Many of the images for Fitcher's Bird that I find on line are of this phase of the story, the maiden in her feathers and the wreathed skull. The image above looks like Maurice Sendak, but I can't get a fix on it.
We're done with Bluebeard, since his wife got others to serve him his just deserts, and she was rewarded socioeconomically. But this last bit of Fitcher's has some good old fashioned alchemical symbolism, so let's have at it! It's a sort of wedding without a groom, if you will, since the masculine figure of the wizard must disappear, die, from the psyche in order for the woman to redeem her wholeness. That's the meaning of the death of the "bad guy" in alchemical story; inner spells which cause us to give away our personal power have been broken. Such healing is what is represented in the alchemical wedding. I'll explain more as we go here.
My old Grimms' goes into a bit more detail on this last section, including the crucial bit about the magician no longer having any power over the woman, already mentioned in the last post; Zipes sort of speed dates the thing. So the man is "forced to do whatever she desired"; this is HER personal power, that is being returned to her command. If you do not realize you command your power, it's not usable, is it? Much of our social conditioning results in a give away of our personal power, which is NOT the power to boss OTHER people around.
Remember, he told her, upon her "passing the test" (i.e. realizing he could not scare her, she had the power all along) "thou shalt be my bride". Again; the return of, the reclamation of, the personal power from this previously negatively aspected masculine will be a wedding of sorts. It is no longer negative, thus it can't be represented by a thief and a liar. However, the sorcerer IS now helpful...
"Oh, very well," said she, "thou shalt first take a basketful of gold to my father and mother, and carry it thyself on thy back; in the meantime I will prepare for the wedding."
The woman installs the sisters in the basket, calls the wizard, and tells him "Now carry the basket away, but I shall look through my little window and watch to see if thou stoppest on the way to stand or rest."
The wizard raised the basket on his back and went away with it, but it weighed him so heavily that the perspiration streamed from his face. Then he sat down and wanted to rest awhile, but immediately one of the girls in the basket cried, "I am looking through my little window, and I see that thou art resting. Wilt thou go at once?" He thought his bride was calling to him; and got up on his legs again."
So what to make of this exhaustion of the wizard? It's a bit perplexing from the symbolic point of view, though it's obvious from the mundane. After all, he may have carried one of these women on his back before, but now he's got a triple load. Symbolically, I suppose it tells us that this guy's power is on the wane. Also, it displays the difficulty of worldly perspective for many; everything is so heavy, depressing. Joy and lightheartedness are qualities of the higher vibratory states.
However, it may also be advice on getting rid of such power-suckers, who can appear in our relationships whether we are male or female. It can be exhausting, it says, to banish these elements from the psyche. We can actually feel laden, depressed. That's one trick we can play on ourselves. We imagine "It's too hard. I'll just put up with it. I'll just go along, and get along. My life is good- I can go into all the rooms except for the one! I have all this stuff! Why am I complaining?"
The symbolism of the window is that window=perspective. Looking out a window is a way of seeing the world, of seeing our lives. And the particular perspective here is that of the observer or watcher, or witness consciousness. In order to dispel these unwanted aspects of personality, of experience, we must remain in witness consciousness in a pretty concerted manner, the story is saying! That's the way to bring home the alchemical gold. When we feel it's all so hard and scary to move into freedom, we can switch into our witnessing perspective.
The magician does indeed make it to the parents' home with his load.
She sends invitations to the wedding feast to the friends of the wizard. We can take these associates to symbolize any other aspects of the psyche which were tied up in the experience of powerlessness that are as yet untransformed. So, we could say that the woman is still getting realizations about the unconscious and/or innocent deals she made. She's looking at the associated beliefs and behaviors that grew from that way of relating to self and other. They will all end up disappearing in a fire of transformation at the end of the story, though it's possible to continue such realizations until our own deaths!
Then she took a skull with grinning teeth, put some ornaments on it and a wreath of flowers, carried it upstairs to the garret-window, and let it look out from thence. When all was ready, she got into a barrel of honey, and then cut the feather-bed open and rolled herself in it, until she looked like a wondrous bird, and no one could recognize her. Then she went out of the house, and on her way she met some of the wedding-guests, who asked,
'Oh, Fitcher's bird, how com'st thou here?'
'I come from Fitcher's house quite near.'
'And what may the young bride be doing?'
'From cellar to garret she's swept all clean,
And now from the window she's peeping, I ween'
The skull both grins and is wreathed, in honor of its understanding of this. In symbolic terms, it is indeed the woman's skull, placed there as a symbol of her having transformed some aspect of her experience. The transformation is bone-deep, we could say. The skull is in the highest level of the house, because the highest level of our understanding, our witness consciousness, is situated in the highest chakras. Wreathing, or crowning, acknowledges these higher states of consciousness. Wreathing is a symbol of highest honor and reverence; flowers are symbols of blossoming, of spiritual unfoldment. Whether or not this wreathed skull ever related to some specific religious ritual, I don't know.
The theme of transformation is also in the bird-feather "costume".
The costume also serves the purpose of allowing her to return home, of course. The matter of sweeping the house is, of course, what we were referring to, the matter of self inquiry, of understanding and transforming the inner aspects she felt were disempowering; From cellar to garret she's sweeping all clean. And, of course, as a result of the inner sweeping she's now able to look from that garret window!
The bridegroom also asks the question and receives the answer; he looks up and nods kindly to the skull. He is no longer internally in opposition to her. In fact we can shift our relation ships with others who are seemingly oppositional by reclaiming our personal power in this manner. We know we have accomplished our reclamation when folks in the "real world" appear as helpful, rather than oppositional, as tricksters, liars, as controlling and hurtful.
The newly compliant "groom" and his friends go in to the feast, but they are all burnt in the house. Fire is the great transformational element, and appears in these stories a lot, as do all of the elements.
For another story with a swan feature, check out my interp of Grimms' The Six Swans, which is in the archives to the right of this page starting 10/09/14. The swan is also featured in the 8/03/13 blog interp of the folk song, Dreadful Wind and Rain.
Thanks for reading!