We are back with The Seven Ravens! Last time, I talked about why I personally love this story so much. This week, I went looking through my fairytale books and on the internet for what others have said about this tale. There was less to find than I'd hoped. Some of my books didn't mention the story at all, or just gave a cursory recapitulation of the tale. However, I have a few references for you, and, the end of this post, an invitation to a special online event!
I found a short reference in The Uses of Enchantment by psychologist Bruno Bettelheim. This is one of those books that I keep telling myself I simply must read, but then I just don't. Anyway, Bettelheim says:
As works of art, fairy tales have many aspects worth exploring in addition to the psychological meaning and impact to which this book is devoted. For example, our cultural heritage finds expression in fairy tales, and through them is communicated to the child's mind. (footnote: One example may illustrate: In the Brothers Grimm's story "The Seven Ravens," seven brothers disappear and become ravens as their sister enters life. Water has to be fetched from the well in a jog for the girls' baptism and the loss of the jug is the fateful even which sets the stage for the story. The ceremony of baptism also heralds the beginning of a Christian existence. It is possible to view the seven brothers as representing that which had to disappear for Christianity to come into being Of so, they represent the pre-Christian, pagan world in which the seven planets stood for the sky gods of antiquity. The Newborn girl is then the new religion, which can succeed only if the old creed doesn't not interfere with its development. With Christianity, the brothers who represent paganism become relegated to darkness. Bur as ravens, they dwell in a mountain at the end of the world, and this suggests their continued existence in a subterranean, subconscious world. Their return tot humanity occurs only because the sister sacrifices one of her fingers, and this conforms to the Christian idea that only those who are willing to sacrifice that part of their body which prevents them from reaching perfection, if the circumstance requires it [Matthew 5:29- SRL], will be allowed to enter heaven. The new religion, Christianity, can liberate even those who remained at first arrested in paganism.) (Bettelheim, 12-13)
So, in all this wordiness, we see that Bruno Bettelheim understands the brothers to represent the religion and worldview which permeated European culture before the coming of Christianity, and that they have to leave in order to allow the new religion, represented by the little girl, to grow and thrive.
German writer Rudolf Meyer, a contemporary of Bettelheim, whose perspeective is one of theology and philosophy, was a priest in the Christian Community, a movement for religious renewal founded by Rudolf Steiner. He takes a different approach to the identity of the ravens in a chapter on fairytale motifs in his book The Wisdom of Fairytales:
In the myth [of Huginn and Muninn, Odin's ravens] the god loses the ravens; but the fairytale has the human powers of wisdom transformed into ravens that fly away. These are two different views. In the myth the divine powers of through and memory can no longer find their way home. For the gods it is a loss when human consciousness is estranged from the spiritual world. In the fairy-tale the emphasis is on the soul's development: the supersensory powers of thinking tear themselves away from the human being who is awakening to himself. They operate as "ravens" in the outer world, but no longer within the soul. The soul must learn to reawaken in itself the same forces that still weave and live on the earth's periphery. Then the soul will be able to ally itself anew with the divine guiding powers and will once again receive message from the spirits.
I've been turning this passage over in my mind, trying to think of how I could explain it or even start to interpret Meyer's words. Here's what I've got: in this book, Meyer talks about fairy tales as being pictures of the human soul's journey through life, with the goal of uniting our ability to feel and move in the world of sensory experience, with the human capacity for free thought, pure reason, and a connection with the divine. He notes here that the little girl, as a representative of the soul, is on a journey to connect with these spiritual capacities in a conscious, mature way. I welcome better explanations! This is one of those passages I feel I can understand, but cannot articulate.
From an entirely different direction comes Katherine Langrish's book, Seven Miles of Steel Thistles: Reflections on Fairy Tales. Rather than trying to put any kind of religious or spiritual intention into the minds or mouths of storytellers, she reflects upon the tales themselves, and the characters within them.
