Here in the U. P. we have some serious winter going right now- lots of snow on the ground and temps that keep us all inside. Holiday busyness slowly fading into the past, I can enjoy my morning perch in front of the computer without remorse, while the birds fly back and forth between maple trees and the feeder by my right side. Most of the birds now are chickadees, with a few nuthatches interspersed. It's an interesting case of social compatibility, this pairing, for the chickadee has a specific set of manners at the feeder. They take one seed (it's a window feeder, like a little room against the window glass) and fly off to eat it in the tree, with rare exception. The nuthatch will do this, too. If a chickadee arrives at the feeder to find a bird already there, they turn 'round. It makes me laugh sometimes, like someone accidentally walked into the bathroom when it was occupied.
I've had a holiday month of visiting and being visited, and as my new year effort I'm going to indulge in writing on a fairy tale until my butt (or my brain) protests! I was lucky enough to receive a new edition of the Grimms' collection, translated and edited by Jack Zipes, for Christmas;
Let's turn away from umlauts and accents and on closer to the matter at hand- a nice little alchemical story that features earth element work as well as air. There are apples and dragons and lots of threes and the usual wisdom development through various tasks. It's called The Elf in my old edition; Zipes names it The Gnome. Apparently that's the most common title, though my old edition differs. Here is a link to one version:The Gnome.
So from this we see the word "gnome" supposedly has roots in the 1500's wave of European alchemy trad. The word in German is Erdmanneken (not sure about capitalization), so he is a little earth man, and undoubtedly the whole concept of a little earth man is ancient. He is a creature of the human imagination, though anything that can be imagined can be made manifest. So if you happen to see one, you're just tapping into the gnome zone. Folks have taken the metaphorical gnome ball and run with it, featuring them in fantasy literature, children's books, and in other archetypally appropriate places, such as garden gnomes and Santa Claus, that distributor of earthly abundance.
In fact I just realized that I have had a gnome of sorts on my kitchen table for weeks, my latest thrift store Christmas acquisition. He's depicted above; a Scandinavian Jultomten. The photo is a copy of the same figurine I own, and interestingly I found one in each of two stores I went to the one morning this last November. Heavy gnome karma! They were begging my participation, I guess! We'll see if they help me with this interp. I gifted one of them to a son who is a gnome fan, his interest instigated years ago by the film Amelie. Interestingly, Santa, like all tomte, behaves very much like the gnome in our story, who rewards those who act with respect and reverence for earth element and punishes those who do not. Of course Santa, depending on where you live, doesn't anymore inhabit only earth element; he has become a bit of an air element fellow, flying through the sky and all that. He does still dispense earthly abundance, but, as befits the addition of air element, his provenance is more godly; he sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake...
But let's wrestle this gnomish train back on track again. The point to my bloggish wandering is that, though our story's erdmanneken is a little earth spirit, there are variations on the gnome theme, and I don't mean to get pedantic about it here.
As a man or woman wanting to integrate earth element, there are certain aspects of human experience that must be understood and embraced, and these often trickster-like gnome figures (dwarfs are more serious as a rule) can reveal places where earth element is rejected or misunderstood in the psyche.
The very baldest of truths concerning embodiment (like mortality, for instance) are a good place to start in accepting and respecting our earth element being, and the apple (or other tree fruit) symbolizes the earth element truth of cycles. It's the spiraling journey of birth, growth, maturation, death, birth, growth, maturation, death- from the beginning and ending cycle of every day, to the seasons, to the possibility of reincarnation, to the birthing and dissolution of galaxies and universes. Most women, as naturally inheriting strong earth element orientation through their bodies, find it easier to flow from one developmental stage to another- to ride the sometimes rocky spiral journey. After all, they go through menstrual (monthly in my culture) cycles that involve physical changes after puberty until menopause. They embody the earthly cycle of growth, development, and birth when they cocreate and deliver a child into its life.
The apple (check out apple set up blog for S. W. on 9/16/13) has come to represent the feminine earth element spiral journey; the ability to develop, to mature into wisdom, and then to die with grace (the old death goddesses, the fates and wyrrd sisters, etc.) in European symbolism. This is also, I would say, its meaning in the tale of Adam and Eve, as I pointed out in the last interp, where the Golden Apple of Discord showed up. And our story begins with apples, indicating that this aspect of earth element wisdom will be addressed therein:
"Once upon a time there was a rich king who had three daughters...the king, who loved trees, had planted many different kinds, but he was most fond of one particular tree, which he protected by placing it under a spell. Whoever picked one of its apples would be sent a hundred fathoms underground."
