Tag Archives: shadow

Another Twist to the Tale!

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abstract xmas tree        Language is originally and essentially nothing but a system of signs or symbols, which denote real occurrences, or their echo in the human soul.

CARL JUNG, Psychology of the Unconscious

This month we’ve decided to reverse our process and write our own tales based on the collages we create using the Christmas Tree motif.  We’ll take our inspiration either from the image as a whole, or from some detail within the picture.  Of course, we’d love it if you played along!  Send us a tale based on one of this month’s pictures or on a Christmas Tree inspired piece of art you created and we will post it with a link to your page.  Happy holidays to all whether you are celebrating Yule, Solstice, Hanukkah and or Kwanzaa or simply soaking up the ambience.  For those of you not so fond of this season, we suggest creating a piece that reflects those bleaker associations.  Sadly, the holidays can be a time of terrible strife and stress in some families and those scars can ache with every festive manifestation of the season. 

Solstice celebrates the dark as well as the light. Darkness, long associated in our culture with evil, distress and despair can also be a refuge and a comfort.  Human beings go crazy sicken and die with too much light and no sleep. Seeds need the dark earth in which to germinate and sprout; babies need nine months gestation in the dark cave of their mothers’ wombs; bears need to hibernate; trees need periods of dormancy. Learning to love, understand and embrace the dark within and without one’s can banish many fears. It teaches compassion, humility and forgiveness.

Here at Two Twitch a Tale we value the darker side of the tales for richness, resonance and reality.  We find no wisdom in a tale that does not include its shades and shadows.

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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?

Death and Ambiguity

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The Crone

While Baba Yaga may have her more benign moments, in truth, she is a terrifying creature of great power; a cannibal, said to have devoured the flesh of those whose flaming skulls form a palisade around her chicken-legged hut.  Cannibalism seems repulsive and horrible to modern eyes, but originally people ate bits of the dead in order to share their manna, their spirit, and make it their own.  Taking a bite of one’s ancestor meant incorporating some of her/his power and wisdom into oneself and opened a door to communication with the dead.  In the same way, eating some of one’s enemy allowed access to their courage and intelligence. In a way its about conservation, recycling and continuity; learning from the past and bringing its lessons forward.

Skulls served the same purpose.  Many ancient cultures from Celts to Mayans collected skulls and incorporated them heavily into their culture and art considering them the repository of intelligence and  home to the soul.  Within it repose the organs of all the senses including touch (though skin spreads across the rest of the body as well). To behead a person is to sever his/her connection to Earth; to collect it is to retain some of their essence.  To preserve the skull of one’s ancestor maintains an immediate and personal souvenir, which acts as both a mnemonic device and a means of communication with the dead.  Read more about skulls on Magdalene A.D.’s Facebook page.

The skull has long been a symbol of death, but in more ancient times it also stood for rebirth.  After all, bones last longer than any other part of us – sometimes for century upon century – look at our own far distant great, great, great, great, etc. grandmother Lucy!  Thus, in a weird paradox bones represent both immortality and mortality.  The witch Baba Yaga embodies that same ambiguity with capricious displays of ferocity and benevolence. So too, do her familiars the cock and the cat.  These animals are powerful symbols in many cultures around the world – sometimes for good, sometimes for ill.  Both are psychopomps – spirit guides who move between worlds carrying messages and leading souls through the veils that separate one plane from another.  Out of all the tangled myth and meaning associated with these animals two things stand out for me.

The cat, a known familiar of witches, hunts in the dark, pouncing on her prey and bringing it into the light.  She symbolizes the work the Crone demands of us- to hunt through our own shadows for whatever gnaws, festers and corrupts and bring it into the consciousness.

For Malays, the foot of the rooster represents a three-way cross roads; a place where destiny can change. Hecate, ancient Queen of witches, herself the crone aspect of a pre-Olympian triple Goddess (Persephone, Demeter, Hecate) was worshiped outdoors at places where three paths crossed. The number three has been considered sacred since the dawn of time and still survives in modern Christian culture as The Trinity. Hecate’s crossroads can represent the past, present and future as well as possible new directions to take in one’s life.  It’s interesting that she offers a three-way choice, rather than an either/or decision.  Hecate, like Baba Yaga represents choice and ambiguity.

