readers- please excuse the sometime lack of images on the posts. I am having trouble getting images to load after publishing the posts, and have to get support to fix it.
This post is a continuation of the previous.
This painting of Narcissus at the pool is one of the most famous now, though Caravaggio, its painter (16th-17th C.), fell into obscurity for centuries after his death. He was very successful in his lifetime, but profoundly troubled, swaggering around town looking for fights, and killed one young man. The fire of his love for painting flipped into a dark hatred and competition, as did the cursing youth in our myth. He was the king of this painting style, chiaroscuro, rendering his subjects in unnatural extremes of light and dark. Seemingly his artistic brilliance was countered in his personal life with darkness and likely hubris; the Pope issued a death warrant for him. When his work came to light again out of the darkness of obscurity, it spawned a group of painters called Tenebrists, 'Shadowists'. We could say that Nemesis's job is to get us to look at our shadows, at the places where love and light can not penetrate. I love when art imitates life...
This painting must be of the very moment that Narcissus sees himself, poised to take that drink; "While he is drinking he beholds himself reflected in the mirrored pool- and loves". Again I ask you to consider the import and ubiquitousness of the archetype of reflection. First, that we see soul, our true self, by looking within and seeing ourselves reflected there. We often see there the thing we had thought we were not, the shadow cast by our daytime identity. This is the sort of mirroring that we see in the yin yang symbol. What we think we are not is only the opposite, the mirror, of what we think we are. Though we can only express one of the opposites at a time, the limitation of the time-space continuum, wholeness of human experience means we understand we embody at least the potential for its opposite.
This photo, Yin Yang by Arcane Rhapsody at DeviantArt.com perfectly illustrates Narcissus's meeting within that is a mirroring of opposites.
Secondly, in that meeting of opposites we see as well what bard Loreena McKennitt (earlier post) calls god in her song, the Divine within, since the nature of the Divine is wholeness, not duality. Thirdly, the manner in which we ordinarily, in our daily lives "under the sun", see our true selves, our souls, and our buried selves, is through looking at, facing, meeting (all things Narcissus is doing here) "other" in the world. That is why we fall in love with people, from the perspective of reflection, of mirroring. The loved reflect back both our light (the beauty Narcissus is so famous for) and our dark. When we strain to capture the light we see in another, our dark could be found in the curse, the suffering, that follows a rejection, when we fall back into the shadow we were fleeing from. The shadow could be that which we do despise, as Ovid puts it, in ourselves, though the shadow can actually hold light, as when we hide our own beauty, gifts, and love, the Black Sun of the alchemists. Narcissus's initiation is begun; as Amelia Curran (earlier post) puts it, "Hardest hearts if you ever let go, will come together on the renegade road". Narcissus is going to enter the renegade road of leaving behind his old sun-ordered world, the human conditioned experience Rich Thomas is protesting in the song Gold and Silver, last post. He's exhausted by this game of soul-stealing. He's going to leave his conditioning and look within.
This lovely photo is by Leanne Clements. Her Flickr page is here.
So Narcissus tries to embrace his image, just as Echo tried to embrace him; "How he thrusts his arms to catch the neck that's pictured in the middle of the stream!" Nemesis's work is often this; that we develop compassion through experiencing the event from the other side. Then we cannot identify any longer as residing on one side or another of a given duality, such as desiring and desired, and conditioning crumbles. For example, in The Game, one of the films I review in my book (here on Amazon), Nick, a cold hearted Scrooge type, experiences as part of his initiation landing penniless and unknown in a city in Mexico, now the same as the many folks asking for a handout he's refused in the past. For this reason I call Nemesis the Queen of Karma, though I don't hold with the popularized definition of karma.
The photo above is to bring in the other aspect this Nemesis has ruled over the years- destiny. Nemesis's balancing and unifying skills are needed if we are to fulfill our destinies, which are rooted deeply within the soul. Our destinies are part of that light within. That's what this woman is catching, because the star is the universal symbol of destiny, not only because stars are light and we are in truth light beings, but because the stars have always evoked in humans the vastness of the cosmos, its seemingly eternal nature, and it is this vast Creation that we connect with in our own destinies. Ovid lets us know that Narcissus's initiation is one that leads towards fulfilling his destiny using the mere mention of stars; "His gaze is fixed upon his own eyes, twin stars", the windows of his own soul.
But Narcissus is in a pickle- actually the same pickle Echo and the cursing dude were in, only Echo and Narcissus are going to transform in the face of the dilemma, as opposed to the despised one. For Narcissus loses the one he loves when he turns away from the image in the water. He needs to understand the love has nothing to do with the object, does not reside there. Just as Echo has expanded into the soul of the forest rather than just an individual nymph, so is Narcissus going to "get it" and transcend the duality of the lover and the loved, that subject-object relationship, long enough and deep enough for his old self to die a small death (if not a big one; there's no way to know). As a matter of fact, he talks to Echo, the soul of the forest now; "Oh, ye aisled wood, was ever man in love more fatally than I? Your silent paths have sheltered many a one whose love was told, and ye have heard their voices." He's taking counsel with the soul of the forest, because he recognizes that the trees and stones and pools and streams know much about love, just as the stars do, for they are in unity, in the flow of life, not dual. This way of being in the forest is the very balm that nature, the Anima Mundi, brings to us. It is the gift many in my society have left unopened, these days.
One of my heroines in connection with the soul of the forest is a small girl, Opal Whiteley, who wrote a diary on scraps of paper of her imaginative experiences with the soul of the world.
Here's a trailer for a film of her life.
Well, Narcissus's story's about to close. As I mentioned earlier, this transformative moment which he is dialoguing with Echo, the forest's soul which is one with his soul, is about self love, of the deepest kind, not that which depends upon physical beauty. He says (notice the word "shade" or shadow), "No more my shade deceives me, I perceive 'tis I in thee- I love myself- the flame rises in my breast and burns my heart..." This is the flaming heart that's used in Christian icon. He says "The thing that I desire is mine- abundance makes me poor." Everything he could want, he now knows he holds within (I love myself), and his "poor" is a reference to humility. He no longer feels special, worthy in a worldly sense, because he is not seeking and hunting for something of worth any more, as folks who desired to hold his beautiful form (including himself) once did. Worth as a thing to pursue is meaningless when everything has worth, the truest definition of humility. This is an enlightened moment, surely, and it is unfathomable to me that the story is considered one of punishment, of a bad end. That's the problem with a culture that literalizes death and does not teach its wisdom found in the cycles of the natural world.
Last picture of Narcissus. We have the nakedness thing that denotes soul here, and- see any resemblance to those interminable photos of Briar Rose sleeping? Narcissus's moment of transformation comes through a time of stillness and self-reflection, not-doing. The same is true of Snow White. As he experiences the loss of the old self, the old way of being in the world, he continues to dialogue with soul, and Echo's voice mirrors his; "Ah, youth beloved in vain!" "In vain, in vain!" He dies, and his vanity with him, and "although among the nether shades his sad spirit roams, he ever loves to gaze upon his reflection in the Stygian wave." This reference to that ancient Greek underworld, the land of shades and the river Styx, places Narcissus in our human psyches, for that is one of the meanings for that underground place of insubstantial beings. In our psyches we can find the wisdom that Narcissus's story holds, his archetype as the one who transformed through self reflection and the understanding of opposites, of gazing upon his reflection in the waters. Though such wisdom concerning self love is transferred through instruction, it could be discovered by someone who has never heard of any of this, since naturally folks worldwide and forever have, through suffering of various kinds, reflexively gone within and transformed through understandings such as Narcissus's. By the way, if you did not look at the story, Ovid drags Narcissus's death out quite a bit with a monologue describing the experience for us.
The various nymphs and nature spirits prepared to give Narcissus last rites and proper mourning, but found, where he had been, "a sweet flower grew, golden and white, the white around the gold." We can assume this is an alchemical reference to silver and gold; there are no silver flowers, and silver is meant to be the moon, anyway, the gold is the alchemical sun, and the two come together in the mystic marriage of opposites, the hieros gamos. Though we know the flower referred to is named after him and the one above is a lotus, I chose the image because the lotus has come into my culture from the East as a flower which symbolizes the flowering of expanded consciousness (plus I liked the reflection). For that is the reason, symbolically speaking, that Narcissus becomes a flower; expanded consciousness beyond some duality or other limitation or identification. It's like the reason in the Sleeping Beauty interp that the prince who comes at the magic moment meets not briars, but flowering roses.
Let's have some music to celebrate Narcissus's transformation! In many traditions, humans give voice to the elements, the nature spirits like Echo, and always have. From an alchemical standpoint, our voices are always linked somehow to the elements, the animals, to our bodies and minds and souls. I'm 1/4 Finn blood and there's a movement in Scandinavia now to reclaim the indigenous ways of a people usually called the Sami. The old way of singing is called yoik; it's ideally a sort of channeling of nature's voice. This is the magician's/shaman's/bard's power of connecting to the essence of something and its ways and powers. I'm sure this sometimes takes place impromptu; a song never heard again is the result. Then again, yoiks can be passed on and learned. There are a number of youtube videos of yoiking, in its various forms, though none are of the impromptu sort probably. The first above is Bernit M. Oskal, from Norway, and her song about ancient forces. Eivor (next) is pretty famous, I guess. She's from the Faeroe Islands, and I wanted to offer her singing because she is very much channeling a specific natural power: a troll.
