Monday, July 2, 2012
Transformation: Discovering the Inner King
When the princess dons the mantle of furs, she blackens her face and her hands with ashes. There is a stage in the alchemical process called the nigredo, in which the material being acted upon is reduced to ashes.25 It represents the blackness of dissolution and death. This certainly parallels the motif in both Cinderella and Allerleirauh in which the heroines must sweep up and live in the ashes. The image indicates that she is willing to undergo the process of allowing her old life to die. This is the hard work of letting go of our old habits, our old beliefs, our old hiding places.
Understanding symbolic language gives us entry into a whole other dimension of life, one in which the imagination teaches us the meaning of life. Symbolic language connects us to the archetypal laws that govern life here on Earth. We listen to this story and hopefully feel the pain of Allerleirauh’s betrayal and toil, and perhaps wonder at the beauty of her dresses. Then we look at the deeper story within the images. We fill out these images with associations and meaning and begin to make deeper connections with our own lives. This is the gift that symbolic language gives us – the symbols come alive within us and begin to live through us. The more conscious we are of this process, the easier it becomes. This is how we can use the imagination to transform our lives.
So, let us go deeper into the image of the mantle of furs. Mantles symbolize death, and a covering up to make invisible, like the mantle of the Greek underworld god, Hades. In covering herself with this mantle of furs, the princess is trying to find a way to express the instinctual life that the animals represent. She has to give up her ego reliance on the father’s rules (her blondness), and try to understand what it is that she is cut off from.
This often feels like a death to many women. If my instincts tell me that the man in my life is not really valuing me, but I can't 'put my finger on it' rationally, I might turn away from what my instincts are saying because I cannot verbalize or 'prove' it. And yet, feminine wisdom is rooted in 'common sense' or an instinctual response to the flow of life, and if a woman can value that response, it can bring about a rebirth through this rejected part of herself. This is part of the standpoint that women need to reclaim as a counterbalance to masculine rationality. It implies trusting oneself, and this is a very hard lesson for most women. But we have to learn to trust ourselves and our own perceptions. This is the only way to find our wisdom.
Wearing animal skins reproduces the paradisiacal state of understanding and speech between humans and animals, and gives us access to animal and instinctual wisdom. The Greek goddess Artemis might represent this stage in the journey and tasks of the princess. Artemis is Virgin, Woman Alone, at-one-in-herself, creating a sense of inviolability and separateness. As Mistress of Wild Places and of the Animals, she is the huntress, dancer, lover and slayer of animals, protectress of young ones and teacher of women.26
Artemis is connected with the ancient shamans, who wear animal skins on their journeys to heaven. Shamans search out heavenly wisdom for earthly use. Artemis leads the dance on Olympus, and this skill is connected to the skill that makes her the midwife, for rhythm facilitates the passage from one realm to the next, just as shamans make their 'passage' on the rhythm of the drums. Both dance and birth are set to instinctual rhythms, and it is Artemis' instinctual nature that causes her to prefer the wild places of forest and mountain to the mansions of Olympus.
Artemis is the image and energy to turn to when we must become virginal in the old sense of the word, when we turn within to find out who we are in ourselves. She represents the wildness of the feminine principle, the wildness in women, which can be dangerous to men, and feels dangerous to the masculine consciousness of the West. But she can help us survive the contact with our unconscious instinctual life. She can teach us which instincts to trust and when to use them; she also helps us decide which instincts we need to offer up to the gods. It’s important to trust love, and it’s a good idea to offer up jealousy to the gods if we want to grow in our ability to love.
She teaches us how to listen to the rhythms of the seasons, the waxing and waning flow of the moon, the tides and our feeling life, which have a spirit and wisdom that we need to relearn. As anyone knows who has gone through it, this kind of knowledge is not set out once and for all as rational knowledge is, and so we have to learn to trust it and most importantly, ourselves, for we become the final authority of our own life. Trust is the hard part.
When the princess flees to the forest, she falls asleep in a hollow tree. The forest, as the home of the animals, is the wild place, both literally and symbolically. For Westerners, it has come to represent the unknown, and therefore the unconscious. In many stories and legends, it is the place of testing and initiation, where the soul enters into the perils of the unknown world. The image of fleeing to the forest and sleeping in a tree carries on the theme of a death and rebirth.
Here the tree symbolizes the World Tree or Axis, the place where heaven and earth connect. It is here that the princess comes in touch with the shamanic ability to fly up the world axis and bring back the knowledge that can heal her and her people. But the tree also becomes a mother symbol, for it often represents the Great Mother in her nourishing, sheltering, protecting and supporting aspect. Many new techniques in creative visualization call for us to ground ourselves in the earth, to become part of the earth. We need to ‘earth’ the imagination to bring about the real change in attitude and in life. The imagination is no longer 'just a fantasy', but becomes grounded in life, valued and built upon. Sleeping in the tree is an image of being within the womb of the Great Mother, similar to the dresses being hidden in the nutshell. It connects the princess in a positive relationship to the feminine spirit, and to the unconscious. It is also an image of spiritual rebirth through the World Axis, the center of the world, the place we want to be reborn as conscious human beings.