The Crone understands connection and entanglement and yet she is essentially simple, basic primitive. Her mantra is easy to understand: Change or die.  She grasps the meaning of life’s most basic paradox: the one is contained in the many and the many in the one; all entities formed from the same matter, connected by the same life force, but each one singular and unique.

This is a lot of telling to explain what the collage intends to show!  Hopefully, it’s all there.  If nothing else, the feminine symbols carved into the trees, half-hidden behind their trunks, indicate  the unequivocally feminine nature of this goddess and her mysteries. Or do they?  As humans age their bodies change; women and men become more and more androgynous in  appearance and wisdom.  Individuation is about becoming more completely human.  The true Crone integrates within herself both cat and rooster, feminine and masculine.

Know Thyself

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The Ugly Duckling_NEW

We seem to be choosing stories about mothers and children lately and The Ugly Duckling is no exception.  However, my first thoughts on reading it again were not about mothers, but about belonging and not belonging.  Re-calling Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ phrase “the mistaken zygote,” I went back to my well-thumbed beloved copy of Women Who Run With the Wolves.

Let me digress a moment here and say this book ought to be every woman’s Bible.  If I were in charge (!) I would make sure every girl gets one as part of a coming-of-age package presented at the celebration of menarche. Of course I ended up re-reading the whole chapter, smiling and crying a bit to see the condition of being female so beautifully understood.  Buy it, steal it, borrow it and refuse to return it!  Get your hands on a copy and keep it close at hand.

Speaking of this story, written by Hans Christian Anderson and published in 1845, Clarissa says:

It is a psychological and spiritual root story.  A root story is one that contains a truth so fundamental to human development that without integration of this fact further progression is shaky, and one cannot entirely prosper psychologically until this point is reached.

That point is all about finding who you really are, accepting who you are, and also finding others like yourself who will affirm, confirm and value who you are. In Clarissa’s words:

The duckling of the story is symbolic of the wild nature, which, when pressed into circumstances of little nurture, instinctively strives to continue no matter what   …

The other important aspect of the story is that when an individual’s particular kind of soulfulness, which is both an instinctual and a spiritual identity, is surrounded by psychic acknowledgment and acceptance, that person feels life and power as never before.  Ascertaining one’s own psychic family brings a person vitality and belongingness.

I loved this story the very first time I read it.  Then, I got to see Danny Kaye play Hans Christian Anderson in the movies!  At age seven, I developed a mad crush on him, learned his songs by heart, and saw every movie of his my parents allowed. I still sing, “Quack! Get out!  Quack! Quack!  Get out!  Quack! Quack! Get out of town!” to myself some days.

My dad was in the army and we moved around so much I was always the new kid in town.  I never fit in at school and I felt like a stranger at home. Hans Christian Anderson could have written this story for me.  I identified completely with the ugly duckling; he sustained and encouraged me.  Having read it, I believed that one day I too could find people like me who would value me.  Looking back on my life, I am still amazed at the power of  stories, which I read as a little girl, to influence and nourish me.  In fact, I dedicated my first volume of poetry Be A Teller Of Tales to:

 Piglet & Pooh,

Ratty, Mole, Alice,

Humpty Dumpty, Br’er Rabbit,

Pinocchio, Mrs. Doasyouwouldbdoneby,

Mrs. Pigglewiggle, Charlotte, Uncle Wriggly,

Mary Poppins, Curdie, Cinderella, the North Wind, the Five Little Peppers, Heidi, Black Beauty and all

the other beloved creatures and characters

without whose leadership, companionship

and instruction I would know

nothing of storytelling

and much less

about life.

