"The father could not recall the dreadful words, and both parents grieved terribly over the loss of their seven sons..."
As I said, this inner curse is working below, in the father's psyche. He knows something's missing, as is the case for probably every single chronically depressed person and many who aren't, but he doesn't know he can do anything about it from the personality's perspective. He doesn't know that he can heal the situation. Most of us don't; we learn to attribute our negative moods to outer events, to worldly experiences, our histories. We beat up on someone, mostly ourselves.
So the girl isn't told about her brothers, but she hears people talking about them. She takes on the family depression ("how surprised and sad she felt about this!") and gets the lost bro story from her parents (minus the curse, of course). The parents tell her "it was the decree of Heaven, and that her birth was the innocent cause of it all." The word "cause" creates interpretation trouble here, because if there's a decree, that's primary cause.
However, a decree from heaven is a reference to the cosmic order; it means that's how things are created, if you believe in a creative cosmos. It comes from beyond the world of cause and effect in its linear sense. I'm going to un-Christianize the "decree" thing and call it fate (in fact, I discovered that one of the other versions on line does include the word "fate" in this sentence). Fate in its full glory is different from its popular meaning in American culture, and it's not simple to explain the old meaning. It's more like the concept we've imported from India, "karma". It means all of the conditions you are born into- family, body, time, place, your innate gifts and talents, the very nature of embodied human life itself. It also includes major life traumas, important relationships, and choice making crossroads. It's a perspective that implies reincarnation, so it doesn't dovetail with Christian dogma. It's not at all set in the proverbial stone. It's more like a framework.
And what sets our fates into motion? What "causes" our major life events? What initiates our life's Wheel of Fortune or Wheel of Karma spin? Why, our births, of course! We come into our human lives quite innocent of the whole set up, therefore our girl's "innocent cause". That's one rule of the incarnation game; innocence, forgetfulness. Just as the father forgets his words, so do we forget our prebirth selves, so that we may re-cognize, re-discover and re-deem, which equals fulfilling our destinies. Fate is part of the alchemical lead which is transformed to gold in alchemical symbology.
Fate is nothing without our inner odysseys, for the whole purpose of fate is to use it as material for cocreation, for fulfilling our destinies- for going home in some sense! But like I said- first we have to leave home. "She had neither rest nor peace till she made up her mind to leave home and seek her brothers and set them free, cost what it might." Notice "cost what it might"; values have shifted. From the depressed guy's perspective, he has decided that his own reclamation is worth more than the worldly power and security he was previously relying on. He's willing to risk inner exploration to save his soul, to reconnect with its innate freedom from whatever suffering his fate might have cocreated. He wants his inner sons back.
"She took nothing with her but a little ring, in memory of her parents, a loaf of bread, a jug of water, and a little stool, in case she felt tired."
Here we see this young lady already knows a thing or two; inner children often do. She's got her values straight, from the soul perspective. She's got a little collection of soul tools here. Let's start with the ring.
First, the ring is indeed a symbol of the soul itself, as inner connection point for the nonlinear, timeless realm of consciousness. Circle is the opposite of linear; it has no beginning and no end. It represents unity consciousness. In classical alchemical symbolism it's sometimes depicted by the drakon ouroboros, the snake or dragon swallowing its own tail- no beginning, no end. Here's an awesome rendering by Zarathus on deviantArt.com. Notice he includes lots of the whole ring theme with rings within rings, rings upon rings.
The next thing to know about rings is that, on the worldly plane, they symbolize commitment; they bind the finger, and indeed do serve to remind us since we can feel and see them, as can others. Any circular jewelry can hold that meaning; the Norse legends mention arm bands for that reason. As in Zarathus's drawing, it's like a dog collar; it signifies a restriction. Relationships in the worldly sense have this dog collar quality. They can jerk your chain, whether the other person even intends to do so or not. This is the nature of the ring's attachment from the level of the personality, depicted in Zarathus's tethers. It means "mine"; it means we are relating within a duality, since owning anything requires we make of it an "other".