Spellbound Spellbound I am, I am
The wizard has enchanted me, enchanted me
Spellbound deep in my soul, in my soul
In my heart burns a sizzling fire, a sizzling fire
Spellbound I am, I am
The wizard has enchanted me, enchanted me
Spellbound in my heart's root, my heart's root
My eyes gaze to where the wizard stood
And to move us out of this deep underground space that Narcissus took us to- the song I associate with Cupid! Something light...Red Jumpsuit Apparatus and Step Right Up.
I plan to look at ravens next. Peace out!
I finished the last post with a little diversion into general alchemy, the 4 elements. Here's a little more alchemy for you, one of my favorite songs by Brother and Bones- this is Rich Thomas. He's using the reference to gold and silver in the alchemical sense of the treasures to be found within when we do wisdom work; "the blind" are those who live in consensus reality, who only see the surface of things, as perhaps does Narcissus before his transformation into the white and gold flower named for him.
Thomas sings about the inner work (shadow work in Jungian terms) that is a huge part of the wisdom work of embracing both sides of the duality humans experience, instead of avoiding the stuff we fear and hate. My favorite verse maybe:
You'd best believe there's a darkness in your heart to overcome
Looks the same and takes the shape of all those shadows from which you run
And all your friends and all your enemies they are there, live and die as one...
As within, so without.
The song I posted in one of the Sleeping Beauty posts by Amelia Curran, The Wrecking Ball, addresses this movement from duality to oneness similarly in the line, "As your shoulders curl and bend with time, so love and hatred must combine."
An air toast to the bards!
So here comes Nemesis. She's obviously maintaining plenty of popularity in the collective soul, if an internet search is any indication. There aren't many Greek gods that wear wings; it's an indication of her being a very "heavenly" figure. In other words, she does not manifest in the dualistic, material realm that humans are concerned with. She is, in fact, the balancer of duality, for our purposes, and she could not do that if she was in it. As a deity she morphed over the years from an arbiter of fate, basically (notice the wheel in the statue's hand; refer to the post on Sleeping Beauty where the spinning wheel was addressed) to the balancer role, very much like Justice and her scales. She has her hand on her heart, too, the seat of the soul. Our souls can be imagined as harboring this balancing function in our hearts, as well as the patterns of our fates and destinies. She is that feeling you get when you're overstepping in some direction, going too far.
If you deaden your heart to her voice, then she'll come in with a disaster, perchance. This is my interpretation of hubris; thinking you are more than human, that you are like a god, or like the human vision of a god as being beyond the human experience. When we are incarnate we are both angel and clay. Nemesis is called in when we're approaching life from a competitive/ materialistic/egocentric standpoint; not listening to the heart and soul, which keep us connected with our humanity, our oneness, and the holiness of our journeys. In the alchemical or earth-centered traditions, we need both the ethereal and the earthly, for we are earth angels now. Nemesis on the right above has some fire, like the torch Eros holds in the last post. The fire of destruction, consuming passion- and transformation. She holds an hourglass as a reminder of mortality, a reminder intended to inspire folks to a wiser way of being in the world. When our time looks short, as in Amelia Curran's line about shoulders curling and bending with time, we may be lucky enough to realize that there is life everlasting lurking beneath the occupation with "the clay", if we're not already there.
So here's a portrait of our young man by one of DaVinci's students in Milan, so, 15th C. Though Narcissus isn't at the pool yet in my narrative, I have more than one picture of him gazing at the reflection; that's how folks want to depict him, just as there are tons of paintings of Briar Rose sleeping. Nemesis comes in very briefly in Ovid's writing, a bit perplexingly in light of the loads of time he spends on the moments of Echo and Narcissus fading away with love. He only says there was a fellow that Narcissus "once despised" (we're not told why he might have), who "implored the Gods, 'If he should love deny him what he loves!'"
Though ultimately the gods will deny us everything of earthly attachment (you can't take it with you), my simple assessment would be that this obviously belittled fellow was cursing Narcissus, in a fit of egocentered anger. This bit not only brings in Nemesis, though, it also brings in the matter of duality within the psyche. The guy loved and, because of that, he hated, he cursed; this is itself the curse of dualistic human existence. This is the "darkness in your heart to overcome" that Thomas sings about, the darkness that Nemesis will help us to develop a wiser relationship with.
And Narcissus is about to fall into the same trap the irate fellow did, ensnared in the same desire net symbolized by Eros's torch and arrow, it would seem. He will be compelled by his own physical beauty. This is the commonly understood meaning of the tale. Only Ovid adds some more detail on the water element to deepen the meaning, for those of us who care to look beneath.
This painting, Garden Fountain and Flowers, is by a woman named Mary Maxam. She has some really amazing flower paintings full of vibrant colors on her blogspot: click here. A real feast for the soul.
"There is a fountain silver-clear and bright...its waters were unsullied- birds disturbed it not; nor animals, nor boughs that fall so often from the trees."
This fountain, which is in a sense his mother; he inherited this spring, is quite obviously of another realm of existence, hey? It is a metaphor for an inner experience; I'm going to propose for an aspect of soul and its inherent connection with Spirit, "silver-clear and bright". The waters of life spring up into the world from sources deep in the Earth; we know not where they originate. These are the soul's waters of pure, unadulterated creativity, of joy, of giving and love. They are virgin waters; they have just come into the world. Remember virgin goddess Artemis from an earlier post in this series? Springs are often dedicated to virgin saints and goddesses for that reason.
Narcissus is "tired of hunting and the heated noon". Remember the reference to the sun in the prediction Tiresias made, the reference here repeated in the heated noon? That if he did not recognize himself he would live a long life under the sun? Well it seems Narcissus's incessant hunting and/or obsession with appearances is exhausting him, as it might have Marilyn Monroe, who was supposedly drug addicted, needing drugs to sleep and to wake up in the morning. Nemesis has led him to this place where he has the opportunity to balance out his solar oriented experience of restless seeking in the world, to one of unspeakable peace and stillness. There's obviously a pool formed by the fountain, and he wants to quench his thirst in this purity of soul; "There as he stooped to quench his thirst another thirst increased". His thirst for worldly pursuit becomes a thirst for the soul's love and intimacy found in this place. Soul is the thing we seek beneath all physical beauty. He lies down in the place from which he will never get up- at least he will not rise the same person who lay down in exhaustion. For it's here next to the waters of the soul he'll transform, undergo his initiation.
Here's another wise bard, Catie Curtis, with a song she calls Water and Stone from an album Long Night Moon; here on Amazon.
The poignancy and sadness in the melody and in "all that you wanted" and "all that my love couldn't prove" speaks of Eros's arrows and the grief that causes us to curse that which we do love. Curtis's "no relief" reminds us of Narcissus, too, and the place he found his respite. The viewpoint of the lover, the pursuer, is that of the savior, very often. We imagine we can save the loved one from... fill in the blank. It's really ourselves we're often trying to save. We're the only one who can do it, too, as Narcissus will find. In the ancient bardic tradition, Curtis here gives us passion's fire (all that you wanted, the fireflies), the earth element (stone), water, and air ( the sky above the blue, I thought I heard you whisper, but all the time it was the wind/ Spelling words in my hand). Is this Echo's whisper, perchance?
Water and Stone
No relief and I can’t forget the water and stone/ And you walking into the waves
When I ran to follow you, and when I carried you back home/ I thought you’d want to be saved
All that you want, the sky above the blue/ All that my love couldn’t prove
All that you want, why I never knew/ All that you wanted to lose.
Sleeping in a field at night, a million tiny wings/ Fireflies try to land
I thought I heard you whisper, but all the time it was the wind/ Spelling words in my hand.
All that you want, the sky above the blue/ All that my love couldn’t prove
All that you want, why I never knew/ All that you wanted to lose.
No relief and I can’t forget the water and the stone/ I held you up in my arms
The night is full like the river’s pull, and you don’t have to be alone/ Now you can drown in her charms
All that you want, the sky above the blue/ All that my love couldn’t prove
All that you want, why I never knew/ All that you wanted to lose
All that you wanted/ All that you wanted
Next post I hope to get to the endgame that isn't the end, the gold and silver flowering of Narcissus's consciousness.
Pastel above by Johanna Bohoy of Beverly, MA. Visit her work here.
Echo and the World Soul
This post is a continuation of the previous.
This famous alchemical image is a partial of Robert Fludd's Utriusque cosmi maioris et minoris metaphysica, physica, atque technica : i.e. An emblem to illustrate the cosmic system and the activity of God, Nature, and Art in it. The title of the drawing is Mirror of All of Nature, and the Image of Art. View the whole thing here. Fludd was a notable alchemist of the 17th C. The picture is basically Plato's World Soul, or Anima Mundi, a primary alchemical concept that's not unique to the Western tradition by any means; Plato just wrote about it. The animation of the world, its breathing and its heart and its creative divinity, is a universal in childhood, but easily lost entering adulthood in my society. The World Soul is a concept that describes the religious truth that everything in this world we are experiencing on planet Earth is ensouled; the rocks, plants, animals, people, even the plastic. On this truth is based the study of archetype, for archetype is a description of the soul of some thing or phenomenon (see Metaphor 101 for definition of archetype).