The Ugly Duckling gave me a sense of self-worth.  It inspired me to keep looking for my “pack” and gave me the courage to approach them whenever I did find another pack member.  I was very happy to return to the story after all theses years, read it again and find it as edifying and useful as ever.  I still feel heartstruck at the exile of the duckling, proving that old scars never completely fade away.  Perhaps that’s why the tones in this collage are so dark – not something I intended.  All Anderson’s stories are tinged with shadows, even those with happy endings.  I suppose it’s why I love them so. They never prevaricate or pretend. As a child, nothing was more frightening to me than lies. I could always trust Mr. Anderson to truthfully reflected the uneven mixture of pain, grief, joy and happiness I found life to be.

My collage shows the mother duck with both her own duckling and the strange creature she has inadvertently hatched.  The chickens and cat represent barnyard fowl, the ignorant nay-sayers of this world.  I included the cat because it foreshadows the danger the cygnet will meet on his quest.  The swan, is his true nature; the creature he will find at journey’s end.

Iktome and the Ducks

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Iktome and the Ducks_0001_NEW

Hi everyone we got off to a slow start on this final May Trickster story, but then working with this guy is never easy.  Trickster will trick you one way or another whenever he is invoked.  When Michelle and I decided to give a shadow workshop using Coyote as our guide, I spent a long time figuring out how to as call him in safely as possible.  My research uncovered the fact that he is a very good father so when I called in the directions and welcomed him in from the south, I asked him to treat us as his pups with gentle tricks and small lessons.  Which, he did.  It’s very important to honor these powerful spirits and treat them with careful respect because they come both as clown and creator.

Iktome the Spider man belongs mostly to the folk of the plains, particularly the Dakota.  If you’ve read the story, you know that Iktomi the shape-shifter likes to dress like a Dakota in the paint and deerskin leggings and beaded tunic of a brave.  Nevertheless, my collage uses a totem pole from a northwestern tribe – it portrays Raven, our other Trickster, but the bill reminded me of a duckbill and the face beneath the bird seemed to be painted as a spider.  Originally, I planted a big teepee where the totem pole now sits.  I painted it with black encircled eyes, red and yellow stripes and filled the corners with spider webs.  However, while searching my files for duck pictures I came across this other image and regrouped.  I wanted to show that the Earth gives birth to and is home to gods and guides as well as spiders, ravens, rabbits, coyotes and humans.

One of the things Trickster stories teach us is to be flexible and try alternative ways to solve our problems.  The stories don’t necessarily say this directly instead they show us trickery is a never-ending part of life.   Whatever we do, as ducks or Trickster, something will happen to change our circumstances suddenly and unexpectedly whether or not we are minding our own business, being “good”or “bad.”

These teaching stories are difficult to figure out and often carry multiple meanings – they remind me of Buddhist koans.  A koan is a short anecdote, usually recording an encounter between student and teacher.  It poses a question requiring more than intellect to figure out (i.e.  “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”)  The idea is to arouse the student to a state of exaggerated inquiry or “Great Doubt”.  A koan builds up “strong internal pressure (gidan), never stopping knocking from within at the door of [the] mind, demanding to be resolved.”

Trickster stories do the same thing,  Why does the tree catch hold of Iktome?  The ducks are prey animals anyway.  Is it so bad to go in an ecstatic dance?  Does the story warn us about the dangers of using trance without the proper ritual?   Why does Iktomi act so stupid in the presence of the wolves?  His behavior makes no sense, especially when he repeats his “mistake”.  We know that repetition in a story, poem or song points to something important, but I still haven’t figured it out and it won’t “stop knocking.”

Usually the point of a koan is to teach the concept of non-duality.  I think Native American stories also center on the connection of all things and our common existence as parts of Great Spirit.  Perhaps the wolves need feeding for some larger purpose we are not privy too.  Sounds too much like blind faith to me, but what if it’s something about our own wolf nature, which needs feeding?  That rings more true.  At least it’s a starting place…

Rabbit as Totem

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Rabbit came down from the moon

and entered my life with a vengeance.

