Alrighty then! On with the show. Last we heard, the youngest brother had received instruction from the gnome, he shared it with his older brothers, and they were envious. Remember the gnome also told the youngest that his brothers were not to be trusted, an attribution we can all make to the envious, I suppose.
So next morning all three brothers go to the well together, and draw lots to see who goes down first. As happened before, the eldest goes first- can't remember a "fairy tale" in which that is not the case! For one thing, we can imagine the first two failures as instruction on the truth that maturation comes through making "mistakes", for in Jungian style symbolic terms all of the story characters are in one person's psyche.
Into the basket big brother goes, and "'If I ring,' he said, 'you must pull me up quickly.'"
Since this trip to the underworld is inner work, akin to a plunge into the psyche and soul, we can bet this guy who's been conditioned to "believe in" the absolute dominance of mundane reality (one of his express goals in life is apparently to be worldly-wise) is going to have some trepidation, and indeed he does. Neither of the elder brothers gets very far before they chicken out and ring the bell, which is acting as a sort of alarm; "I'm scared- pull me up!". From this we get another bit of instruction; understanding the feminine earth element requires getting comfortable with depth, or inner experience. Such depth is how we humans describe soul, which inhabits experiential space that can feel like it lies behind or beneath the "reality" of mundane consciousness. Thus it's often symbolized as within, beneath, or behind.
However, our younger brother, not depth- or soul-shy, goes down all the way to the bottom of the well shaft. This bravery in the face of inner experience is the mark of the often Foolish antihero.
"After he got out of the basket, he took his hunting knife, went to the first door, and listened. When he heard the dragon snoring loudly, he opened the door slowly and saw one of the king's daughters picking lice from the nine dragon's heads in her lap. So he took his hunting knife and cut off all nine heads. The princess jumped up, threw her arms around him, and kissed him many times. Then she took her necklace of pure gold and hung it around his neck."
Incidentally, the NASA photo above is a reminder of the seemingly limitless scale of nondual, air element cosmic mind. The Pillars of Creation are gaseous clouds five light years high, and they reside in the Eagle Nebula, 6,500 light years from Earth. Compare that scale with the image of our princess picking nits from a dragon's hair! Talk about a continuum concept, hey? Or, eh? as they say up here near the Canadian border.
So this underground moment of enlightenment in which joy is embodied, its exuberant princess hugs and kisses, is not only a sort of sacred marriage moment, but also an experience of expansion beyond the judgmental mind. Judgmental, intellectual mind, as described in the last post, is "small mind"; the nit-picking, undoubtedly self judgmental thoughts represented by the dragons. Small mind is important for human function, but unmoderated by cosmic mind, it does indeed keep us in the dark, and it is certainly never best used as a punishment.
The masculine air element blade, swords in tarot, represents both small (judgmental, dualistic) and cosmic minds. The blade's ability to cut the one into two is the judging mind, which creates duality. But our huntsman has here a hunting knife, hunting symbolizing the seeker of Truth; he's using his intellectual capacity for something besides comparison shopping. He's using it to move beyond small mind, as he did when he discerned greed from gratitude. He's going to bring cosmic unity to the scene, which dispels or transcends duality and judgment. All sacred marriage moments are experiences of unity consciousness, anyway, just as is the experience we call "falling in love" (as well as other more stable and subtle forms of love).
The alchemical gold is the same as enlightenment or wisdom, in my alchemical book; above, a gold ray pouring from a golden rose into a golden chalice. Blue bird on left should be air element, masculine; it's on the incorrect side in that case, while the red would be earth, feminine. The princess decorates him with a pure gold necklace, though in the physical world pure gold is rarely used for jewelry; it's too soft. Remember our coin-testing gnome?