Such a manner of viewing the world is enlivening; we enjoy the presence of children for the reason that they remind us of this soulcentric way of being in the world. It's the realm of mystery. The Enlightenment period which erupted around the time Fludd was writing and teaching steadily attempted to remove the mystery from the world, and as a result our connection with soul is lost. One of the films I review and offer as a sample on my Film Reviews page, The Illusionist, very much deals with this shift from the mysterious, soulcentric way of being and the scientific, fact-based approach my society is currently drowning in. My favorite author on the Anima Mundi is Vaughan LLewelyn-Lee, a Sufi teacher. His book on The Return of the Feminine and the World Soul can be viewed on Amazon if you click here.
Of course Llewelyn-Lee's not saying the World Soul left; it didn't. He's talking about its return to the consciousness of the human civilizations (like mine) that have lost connection with it. The return of the feminine would coincide, since, as our friend Echo is going to display for us, the World Soul is imagined as archetypally feminine, and the feminine powers have been underground in malecentric societies for a while now. It's just out of balance.
I don't have a credit for this image above, but it's Echo chasing Narcissus. She comes upon him and is smitten, and that's great because we have the unusual situation of the soul, of Nature itself if you will, being in love with a human being, or maybe the soul of Nature in love with the soul of a human being. She's spurned, through a tricky little exchange of words that spawns nothing but misunderstanding since she can only echo his words, and he thinks it's one of his buddies playing games with him. She tries to give him a hug and he says "Better death than that such a one should ever caress me!" Thus he predicts his transformation, the death that comes due to his mooning and withering away from the sun's gaze.
Of course he just sounds like a huge snob here, but we can get more thoughtful than that. This is an initiation story, yes. But it uses the human experience of physical beauty to express the difference between the materialistic way of being in the world, and the true or deeper beauty of soul and spirit. This way of using beauty in wisdom tales is in fairy tales like Cinderella, too.
So here's Marilyn Monroe. Any ideas why she might have killed herself? Something that has to do with her life as a notable beauty? As briefly as I can I'm going to propose that being beautiful isn't all it's cracked up to be, because people are all interested in you because of how you look; they're focused on the clay. They think you are awesome because of your outside; they keep reflecting that back to you. They want to be with you because you have big boobs, or whatever. Your insides get ignored. Though that might seem cool when you're quite young, you've got to be either in denial or else a serious materialist to continue that way TOO long in life. This is a story in part about the nature of worldly desire. Desire is a word for the human experience that has, down through the ages, led folks astray from both soul and spirit, and keeps them hung up in pursuing the allure of the material. Desire is Eros's/Cupid's dangerous arrow of suffering and loss- and possibly transformation. Eros's mother is, by the way, Aphrodite (Venus), who in one of her forms rules Beauty itself.
So maybe this painting is about when Echo finds Narcissus, I can't tell. The thing about this one is, that desire, fire element, and Eros are all part of the meeting; "The more she followed him the hotter did she burn, as when the flame flares upward from the sulphur on the torch." She's pursuing him as a hunter would their prey; archetypally masculine desire is needed for that. And there's a depiction of little Eros with a torch (Cupid in Latin terms). Sulphur is one of the primary elements in Western alchemy, and it represents the spirit. As in the song Raglan Road a few posts back, in life we can desire, and pursue, either "the clay", the physical, and make an object of our pursued. Or we can pursue the inner, deeper, mysterious soul and spirit of life, look beneath appearances, and make intimate connection. The soul is intimacy, since true intimacy is when two merge and become one. Our ability to be intimate is the gauge of our connection with soul- intimate with self and other. The more intimate we become with ourselves, the more we are able to relate intimately with "the world". Echo, as an aspect of the World Soul (for all of the nymphs, nereids, dryads, etc etc. are aspects of the Anima Mundi) naturally yearns for intimacy. It's her nature.
Notice she is transformed by the suffering, exactly as Narcissus will be soon enough. "But her great love increases with neglect; her miserable body wastes away, wakeful with sorrows; leanness shrivels up her skin, and all her lovely features melt...nothing remains except her bones and voice- her voice continues, in the wilderness; her bones have turned to stone..." In this way she sets an example for Narcissus's transformation, as Nature, the World Soul, always sets the pattern for transformation on Earth. Echo becomes the voice of Nature, of the forest, specifically. It's the voice we've become all too accomplished at deafening ourselves to. But this beautiful tale lets us know she's always there when we want to listen.
Notice the transformation is away from the material; her body wastes away. This is the Death archetype, the movement away from the material life. Notice how it increases her love, obviously found in her voice; this is the basic principle behind asceticism, that as we diminish our participation with the material, our divinity is increasingly revealed. Notice also nothing left but bone, as in the song I interpreted prior to Sleeping Beauty, Dreadful Wind and Rain. And notice that she is sound and stone (bone), harking back to Raglan Road (earlier post in this series). Bones and stone are the same; bones= minerals, and both are earth element. Bones are what we borrow from Mother Earth and then return to her at death. Sound could be air element; in that case we have all 4 elements here: water, fire, earth and air. Inclusion of the elements is an indicator of alchemical story.
Here's a lovely find- a fellow named Adam McClean has put together these videos of commentary on the symbolic drawings of Stefan Michelspacher, another 17th C. alchemist. This painting includes the 4 elements- and a whole lot more about alchemy, the Art of Change! There are a number of these little videos of McLean's on YouTube.
Next stop- Nemesis!
This post is a continuation of the previous.
The archetypal zone strikes again! I realized the song I rather spontaneously ended the last post with, Raglan Road, and its mention of the "true gods of sound and stone", ties into Echo's story. Echo is probably an...echo, of earlier goddesses of sound from the area of North Africa and the Middle East. The print I did, above (I am a linoleum block printer) is of Akko; she was associated with water. Ancient large stone cubes big enough to fit a person in are thought to have had something to do with her worship. She was a creatrix, like the Biblical God who is a creator because he is The Word ("In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God"). She spoke/sang the world into creation, and therefore represents that creative vibration-power. Creation is vibration, as contemporary physics has found. So I imagine that Akko's priestesses or devotees or those entering into her mysteries would go into the the stone chambers and make sounds, bathing in their echoes. The squares on the right of the print are the stone cubes, and in them is the word "love" in 6 languages. The little ibis in the left corner is from Egyptian tradition: Thoth, god of words, balance, and magic. His little footprints are the beginnings of letters. Words are, of course, a crucial aspect of the alchemical/magical traditions, and word magic is something we can all learn to master, as in using them wisely. We learn to create freedom and sustainability, beauty and peace and joy, as well as learning how to say no to harm and evil and other dark spells.
So there's Echo in all her almost naturalistic glory, by another Romantic type painter, speaking and listening, both.
Now the riddle Ovid poses, and which I passed on at the end of the last post: Echo is she "who never held her tongue when others spoke, who never spoke till others had begun". Echo is therefore the soul, for she is our voice. She is obliged to speak when we speak, for she is us, that magnetic, natural (as opposed to conditioned), compelling inside story we all must discover and consult in order to connect consciously with our deepest ways of being in the world. Like the creatrix Akko, Echo is the holy voice of Creation speaking through us.
So Echo (have to simplify her story here) "observed Narcissus wandering in the pathless woods" and is smitten by him. In symbolic story, wandering in the woods, off the beaten path, is a metaphor for movement into or within the soul's realms. Little Red Riding Hood and Persephone were gathering flowers off the path. It's the way of being in the world without goal orientation (it's pathless), goals being what I referred to earlier as the sun's terrain mentioned in Tiresias's prophecy. This wandering bit is important in discerning Narcissus's role, because he's also a hunter, which could be a goal oriented occupation. Echo "spied him as he drove, in his delusive nets, some timid stags", in Ovid's somewhat elaborate narrative. Ovid was sort of the Disney of his day, I'm guessing.
Hunting of any kind is universally a ritualized and commonly symbolic act. In this beautiful mosaic from Pella in the ancient kingdom of Macedon, a spotted stag is overcome by two men and their hound. Spots on animals are symbolic of duality, the light and the dark, the sun and the moon, masculine and feminine, etc. The guy on the right has the archetypally masculine sword in hand, the one on the left the archetypally feminine two-headed axe or labrys. So not to get too hung up on this image, let's notice that Ovid describes the stags as "timid", another small but very important fact. Timid folks are those who shun the challenges of life in "the world" of humans, for frankly, it's painful, destructive, and cruel in places.. And the great Greek virgin goddess of the moon, Artemis (Diana in Roman), hunts the stags in the forest, often with her hounds.
What's she hunting? The designation of virgin tells us, for she eschews "the world", her twin brother Apollo's sun-domain referred to earlier. Artemis is none other than the moon. Her hunting is what we call "seeking", these days. It's a hunt for soul centered wisdom, and the one who is timid in the world is marked for bravery in Artemis's world, a bravery many very worldly successful folks will never know. In fact, the artist who committed the mosaic above signed his name only "Gnosis", the word for inner knowing, soul-deep wisdom that needs no social reference. Alchemists are by nature gnostics. The timid stag is the elusive soul connection that alchemists and gnostics seek. Artemis rules this gnostic moon-way seeking.