Fairy tales approve and reward the virtues of innocence, industry and good nature in both female and male protagonists . . . In female characters it can be indicated by extreme youth ... [I}n the following quotation from The Seven Ravens, the heroine is interchangeably referred to as 'the maiden' or 'the child':
There's not much more to it-- just a description of the maiden using her finger to open the glass mountain. Langrish uses this story as one of many examples of the traits and virtues of fairytale heroines. You can read this article in its original form here.
So, dear ones, that's all I've got for you. I appreciate your patience in waiting for this post to be finished.
And now, my fun and exciting announcement. Everyday Fairytale is coming to the interwebs! Later this summer, we will gather online for a workshop that include storytelling, artistic work, conversation, and joy. You can read all the details here. I so hope to see you! If you can't make the workshop during the time it's offered, that's okay! I'll be making a recording and sending it out to everyone who signs up.
I'm starting off slow with this story. I love it so much. I used it for a client's Story/Reading when I was offering that form of coaching, and it was so right for her. This week, I'm going to talk a little about why I love this story. Next week, I'll share what some other writers have said about it.
There are a whole slew of European fairy tales about people being turned into birds. One of the main themes of these stories, is that someone has to complete an arduous task in order for the transformed ones to be returned to their human form. So often, we are willing to set off on an adventure that we'd never consider otherwise, because someone else's life or well-being, or even just convenience, is at stake. In this story, it is a little girl who faces a journey far from home. She is not an adult, not even a maiden of marriageable age. She's a child, one who is determined to set things right.
I love how there is no question in her mind, as soon as she learns of her brothers' existence, that she is the one who will save them. She is ready for her journey -- she takes food and drink, a ring from her parents to remember them by, and a chair. A CHAIR!!! She is ready to rest herself. This is the kind of practical thinking that fairy tales are sometimes thought to lack, but in reality, they have it in spades. She is going to save her brothers, and it's going to be hard, and she'll need to rest. So she needs a chair. Of course.
The little girl journeys to the sun, the moon, and the stars, and it is the stars, the ones to whom little children sing, the ones who are so gentle and so insistent in their shining, who offer her welcome and help. I love how they are ready to tell her how to find her brothers, and to give her a gift to help her get there.
Gruesome as it seems, I love the moment when she realizes that she will have to give up part of herself to see this adventure through to the end. Having lost the chicken bone the stars gave her, the little girl cuts off her own finger to open the lock on the glass mountain's door. She has a knife, which was not mentioned before, and does what needs to be done, with no drama.
When I tell this story to little children, not one of them flinches or even blinks at the need to cut off her finger. In storyland, it's not a problem. She probably grows it back instantly. Or perhaps she will get a silver finger. It's not important. What is important, is that a dwarf comes and tells her the ravens aren't at home.
I love that it is the print of her lips on the glass that gives her away, and that the ring she brought along alerts her brothers as to who has come. The brothers regain their human form, just like that. I imagine a great ruffling of feathers, and a whirring of wings, and then a gradual settling of the air, and seven young men now appearing, for they will have grown older in the time since they were transformed.
This story is about love. It is about love that seeks us out, even when we are lost. It is about love that sends us searching for what, until just now, we didn't even know we lacked. It's about trust, and magic, and bravery. It's about how quickly things can change, and how our words can have such powerful impact that they change the world forever, and change the lives of others, for good or ill. It's about our journey through life, perhaps our journey before birth, and perhaps about the underworld or the unconscious. It's about life.
more to come...
**the seven ravens fairy tale exploration has been delayed a week by illness. look for it this Friday**
I'm so tired, but I don't want to go to bed because I feel like I haven't done enough yet today. Yes, I did a lot of stuff, but there is something beating its wings in my chest, longing to be set free, and until I have created something, I can't rest. The wind is blowing hard today, and clouds are racing across the sky, which is clearing at last. I am longing to make things, to create things, to be active in adding beauty to the world. Someone once told me how happy they were to be in their 40s, because they felt so much more at peace with themselves. I just feel more urgency."You are no longer young! You cannot live on potential now, you must act! you must create!"
And not knowing what it is that I must do, what it is that I am to create, that is a hard thing, so I keep flinging things out there. Courses. Stories. Little ideas and offerings.