Gold's malleability is one of the things which designates it as the metal of enlightenment, though, because the nature of the cosmos is truly malleable, shapeshifting, like those gaseous cosmic clouds above. By association, if you're interested in enlightenment, if you're a seeker, you're alchemically advised to get comfortable with multiple or changing perspectives, as in moving from mundane to sacred, or heaven to earth. We are challenged to understand air element thoughts and beliefs as nothing more nor less than options. We practice avoiding getting stuck in identifying with thoughts, imbuing them with the power to lead us around by the nose, creating misery and strife just because we believe in something! From the perspective of these tales, joy, abundance, balance, love, wisdom, are more important than any thought we might "have". In truth we do not have thoughts. The ownership of thoughts is a silly but informative language structure. We choose and rechoose them. Or "change" our choices...We are naturally encouraged in adolescence to identify with (rechoose and rechoose) certain thought forms, however, so that we can solidify the personality. So we can "be somebody".
The next part of the story will elaborate on this habit of letting thoughts determine our experience. Our soul brutha frees all the princesses, and enters into a state of bliss due to this inner connection, for the princesses can't stop hugging and kissing him (an encouragement for all those guys who are afraid to join their heaven with earth). There's some abundance for ya!
So one by one the now "saved" princesses are pulled up from the well by the older brothers. The youngest brother remembers the gnome's advice, and puts a rock in the basket when it's his turn. His brothers, those worldly-wise ones, cut the ropes when the basket's about halfway up. The stone crashes to the bottom of the well, and, like naughty boys, they run off with the princesses, and
"made them promise to tell their father that they were the ones who had rescued them. Afterward the two of them went to the king and asked to marry his daughters."
This falsity describes well the situation the conditioned personality experiences, for it believes it's making everything happen, ignoring what lies beneath. In the psyche, we play such tricks on ourselves, using force, making promises that ensure we will believe in the power of the worldly perspective. We believe "the world" saves us, though few stop to reflect exactly what they are being saved from...
Which leaves our antihero in dire straits, correct? Now, as usually happens in these alchemically instructive tales, we will get the story of understanding small mind and choosing other options with the help of a different metaphor (first was the dragons). In Zipes's version, he begins describing the youngest brother's experience using the word "depression", so popular in our culture:
"In the meantime, the youngest huntsman had become depressed..."
Such specific emotional attributions are quite rare in these old stories, so my own alarm bells ring at its appearance. Though it seems from contemporary American perspective that depression is so "real" as to be universal, as it's so common here, multicultural psych studies find depression is culturally specific. It's a disease that doesn't show up in some cultures. Therefore, it's part of our conditioning; it's a conditioned reaction to suffering, the alchemical nigredo, a set of thoughts and behaviors we learn from our environment.
My older translation differs; it says the youngest huntsman "was wandering about the three chambers in great trouble, fully expecting to end his life there..." Any symbolic story which mentions death is describing a nigredo experience; the character is experiencing the middle of the symbolic cross, where mortality and immortality meet. I present this comparison between the versions because these tales are at their best when the characters' behaviors are not analyzed in a psychological way, since some people would, in fact, not become depressed in the situation- especially if they were from a culture that doesn't really "believe in" depression! They might rather become anxious, for example, another rampant diagnosis in contemporary soul-disconnected America. The constant pacing alone does not jive with depressive behaviors, though the pacing is also of symbolic use, as I will relate.
My definition of "victim" here is simple; a belief that "the world" imposes pain and suffering upon me, as opposed to the perception that I am a cocreator actually choosing my experiences and reactions to circumstances, however unconsciously. Discerning victimhood, applying the hunter's knife, means discerning the difference between being the object or the subject. Objectification of women (recall the earth element aspect of our metaphor) is rampant in my society, though men as cannon fodder and wage slaves is pretty much the same; here in contemporary America, we all know the objectification game by rote. Though the younger brother was the object of a cruel trick, we do not have to interpret the event in terms of victimhood, though in a culture that's wallowing in it, victims are quite literally everywhere. Victims R Us.
This "depression", its narrow focus, its feeling of stuckness and powerlessness is described in the story by the the huntsman's activities:
"He paced up and down the floor so much that he wore the ground down so that it became smooth."
Here we have another earth element trap; habit. If we tread the same old ground over and over, with our depressing thoughts and our stories of our victimhood, soon it becomes the smooth path, the easiest way to go. We must do something to break out of the pattern; we must literally choose a different experience, which could look like Rumi's suggestion above (shifting from resisting "troubles" to acceptance).