I love this Rubenesque portrait (left) of the sun and moon twins. The painting of Artemis with her hound and her funky 'doo, dress slung over her shoulder, I can't find credit for. Nakedness is another symbol of the soul, for clothing is part of our social conditioning. The neopagan folks have nakedness as an important ritual aspect for this reason.
The point to this diversion into Artemis Land is to support my thesis that we're talking about self reflection, self knowledge in this story, not self centeredness. Echo and Narcissus are both followers of Artemis, we could say, and their story expounds on the realms Artemis rules, the realm of inner knowing in a religious or spiritual sense, to contemporary minds.
Enough myth for the day. I'll leave you with a song again. The hare or rabbit, another of my lifelong favorite animals that holds a whole lot of archetypal material in European culture and beyond, is very often a moon animal. Traditional songs of hare-hunting abound in the British Isles tradition. This one, written by Brit Seth Lakeman, uses the attributes of the moon goddesses: the hare, the "dead of night", the magnetic allure of the archetypally feminine soul for a man, "her eyes burning bright (eyes are the windows of the soul)", the need to respect its divinity at our peril (she can "steal your soul away" if you try to "catch her", similar to Kavanagh's Raglan Road loving of a "creature made of clay"), Artemis's hounds and hunting, white as symbol of the soul's purity, moonshadow, and the "hair of ashen grey" that implies wise elderhood.
His website is worth visiting if you like this one, which was written by him but inspired by local legends; click here to visit Seth Lakeman's site.
I could not find the simple accoustic version of this song that I first viewed and loved on my favorite blog Myth and Moor (link on my blogroll at the right of this page). One of the things I can be discovered beefing about is overproduction of folk music. But hey, it sells, and artists gotta make a living. I decided this official video was good for my blog purposes anyway since it includes an ethereal nature spirit type/soul lady. Echo? "She's calling out your name..." Notice we have mention of rocks again...Soul is something that cannot be caught- except by those who aren't trying in a worldly sense. Like the myths of Cupid and Psyche and Orpheus and Eurydice, it has to be OK if we do not see a face, for the journey to soul is not about image, it's about feeling. Image is archetypally masculine, in fact; sound is feminine, for when we hear we take in, as Echo does, and when we see we project out into the world, creating the duality of subject and object.
Lyrics: The White Hare Seth Lakemen
I heard her in the (G)valley, I heard her in the (D)dead of night
The warning of a (Em) white hare, Her eyes burning (C)bright.
Careful you don`t (G)catch her/Give her (D)right of way
For she will look (Em)upon you/ Steal your soul (C)away
(D)For the (G)white(C) hare(G) is (C)calling, She’s dancing in the(D) night.
She'll be(G) out (C)`til (G)the(C) morning, With her eyes burning(D) bright.
The (G)white (C)hare(G) is (C)calling you.
Out upon the heather/ A shadow came onto me.
Her hair was hanging over,/ Her face I could not see.
She ran behind the rocks,/ I heard the hounds cry,
The image of a woman/ Her head she held up high.
If you go hunting,/ Calling out your prey,
If you see a fair maid,/ With hair of ash and grey,
Well careful you don`t catch her,/ Give her right of way...etc.
This post is a continuation of the previous one on the myth of Narcissus.
You're right- that's not Narcissus above. This Greek Super Hero art by Nicholas Hyde (his website here) cracked me up. Spiderman and- a guy with a spear? He looks kind of blind... reminds me of the Japanese character Zatoichi, the blind itinerant masseur-swordsman (link here). Watch the old ones, the b&w. This is truly mythic (as well as amusing) stuff, in line with the wisdom of the blind theme we have in Tiresias. As an example, check out the link below.
Enough wandering. It's one of the curses of the Foolish.
The text I'm using to interpret Narcissus's story is found on the Theoi.com website here. The link goes to the page for stories of the house (meaning a clan, basically) of Cadmus, and I believe Echo and Narcissus is the 5th story in the series. So just scroll down til you find it. You will not have to read it, though- I'm writing this in such a manner that you may avoid reading it if you don't want to. I am very much not a Greek scholar, in case anyone thought I might be or should be. My formal educational background is in psychology. Actually Ovid was Roman; he lived through the turn of the millennia. The Romans borrowed a lot of Greek Culture.
Narcissus is fifteen and "might seem a man or boy" in Ovid's words, to stress he was neither yet. His Mom is a water nymph, Liriope, a fountain nymph; they are known to dwell in pools and springs specifically. His Dad is a a river god, from the river Cephissus, and named the same. Ovid says "he was born to her upon the green merge of Cephissus's stream"; here's the subject of two things coming together, like the merging of childhood and adulthood that occurs in adolescence. Narcissus is born of water; he has an affinity, a gift, an inheritance to the element. Mom is the stillness, and his Dad is the moving water, the river flow. In this we're invited to enter the imaginative space where water's powers and gifts reside. Narcissus is going to be initiated using water element, as was the sister in the song Dreadful Wind and Rain from earlier posts.
Here's a sweet painting of a nymph by Charles Amable Lenoir. Nymphs or nereids are nature spirits, basically. This one looks like a forest nymph, like Echo's going to become. She starts out her life as a mountain nymph.
These spirits, which I like to imagine as a human personification of the soul of Nature and of place, are always being pursued by gods. This points to the fact of the magnetic nature of soul, an ethereal and compelling force that's in everything here, and also that soul is particularly personified as female in my cultural tradition. Pan and the satyrs would be male personifications of nature. They are more like animals than place-oriented, though, and...
here's his Dad, obviously a natural event, but called a god. Guys can't be nymphs. Sorry, dudes.
Oh, and Narcissus is "unequalled for his beauty", maybe something he got from his mother and father, for water is captivating in its beauty sometimes, as is the moon I shall make reference to shortly. As I mentioned in the Fairy Tale page essay, his beauty serves an archetypal (definition see metaphor 101) purpose. If we want to put ourselves in his story, we can imagine ourselves as beautiful, yes. However, exceptional gifts in transformational fairy tale and myth are often talking about ALL of our gifts; we are all of us gifted in some way. Mythic beauty is about our destiny in that sense, and how we relate to the gifts we have received as a part of our fate, surely an important part of our destinies, right? Remember, fate is what we're given- birth place and time, family and friends and lovers, body, gender, traumas and gifts and more- and destiny is what we do with them. The exceptionally gifted humans in any manner, whether it's with beauty, talent, wealth, spirit, the ability to love and be loved, always bring to us the feeling sense, the imaginative space, of destiny itself. That's why they can be so inspiring.
Liriope asks Tiresias to forecast her son's longevity. The answer (translated, of course, from the Latin) is "If he but fail to recognize himself, a long life he may have, beneath the sun".
So Death comes in early to haunt this story (Mom's basically asking about when he'll die), along with the themes of gifts and destiny. And self reflection is here: "If he but fail to recognize himself". It's actually amazing to me that people would not see this statement as an obvious albeit Sybilline pointer to self knowledge but... I mean, it's silly to think that the guy REALLY doesn't recognize himself. A monkey or an elephant knows their reflection, not to demean the intelligence of either. They surely know things we humans do not. Theoi.com's entry on Narcissus includes a reference from Pausanias (the 2nd C. Greek geographer I assume) that agrees with me. He cites an older version of the story where Narcissus and his twin sister (they loved to hunt together; more on that later) were the two characters, and Narcissus looks for his sister in the pool reflection. He's looking for his other self, his female aspect or anima, his soul connection lost as he entered adulthood. This is such a common plot in contemporary "male enlightenment" film, the search for the feminine within.
It's important to realize that in alchemical, symbolic story, there is very little fat in the form of unnecessary references; they can't be cluttered with too much random stuff, like the films I put in my e book's Whoops! category. Otherwise you can't interpret them. So we notice the sun is mentioned here; the prophecy ends with the phrase "beneath the sun".
Though Apollo the sun god is an enlightenment god in one of his aspects, the sun is also used to represent the "outer", "the world", the human experience of consensus reality, of our personalitied daily lives, the world of goal orientation. The feminine moon is the opposite: nighttime, changeability, the dark and the strange, dreamtime, internal life, shadow psyche, insanity, infatuated love. The moon is also very closely tied to water element, of course. Ovid goes on to describe Narcissus's transformative, initiative experience of soul connection at the pool as a "strange delusion of his frenzied love". Such would be a description of human experiences below the sun's gaze, experiences that inspire terms like "mooning" (the one we do when infatuated, not the exposure one).
So here's my translation of Tiresias's metaphorical prophecy (and what's the use of being a prophet if you can't get cryptic): If Narcissus doesn't go deep within himself and find his inner connection with soul and spirit, he'll live a long life (itself a very goal-oriented wish) of a relatively shallow sort. In that he would have chosen quantity over quality, whereas a basic value judgment the soul centered person must make is quite the opposite. In the soul there is no time, only fulfillment. A moment is a lifetime, one of the allures of the altered consciousness of infatuated love. If Narcissus doesn't "recognize", meet and understand his inner divinity, he will not realize the gift of soulful beauty he carries because he is concerned with his mortality, basically.