Does not the rest of the description of the king sound familiar? Would not the creator-god of the Jews have loved trees, and planted all different kinds, as in this painting above? And was not his special Paradise-tree "protected" with a "curse"? As for the serpent- we will encounter that archetype in this fairy tale, too, in the form of dragons- serpents being a rather large and therefore diverse archetype, I'll add. Since serpents often live in the ground and crawl upon it, for those of European culture they are often earth element wisdom. Snakes also shed their skins and therefore symbolize the maturation process whereby we must enter different ways of being.
"When harvest time came, the apples on that tree became as red as blood. Every day the three daughters looked under the tree to see if the wind had blown an apple to the ground, but they never found one. Gradually the tree became so full and the branches so heavy it seemed the tree would collapse. By then the youngest daughter had such a craving for an apple from the tree that she said to her sisters, "Our father loves us far too much to put a curse on us. I believe he cast the spell mainly with strangers in mind."
Note first that there is an empathy between the tree and the young women, in particular the youngest. Trees are a universal symbol for humans, in the sense of one tree=one human. The youngest one in fairy tales is commonly the one with the least social conditioning; the Foolish one, the most soul centered, for our social conditioning trains us to ignore the promptings of the soul. And the soul of a human is always one with the soul of the Earth, of the all and the everything, for oneness is the very nature of soul.
This wonderful tree-image speaks to us on several levels. Primarily, this is an image that informs us on the earthly matters which the color red symbolizes- especially blood. Called the rubedo in alchemical terms, the "red of human experience" is a bit complex, including passion, love, blood, woundings and sacrificial death. In alchemy, three colors describe a cycle of human transformation towards wisdom or maturation; red, black, and white (some folks add others). The three are differently ordered in different schools of thought, as well they are in individual experience. But the very basic idea in my philosophy is that humans experience some sort of trauma, some loss or sacrifice (blood, red, rubedo) which plunges them into a dark place of suffering, a sort of death (black, nigredo), and then they receive some sort of enlightenment concerning the issue upon which they suffer (white, albedo) which moves them closer to wisdom, the ultimate endgame of maturation from the earth element perspective. The beginning of the process (the loss or sacrifice) can be called the initiation; it's like Sleeping Beauty's spindle-wound (I have an interp on Hubpages of the story), or the princess in The Seven Ravens (interped here 9/12/14) bloodying her finger in the keyhole. In this gnome story the hundred-fathom plunge into the dark earth will signify a nigredo. The nigredo is that place where the archetypally masculine life-giving sun don't shine. The feminine moon, with its shadowy phases, is sometimes associated with the nigredo; the sun, with the albedo or movement out of the darkness.
So in the blood department, we have, of course, menstruation coming up for the princesses. This red, red tree that's in need of relief from its load of mature apples assumedly points to the female's bloody initiations of menstruation, (possibly bloody) breaking of the hymen or "deflowering", and childbirth. Notice there are three. This heavily laden tree image is like the end of a pregnancy, when you just feel this overpowering need to drop the thing- it's TIME! The metaphor represents that feeling for both genders that something new needs to be born- time for an initiation! Initiation is a word that just means "beginning", really. Puberty is an initiation into womanhood and its reproductive potential. The apple is more associated with motherhood, though, the third female blood initiation, and maturity in general, since the apple is the culmination of the tree's yearly efforts. Interestingly, these girls are looking for help from a masculine element, air; they are looking for the wind to blow an apple down, and in fact air element will come to the rescue. Notice also that the tree is overladen; more abundance symbolism.
But like the story of Eve, as well as that of the Sleeping Beauty, this tale wants to make a statement about human embodied experience which we often find in such wisdom tales; though we are born into a certain set up, from gender to time and place and family and individual gifts and society and on and on (what I call fate), the working of our destiny is done through choice; like Eve, the younger sister gets sick of waiting and takes the initiative. In this case, the three girls are operating, as earth element does, on the basis of feelings. They feel the apple's need to give up apples, they feel the need for that change, as adolescents do. It is eros, love or desire, magnetism, attraction, which drives us towards those experiences that our soul knows to be right for the fulfilling of our destinies.
The girls feel the love of their father who would not harm them. Children famously still use their feeling sense, which requires more connection to soul than the average adult in my society can muster, and the feeling sense is earth element.