Beware judging "depression" as "bad"; that can only perpetrate it. I imply no judgment of it, as the stories do not; I merely provide instruction concerning the matter. That's one of the troubles with using attributions like "depression"; we easily carry conditioned judgments with such labels. I assure you I have been there and done that (walked that floor, I mean).
But at some point in our huntsman's nigredo experience, he figures something out; "At last he had an idea; he took the flute from the wall and played a tune on it." When he does so, gnomes start appearing- a bunch of them. These figures of soul-power are summoned by the soul's joyful play. Notice that the only thing in the room worth mentioning all this time was the flute, and he had merely to decide to try it; to make a different choice. Yet the choice was initially not made due to a conditioned belief. Can you feel into that, how it's a universal experience to behave thus, to ignore the choice that's right at our elbow when we are small-mind-obsessed with the very negativity, the seeming hopelessness, of our circumstances? Again, this is the same experience described by the princesses picking nits from the dragons, as the dragon represents personal power, and part of personal power is the ability to see options, including changing our minds.
Rumi says it all so well...
It's not necessary for us to start jumping up and down with glee when we remember that day our boyfriend cheated on us. It is important to realize that, if we wanted to, we could. We are not powerless, then; we have the power to change our state of being, and are not victims of it. We are actually pressing down on ourselves, for some reason. We learn about joy and its seeming opposite through experiencing them, and we learn that we have a choice through making it. Humans are experiential learners.
Such a journey into the well is an opportunity to discover what has been lurking behind our worldly-wise selves (the older brothers), of course, thus folks who manage to enter the nigredo zone are often wiser in the way of the soul, of human inner experience, than many. During our nigredo inner work we might be able to use our feeling sense and discern some greed, insecurity, desire for power, etc. lurking behind our habitual negative emotional states, for they surely serve us- until they don't. We have always done that which serves us, in a sense; in that we cannot, again, be victims. The study of psychology is in large part an effort to parse out the ways in which that which we interpret as disease and dysfunction, serves us.
By the way, betrayal, opposite of loyalty, is seemingly the most common of victimhood dramas in my society; worth noting. It's the dramatic sea we all swim in, for reasons I won't get into now, and that is indeed the reason our hero is in his current floor-treading pickle. A typical oversimplification of the drama follows:
Notice the flute is an air element instrument, though the Rumi poem above introduces the other transformative, masculine element, fire. Just as earth and water are inextricably intertwined in human experience, so are masculine fire and air. In many traditions, the flute is likened to a human being through which Spirit is blown; the music which issues forth is our lives, our unique soul-expression.
Anyhoo, time for the wrap. The oodles of gnomes ask our hero what he wants; he says he would like to return to the surface of the earth and see the light of day. "Then they each grabbed a strand of his hair and flew up to earth with him." Again, the mention of hair, and flying, implies that he's choosing his thoughts in order to change the dire experience he was challenged to transform; they are "enlightening" thoughts, right? The earth element gnomes have partnered with air element in a powerful way, like Doug Savage's wise sky gnome, below. The flying gnomes is the same basic symbolic meaning as the slicing of dragons' heads, the gold necklace award, and the hugging and kissing and then marriage with the princess(es).
Back at the court, our returning antihero walks into the presence of king and daughters, and "When the princesses saw him, they fainted." As I prepared my lunch a half hour ago, I contemplated that image of unconscious women. I had come to the conclusion that it implied a state of no-thought, a sort of satori or what have you. Then I ran across the Rumi poem above, and heard this line: "The one who secretly hears this is senseless", referring to hearing this inner soul-and-spirit flute the poem describes. Bingo! This shift in consciousness is the same we experience when we "fall in love".
So we'll say that this fainting scene is a pudding-proof; in the presence of, the space of, the experience of, this youngest flute-playing brother, the princesses are deeply soul-and-spirit connected. "in love". They are so far removed from the worldly-wise state of being as to be completely unconscious in the conventional sense of experiencing physical realty and its valuations and dramas. They are bullet-proof. Don't forget the earlier reference to the senses, in the castle where there is nobody to be seen or heard.