Here's a nice little alchemical drawing of the sun above, moon below. And incidentally, Tiresias is not just your garden variety seer; he is a wise one, an enlightened one, in the alchemical sense. His myth includes the fact he spent 7 years as a woman; he embodies understanding of both sides now, like this alchemist here.
And here's a riddle for you: What does it mean that Echo is described by Ovid as one "who never held her tongue when others spoke, who never spoke till others had begun"?
It's hard to leave you today, just getting into the thick of this myth, but I shall, with a song I'm currently learning that has a direct reference to symbolism and its alchemy. Raglan Road is an Irish love song made of an old Irish tune called The Dawning of the Day and a poem by a fella named Patrick Kavanagh. It's got plenty of metaphor; there's death of the relationship, "I said let grief be a fallen leaf". There's the transitional, transformational, magical space of dawn, meeting between day and night, in "the dawning of the day". The lovers balance on the ledge of a deep love-ravine that reminds us of the deep, deadly, "strange delusion of his frenzied love" Narcissus finds within, "the enchanted way" in Kavanagh's words. We'll soon see as well that the folks who were desirous of Narcissus to the point of cursing him "loved not as they should"; they saw "a creature made of clay". And Kavanagh talks about art and symbol in this one verse, the third:
I gave her gifts of the mind, I gave her the secret signs
That's known to artists who have known the true gods of sound and stone
Her words and tint without a stint, I gave her poems to say...
The true (or eternal) gods of sound and stone are the spirits, the souls, the archetypes therein. Such underlying sacredness is in the word "tint", or color. Not only is the word "color" a metaphor in itself, each color having its own way of being in the world and its own way of impressing human psyche, soul, and spirit, but often paint colors are made from stones, from minerals. The "secret signs" are what I'm teaching here, the sorcerer's stone science of alchemy, of metaphor, of archetype, that long implied that poets, bards, "artists who have known" were wise ones, and that wise magicians were often bards. The man singing for us, Dick Gaughan, is surely one of those bards who have known at least a bit, if not much, much more.
lyric: Raglan Road (left the chords in for ya)
[D]On Raglan Road of an Autumn[G] day I[D] saw her[G] first and[D] knew,
That[G] her dark hair would[D] weave a snare That I might[Bm] someday[A] rue.
I[G] saw the danger[D] and I passed Along the en[Bm]chanted[A] way.
And I[D] said,"Let grief be a fallen[G] leaf At the[D] dawning[G] of the[D] day."
On Grafton Street in November, we/ Tripped lightly along the ledge
Of a deep ravine where can be seen/ The worth of passion play.
The Queen of Hearts still making tarts/ And I not making hay;
Oh, I loved too much and by such and such/ Is happiness thrown away.
I gave her gifts of the mind, I gave her the secret signs,
That's known to the artists who have known/ The true gods of sound and stone
And her words and tint without a stint/ I gave her poems to say
With her own name there and her own dark hair/ Like clouds over fields of May.
On a quiet street where old ghosts meet/ I see her walking now,
And away from me so hurriedly/ My reason must allow
That I had loved, not as I should/ A creature made of clay,
When the angel woos the clay, he'll lose/ His wings at the dawn of day.
Argh! Waterhouse again! Oh well.
I've got a beef with the way most folks in my culture perceive Narcissus. He's criticized for pride; his death a just reward for an act of hubris, a word interpreted generally these days as egotism. In these versions, Echo is a pathetic female, ignored and spurned. At best, Narcissus is learning self love, as I've read in interpretations from other Jungian writers. However, I'm going to present my thesis for the (to me) obvious fact that his story is an initiation tale. Adolescent initiation, specifically.
Traditionally, adolescent initiation involves making a deep connection with the soul, for the one who's about to wander away from childhood's natural deep connection with it. The "vision quest" initiation you might have heard tell of is of this sort. At the threshold between the two stages, the adolescent is challenged to look within the soul where the true self waits, and bring forth the gifts of destiny, a vision, an inspiration, to carry into adulthood. The vision isn't always a static thing; it, too, often morphs as we develop understanding. The vision has to be interpretable in some way by the receiver, and obviously we are somewhat limited in our ability to envision a life's destiny when we're not even adults yet and haven't met the challenges thereof. Visions often need updating; they are like the crumbs scattered along the Hansel and Gretel path, and one thing leads to another. Yet in traditional societies, this initiation process, which can take place at any time on our lives, is emblematic of the stage of life between childhood and the creating of a family and full social responsibility. For lots and lots of wisdom on the human developmental trajectory, read Bill Plotkin's Nature and the Human Soul (click on highlighted title to link to Amazon).
Just as Briar Rose of Sleeping Beauty is Everywoman-or-man, so is Narcissus. The fact that we have taken his name in vain as it were, and created a pathology with it, is also emblematic- of a lack of wisdom concerning healthy human initiation into deep soul connection. We could say that, along with that disability goes a lack of self reflection.
Mirrors symbolize self reflection or inner looking, inner vision, soul perception, in stories such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. In The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, reviewed in my e book collection Poetry in Motion here, the mirror is prominent as a way to enter into the soul's truer aspect of being. The film Black Swan (also reviewed in Poetry) features lots of mirror action. So mirrors are magical because they call forth this other aspect of self, whether through moving deeper or in seeing oneself in "the other", in "the world". Ultimately both ways of looking are the same; remember the Hermetic axiom "as within, so without". This is the great work of seeing All as One, of loving your neighbor literally as yourself.
This is pretty different from the self (in the sense of personality or ego)-centeredness we associate with the narcissistic personality. From my soul centered point of view, the difficulties experienced by folks who might fit into the narcissistic psychological category are cured by the experience depicted in Narcissus's experience at the pool. This story of the self centered one transforming through nonordinary consciousness ( a large category that includes infatuated love) is common enough in my culture. Scrooge of A Christmas Carol is cured of his narcissism, or seeming total dependence on his ego (by nature a disconnected way to perceive life) to determine his actions. There are many such characters in film; Nick of The Game and Jack of The Fisher King are two films I've reviewed with such portrayals.
Usually such characters are men. In our society at least, they are more strongly tempted to discard soul in favor of "the world". Also, in our culture, soul itself is primarily characterized as female, because it is the connecting principle. As I mentioned in one of the last Sleeping Beauty posts (last one I think), the sword (somewhat less so cutting tools in general) depicts the ability to disconnect through slicing things into parts. This is the intellectual, judging mind. We may love someone until the mind comes in and cuts the experience up into worldly judgments, for example. Also in that post I explained that this masculine power is prone to misuse, and wisdom involves mastery or proper use of that skill that's part of air element.
The crane and other long-legged fishing birds hold the symbolism of self reflection, self contemplation, self meditation, since, like Narcissus, they spend hours motionless, gazing into the water. For this they earn a place in archetype as one of the wisdom birds.
Here's Loreena McKennitt again ( I used her Lady of Shalott in a post recently) with a song from her album The Mask and Mirror (click on title to find on Amazon). The lyric, first verse and chorus:
They're gathered in circles, the lamps light their faces
The crescent moon rocks in the sky
The poets of drumming keep heartbeats suspended
The smoke swirls up and then dies
Would you like my mask? Would you like my mirror?
Cries the man in the shadowing hood
You can look at yourself, you can look at each other
Or you can look at the face, the face of your god.
Here McKennitt has included three ways to perceive and to understand and to enter into, Oneness: self reflection, other-reflection, or a religious/spiritual/wisdom-based door of some kind, "your god". As she says in another of her songs I like, "All roads lead to You."
So next I'll get into the story as set down by the Roman poet Ovid, and we'll meet the archetypal blind seer Tiresias. The fact that a blind seer is consulted about adolescent (fifteen year old) Narcissus is a good clue that the story's about seeing itself, about vision and perception and consciousness and maturing towards a life of wisdom, not about pride at all. We could imagine the "man in the shadowing hood" of McKennitt's lyric as Tiresias, actually.
I guess this guy is an actor playing Tiresias; I can't get a bead on who it is. Tiresias is featured in the Oedipus mythic cycle and in the plays written by Aeschylus, so it could be someone playing the blinded and wiser old Oedipus. Anyway, the image works for my purposes. Like the voluspa I talked about in the Sleeping Beauty interpretation, Tiresias is going to speak of Narcissus's destiny. Until then, blessed be!
And by the way, here's a 3 minute clip of mirror-Wise-Foolishness (meaning my favorite archetype, the Fool) compliments of the Marx brothers.
I just had to let that image fill the space. I've been waiting for 5 posts to use it! Burne-Jones is another of those Pre-Raphaelite artists that knocks my socks off. Burne-Jones has accented the theme of defense and protection that the castle and the briar hedge metaphorically talk about by armoring his prince; the sword is a pretty usual tool in illustrations of the tale. Swords are, of course, magical items, as anyone who has heard of King Arthur can tell. Like the wand and sceptre they extend the user's power, and in the case of a sword, it's archetypally masculine power.
The sword is used to represent the masculine element air, in tarot. Air is both the mental realm of ideas and other ethereal or spirit worlds. The sword then signifies also the mind's ability to separate (cut), to discriminate, what I call "this, not that". Its essential role is creating duality in the mind, an event that occurs when we judge things and categorize them as good or bad, basically.