Do you know that for nearly 20 years now, I have longed to have a picnic at Kenwood park, with flowers and flowing skirts, and stories, and fairy cakes, and bubbles, and magic? And I still haven't had it.
Around 8 years ago, I lost something of myself. I became so sad, so stressed... I've been fighting to recover it for years, and blow after blow has pushed me back. Job loss. Financial loss. Loss of a parent. Loved ones in accidents. rejections. I have made countless huge mistakes and done so many things wrong. And still, I press on, because the wings in my ribcage keep fluttering, beating against the walls of my heart. I am stubborn.
And I keep coming back to these fairy tales, the ones that enchanted me so long ago, before all of this, back when I was full of potential and becoming. There is something comforting in their starkness and simplicity. I feel like I am starting out on my journey over and over again. So confused and afraid and yet unable not to press on. And maybe someday I will find the key that unlocks the cage of that bright, winged thing in my heart, and it will sing, and soar.
I am so excited for my Everyday Fairytale workshop tomorrow night! I plan to make this the start of a series of in-person and online workshops. I envision building community through storytelling, art, singing, and talking. Conversation is an art form; we don't get enough of deep, real conversation these days, and I want to cultivate some places for true sharing. The inaugural workshop is IN ONE WEEK, on MAY 30 here in Minneapolis, at Heartfelt. Please call (612) 877-8090 to register.
Next, I am delighted and full of eager anticipation as I announce a new blog series. I will be exploring themes in some of my favorite fairy tales, and offering my own personal take on the insights and gifts they have to offer. The first tale will be The Seven Ravens (of course!), and clicking on the title of the story will take you to where you can read a version of it in preparation for Friday's post!
So much energy and joy -- it must be spring!!!
I'm quiet around here, because I am working away on my latest project: an in-person workshop!
May 16, 2019, 7 pm
Journey from feeling dull, stuck, and overwhelmed, to a life full of wonder, ease, and contentment. We’ll reconnect with the magic and sparkle in the everyday, and learn to read our lives like a fairytale. Storytelling, artistic work, and conversation will shape our time together. Sara will guide you through playful and potent activities that will start you on a path to your heart’s desire.
This workshop will take place at Heartfelt, in Minneapolis. Preregistration is required, and you can sign up by calling Heartfelt at (612) 877-8090
I'm really looking forward to meeting people in person and sharing these wonderful tools for fairytale living! If you have questions, please drop me an email!
Heartfelt is at 4306 Upton Ave S, Minneapolis, MN, 55410
I spent time on Sunday afternoon clearing dead irises and lilies out of the bed in front of my house. It was hard work. The leaves had toughened over the winter to the consistency of leather, and the iris stems were hard and rattling with seeds. Underneath, I could see the new pointed spear-tips of green, jutting out of the earth. Behind me, rhubarb curled red and green up from the beds on either side of the door.
The sun was strong. What a gift, after the lingering snows and icy winds of the past weeks. I was tired; we'd been out late at Easter Vigil at our church, and my ten-year-old hopped out of bed at 6:15, claiming he couldn't sleep any more.
All around me, the earth is waking up. There is a verse in Steiner's Calendar of the Soul that comes around long before I can see this awakening in Minnesota, that mentions "the world's bewildering, sprouting growth" (Verse 44, tr. Hans and Ruth Pusch). The challenge I face in all of this beauty, is to stay rooted. To gather the gifts of the past few months, even the ones that came with pain, and to carry them forward into the summer's dazzling light.
From underneath, from the underworld of our own unconscious dreaming, where we have stuffed down our fears and pains, we must drag our own fearful, sorrowing selves up into the light. It's easy to sink into the relief of the light and life returning, to lose oneself (as eminem starts singing in my head) in the moment, but there are such gifts to be found, clutched in our mud-stained hands. Gifts of kindness and compassion. Of wisdom, hard-won.
Every spring, I want to forget how hard the winter was this time. How I barely kept myself above the current that tried to pull me under. But I must not, or else the same lessons will come around next year for me.