The king is initially alarmed, and arrests the young man, fearing he had inflicted some harm on his daughters, and thus they had subsequently fainted in fright upon seeing him again. But when the girls come to, they beg him to release the young huntsman, though they cannot tell why (remember the the lying liars?). Father, apparently no dummy, tells them they can maintain their integrity (an essential quality in these alchemical tales) while revealing the truth if they tell it to the stove, a fire element symbol of transformation (baking, cooking). He listens to the disclosure, discovers the truth, hangs the older brothers (notice the similarity between head-slicing and hanging), and gives the youngest huntsman in marriage to the youngest daughter- of course! Burning (the stove) is sometimes used to represent getting to the truth, for the big-T Truth is that which remains when all that is not of eternal value has been removed. Rumi talks about this burning a lot.
"When the wedding took place, I was wearing a pair of glass shoes and stumbled over a stone. The stone said Clink! and my slippers broke in two."
Here we have glass shoes, like Cinderella. I find it intriguing that Disney is currently using the glass slipper image above to promote a new Cinderella- a full minute of it! To view the teaser, go here.
It's brilliant, in more ways than one, for it's wordless, drama-less; it is a video account of the very soul-and-spirit Truth that we are experiencing the many possible facets of our infinite selves in the forum of physical life. The facets are reflected back to us, mirror-like, by "the world", that which we are experiencing in the moment. The many colors that are possible for our creative expression are displayed, up close, in the video, while sparks of light here and there symbolize moments of revelation, unity, what have you. The image spins, a movement our inner being recognizes as a constant, and as we witness the spinning many-faceted mirror, it beautifully evokes our soul-immersed experience.
The trailer's shoe image (which we do not initially know is a shoe) is then viewed from another perspective, as the "camera" pulls away (don't know if any actual photography was used). This movement from immersion in experience to a wider view is another constant in human experience, used in our development of wisdom. Music evocative both of religious, ethereal experience and heroic life themes invites us to enter the soul-zone. Brilliant, in more ways than one. Thumbs up to whoever got that classy thing going, though when I first saw it I was irritated by its unconventional slow progress! It's one big metaphor not for Cinderella, really, but for soul-and-spirit.
To cap the symbolism, a blue (ethereality) butterfly flutters gently to the slipper (a more graceful word than "shoe"), places itself with purpose in the center, and then turns to gold. The butterfly is probably the most well-known representative of the transformational powers of soul in Western symbology. I happen to be working on a book length manuscript on Cinderella, so...
Shoes and feet refer to our soul-destinies and our ways of walking the Earth, the ways we go through life, the states of being and the vibes we offer. Glass (like diamonds, but breakable) is basically frozen light, or Spirit. We are Spirit meeting Earth; the glass shoe hitting the stone. The splitting image could be referring to the albedo moments of uniting previously separated aspects of our being, when our tired old dualistic ways of walking the earth are shattered; it's like a ritual breaking of drinking glasses, meant to encourage "out with the old, in with the new".
Or it could be going back to the very beginning of the story, in a sense, and telling us how human duality consciousness is created to begin with. We come here as Spirit (air element, the glass); we begin our journey on Earth, and we keep bumping into the manner in which physicality (earth element stone) hurts us, limits us, creates fear and suffering; set up for our transformational soul-work. Those stone-bumping events are initially judged as bad, to be avoided, are remembered as such, and thus we cocreate our personas. We become the divided self, the broken glass shoe, which will be reunited/redeemed/recreated in the sort of inner marriages alchemical story describes. I love that the stone talks; it's in conversation with this air element spirit, and that's what makes the human world go 'round...
That's a wrap! Kinda long, but the victimhood thang can't be blithely addressed, and then I ran into that teaser trailer...too perfect to ignore. Wanna see how much of this story's symbolism is shared in the lyrics of Stairway to Heaven? Check it out, rock fans... 'cause you know sometimes words have two meanings...