Since the archetypal feminine (for definition of archetype see Metaphor 101 page, here) is the connecting principle, women often need to develop their ability to discriminate as part of their development towards balance and wisdom. This is the meaning of fairy tale tasks of sorting grains, etc. Women need to learn to disconnect from the world, from relationships, from watery emotions. The old woman in the tower has definitely done that. The hermit or contemplative is socially disconnected, an ability which coincides with soul connection and/or connection with the Divine. We're not talking Scrooge here, a hermit who has managed to connect strongly to his worldly accumulation of cash and other investments. In my book Poetry in Motion (here) I review Certified Copy, a film story by Abbas Kiarostami about masculine and feminine ways of being that includes the woman's initiation into a more balanced way of being that includes the ability to disconnect from "the world".
So swords can be about this ability to separate oneself from even our thoughts, for thoughts are like the wind, passing energies we don't need to place our faith in.
If there were any woundings happening in Sleeping Beauty, the sword would speak of that, of sacrifice. However, we don't have any blood, any slicing of bodies; in fact, the Grimms' version has no description of the prince whatsoever. No sword, no armor, just a guy who heard an old man talking about the princess, the old man being another reference to the development of mature wisdom.
Here's a tarot card with the royal crown. All of the elements (earth, fire, air, water) are used in wisdom traditions as aspects of human experience that beg the development of mastery, such as the woman's mastery of air element mentioned above. When we have mastered an element, figured out how to relate to it in a holy manner, you could say we get a crown, because we've learned how to wisely rule that element in ourselves.
So that was a sword tangent, I guess.
In Sleeping Beauty's awakening palace, things are actually a little complicated, because of the very general nature of the tale. The loving kiss of the prince is meant to signify a moment that could occur at any point in a woman's life, for one thing. Though Briar Rose is an adolescent, and the first bigtime initation after childhood typically occurs in adolescence, sometimes through falling in love, there are many women and men who do not experience a deep soul initiation in adolescence. They conform, instead, to the parentally (specifically patriarchal) oriented society described by this fairy tale kingdom that prizes safety and security above soul-connecting plunges into the dark, or even into aloneness and contemplation and not-doing. Or perhaps it is just not their fate.
Here's a painting by Arthur Rackham of another kiss that awakens, that of Brunhilde by Siegfried, one of the tales from the Nordic myths so popular with the Romantic artists of the 19th C. such as Wagner and his Ring Cycle operas.
Ah- finally an image of Briar Rose awake! I have grown weary of the endless images of her sleeping- they're making me tired. This is one of very few I found on line. A sort of Art Nouveau, Walter Crane-ish thing I don't have the credit for. At least her eyes are open!
The other complication as to interpretation of initiation stories that feature adolescents in general, is that the soul connected adult will ideally have a number of deeply soul connected experiences which will constitute initiations into new ways of being in the world, such as the experience of the parents referred to in the opening of the story. We can't go along assuming the story's just about Briar Rose: Adolescent. However, if we are lacking connection with the sacred, we'll make even deeply initiative experiences such as childbirth and parenting into another reason to go shopping. It could be another excuse to avoid suffering, inconvenience, and fear of death through scheduled medical childbirth, for example. We could assume our child is really ours, rather than a child of the universe entrusted to our care, and on and on. We could die of old age never having understood the beauty of the spiraling journey through deep transformation that the adolescent naturally embodies and signifies.
Like many such tales, Sleeping Beauty's not linear, but rather a complex weaving depicting the many initiating experiences that occur over a human lifetime, the ancient spiral referred to by the drop spindle which bobs up and down as it spins rather than turning straight like the wheel, and by the spiraling tower staircase Briar Rose climbs.
A loss of innocence in adolescence is a movement into the dark or otherwise hidden realms of the psyche and of human existence, and that's a characteristic of all initiations that follow. However, the purpose of the movement away from daily life is to explore duality, basically, to examine ways in which we have been led to believe in the illusion of opposites, of playing the game of good vs. evil, since the opposite of what we think we are is hiding inside. We can't spend our lives sidestepping the matter of cold-hearted Maleficent- or the passive Briar Rose. Through the deep exploration of opposites, we move towards a more unified and compassionate and soulful way of being as wise elders, though many of us alchemist types will begin this learning process in adolescence. There, in the spiraling journey, as Amelia Curran (last post) puts it, "love and hatred must combine", the experience of oneness, the alchemical hieros gamos of the earlier post in this Sleeping Beauty series.
Here we have an adoring prince, which is more like the Grimms' concept than the Burne-Jones depiction. His adoration brings up the king's adoration, weaving more closely the masculine-feminine theme. It tells us that the opposites are deeded us at birth by the Fates (father's adoration) and are something we can work on throughout our lives as part of our fates and destinies.
Though I think most folks in my society would imagine this prince as some sort of hero figure (can't remember if that's the case in Disney's version, but I'm going to guess it is), "rescuing" Briar Rose, this gentle picture of an adoring prince above lets us in on the truth of the tale. Briar Rose's prince could have been a nerd, an old man, basically anyone. For one of the themes of the story is that force is not wanted in the realms of soul connection. In that, Briar Rose is wise in her passivity, and in that way has something to teach the masculine fiery aspect. The point to wisdom is balance between the masculine and feminine. The Grimms write "From time to time a prince would try to force his way through the hedge to get to the castle. But no one ever succeeded...the young men who tried got caught...They died an agonizing death." These are the young valiants depicted in Burne-Jones's painting above, lying in a pathetic jumble on the ground.
No heroism needed; the briar hedge quite naturally parts for this fellow depicted above, for "the term of one hundred years had just ended." The thorns, the impenetrability, and the agonizing deaths could point to the alchemical rubedo (see Fairy Tale page here), the sacrifice and loss that are always, always going to be part of our personal development towards wisdom. They are the sort of experiences referred to in the death of the fair sister in the posts about Dreadful Wind and Rain that precede this series. Again, since the hedge parts like the waters before Moses, it seems the theme of divine fate is reiterated, and its implication that all is proceeding as it should. No need for us to get all goal oriented with our soul development, though we can always pump up our abs and learn how to speak Russian (or try to figure out how to make a living as an artist). Goal orientation is part of the archetypally masculine powers. So in the agonizing deaths, we get a pointer to the wise use of air element again.
What are the briars? They hold the intertwined concepts of defenses, of suffering, and of fear. We naturally develop fear and defenses out of our suffering, our wounding, as we go through life. The prince says, "I am not afraid. I am going to find that castle..." Here's another pointer; the alchemical meeting beyond dualistic experience is also the facing of fear. That's how we eliminate the need for heavy defenses that keep us from experiencing deeply soul, or love, or the inner self, the Divine within whether feminine or masculine. If we're afraid of going inside, we miss not only the fear, but also the love. The Grimms' prince faces the fear without so much as a sword, and in that unarmed state, he is gained access to love; "he found big, beautiful flowers". Flowering is a symbolic reference to some sort of beautiful spiritual/ethereal event within.
Well that's pretty much a wrap. Notice the mention of the kitchen, the cook and the fire that stops in the castle, references to the inner alchemical process. Through avoidance of our initiations which require removing ourselves from the world, we block our inner alchemy. We don't update our defenses formed from long past events and enter the moment.
Hip, Hip, Hurra! by P. S. Kroyer
So let's raise a glass to this alchemical couple! These stories often end with a nod to the eternal, the "ever after", since that's the realm they're addressing. The fact that Briar Rose awakens is also a pointer to the issue of expanding consciousness, sometimes referred to as awakening or waking up in religious or spirituality circles. Some of the films I've reviewed use the symbolism of waking up pretty heavily, most notably Fight Club. Here's honor to the bards like Amelia Curran and Cosy Sheridan that sing about that realm, too, and the artists that paint the images and carve the stones. And here's to you for venturing beyond the pale into the realms of magic and transformation!
This post is a continuation of the last.
I love this paper cutting by a woman who posted it on deviantart.com; she calls herself Rose Ann Mary K. It includes the alchemical sun and moon. The contrast between the fragility of the briar tendrils and the solidity of the castle are striking. I also like that she included the three star-wands or whatever they are on the upper right quadrant, since the star carries some of the same basic symbolism of the spinning wheel- destiny.
I've addressed so far the briar and rose as duality, the matter of love as a search for oneness beyond duality, the inner castle, the Fates and their fiber crafts, a little about innocence and the developmental necessity to move beyond it, and explored the Disney Maleficent character. A lot more to this story than meets the eye, hey? That's metaphor for ya.
But enough set up.
The Grimms' version now:
Long, long ago there lived a king and queen. Day after day they would say to each other:"Oh, if only we could have a child!"
Here's the longing that's so common in transformational fairy tales, and in this case, it's the soul (remember the castle bit?) longing for something new, a new development, since becoming parents is a major initiation. We will never be the same once we are parents. The birth of a child represents some new way of being in the world, and creativity. And here comes a harbinger of change, of transformation: the frog. While the queen's bathing in a lake or river, the little shapeshifter crawls up on shore and tells her "Before a year goes by, you will give birth to a daughter." Frogs and other animals that go through a metamorphosis hold the symbolism of personal development.
