture we lived in, and the genetic disposition inherited from Dad’s determinedly individualistic family. The self-determination of the donkey, dog, cat and rooster endeared them to me.  To this day they remain great favorites of mine.

Male donkeys represent stubbornness, vulgarity and  laziness.  Though originally associated with Ra the Sun god ancient Egypt, later they became aligned with Seth the ‘evil’ brother and shadow side of Osiris.  Female donkeys, on the other hand, represent knowledge, symbol of humility, poverty, courage and peace. They appear twice in the Christ story – once to carry the Holy family to safety and again to carry Christ on his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  Apuleius also made use of the donkey in The Golden Ass.  He transformed his protagonist into a donkey in order that he might work through his thoughtless foolishness and eventually regain human form  under the divine auspices of Goddess Isis.  The juxtaposition  of Donkey’s differing traits remind me of the Tao, the spiritual path we must all, sooner or later,set foot up.fyVMtP8A

Being born in the year of the dog gives me a great affinity for canines.  Their wild ancestry sings in my bones and allows me, at least metaphorically, to run with wolves.   Dogs above all else, symbolize loyalty, an attribute I appreciate in others and aspire to myself.  Because of their dual nature (wild and domestic) the dog is said to walk between worlds.  Dogs are often guardian figures such as Anubis or Cerberus or the companions of powerful Goddesses  such as Hecate, Diana, Hel, and the Caillech.  The hounds of Hell, who run with the Wild Hunt through Celtic nights, are sometimes called The Hounds of the Mothers.  Cave canem!  Beware of the dog  who can focus her wild nature through the lens of her loyalty and fight to the death to protect what she loves.

mosaic dog

Ah cats, who can deny their insouciance?  Sacred since time immemorial in both their domestic and wild guises they remain to this day creatures of portent and mystery.  Long demonized by The Church because of their affiliation with the Feminine Divine, cats have managed to retain their popularity in spite of being drowned, hung, skinned and burned at the stake. One reason is their ability to destroy vermin.  Unlike dogs who serve man out of love and loyalty, the cat makes a pact with humanity in which both parties are expected to fulfill certain conditions.  Cats love the night and seem to have a special affinity for the moon, reflected in the luminous orbs of their dark-adapted eyes.  Their purported nine lives make them a symbol of transformation and rebirth.

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The Rooster is known for his courage.  Long associated with the sun he is a solar symbol in many cultures around the world, venerated for bravery, kindness, raucous good nature, eroticism and ability to keep time.  His appearance in dreams may be a call to “wake up” or, if he appears in full plumage, a sign to strut your stuff.   In Christianity the rooster stands for the risen Christ, but he is also affiliated with the Greek trickster god, Hermes.  Good fortune belongs to Rooster, but his self-assurance and confidence can slide quickly into vanity and fool-hardy “cockiness”.

rooster logo red

All these animals are rich in meaning, they appear in dozens of tales around the world as both bit players and heroes. I could go on and on about any of them, but I can  already see a pattern emerging. Self-reliance, connection to Spirit, rebelliousness,  good humor  are all qualities I prefer and can lay claim to on my good days. Their shadow sides are mine as well. I am glad my old friends don’t hesitate to crow, bray, screech or bark when I get too vainglorious, stubborn or aloof.  This story reflects so much of my own nature. It’s interesting, gratifying and very humbling to me to see how little has changed, how much remains the same.

For some reason I gave this Germanic (notice the dachshund)  tale a Japanese setting – perhaps because of the import these creatures retain in so many diverse cultures around the world.  Their meaning differs, sometimes radically, but these four animals all make their home in our collective unconscious.  They are messengers from our deepest selves and most ancient community, bearing lessons and rewards for those of us with eyes to see and ears to hear.

As a child, I never noticed this story was about old animals being discarded by their community.  Now, my own aging eyes and ears perk at tales dealing with the end stage of life. After seeing my mom in and out of several nursing homes and watching my dad’s decline into old age, I am poignantly aware of how many of our old relations are shuffled off to deteriorate in death’s waiting room.  It’s an awful way to go.  I thank whatever gods may be that both my parents died at home, surrounded by family.  My own ageing process remains both fascinating and frightening .  I hope to meet it in the same spirit as Donkey, Dog, Cat  and Rooster meet theirs.  You’ll notice I used a lot of color (our prompt from Leah for April) in portraying them and yes, I used the word hope, upon which I cast such aspersions in the previous post.  The story speaks to me of color – the rainbow colors of diversity and change, creativity and novelty, courage and carnival, persistence and possibility.  I really like this story.  I like it even more now than when I first heard it.  It’s a noisy tale.  It says, “Do not go gentle into that good night.”

Coloring

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Pandorawk4color

Coloring

Week #4: Prompt; Color

How does the word color work with Pandora’s Box?  This week I have no insight nor make any connection between the prompt Color and  Pandora’s Box.   What keeps coming up are the words Coloring and Coloring Books.

