I just stumbled into an on line reference to the queen's key that stimulated me to move into mythic realms beyond the intimacy perspective, even though I'm endeavouring to keep from rambling too far in this interpretation; Iron John is a long story with big symbols. Anyway, in my rambles a blogger posted his understanding of Bly's interpretation of Iron John's key. Paraphrasing, let's just say that he understands this image as, first of all, a theft; the boy stealing the key. Now stealing can be cosmic; Hermes stole Apollo's cattle on the day of his birth, for example. "Stealing" implies that the queen thought the key was hers alone.
This blogging fellow goes on to say that the queen had taken it and hidden it. Again, this could be valid. However, my version of the story makes it clear that the key was given to the queen by the king for safekeeping. That the queen "holds the key" is part of their archetypal masculine-feminine relationship; it's not a case of deliberate hiding on the queen's part, and the king is not shown to be threatened by the queen having or putting it under the pillow. It's just another layer of "keeping things safe" symbolism, as the wild man is caged so that the personality feels safe.
Something kept under your wife's pillow isn't exactly secreted from you, after all- unless you are afraid of or disdainful of women's pillows! Which certainly happens- until it's understood. Keys under your wife's pillow are eminently available to you. It's just veiled, not obvious; it requires a teeny bit of effort to get it, a decision to do so, just as the opening of Iron John's door is difficult.The queen's doing what the king asks. If the queen were an antagonistic force she would have to be proven to be greedy first, as such queens always are in these alchemical tales, by some egotistical behavior or by description, as in the envious stepmother archetype. Indeed this story has a helpful feminine element, from beginning to end.
Any triune goddess represents personal transformation; that's easily deduced, right? Into prehistory the feminine archetype has taken the lead in symbolically representing the ways in which soul directed, embodied, human psychospiritual development works, simply because women go through more obvious developmental changes. This cocreates an association with earth element's cycles, the flowers and golden fruit later in our story here. Mother goes through the very first cocreated development with us. She literally hold us, mothers us, supports us, as we cocreate a body; nobody gets here without that experience. We can access this supportive energy in the form of the feminine deities humans have cocreated, such as Mary (last post) and Hecate.
Obviously Hecate isn't a simple goddess; another good reason she's popular, that she has survived over the years. She has shapeshifted. For a nice little blurb on her go to this blog. For the purposes of this tale I am going to focus on her role as, not only way-shower, illuminator of dark inner paths, but midwife. I think I mentioned Artemis earlier in this blog interp, and like Artemis she is strongly associated with dogs, the moon, and virginity (as a singular, rather than triune, goddess). She midwifes the death passage; that's another meaning of the dog symbolism, for dogs are also psychopomps, escorts between different "levels" of consciousness, different realms. The disappearing dogs undoubtedly refer to such shifts in consciousness. Unlike contemporary Euro-Western culture, back in the day there was no separation between the realms of the dead and the psychic "unconscious", of dreams and other experiences outside of the physical consensus reality. Dogs can help you into death and/or to move beyond the threshold of any other transpersonal experience. That's why Cerberus stands at the gates of Hades.
And in the symbolic world death is significant of much more than the death of the body. It refers to smaller deaths that are required in order for us to develop; child to adult to crone and so much more. We can use the word "initiation" for these transformational death-doors.
Now one of the sometime quibbles I have with the New Age community at large is when some complain that as a society we are bereft because we no longer enact formal initiations, as in vision quests or puberty rites. However, that's a limiting belief. If we endeavour to maintain our soul connection, and even if we don't, soul will cocreate initiations for us quite outside of our conscious choice, and they will be all the better for the surprise factor. We lose our health, our loved ones, our material goods and means of support, our sanity, etc. There are losses of all kinds to experience here on Earth, and all loss can lead to transformation- to the opening of new experiential doors.