What will you be carrying forward with you into this springtime's beautiful hours? What gifts did winter yield into your keeping?
That day of songs and stories, wherein we whine and complain about the return to work and the way we just cannot wait for the weekend.
Monday can be hard. Last Monday, I went back to work after a glorious week visiting my aunt in Florida. I came home to a forecast of snow and full work week. It was rough, and I let it get the better of me. I was not my best self last week. I was more like something that might live under a fairytale bridge and jump out at passing goats. Trip trap, trip trap, trip trap....
This week, I am determined to have a good week. It's a busy one, with family stuff and holiday prep, chime choir rehearsal and baseball practice, client meetings and workshop planning... How can I turn around the week?
First, as I teach in my fairytale work, is to look at where I see myself in the story. When I am in the throes of a hard week, feeling down on myself and gorging on as much refined sugar as I can find, I am inevitably seeing myself in the forest. I am at the point of the story when the heroine is utterly lost. But, as Theodora Goss reminds us, the heroine doesn't die in the forest.
The next step is to reframe. What if I'm not in the forest at all?
What if I'm at the start of an adventure, and this is the call?
Then, it's time to gather my magical helpers and tools. Fairytale folk get all kinds of magical stuff to help them on the way, plus mysterious and sometimes dangerous helpers (Baba Yaga, anyone?) who direct them onto the right path. My helpful people might look different, and my magical tools certainly do. A cup of tea. 20 minutes to myself, a favorite book, a planner, some chocolate...
Finally, I have to take action. The heroine doesn't complete her quest by sitting sadly by the well, staring in after the spindle she's dropped. The key is to do SOMETHING. Get up and move.
Oh, and forgive myself, for being snappish and exhausted and sad, because while these are symptoms of imbalance, not actual faults, they are things I beat myself up over. We could call this, "Silence the Sirens," and stuff our ears with imaginary beeswax against the siren call of self-loathing.
So, in short, to turn your week around (even if it's Monday):
you might think, by the age of 42, a person would be okay with being who they are.
that she might be unafraid to tell people that her Waldorf-school kid spent the snow day playing video games and watching Teen Titans Go!
but sometimes, even a sparkly fairytale unicorn princess like me has trouble owning her power.
you see, there's a lot of people out there, expressing their opinions of what we should be. What we're allowed to like. What we should consume. Or not. What philosophies are okay. What snacks to give your kid. or your cat.
and I am as vulnerable as the next princess to the heavy expectations of others. I spent years and years molding myself into the form I thought they expected.
I was supposed to be:
I was 15.
You would think that by 42, I'd be over all of it.
and maybe, you have NEVER felt ashamed of who you are, of whom you love, of the pastimes you choose, of the foods you eat, of the way you raise your kids, of not wanting to raise kids at all...
and if that's true, YAY!!! You are my role model.
But if maybe you have thought, "I'm too old to like Anne of Green Gables..."
"Everyone has moved on from liking Hamilton..."
"I should be reading more challenging/thought-provoking/disturbing books..."
"This outfit is for someone younger/prettier/thinner/more curvy/female..."
I am here for you. You are my people. And I have words of wisdom for you.
Like what you like.
Today, what I like is science acapella videos.
What do you like? Tell people. Share your joy. Be uncool and silly and happy.
Like what you like.
We got the bikes out today. It was time. I struggled with the tire stems, and hooked up the amazing electric pump my wife got me last fall. My son has outgrown the bike we got him just a year and half ago. He is growing so fast, I can't keep up. My feet fit into the new rainboots I bought him.
Muddy snowmelt splashed up from the streets onto the back of his pants and his jacket, even up to his helmet. He strove to master the hand brakes and gear shifts, such a step up from his combination hand-and-coaster break fixed gear bike last year.
Today, I struggled to say yes, and was glad I did. I said yes to taking a walk with my tutoring student, instead of sitting down to our books at the start of our lesson. I said yes to getting on my bike and going around the block three times. I said yes to a board game after our bike ride. I said yes to spending the morning puttering and storing up ideas, instead of forcing this blog post to get written then. But saying yes is hard for me. It's easier to say no, to retreat into busy housework and hiding behind my screen.
