Tag Archives: Rumplestiltskin

“Rumpelstiltskin Is My Name”

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In this collage I portray Rumpelstiltskin as an aspect of the wild and randy god Pan, ancient guardian of the wild.  We find him here creating the magic that will allow the miller’s daughter to spin the king’s straw into gold.

Pan was a god of woodlands and meadows, guardian of both wild animals and flocks with the torso of a man and the hind legs and horns of a goat.  His worship spread far and wide spanning a millennium that we know of and probably stretching back far beyond his first archaeological appearance in the 6th century BCE.

There is a story from the reign of the Roman Emperor Tiberius (AD 14-37) that purports to report the death of Pan.

One day a ship piloted by a sailor named Thamus lay becalmed off the Echinades islands.  Suddenly a great voice sounded from the shore.  It called his name three times.  When he replied the voice shouted, “Tell them that great Pan is dead.”  As he sailed along the shore, the pilot shouted to the people on land that the god was dead, whereupon arose the sound of great weeping.  The news spread fast and when he arrived in Italy the emperor summoned him to be questioned by a committee of scholars.  The learned ones interpreting the event decided that the Pan in question was not the god, but a demon of the same name.  

Early Christians believed this story and took comfort in it, confident that it marked the beginning of the end of the pagan era, but in fact, well into the 4th century B.C.E. coins were being minted bearing the face of the god.  It takes more than a decree to banish a god or to convince people, especially those living close to the land, nature spirits don’t exist.  The spirit of Pan lived on in the tales of the fey, the ‘little folk’, fairies, brownies and gnomes and wood sprites such as Rumpelstiltskin.  Push them into the shadows as we will, such tales still leak past the borders we set; the lines of logic we impose on both our physical and imaginative landscapes._The_Wind_in_the_Willows

Maybe, Rumpelstiltskin wanted a child to raise in the old pagan ways and thus ensure their continuation.  Perhaps, it is belief that keeps gods alive – maybe they do need someone to clap for them.  Thanks to Kenneth Grahame I’ve been a lifelong believer in Pan.  His depiction of the god as the Piper at the Gates of Dawn in his beloved book Wind in the Willows* continues to be the only description of the masculine divine that’s ever truly moved me.

In same way that humans cheated Rumpelstiltskin, I think we cheat Nature – the carbon emissions, the methane, the GMO’s, the dams, the pesticides etc., etc., etc. are all ways we break the pact of reciprocity which is part of the evolutionary cycle.  It grieves me.  It breaks my heart.  If I can help restore balance by creating an image of a powerful Earth elemental at the height of his power, I’m glad to do so.  It’s the sound of two hands clapping – loud and long.

*I’m in good company.  Teddy Roosevelt wrote Grahame a fan letter saying that he had “read it and reread it, and have come to accept the characters as old friends.”

How Twitch This Tale?

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Earlier I mentioned that I thought poor Rumpelstiltskin got a raw deal, but of course there are other ways to look at the story.  Change perspective and the rather dim-witted, gullible and mendacious maiden becomes a clever and enterprising young woman who must use subterfuge and beguilement to protect herself from the machinations of greedy and lascivious men.

What was the Miller’s motive in making such an extravagant claim in the King’s hearing?  In the pre-industrial age millers were incredibly important entrepreneurs.  Grain was of no use to anyone until it had been ground into flour.  Local agricultural communities depended on their mills to provide the means to sell a cash crop.  The millers not only ground the grain they helped the farmers sell it.  They were canny sophisticated men, well versed in local politics and unlikely to blab recklessly in the presence of their betters.  So why did the Miller make this boast.  Did he want to get rid of his daughter?  If so why?  Was she already pregnant?  Could the baby have been his?

On the other hand, maybe his daughter was already pregnant with Rumplestiltskin’s child.  The story says nothing of his age or looks, just that he was short.  Perhaps the maiden devised this plan to buy time, find a husband and get rid of a fascinating but creepy suitor.

The story seems to hinge on the value of the newborn child.  Maybe it’s a story about how crazy the longing for a child can make a person and what lengths someone will go to in order to fulfill that longing.

The more I studied this story, the sadder everyone seemed.  The king and the maiden in my collage are both unhappy looking.  Rumple is merely manic.  The message this story carries may be simply what it seems – riches cannot buy happiness.

I gave this story a green background because the forest plays such a large part – at least in my imagination.  The woods are Rumplestiltskin’s stomping grounds.  His magic seems to derive from his relationship to the woodlands.  It is the one place he feels safe enough to utter his true name.

Names are very important in magic.  They hold a person’s personal power.  If the true name of an enemy can be discovered, then he can be forced to do your bidding.  If the true name of a plant or mineral is known than you can use and manipulate it for your own ends. Remember, in the Genesis creation story Adam was granted the right to name each animal and thus define it.  In other words, he was given dominion over the animals.

The sunlit grain fields, the clearing in which the mill stands and the walled extravagance of the castle all speak of land that has been tamed.  The forest is a wild place and maybe Rumpelstiltskin wants only to protect the legacy of wildness for his child, or by extension, all children.  The story may well be a protest against the groundswell of technology presaged by the invention of watermill and spinning wheel.

Different meaning, different issues, different interpretations make these tales timeless.  We see once again that the personal is political and vice-versa.   Every time we revisit the tales, the wheel spins again and straw is spun into gold.