"Upon saying that, she plucked a nice plump apple, ran to her sisters, and said: "Just taste it, dear sisters! I've never tasted anything so delicious in all my life."
Then the two other princesses also took a bite of the apple, and suddenly all three sank deep down into the earth, leaving no trace whatsoever behind them."
The subject of innocence isn't simple, but it's definitely an aspect of our initiations. The thing is that, because we as souls have taken the veil of ignorance (that one kind of innocence) upon birth, i.e. we cannot know the future, we are free to step into harm's way. We are free to choose the sacrifice of our innocence, as adolescents often do. As part of our earth element experience we have an urge to embody our humanity fully, to know what's on the other side of that fence which keeps us innocent. The fence could be, like the fatherly instruction concerning the apple, meant to keep us protected till the right moment for our next step towards maturity. But parents don't usually open the door on such-and-such a day and say "OK, off ya go! Get in some trouble! Fall in love with some guy who will betray your trust! Lose your job! Get in a car wreck!", because that's not their role.
And in following that urge to go beyond parental protections we trust that we will be alright in the end. Why would we not? Humans have been taking their chances with falling in love, getting married and going to war and having sex and babies and getting old, etc. since time immemorial. Though the father-king in such a story could be associated with our blood fathers, it's also a larger archetype; the king as our higher self, our masculine inner authority which helps us make our destiny-choices, our experience of God-the-Father. And from the ethereal perspective, from the soul-and-spirit perspective, no harm ever does come to us. Like the mythic hero's journey addressed in the last post on Achilles, this game of destiny and its initiations is one of overarching matters of the soul, and that is always the message from wisdom traditions. This adolescent feeling of invulnerability is, from the mundane view, unrealistic. However, from the cosmic perspective, it's absolutely true.
I can't resist mentioning here one of my favorite films, which deals with this matter of innocence and initiation, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus. It's one of the films I interpreted in my e book on Amazon, here. Directed by Monty Python member Terry Gilliam, it's the last film Heath Ledger worked on; he died during the filming. The proceeds ended up going to Ledger's wife and child. Colin Farrel, Johnny Depp, and Tom Waits are a few of the other cast members you might know of. Basically, Satan is the remover of innocence for an adolescent girl, Valentina, though we see from this clip that she insists on making the choice herself, same as in our fairy tale;
Another strong association that comes to mind as the three girls sink into the earth without a trace is the story of Persephone, who was abducted by the King of the Underworld, Hades (or Pluto in Roman trad). In the common interp of that story, she did not choose to go to the underworld, thus the common perception that she was abducted. However, in some versions she opens the earth by pulling up a narcissus flower, a masculine flower of initiation, and up comes Hades. Surely this is similar to Eve's apple-picking, and our young princess's. Persephone also did choose to eat pomegranate seeds, though she tried to resist, which ensured she would stay in Hades as Queen of the Underworld for some portion of the cyclical year of seasons, a mandate which actually empowers her in the realm of the dark psyche. Guillermo del Toro's film, Pan's Labyrinth, uses some of Persephone's symbolism, and I interped that one in my book, too, though I consider his use of symbolism to be a botch job.
Enough for today. We haven't gotten very far, but the setup is an important part in these interps. If you want a bit more on initiation, I wrote some more here on 9/20/13. You can find sites that stream Imaginarium for free online, but I'm always too wary to use them so I can't recommend. Maybe if I had a Mac.
I like to end with a song sometimes; here's one about Persephone's initiation by Cosy Sheridan. Sheridan went on the road with a show addressing eating disorders, incorporating this song. Sheridan does a good job of bringing the ancient story of the deflowering of a young woman into contemporary American experience, though I might do it a little differently;
words & music by Cosy Sheridan
© COSY SHERIDAN / COSYNG MUSIC
THE POMEGRANATE SEED
I swallowed a seed in the dark long ago, a girl who needs her mother will do anything she's told
it was Hades, his horses', then it was my cries, the innocent losses and the breaking of the ties
Mother do you follow,Mother do I lead
Mother I have swallowed,The pomegranate seed
You weep when I visit for the damage that was done, when I leave your fields in autumn,
you're not the only weeping one
for I can still hear that frightened young girl,calling out for rescue from the underworld
In the darkness and the heat,in that sacrificial deep
he said "Open, you are the seed. In your mother's daylight
there is wrong and there is right, but here is just desire and need."
And for all I lost I know where it all starts,the seed finds life in the dark
Next- three hunters, and the debut of the erdmanneken!