Our chains are always internal, sooooo...learning through restriction, through attachment and loss, bumping into the walls of world and psyche, is the name of the game here on Earth. In fate-and-karma terms this is the effect of Saturn, the planet of lead and hard lessons, meaning lessons that involve suffering, of course. Restriction does indeed cause suffering for human soul and spirit- but again, it's part of the game. We learn and grow through restriction; it's the blacksmith's hammer blow. When we move from dualistic relating and enter the unity consciousness zone, however, the ring morphs from attachment and its chain-jerking suffering to the tail swallower. The most awesome of alchemical symbols operate on at least these two levels.
So guess what wedding rings mean? Ha ha. All of the above! Both the unity, and the commitment and restriction. It's up to the individual about the suffering part.
So our little gal's got "a little ring, in memory of her parents". It's not necessarily their wedding ring; it's a reminder for her. Though it could be a reminder of family suffering (family karma), and of her commitment to retrieve the brothers (releasing the bonds of karma), it could also be our reminder that we're heading towards an alchemical marriage, an inner sacred joining of the masculine and feminine, the marriage that often ends alchemical "fairy tales". The golden ring of marriage is definitely an alchemical reference to the eternality, the unity consciousness, that we're aiming towards, found in the timeless soul, the well mentioned in the last post.
Notice we have a solid and a liquid here; they nourish different aspects of our being. Breads are usually body and heart chakra, the "bread of life", the feeling of "Mother", of being held and safe, parasympathetic nervous system activity as opposed to the masculine sympathetic nervous system's arousal. Starch and milk are comfort foods (unless you have food sensitivities).
Water in its many forms always leads us to unity consciousness, as all rivers flow into the sea, so it feeds the soul. Water also purifies on all levels; it washes away "sin"; our cocreated doubts and fears. When Jesus turns water into wine, it's alchemical talk for combining feminine water with masculine spirit (air element- anything that gets us "high" is air element). That's why it takes place at a wedding; it's a symbol for the sacred inner marriage, the hieros gamos we're aiming at in these old stories. Bread is also a combination of masculine air and fire, with feminine grain and water prepared through applying masculine fire.
Back in the day, libations were all the rage (from Greek "libare, to pour as an offering"). Since they are simple and accessible, libations could be used by anyone. They can be anything liquid; water pure or with additives, wine and other sacred drinks, oils. They were poured on altars, on graves, doorsteps, hearths- literally anywhere a touch of sacred ceremony is needed. What it means to pour a libation is described in the word "offering". We symbolically move some "material" from our physical experience into (hopefully) our other realms of experience; our soul and spirit. Of course it's not linear; such an activity is an exchange. It's the opening of a door between the worlds, where giving is understood as always reciprocal. Understanding this nature of exchange itself helps us to understand unity consciousness.
I will here address the everyday lesson of the stool, though, in the sense of resting; "and a little stool, in case she felt tired". Let's think of it as balancing out archetypally masculine air element with feminine earth element, the "bread of life". The masculine goes out into the world using, not only the fire element's radiating quality but also the power of the winds. Thus air element powers our worldly activity in the sense of a search; for knowledge, for stuff, for love, etc. etc. It's the intellectual mind that decides what it wants through judging, and then figures out how to pursue it, solving "problems" as it goes and accumulating experiences and worldly goods and responsibilities.
Like the wind, the mind's activity is essentially tireless. The winds of the world never cease blowing, though we may personally enter periods of calm in our environment. That just means the wind's more powerful somewhere else for a while; it has moved on to some other place. Just so can the archetypally masculine searching power be seemingly ceaseless in its power, and my culture is very much fueled by this air element activity. We jack ourselves up with coffee, turn on our computers, and strive to emulate the heroic ideal of indefatigable, undaunted pursuit of our goals.
In theory I know that the intellectual function of the mind is, like a tornado, potentially dangerous, though, and I have all my adult life struggled more or less with this element. I know that there's not really anyplace to "go", anything to "be", any goals to accomplish, in the manner in which the intellect perceives it; the intellectual mind is master of creating such an illusion, and at the same time observing it! Yet my own fate, or destiny, my soul even, strongly persists in pursuing. This is where my gifts and inspiration lie, in part. However, it's all too easy for me to find myself in the Red Queen's race:
"Well, in our country," said Alice, still panting a little, "you'd generally get to somewhere else—if you run very fast for a long time, as we've been doing."