The frog is the prince (or king) of transformation, especially for women and their affinity for water element.
The king in the story and his seeming lack of social responsibility is the next subject, after the daughter's birth. He's dazzled by the beauty of the daughter (pretty silly in the real world; babies just aren't beautiful in the sense an older child or full grown woman is). He's feeling generous (throwing a huge party), but also cautious, because he doesn't invite the 13th wise woman. The number 13 is traditionally an unlucky number. 13 is the traitor Judas; 13 is the tarot Death card.
In Germanic/Nordic tradition, there were wise women or seers, the voluspa, who would travel to the home after a birth and pronounce the child's fate. This would certainly be a big deal in the case of a chieftan's daughter; maybe more than one of these ladies would attend. Anyway, the 12 are, as the father hopes, "kind and generous towards his child." The 13th, predictably for users of tarot at least, offers another sort of kindness; the kindness of death and transformation. At the adolescent age of 15, Briar Rose is fated, as many of us are more or less, to die to her innocent self and become initiated into adulthood. Before I go further, I invite you to widen your vision for a second and consider that the story, though it's about Briar Rose, is also a story about transformative initiations in general. A couple is transformed into parents, a girl becomes a woman, a prince falls into infatuated love; many young men die, the ultimate initiation into a transformed life. Though these life changes of adolescent to adult, from daughter to parent, seem like ho-hum stuff for the average contemporary American, the point to entering the archetypal (see the Metaphor 101 page) zone is to realize there is really no such thing as the mundane. Our normal human experiences are magical. Stories are often designed to remind us of this, the bard's and the artists' reason for doing the work.
Notice how the women in both of the above photos are pointing; notice how they hold canes or staffs. Refer to the earlier post that begins with Maleficent's picture.
There's not much worse for a parent than the fear of their children dying, and the threat offered by the ostracized wise woman touches humans to the quick, as does the subject of death in general. We can understand the king's banishment of spindles, and feel the parents' fear of loss, of death's inevitability, before their child has a chance to mature. However, this fear of spindles and their death-dealing ability is a metaphor for the resistance we have, that parents often quite obviously have, to the plunge into the dark that's necessary to living a life of wisdom. The largest section in my book of film reviews Poetry in Motion (here) addresses initiation stories; The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus is probably the truest to the fairy tale tradition, and features a young woman of the same approximate age.
So the soul must play out this eternal human story of innocence lost. It is our fate as humans to enter into this earthly drama. The two parents in the story are, perplexingly, gone upon Briar Rose's birthday; that is also her fate, I suppose. Briar Rose travels up a castle tower; the 'round and 'round of a spiral staircase accentuates the winding of yarn on the spindle, the turning of fate I talked about in the third post in this series on Sleeping Beauty. Castle towers are long associated with the "higher self", as it's often referred to these days. Thus Briar Rose is seeking after wisdom, the wisdom of initiation, as adolescents often are. She's curious about the endgame of human development, the wise elder in the tower who's been a hermit for at least 15 years, obviously a contemplative, focused woman like the three Fates or the Norns who are all-seeing, all-knowing as concerns human development, birth and death, destiny and fate.
OK- now it's legal to use a picture of the sleeping one. It's hard to choose among the many beautiful illustrations, but I'm such a Parrish fan this one won out, even though it's not true to the story. Briar Rose falls down onto a bed after pricking her finger; she doesn't collapse on the palace steps. Parrish dis like those classical columns. Since I've already talked about the significance of her sleeping in an earlier post, I won't do so again. The matter of "a hundred years" (the length of time she sleeps) is another way to talk about an indefinite period of time. It's a way to refer to the human experiential crux of development between what seems to take time, and the soul's not-time or kairos. A hundred is also 10 x 10, which calls to mind the tarot X or wheel of fortune, and fortune is inextricably entwined with fate. The frozen castle tableau refers to the fact that Briar Rose's movement towards her next developmental stage has begun, and like the seed planted in the ground her new self must quietly develop without effort. Remember Cosy Sheridan's last line of The Pomegranate Seed, "The seed finds life in the dark"?
Check out this song, maybe my favorite initiation song ever. Curran has coded so much in this one, it's like a double chocolate cake for a symbolist like me. I also love the 1st person voice- who's talking? Could be God, could be Maleficent, or Death itself with its haunting threat of ruining all that we've built in our lives: relationships, careers, possessions. A real interpretation challenge for a beginner, I'm sure. Note a few correlations with our fairy tale; "left the company wild with pride" (Briar Rose's Dad was that) and "jump the line and turn the key..." Briar Rose turns a key that's in the door lock of the tower room where she meets her fate. There's the wise elder, shoulders bent and curled, who has transcended the apparent opposites of love and hatred, and finds in that the love that hides behind all of our suffering and loss and change. No more hard heart needed, no heavily defended castle with its briar hedge: "lose your heart, believe in me...". The marvelous poetry of "losing battles in a front row seat" speaks of the way we make our actions conscious, as in the previous blog interpretation of Dreadful Wind and Rain: "She pushed her into the river to drown...and watched her as she floated down." Surely the first line about hardest hearts reminds us of characters like Maleficent, the hard-hearted one we all may find lurking inside.
Hardest hearts of you ever let go/Will come together on the renegade road
Lead you back to the wreckage of change/Build your bridges and learn your name
Cross the river in three good strides/Left the company wild with pride
River, ribbon all around your legs/ Grip the surface and you turned your head
Jump the line and turn the key/ Lose your guard believe in me
I can love you best of all/ I am the wrecking ball
Hallelujah changed your tune/ The sky was open for you all too soon
Left the cradle in the rocking wind/ Ran for nothing like it’s everything
Night can turn the mirror on/ Saw your face and it looked all wrong
Where are the eyes that you looked out from/ Two young coins and the rising sun
And so you curb and mend the tragedies/ You put your faith in a reverie
All good soldiers stand for thee/ Losing battles in a front row seat
As your shoulders bend and curl with time/ Then love and hatred must combine
You turn the page to reconcile/ You see I’ve loved you all the while
Until the next post, when the frog becomes a prince!
This post is a continuation of the last.
So have I convinced you yet that all is not as it seems? Do you feel sad, or angry, about my perception of the story of Sleeping Beauty as more than lightweight, simplistic, romantic fluff designed to put kids to bed and train young ladies to passivity?
I don't think you'd be here if that were entirely true, unless you're a hater gathering blog ammunition. The reason I ask is that such uncomfortable or distressing emotions are all part of the alchemical game of transformation. In fact, it's a sign that you're struggling to maintain innocence on the matter of stories, like the parents in the tale. It's hard to let go of our innocence and it takes many forms, in this case the form of imagining that an adult life of completeness is as easy as "some day my prince will come"- if the prince is an actual human being. It will work for a while. That's the wisdom we struggle to learn, while at the same time we struggle against it, loathe to let go of our simple explanations of life and love.
The good news is that you don't really have to let go of the simpler way of relating to the story- you just have to understand it as one aspect of the psyche, of your experience. Innocence is a very important thing to keep, in fact, since it is a primary characteristic of the soul, that part of our being that is associated with the heart. And here's the metaphorical thing about it; fairy tales that feature royal families are talking about things that are happening in the soul's realms, the inner alchemical cauldron where our transformations occur. Other things can very well be happening in the time-space continuum for us, in consensus reality. But Briar Rose's magical hundred years of solitude do not conform with that topside reality. This story informs us of the place of not-doing, hence the arrested movement that occurs upon Briar Rose's finger prick. If the story were about me, for example, having an initiation experience, I would not really be lying on my bed for the whole darn thing. BUT- I would have to be focused on that other realm. I would have to be spending time (or actually not-time) in my inner castle, with what lies beneath, below my daily activity.
The castle and its royal family, its archetypal characters like bards and cooks and serving maids, are a metaphor for the soul which, again, is eternally innocent since it doesn't conform to our social conditioning. In the picture above note the swan, the bird of transformation I referred to in the last blog series, the Celtic bird of the poet and bard. The soul, with its innocence, the light-being that's having a human experience, is pretty heavily protected, as a castle is. We could say that the many psychological defenses we cocreate into adulthood comprise, to some extent, the ego or the personality, though it's not really that simple. But the castle walls, Maleficent's fury (the wise woman in the fairy tale isn't the same character as Maleficent; she's benign) , and the thorns that cover the castle walls can all be imagined as defenses.
Here's a photo of some SCA folks playing at defenses, the Society for Creative Anachronism. In case you don't know who they are, they're folks who are so captivated by the medieval way of life that they get costumed and dramatize lives lived in the castle, or in its shadow. The same goes for the fantasy freaks of all the medieval ilk, like the Dungeons and Dragons folks, a fantasy role playing game that I'm surprised to discover was originally published in 1974! When my kids' friends were playing it at least, in the 90's, it was basically a deck of cards. How amazing is that!
I myself was very strongly immersed in this "imaginary" archetypal world of the soul-castle as an adolescent. As a little hippie, for a time I wore long skirts, a cape, went barefoot (unless I had an appropriately ancient-looking pair of shoes or boots), and actually imagined that I could live in a castle as an adult. Now some folks'll say that's because I was stuck in childhood fantasies, maybe a disease brought on by an overdose of fairy tales in childhood. But I say it's the other way 'round. The fairy tales do not create such ways of being in the world, that's silly. They are depictions of our inner being. One reason I'm encouraged to do my interpretation work is the overwhelming numbers of folks who are rediscovering the archetypal zone the SCA and D&D folks have known about for years, whether in graphic novels, video or other games, in film or in fantasy fiction.
