Tag Archives: sacrifice

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.

goosetrack

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Sacrifice

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The Sacrifice of Isaac_0001

 Take now thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest, even Isaac, and get thee into the land of Moriah;

and offer him there for a burnt-offering upon one of the mountains, which I will tell thee of.

Abraham took the wood of the burnt-offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son;

and he took in his hand the fire and the knife; and they went both of them together.

~ Genesis 22: 2 & 6

The rabbis tell two midrash of Sarah’s death.  In both versions she learns that her husband Abraham has taken her son to the mountains along with wood and a knife to make a sacrifice to God.  Fearing the worst, she runs distraught from camp to camp searching for news. In one version an angel appears to say that Isaac survives; overcome with joy her heart gives out and she dies.  In the second version, when Satan appears and lies to her, proclaiming Isaac’s death, she drops dead from grief.

In this collage, which focuses on Isaac, you find Sarah, almost invisible at this point in the story, in the shadow of Isaac’s coat, shrouded in mourning.  Her role is over.  There’s nothing left for her to do but die.  Her marriage and her faith are lost to her.  How can she ever forgive God or Abraham?

Isaac carries a branch in his hand to represent the wood he carried, the wood for his own sacrifice.  The mountain looms ahead of him with its high altar.  The fire is built, the knife is honed, but an angel appears to stop the proceedings.  Instead of Isaac, a lamb will be slaughtered to complete the rite.

This story is full of drama and dilemmas.  Many interpretations have been offered over the years, from awe at Abraham’s faith, devotion and overwhelming love/fear of God to stark horror at the idea a parent would be willing to sacrifice their child to some abstract cause.  But, how can we forget the sons sent off to die in Vietnam or disowned for refusing the honor?  In the Iran/Iraq War children were given plastic “keys to heaven” and sent to die. Children are recruited by the thousands in Africa and Central America. An estimated 300,000 children are currently involved in 33 armed conflicts around the world.  In El Salvador, Ethiopia, and Uganda, almost a third of little soldiers are girls. Europe is no exception – thousands of child soldiers fought during the Balkan wars between 1991 and 1995.  And who can forget Europe’s infamous Children’s Crusade?  Not to mention the hundreds of thousands of children routinely murdered around the world since classical times for simply being girls.

Even yet, girls are often considered second best to sons in the patriarchal model we still live under.  Primogeniture – inheritance of a Father’s property by the first born – has long been a part of that model.  Notice that when the Lord speaks (see opening quote) he calls Isaac Abraham’s only son.  What happened to Ishmael?  When she was freed/exiled did “ownership” of her son revert to Hagar?  Did banishment automatically make Hagar and Ishmael “other” – not one of the “people” and hence not eligible under the laws of inheritance?

And what about poor little Isaac, trussed like a lamb and laid upon his funeral pile by Dad?  Not only was he betrayed in the most traumatic way by his trusted father, he returned home to find his mother dead.  Perhaps in the end Ishmael did get the better deal.  Though their father betrayed both his sons, at least Ishmael didn’t lose his mother.

What did God really want?  Isaac’s name means he laughs or perhaps he will laugh.  Is God laughing?  Is this some elaborate cosmic set up?  What if he wanted Abraham to defy him and put his son’s interest first?  Of course we’ve already seen the Abraham couldn’t be counted on in a pinch to remain loyal to family.  Twice, he pandered his sister/wife Sarah to men richer and more powerful than himself.  Perhaps God was hoping against hope Abraham would put Isaac’s interests above his own. As we know, God visits the sins of the father on future generations.  Today we see the rivalry between the descendants of Ishmael and Isaac still going on at the cost of incalculable human suffering, billions of dollars and countless lost hours of creativity, community and collaboration.

This story is rich in odd details, extensive in its scope and cast of characters, yet full of puzzling gaps.  It’s a complicated tale that inspires our curiosity with its unanswered questions.  Grappling with it has been exhausting – calling up a whole gamut of emotions I wasn’t expecting.  It doesn’t take much to crack the surface and begin floundering in its depths.  But the struggle is rewarding.  Jump in and join us at the deep end …

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.