When I was young, sick and had to stay in bed, my mother would buy me a new Coloring Book and a box of crayons. I loved the dot-to-dot pictures. I loved the new crayons with their perfect points. I decided to turn my previous collages into black and white images. I then colored them using colored pencils. My enthusiasm for coloring did not last long. Perhaps it didn’t work back then either. When I was sick, I often fell asleep mid-page.

I decided to look up the word color in the dictionary. I hoped to find a new definition, something I could expand upon. Something to peak my imagination. What caught my interest is the word coloring. When used  as a verb … to misrepresent, especially by distortion or exaggeration – to color the facts. … I agree.  In the story of Pandora, the subject of  distortion  and misrepresentation  apply … the story colors Pandora and Eve as scapegoats. It’s women’s fault that there is evil in the world.  See my last post … First Sinners.

I looked up Color in my symbols dictionary and read what it had to say. “Color as a symbol is the differentiated, the manifest, diversity, and the affirmation of light. Black and White represent negative and positive, and all opposites. God, as light, is the source of color.” As I colored my black and white collages, I note that whatever is “colored” becomes more meaningful, pops-out, turns into a highlight …the red apples, the red heart, the yellow pears, the flowers, the bird and the Box. Pandora’s face, the butterflies, the blue shirt and the torn paper all take on a special focus. So what do I make of this collage? A Poem.

 Red apples, yellow pears,

Fruit from the Gods

Flowers briefly announce

Spring, Summer and Fall

Temporary, fragile, juicy heart,

Open faces, dot-to-dot the branch

With bird flutter and orange butterflies

Dancing gold coins tossed before the blue

Torn truth, black and white, splashes raindrops

Down to color  the feminine psyche.

Curiosity

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The Harbinger

The Harbinger

Seize the moment of excited curiosity on any subject to solve your doubts; for if you let it pass, the desire may never return, and you may remain in ignorance.

~William Wirt (9th Attorney General of the United States 1817– 1829)

Wonderland is rife with stories about the consequences (initially dire or at least unhappy) of opening forbidden boxes.  Sometimes the boxes come as covered baskets woven by Native Americans, sometimes they are locked rooms, sealed jars or stoppered bottles.  Always the person who opens them is driven by insatiable curiosity to take a peep inside.  Most often they’ve been warned to KEEP OUT!

But, like the person who insists on visiting the spooky basement at midnight to investigate a strange noise instead of sneaking out the back door and running like hell while dialing 911, the insatiably curious just can’t help themselves.

Tales about locked boxes are often touted as learning stories intended to make people conform.  But, if we read them carefully, we find by the end justice prevails.  So perhaps the stories are really about the necessity to persevere through trial, error and some suffering, in order to bring about change for the greater good.  These accounts are among our oldest, old enough to be called myths,  with roots that go back into antiquity.  They are often complicated, richly layered tales full of twists and turn, successes and set-backs.  To me, they seem like initiation stories- rites of passage.

One characteristic of initiations is to take everything the student has learned and turn it upside down by teaching a seemingly opposite truth.  This radical paradigm shift knocks the aspiring initiate out her/his previous assumptions into beginner’s mind; open to new ways of inquiry and conjexture.  In Pandora’s Box the story seems to a warning.  On the other hand ,it might offer the neophyte encouragement to continue on the journey.  Or the story might be a koan meant to force the student to think more profoundly and explore alternative explanations.

In my collage, Pandora, who wears still keeps her golden key in the  medicine bag strung around her neck (perhaps she will encounter other boxes) has already unsealed her jar (bottom right corner) letting loose a swarm of noxious insects, many of which fly and/or sting.  The insects have long since dispersed.   Now, months later, something new has appeared on Earth – flowers.  Many of those flying, stinging, creepy-crawlies were pollinators.  Not only is the world awash in beauty, but a new kind of food is growing in abundance – mangos, paw-paws, bananas, apples, pomegranates, peaches pears, watermelon, pecans, walnuts, cashews,  almonds, potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini, cauliflower, eggplant, squash, beans , chilies – the list is endless.

You can see these flowers in my collage and also the pollinators, without whom much of the world’s population would starve to death.   The closed jars represent the potential for discovery – the potential for emptying that leaves the womb, which all jars represent, ready for new life.  The emptying is essential to creation; be it a baby, a book or a better mousetrap.  The sealed jars are the catalysts of curiosity, harbingers of action.  Pandora is the universal girl who dares act, who uses the gifts she’s been given to initiate change.

On the Way to the Wedding

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On the Way to the Wedding

On the Way to the Wedding

Last month we had a spare story where we had to delve and dive for meanings, this month with Pandora’s Box we have a story rich with store-bought meanings, some of them diametrically opposed.  I’m very curious about what will fly out as we unpack the story and shake out the wrinkles.