Not that I'm dissing vision quests. I'd love to do one- when the time is right! The right timing is something the soul knows, just as the flower knows when to open, and the fruit knows when to ripen. And this soul power is what Hecate represents; flower and fruit will be found in the boy's developmental tasks. Again, why is this initiation power feminine from an alchemical standpoint? Because earth element, representing embodied experience, is archetypally feminine. We are talking here about what happens when a spirit cocreates a body and lives on Earth- not what happens when we get beamed up by Scottie!
"When the King came home,he observed the empty cage, and asked the Queen how it happened. She knew nothing about it, and sought the key, but it was gone."
The King gets a big search for his son going, but to no avail, and "much grief reigned in the royal court." This grief is the same old loss of soul connection that motivates this drama, like the grief of the father in The Seven Ravens.
Meanwhile, back in the woods, the wild man enters the soul-forest again, his domain, takes the boy from his shoulder "and said to him, 'Thou wilt never see thy father and mother again, but I will keep thee with me, for thou hast set me free, and I have compassion on thee. If thou dost all I bid thee, thou shalt fare well. Of treasure and gold I have enough, and more than anyone in the world.'"
No surprise that this soul man has compassion...the soul is the seat of it. And treasure as well; the wild man is telling the boy basically that all the human scrabbling for worldly power is penny ante stuff; he's got a game going here in the soul-forest with much higher stakes; eternality. That Bly talked about this event as an adolescent/young adult initiation is not surprising since the wild man says the boy will never see his mother and father again. As far as we can tell, such pubertal initiations were widespread in pre-Christianized Europe, and of course beyond. However, the story does say the boy is eight years old, too young for such an initiation in most cultures I think.
It doesn't really matter though, for such initiations can occur at any age. The way I'm thinking about this story is, yes, there are initiations to be had. But since there are so many developmental tasks here, the focus is more on them.
It seems this well is archetypally gender balanced, wholistic; crystal can be imagined as frozen light (masculine), but "well" implies feminine water. The word "bright" also implies the ethereal masculine, the yang to the yin deep, dark well within. As always, these tales are aimed towards inner balance between opposites. Gold is either the alchemical gold of eternality and unity consciousness, or the sacred masculine opposite of silver (feminine). Silver not being mentioned, I interpret it as the undivided eternality of the soul.
In fact the Titans (Hecate was a Titan) ruled the proverbial "Golden Age" found in both ancient Greek and Roman mythic imagination. It is a time when there is no conflict; all are in peace and harmony and joy and abundance. This mythic time is none other than the soul's realm. Here comes some more gold for us; "The boy placed himself by the margin of the well, and often saw a golden fish or a golden snake show itself therein, and took care that nothing fell in. As he was thus sitting, his finger hurt him so violently that he involuntarily put it in the water. He drew it quickly out again, but saw it was quite gilded, and whatsoever pains he took to wash the gold off again, all was to no purpose."
The rest of this metaphor is pretty symbolically awesome. Watching a still water surface is, most simply, soul-searching, self contemplation. However, since we can see ourselves in its surface, it also serves the more specific symbolism of mirroring. We can think of this metaphor as instruction on the nature of the embodied experience and the development of the persona, a major developmental event for sure, though it takes many years to effect.
We can order this instruction in many ways of course, but here's one. It's the wild man-soul instructing the king and/or his inner child about the soul's ways and values. We get a metaphor for paradox and liminality in his sitting in the margin of the well, just as there are references to evening ("I will come every evening" being the most recent). "Limin" is quite literally a threshold, betwixt and between, so that corresponds to our initiation and its opening of new doors. It also implies a "middleness", the third way, the balance point between dualities, where both options can be viewed, and all of this liminality and magical betwixt and between is descriptive of soul space. Remember Mars's leaping over the threshold in the Carmen Arvale?