Look at this SCA lady! She looks like Joan of Arc. Oh my Goddess, what I wouldn't have given to do that back in the day. But my resources were those of a darn peasant- still are. But anyway. That's the point about castles made as briefly as I can. I would like to end by returning to where this subject was introduced, though, where I said that it's OK to think of the story as a love story. In fact, the more ways you can imagine it, the better. That's why there are so many levels and rooms in the soul's castle; there's space for all of it, for us to be all of the folks there, the one who's high in the tower looking down with a broad perspective, and the scullery boy the cook hits in Sleeping Beauty. We're the regal parents, avoiding the darkness, and we're the bratty little boy, and the crabby cook, too. We're the prince and the princess.
Gotta run, but here's one of my favoritest songs ever, Tam Lin (Tamlane, Tam Lyn, etc.). It's done so exquisitely by these two bards, who have put together a collection of Child ballads; click here to view on Amazon. The Child collection was a series of songs published around the turn of the 19th C. by Francis Child. Note the ballad (a word for a story song, basically) begins with Janet working with thread and a needle. Did you notice that The Lady of Shallot in the 8/07 post is weaving at the poem's opening? Some versions of Tam Lin, including the Fairport Convention version I first heard as a teen, begin with a pointer to alchemical transformation by addressing women "who wear gold in their hair", an allusion to a golden crown. The golden crown we all wear if we are alchemists, I might add, the golden crown our soul always sees us wearing. Here's a source for some versions of the lyric for Tam Lin.
The young woman of the story, variously named, has encounters with needles and/or pricks her finger on a rose thorn, and becomes pregnant. She's living in a castle, too, might I add. Tam Lin, her lover, is an interesting mixture of hero or more likely, lover, and fairy. The truth is, he's an inner figure, animus in Jungian terms. "Fairy" is often used in metaphorical story to refer to non-physical aspects in general, including our inner figures that we might find in our dreams and fantasies. The chooses woman the fairy's love over worldly goods and status, the key choice made by the alchemist. The transformation of the inner figure takes place at the end of the ballad, as the young lady is instructed to hold him tight, no matter what he looks like, no matter how frightening he may be. She is learning that what lies beneath the darkness, the shadow, her fear and anger or whatever, is love, the naked truth behind all illusion; she ends up with a naked lover in her arms. What lovely poetry! If you read the lyric you'll also see that she gets to have both the true love and the abundance after she's no longer afraid of her inner figure Tam Lin. The point there might be that abundance and power are states of being that proceed from true oneness. But I'm getting distracted...anyway, it's nice to have a story where women aren't altogether passive sometimes, for sure.
This post is a continuation of the previous 2 on Sleeping Beauty.
I like Bell's illustration above with its crowned heart on top of the thorny frame. The crown sacrilizes the truth that the archetypal (see Metaphor 101) feminine is passive (the sleeping woman), in case you didn't know, or perhaps more accurately, receptive. Though there aren't many guys who are into dead ladies, it's not surprising that the combination of beauty and passivity/receptivity can be pretty darn compelling. That's just the way it is, for better (in some cases) or worse (in others). If nothing else, the passive types are inviting because they are harmless, like a child is. It's one of the laws of magnetism.
The two-sided heart, as is the case with all two-sided organs in the body (kidney, eyes, brain, etc.), is divided between masculine and feminine. It's split most generally speaking into the active and the passive ways of loving, the desirous and the desired. Within our hearts, we all carry both of these opposites. The moment (or the moments) when the twain meet are moments of uniting the two sides so that they are no longer the desired and the desiring, but a completeness. The search is momentarily over. If the search were over for a lifetime, we would call it enlightenment, in contemporary American parlance. The search for the beloved is the search for The Beloved, for unity consciousness, for an experience of oneness. That we find this experience of oneness in the often fleeting form of infatuated love is one of the most cruel of realities the adolescent and adult human will face.
Briar Rose's name is significant of this truth, of opposites and of the cruelties of love's initiatory office. Roses have long signified love, and the soul. That romantic love has its thorns, or any attached love, really, is pretty universally known, whether you love a dog or a friend or the Earth itself, with its cold and its disasters and its animals that can eat you. Ultimately, attached love will end in some form of death, since change is the only constant.
All this is true, and for lots of folks, Briar Rose's story is a love story, a story of a young lady meeting the adversity of some evil forces through lying on her bed until some good looking guy finds her. But the thorns here have another symbolic job, that of signifying the more general category of loss and suffering that arises in all human beings once the developmental stage of childhood is over. We enter the dark when we lose, when we suffer; loss and suffering are a form of death. The great human developmental challenge is to love despite the suffering, love in the broadest sense; love self, love other, love without expectation and attachment. That infatuation takes place in our youth is indeed a cruel trick, for we are not mature enough to handle it, and vice versa. However, this fact, that there's no winning in romantic love, is also a pointer to love that transcends any particular attachment.
Here's a picture of Jesus pointing out to us that his crown of thorns and its suffering is associated with the transformation of the heart, specifically toward unity consciousness, the eternal flame, the experience of our light-being that's always insinuated by the corona or aura surrounding religious figures. The Disney Sleeping Beauty name Aurora depicts this light being or spirit aspect well; another version of the tale has a girl thus named, probably where the Disney writers got it.
Briar Rose's initiation is, despite the general concept that this is a love story, not through falling in love, no matter how common that form of initiation is in my society that lauds romance and where we choose our own life partners and lovers. No, Briar Rose's initiation is as generic and impersonal as her life and her name. The story is actually not about her initiation, from my perspective; it's a cautionary tale, perhaps, concerning the need for parents, caretakers, and societies to allow for the adolescent need to step (or fall) into the darkness. It's a story about the absolute inexorability of that developmental need. It's about the manner in which human fate is not just light but darkness as well, and perhaps even the truth that our destinies cannot be realized when we struggle against our human fates.
The painting above (a partial), depicts the Greek Fates at work, depicts their life thread-spinning work. The watcher in the dark hood must be Clotho, the cutter of the thread, in other words, Death. I like her pose of relaxed contemplation of her grey-haired sisters' attentive work; the Fates were imagined as old women, wise women undoubtedly. The work of spinning has been a metaphor for the creation of a life in human imagination for a long time. Fate as I define it is what we are given when we arrive (body, family, culture, traumas and gifts, etc.) and destiny is what we do with it. Thus alchemy is an intrinsic part of our destinies, of weaving (or spinning) a life from that which we're given by the Fates.
Spinning wheels were not used in ancient Greece and back in time; the Fates are using a drop spindle, the most primitive way of making yarn and thread. The distaff that holds the unspun fibers is held by the crone on the right, from our view. So Briar Rose's pricking of her finger on the spindle or distaff (depending on the version of this story) is a neat metaphor that says 1. there is sacrifice and suffering and loss (blood, wounding) 2. it is her fate.
And due to the addition of the later spinning wheel, it also means that 3. destiny is involved, or fortune as the ancients had it. The wheel is used in metaphor to many purposes, but I'm talking about the archetype depicted in the tarot X, the Wheel of Fortune. The number ten in this case of tarot refers to a cycle being completed, since we use a decimal system of counting, and another being initiated. It's a turn of the wheel. Our movements from one human developmental stage to another are surely such turns, and this symbolism is also part of the Dreadful Wind and Rain miller's wheel, in my last blog series.
However, though the spinning wheel is often depicted in illustrations of the fairy tale, the picture on the left is true to the Grimms' version; no wheel. It was the spindle that was going to bestow Briar Rose's fate. The aged woman in the attic may be depicted as evil, but she's not, really. She's just an old woman spinning flax. She's Fate in its holy form, just as Maleficent is. It is our fate to lose the innocent state of childhood, as well as the transitional one of adolescence (adolescence is actually a modern invention). However, Maleficent, as an added detail, does let us know that the evil is not only passed on through characters like hers, in our childhoods and beyond, but that the evil is a holy gift (remember, it was a gift) that we are given in our developmental journeys, in a realm that's ordered by opposites, by the black and the white.
Enough for now! Here's a song that speaks of the romantic aspect of this rose symbolism. I like this version, from an album I once had, with Krishna Bhatt adding his sitar! Written by Barbara Keith.
Colleen Szabo is an author, artist, and symbolist with a background in Jungian and transpersonal psychology. She believes in the saving grace of art and its deeper languages of story, the alchemies of light and dark, color and boundary, the seasons, and that social change begins one life at a time.
Her e book Poetry in Motion: 19 Symbolic Reviews of Transformational Film can be found on Amazon; click here to view.
Celebrating the Magic of Symbol and Metaphor
As is the inner, so is the outer
Family and Friends' sites
Sister Sandra, psychic and channeler of Mary
Sister Angelique, Chinese doctor in Boulder CO area
Pat Halloran, mosaic sculptor extraordinaire
Marcia Lee, educator for body-based solutions to children's focus disorders