I’ve been fascinated by Pandora since I was a little girl, hearing the story for the first time.  I’ve thought of Pandora as very young ever since.  No doubt I identified so strongly with her because I too was a child filled with insatiable curiosity.  From the very first time I raised my hand in class to ask a question  it marked me as different.  Being an Army brat, I changed schools the way other girls changed clothes.   There were plenty of opportunities for fresh starts in new environments; besides my mama didn’t raise dummies – I knew perfectly well  if I wanted to fit in, or at the very least escape notice, I should throttle that insistent inquisitive other who  kept shoving my arm up and flapping my hand around.  But I couldn’t.  Just like Pandora, I had to keep opening the box and suffering the consequences.

It certainly didn’t escape my attention that Pandora and Eve had a lot in common; both being ‘first women’ blamed unfairly for letting mankind’s ills loose upon the world.  From the get-go I got how unfair that was.

Pandora is the dummling, the Fool, the innocent setting out on a journey for which she is totally unprepared.  She hasn’t even had the benefit of a childhood with all its lessons of separation and betrayal to toughen her up.  Zeus has ordered her freshly made and sent her like a time bomb into the world.  So, she isn’t just my little girl suffering the normal slings and arrows of childhood, she is also every child used and abused by adults for their own ends.

In this first collage we see young naïve Pandora carrying all the gifts the gods have showered upon her neatly packed in a basket, on her way to her new home. She rides on top of the hope chest of a bride and her path is strewn with celebratory flowers.  Behind her hovers the shadow of the woman she has already, unbeknownst to her and without her consent, become – a sexual object to be bought and sold by men and gods in games of power.  At this moment though, she is still unaware of her fate; still seeing the world as freshly painted just for her.

Painted red – to stand for marriage (China, India), sacrifice (blood, virginity), fire (Prometheus), hidden knowledge (alchemy) and the “uncontrolled lust for power leading to self-absorption and hatred” (Zeus).  This particular shade of red symbolizes “yang” the masculine life force.  You  see it reiterated in this collage, emphasizing the imbalance of yin and yang. (See previous post March 25)

The story begins with the sibling rivalry between Zeus and his brother Prometheus, which leads to the theft of fire for mankind, resulting in Zeus’s commissioning Pandora from the (male)smith Hephaestus before giving her to another brother Epimetheus as his bride.  Perhaps the evils hidden in Pandora’s box will emerge out of this gross imbalance between feminine and masculine elements rather than the curiosity of Pandora.

Black/White

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Taijitu Entangled

Taijitu Entangled

Black and white, held to be polar opposites, both contain within themselves diametrically opposed meanings. White can be cold, sterile, barren, the color of funerals, grieving and death, Black can represent decay, despair, sin, funerals, grieving and death.  White can be purity, spiritual ecstasy, new; death can be fecund, rich, warm, the source of the divine spark of life.

No wonder the Chinese married these opposites into a timeless symbol of wholeness – the immediately comprehensible Taijitu.  The moment one sets eyes on this figure one knows what it means.  Two opposing, yet complementary flowing black & white figures, each containing a piece of the other, fit together to form a complete circle.  The inextricable oneness of  yin (feminine) and yang (masculine) is obvious, especially to a Jungian who can easily perceive the anima and animus in the contrasting dots within each figure. The two halves of the circle resemble fish  and people have been running with that association almost since it first appeared.  When I considered the black and white prompt for a story about out-of-balance femininity and masculinity involved with a fish, the Taijitu figure was a no-brainer.

Tajitai

I decided to enclose my fisherman and his wife in an entangling net to represent how stuck they were in their marriage, their poverty, their assumptions, etc.  The story of the Fisherman and His Wife disturbs and intrigues.  It affects us.  So, the net also represents the world net of Shiva, which one cannot touch without setting off vibrations that echo through the cosmos.    Just as in the story, though it isn’t mentioned per se, all the changes effected by the wife and fish touch on hundreds of lives.  AHA!  I do believe I’ve just unraveled the meaning of those staggered, stepped maidservants, soldiers and flames, which so puzzled me.

I had great fun making Zen tangles out of the squares of the fish net.  I used a Sharpie marker to draw them and the fish.  The lines are rough and crude without the definition of a fine-tipped pen, because the story is kind of rough and crude itself.

The tangles represent the changing nature of the sea – its many moods and manifestations.  They also stand for the shape-shifting nature of the fish who is also human.  The Taijitu figure is derived from an intricate system of solar measurement used to determine the calendar.  In my collage, along with the other meanings, it refers once again to the unchanging change nature of the natural world. The whole philosophy of Taoism rests on an idea inherent in this symbol – the complementary nature of opposing components.  It is also the basis for the system of divination called the I Ching.  So it is appropriate to use it to represent both the universal nature of storytelling and the divinatory way in which we use collage to reveal hidden meanings in our lives.

I’m very grateful to Leah Piken Kolidas of Creative Every day for sprinkling a bit of magic on this site with prompts that always send us in new directions.

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.”