"A slow sort of country!" said the Queen. "Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!"
So this little stool is a great lesson for me, for our searching in "the world" will indeed eventually make us tired. We are all weary warriors who ideally come home at the end of the day and leave the war behind, as Odysseus finally did. It would behoove us to drink when we are thirsty, eat when we are hungry, to truly rest in our natural selves when we are tired; to take proper care of ourselves, to feed ourselves on every level rather than focusing always on this heroic pursuit mode. Otherwise we end up tripping over our own feet.
Us ambitious types ideally learn to stop and smell the roses before we trip and fall. Young adulthood is the age of heroism, of "doingness"; as an (in part) heroic type I have definitely faltered as I moved past the age of 50. The stool looks more inviting than it did, if for no other reason than I am now more aware of how I push myself too hard. But the air element is such a lure for me! I get so excited about things; air element's creative inspiration, its love of discovery, of something new. I love the way my mind works, its sheer cocreative power, as do lots of folks in my society. In some ineffable way, it feels like freedom.
But though the meme above depicts that freedom, we don't get to stay free for long as mortals unless we develop mastery of the element. That's the deal with the Last Airbender concept used above. My body with which I have a binding earthly contract (remember the ring, above?) would teach me through limitation to eat tasty, nutritious and pure as possible food when I am hungry (though some junk food can be fun once in a while), drink the cleanest of water (not coffee) when I am thirsty- and to truly rest when I am tired, resting the mind as well as body, letting it rest in its true nature as divine, cosmic Spirit.
The sister's stool is (from this alchemical perspective) balancing earth element with her father's freedom-seeking air. It's a solid, stable, low and humble connection with our physical home, Earth; the balancing between earth and air is in the loaf of bread, too. Earth element caretaking is part of (always humble) soul's realm because it means we release the high flying goals for a time, as folks do in sitting meditation- or any meditative way of operating. We step back, smell the roses, appreciate, breathe, sit, see the holy (sanctify), come back to earth element basics. Air element is all about diversity, about the proverbial 10,000 things, about boundless potential. My own impatience is a very reliable indicator of air element out of control, the impatience of the father right before he cursed his sons. This impatience is a way of being that we can pass on to our children in such an ambitious society, and then wonder why kids are going bonkers, the whole ADHD thing and etc..
Like the Judeo-Christian God on the seventh day, if we are lucky we learn to rest and say "It is good." We come back to the soul's grateful shining home- the place we never really left, in truth. We learn to welcome and invite home the inner restless, seeking, heroic masculine, just as the sister with her little stool, her water, her bread, her ring, is able to "save" her brothers from their outcast way of being- and, of course, saving also her father. I parenthesize "save" because it is associated with heroism; the feminine soul does not orient that way.
Whatever takes us "home", to gratitude, simplicity (notice that a little stool is a very humble seat indeed), to inner connectedness, to our true nature, is what the stool represents, then. Let's remember not to get into judgments concerning seeking, and thinking we're superior in removing ourselves from the air element activity in the world; in alchemy it's all good. Our job is to learn to pick and choose as we develop wisdom and balance between the elements. As Jung pointed out, you can't develop wisdom about some element you avoid using.
And enough for now! The rest of the story moves along pretty quickly, though the symbolism is dense. It uses the symbolism found in the more famous Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs; the little table with seven settings, the questions about "Who's been blank-blank-blank?", and the dwarf(s). If you wish to look at that symbolism visit blog entry 9/23/2013. Most of the images I found for Seven Ravens feature that scene, for whatever reasons; artists may be taken with that crucial moment of transformation.
But here's the man Aloe himself. Notice the reference to "carrying the weight of the world" and how exhausting it gets. Also "I didn't know I was lost"; the condition of the father in our story. "Waking up" is of course a great metaphor for wisdom development, found in the tale Sleeping Beauty, among other places. I did an interp of that one on Squidoo which has just been transferred to HubPages; read it here! This song could be found coming out of a balloon hovering over Rosamund's (the sleeping princess's) head as she lies there in the tower, supposedly waiting for a prince! Haha.