"The tree symbolizes human life and development, and the inner process of becoming conscious in the human being. . . it symbolizes in the psyche that something which grows and develops undisturbed within us, irrespective of what the ego does; it is the urge towards individuation which unfolds and continues without reference to consciousness. The Self is the Tree, that which is greater than the ego in man."27
The Self does indeed give birth to us, and an attempt to be opened to its workings brings us into relationship with other elements within ourselves that have been neglected. The princess who had no mother to raise her is now connecting with a positive feminine element in herself. In returning to an instinctual way of experiencing herself, she begins to reconnect to the feminine principle that is emerging in the unconscious. She has to begin to live out the dark, earthy feminine, which is rooted in the earth and her body, and grows towards the heavens. Just as on a cultural level, we have to begin to listen to what our earthy nature is telling us about what we are doing to the world around us and within us. Aren’t we repulsed when we see polluted waters or landscapes? Aren’t we angered when we see sickness and malnutrition? But what do we do about it? How well do we use our anger to bring about change, or do we just let it go and go back to our ordinary lives? If we do nothing, we are still sleeping in the hollow tree. But fortunately for Allerleirauh, something happens.
Discovering A New Masculine Energy
A new king appears now. The forest belongs to him. He is a hunter, unlike the princess' father, who had to get someone else to hunt for him. Hunters are very active; they go out into the forest with a purpose. They learn to live with and in the forest, and they know and respect the life and ways of the forest and the habits of the animals. They are in touch with their instincts, for they have to feel what is going on around them, and they have to use all their senses, just as the animals of the forest do.28
This king represents the 'new king'; he is the masculine consciousness that appears with the Goddess' return, the lover and defender of Mother Earth. He is the Green Man of Celtic legend, the energy of the earth which floods the world with life and growth. When we meet him, it feels like a return to a way of being that is so natural to us, and which was repressed by all of us in childhood. Do you remember going out to the garden to sit and watch the first crocuses blooming on a sunny March day when you were young? The awe and the wonder that awoke in you seeing those tiny bursts of color after the starkness of winter! It felt like falling in love or seeing God. I knew something that I had never known before; I sensed some mystery about myself and the cosmos that school neither spoke to nor acknowledged. I still feel it every Spring.
The old father king represents the outer, collective values that have lost their inner life now that the princess comes in contact with this new king. The old king wants to do what is expedient, what will give him more power in the outer world. This new king is the inner king of our instinctual nature, the masculine aspect of the Self that will give rise to a new order – new behaviors, new beliefs, new possibilities - both within the psyche of an individual as well as within the culture as a whole. The new king does what needs to be done, with kindness and consciousness, acknowledging the sacrifice and blessing the energetic transformation. The hunter king is the energy that enables us to go within, and stay within, until we can understand the instincts and energies that are unconsciously working within us. He represents the self-knowledge that is the foundation of the spiritual journey towards wholeness.
The Hunter, the Green Man of the forest represents a new path to wholeness, one that engages in life through the senses as well as the intellect. When we allow our instinctual nature to come back online, we begin to feel the connection to all life. We reconnect with the Earth and each other. Men as well as women are connecting with this Green Man, who will father a new masculine consciousness in us all.
The Green Man has appeared in many of our myths and legends. One image of this new king is Adam in the Garden of Eden, when he is naming the animals. He knows the essence of the animals and can speak their own names. Another image is that of the old Celtic god, Cernunnos, the Stag God of the forests who is also a symbol of the instinctual life brought to consciousness.
In medieval legends, there are certain knights who are the personification of the feminine ideal of a man: the Knights of Abandonment, such as Tristan and Lancelot, who are willing to forgo the masculine ideals of honor for the love of their Ladies. There are many stories about Gawain, the Hawk of May, that connect him with the Green Man, such as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and The Marriage of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell. Celtic lore is full of images of this Green Man, and it is a hopeful sign that the ancient Celtic stories and Earth religion are enjoying a revival in our times. Of course, there is also the figure of Arthur himself, the king who will return in time of need, the King who was taught by the magician, Merlin, and who became a shape-shifter himself - becoming the animals of the forest, rivers and the air.
Another potent representative of this king is the image of the Native American warrior and man of compassion, who lived in harmony with the land and his own nature. The Native Americans offer us a different type of spirituality and relationship to the land than our own Western heritage. Theirs is a spirituality of the earth and its rhythms, and for Americans, they represent a way of being which we have savagely repressed and pushed into the unconscious, just as we savagely killed them and their cultures. This new king represents a new transformation of the masculine spirit that will be concerned with life and the spirit in nature.
The princess, who has been sleeping in the tree, is now awakened by the hunters. To wake up in a dream or a fairy tale often means that a new level of awareness has been reached. This proves true in the tale, for the princess now gets her own name, given to her by the king's hunters. Allerleirauh means 'of many different kinds of fur'. She is no longer an anonymous princess, a king's daughter, but an individual with her own name, a name that describes her state of being – embodying her instincts.
There is an ancient myth about the goddess Persephone, in which she only gets her name when she is ravished away into the underworld by Hades. Before this she is Kore, the Maiden. Being ravished into the underworld bestows upon her the gift of individuality. Likewise, Allerleirauh now has a name and a context for herself and she is brought to this king's palace to work on it.
Women know this power of getting named. When we are left on our own to deal with death or an illness, divorce or trouble with work, when it feels like we have lost everything that makes life worth living and yet we have to go on, we suddenly discover that we are empowered. We discover who we really are. We come to know our own name.