 

A cosmic kick-in-the-butt

delivered by strong Jack-rabbit thighs,

sent me flying, head-over-posterior,

across the landscape of my psyche.

 

Even in the midst

of stomach floating

flip-flops, I saw clearly

how my shadow,

tumbling overhead,

should send me

racing towards a burrow,

I froze instead;

quivering nose

my sole response

to imminent disaster.

 

So Rabbit lent

a leveret-skin; soft give-away

of  babies’ bunting, meant

to line moccasins and lie fuzzy

along the soft contours

of school-girls.

 

Disguised,

I danced to March’s mad fandango,

leapt high beneath a Harvest moon

and browsed sweetly on the dew-freshed

Brussels sprouts of Mr. Mc Gregor, forgetting

my fears till his dog Pluto drove me

down a rabbit hole.

 

Trapped within the Earth’s dim warren,

my ego abdicated, leaving behind

its creature heart whose animal eyes

descried a hidden message

among an emblematic mass

of hieroglyphic roots. Intent

upon unearthing that charactery, I

followed my nose into the briar patch, where

seduced by Luna’s luminescent glow,

I left behind the thorn-entangled fur,

sprang upward to embrace the Moon

and found myself.

 

 

©2000 Christine Irving

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.

Bringing Back the Light

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An archetypal content expresses itself, first and foremost, in metaphors. If such a content should speak of the sun and identify with it the lion, the king, the hoard of gold guarded by the dragon, or the power that makes for the life and health of man, it is neither the one thing nor the other, but the unknown third thing that finds more or less adequate expression in all these similes, yet-to the perpetual vexation of the intellect-remains unknown and not to be fitted into a formula.
~ Carl Jung”The Psychology of the Child Archetype,” CW 9i, par. 267

This piece rose out of Bunce’s Hindu interpretation of the Red Riding Hood story, which I posted last week. Here you see Indra the Sun god (represented in the story by our huntsman), dancing light back into the world. As the dark clouds roll away the Radiant Child is reborn once again. She carries our sun in her hand as she returns to bless Earth with warmth, light and life.

The Radiant child is an archetypal image carried (if you agree with Carl Jung and I do) in the collective unconscious of all Homo sapiens. He defines archetypes as, “Collective universal patterns or motifs, which come from the collective unconscious and are the basic content of religions, mythologies, legends, and fairytales.” The Hindu Krishna and the Christian Christ Child are examples of such arising.

The Radiant Child links the past to the future and represents a reconciliation of opposites. She/he is an androgynous figure who synthesizes consciousness and unconsciousness. The child is godlike, surrounded by an invulnerability born out of the wisdom of innocence. The Radiant Child inspires love and rejoicing, but also awe and fear. This particular manifestation of the godhead can be more terrifying than an angry Thor or Zeus; in its innocence the child sees through all hypocrisies and fabrications, like the boy in another tale who noticed that the emperor wore no clothes.

Nakedness is one of the Child’s attributes. It is a symbol of manifestation the transformation of energy from spirit to matter. It also represents purity and primeval essence that knows no fear.

Naturally all these words and ideas have their shadows, represented in my collage by the rolling clouds and dark tones, but notice they are essential to my composition. The darkness frames and defines the light. The clouds, with their life-giving moisture and soothing shade are not banished – simply pushed aside to create a balance. The dancing golden god/man represents that equilibrium as he balances on the toes of one foot.

Since I posted this morning, I’ve read a paper by my friend Jack Meier in which he explains the reason I felt compelled to add Van Gogh’s olive trees to this collage before I finished it. (Oh yeah! olives i.e. Athena – a radiant child in Her own right, fierce Wisdom). What Jack said fits perfectly with my own interpretation of this picture:

What this image of vegetation refers to is a continuation of the life process, which lasts forever and is beyond the opposites of life and death. This image is not to be understood concretely, but as a symbol for something psychic; existing beyond life and death, a mysterious process which survives the temporary blooming and dying of visible life, which is, after all, a changing of form.

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.