I'm going to step back from social media for a time, to focus on being present for springtime. The snow is melting rapidly. My child is growing. My wife is eager to share news from her day, and to dream about our garden. We have a vacation coming up, and the last few months with our wonderful school before we start our homeschooling adventure. I want to invite you into my courses and coaching practice, and to share from my heart, and that requires attention.
I'm afraid to do this. I'm afraid I will miss important news. I am afraid I will be all alone. I'm afraid no one will ever know what I have to share with the world, and this work will go undone. But you have found me, here. I can keep working and sharing, sending my newsletters. I can write letters and send texts and call people on the phone.
And I can always go back. I probably will. I just need to re-learn how to breathe and move like the wind on my bike, like I did at 7 and 17. I need to re-learn how to pour our my thoughts on paper, and how to stop spinning from activity to activity, and to be here.
Spring is coming. It's nearly here. I can feel the melting of the frost under the earth, the stirring of the sap in the trees, the exploratory stretching of daffodil bulbs. I don't want to miss it.
First, the dog died. It was horrible and sad, and there is no way I can write about how I am without telling you that. We made the awful decision to euthanize our 13 year old, much-beloved hound; he was just fine, and then suddenly was emphatically not. Torsion, twisted gut, or bloat, all terrible names for a terrible condition. It comes on suddenly, without warning, and even if we had the money for the surgery, there was no guarantee of full recovery, or that it wouldn't happen again.
It was Valentines day.
And then I got sick. I am still battling a lingering sinus infection. It makes my face hurt, and it makes me so tired.
And the snow. Oh, heavens, the snow. It just kept coming. And coming. It came again yesterday. More snow than in any other February since they started keeping track. It's magical and beautiful, and messy and awful.
So, there's all of that. So much going on. So much feeling so heavy and hard to deal with. And my friends are going through heavy and hard things, too.
What can we do? What do we do when we are stuck in the swamp and lost in the woods and at the bottom of the well?
Well, we fall asleep. We lose our senses and fall asleep. It feels like we can't think right, that it's hard to just get through the day. So we sleepwalk through it, do the minimum...
Until we come to our senses on the bank of a stream, or find our way through the woods to the house with the fence topped with skulls...
Fairy tales tell us what to do. We must turn away from ourselves (what?!? the opposite of self care?? Isn't that codependent? hear me out...) we turn our attention outward, because inwardly, we are lost. We are in pain and stuck, frightened and dulled by grief, sick and tired. So we look out into the world, and we do what we can do.
We do what we can to. Tiny things. We do what we can to ease the suffering of the world, and find our own hearts beginning to heal.
The girl who has fallen down the well shakes the apple trees crying for help. The girl who has been sent to Baba Yaga ties the tree branches with her own ribbon, and gives her bread to the dog. The tired, sad woman sends a text to a friend in mourning and says, "Hey, I'm thinking about you."
A world with more kindness in it feels easier to bear. A world with more gentleness and sharing of burdens feels brighter.
Every personality test I've taken, lists me as a teacher, helper, and nurturer. It's how I am in the world. Maybe you aren't -- you're an artist, philosopher, rebel, leader, systematizer, organizer, investigator.... You know what kinds of contributions light you up. You know what kinds of reaching out, what kindnesses, what gestures are your gift to the world. So do that, even just a tiny bit. Make a little picture and set it where it will be seen. Organize the supply closet. Tell your employees where they're excelling. Write to the lawmaker you support. Find a solution to a tiny problem. Do your thing.
The world will feel less dark. The ice will melt. Your broken heart might still be broken, but some light might start to shine through the cracks.
When you are sick of winter, or just sick, just start. One tiny thing to make things better, and it will heal -- you and the world.
Sara lives in Minnesota with her wife, their son, and a lot of cats and turtles. She coaches waldorf moms and other sparkly unicorns, helping them find wonder, ease, and contentment. Sara writes about parenting, storytelling, and about living a life with stories.