The adult king-personality-protagonist could very well be doing sitting meditation here. He is watching his thoughts and feelings to ascertain what might be the source of that which disturbs his inner peace. He discovers some pain there which causes him to "lose himself"; when these thoughts come up his psyche is coopted by habituated thoughts and feelings. These are thoughts which, in his daily life, are vety compelling, since they are foundational to his self identity, to how his persona is constructed. In his life he is so taken over by these thoughts that he acts instinctively and "puts his finger in the golden water"- he forgets to stay in "watcher" mode. Thus, during this well-contemplation, he has discovered some source of his fear which kept him so guarded, which kept him fearing his inner wild man. He might decide, as countless folks have, to transform his fear through facing it and watching it.
Each time the child that we are suffers and unconsciously reacts, we do move further and further from the soul-pool. But this beautiful metaphor of the golden finger informs us that, like the golden ball game, it's all good; part of the Divine cocreative plan. Like all of us, he's going to go forth blessed by his pain. Here on Earth, it's the lead we all turn to gold. I don't know what's in the statue's hand (above) but it appears to be bleeding... The many large and small pains we suffer as we grow up are part of my definition of human fate, so I see this golden well-dipped finger as holding that meaning as well. Like Rumi says, "Don't turn away. Keep your gaze on the bandaged place. That's where the light enters you.”
I know everyone got tired of the Christian (especially Catholic) martyring and guilt tripping spin on the matter of human suffering, but it's a universal mystical understanding encoded in that and other religions. Enlightenment is bringing the light to the darkness of human suffering on an individual basis, Hecate's torch. Bringing the light to it means (in part) we realize it is part of the soul's master plan, and therefore our own inner knowledge, to experience some measure of fated pain and trauma here.
Notice daybreak, liminal space, like evening and the edge of wells.
Of course we're going for three tries here. This second hair-falling-in-the-well "mistake" is in reference to intellectual thought and its ability to analyze, reason, and create dualities for us. That's the human embodiment skill that is part of air element, of the sixth chakra (eyes and forehead, head and hair). Let's read it thus; Humans experience pain and then, as meaning-making animals, we use our intellectual minds to cocreate an explanation for it. As children we often look to our elders for explanations, of course. Explanations, our "notes to self", are legion, even within one person's psyche, but since we have the dog = loyalty angle going here, let's use it. When we make a "mistake", as the child does here, we are corrected- sometimes, or for some children always- painfully.
Since the behavior is judged as bad, and the child doesn't have a soul-disconnected, reasoning ego yet to absorb the hit (one good reason to cast our boy as eight years old), the negative attribution by others to their behavior is taken, however unconsciously, as a badness of self. This self judgment blossoms sooner or later in thoughts of not-good-enough, judgments concerning the ways in which we are lacking, are imperfect, bad. With these introjected self judgments we will enter into the great world stage, "go into the world" as our golden boy does, engage in the human ongoing tragicomedy composed of oppositional experiences of good and bad, of pain and the attempt to salve it.
Again the great teacher Rumi;
From another great bard;
Bows and flows of angel hair and ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere, I’ve looked at clouds that way
But now they only block the sun they rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done but clouds got in my way
I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now,
From up and down and still somehow
It’s clouds illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds… at all
Moons and Junes and ferris wheels, the dizzy dancing way you feel
When every fairy tale comes real, I’ve looked at love that way
But now it’s just another show, you leave ‘em laughing when you go
And if you care don’t let them know, don’t give yourself away
I’ve looked at love…
From give and take…
Tears and fears and feeling proud to say I love you right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds, I’ve looked at life that way
But now old friends are acting strange, they shake their heads, they say I’ve changed
Well something’s lost and something’s gained in living every day
I’ve looked at life…
Win and lose…
A beautiful commentary on this process of moving into life as opposites, as dulaity, no? First the less experienced, child's vision- the castles in the air, the fairy tale. Experience gives us the other side of the story, and then we use it for personal transformation; "Well something's lost and something's gained in living every day"...
Next- the expulsion from paradise!