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.
coming next month, a short story/reading course that leads you into a fuller experience of your own tale.
read more about it here...
FLASH SALE! Until tomorrow night, I am offering a flash fairy tale Story/Reading. Just drop me an email and let me know you're interested, and tell me anything that's coming up for you right now, and I'll choose a fairy tale just for you. I'll send you a link and a pdf of questions and prompts. It's like a New Year's oracle reading, in fairy tale form! And it's just $15!!! I'll send you a paypal invoice, and we'll go from there.
I just finished recording Mother Holle for our Story/Journey together that starts THIS FRIDAY!! I am really looking forward to this. We have room for a few more -- signups are open through tomorrow, so come on! It's going to be amazing.
there's one week before the story/reading journey, diving into the well and coming out of the forest, begins. we will be exploring two wintery tales, full of magic and wonder.
We have room for a few more companions on our way. Spend as much or as little time on it as you wish. All that's required, is that you listen to the stories, and listen to your life. Go deep, or just trail your fingertips in the waters of the magic well. It's up to you.
I'm offering this course in the winter, at the turning of the year, because it's a time of reflection and looking forward. Two-faced Janus stands in the doorway of the new year, and asks us to see into our own pasts, and to make our plans and dreams for the future. What better way, than through the voices of the long past, telling stories of once upon a time, a time so long ago that perhaps it never was? What better way, than to dream through stories that read like dreams themselves, where anything is possible?
No experience is needed, except the experience of being human and living on earth. No materials are required, except what you wish to use to explore your new dreams and new understandings -- pencils, paper, computer, crayons, playdough, clay, paints, fiber, felt, leaves, stones, your body, your voice . . .
Imagine pausing in the midst of your day, and noticing that you can see whatever situation arises, as the call to adventure. Imagine seeing your loved ones on their own paths through the woods, and having your heart fill with wonder at their courage.
Come with us.
I believe in this work. I believe in the power of fairy tale work to change lives. This is a way to make shifts that are deep, powerful, and affirming of your story.
However, this is subtle work. I've been asked, "What will I really get from this work?" and it's so hard for me to describe. I've tried. All I can ask, is that you try it. And maybe for you, it won't be that big of a shift. You may find only a tiny glimmer of light. When it's really dark, tiny lights are so bright.
Having done this fairy tale work, using it daily to re-examine my life story and my current place on the journey, I can truly say that it works, that the little changes add up, and that the deeper I go, the more amazed I feel.
This work can change your relationships. It can open new doors. It can alert you to something you've been overlooking. I want you to experience it.
For all these reasons, I have chosen to drop my price for this course. Not because I thought the price was too high -- It is worth every penny -- but because I want it to be accessible and available.
We are going to start later, too, as I've heard from a number of people that December 26 is just too much in the thick of things. I understand. Let's wait a bit, and I'll whisper these stories into the quiet of the new year.
$27. I'm holding space for you throughout the deepest darkness of the year, and as the light returns, we are going to make this journey together. Won't you come along?
What does it mean to read your life like a fairy tale? We can point to the Hero's Journey, or the Heroine's Journey, but how do we listen to the story our own lives are telling and determine what part of the arc we are at?
The complication that makes this work so worthwhile, is that the story can be said to begin at so many places in our lives. We can read the arc of every relationship, of every job or career move, of every change of place, as its own distinct story. Each strand of story is woven, braided with other strands to create the multicolored, shimmering, living rope of your life.
Let's take a familiar example of Little Red Riding Hood. We can say that the adventure begins with the girl setting out into the woods with her basket. but perhaps it really begins with the red hood itself. We can read this story, and say, "oh, this is like when I went off to college, and I met that guy in the quad..." That assumes that we are the heroine of the story, that we are the central character. And it's not wrong. The scene of Red's encounter with the wolf in the forest is the turning point of the story, the moment of decision. You have thought of a moment in your own life that felt that big, and seemed to push your life down a path you hadn't wanted.
Once we identify this piece of story, this potent scene that stands out so sharply against the rest of the narrative, we are ready to begin working with our own story. It's important to identify the work to be done here. Do you feel shame over the encounter? Maybe you are wanting to understand what happened next. Perhaps the emotion that arises with the story is one of rage, and perhaps it's a gentle, happy wonder -- "Look what would have been different if I hadn't met him! I would be someone else."
We can look for echoes of that moment -- where did it happen again? And again? And where is it happening RIGHT NOW? Where are you giving the time of day to someone or something you know to be destructive? Where are you taking a risk to move beyond prescriptions?
It's important to create these scenes as vividly as possible -- recreate that moment in your mind. Feel what you felt. Smell what you smelled. Hear the music. See if there are details that you thought you had forgotten. Can you shift the view? Can you see the story through the wolf's eyes? Through the hood's eyes (if hoods had eyes...)? Are you, in your life, in one of those other roles today?
This is just the beginning.
If something comes up that feels too big, let it go, or take it to a professional. I'm not a counselor, social worker, psychologist, or pastor. I'm just a fellow traveler.
You story is waiting, and yet, it is running even now. You are in this story. Let's take a look around together.
This summer, I got to go to the National Storytelling Network's summer conference for the first time. It was amazing to be surrounded by storytellers from around the country, and some from other countries, who were exceedingly welcoming, supportive, and kind.
The day before the official conference opened, I took part in the Healing Story Alliance's pre-conference workshop, led by Lani Peterson. Lani does deep, world-changing work in Boston with people who have experienced homelessness or incarceration, and with other community members, facilitating their understanding of one another through storytelling.
There was a lot A LOT of stuff that I took away from that workshop. I'm not a trained psychologist, so much of it went over my head, but there was a part of the morning when we talked about helping people to tell their stories in order to re-construct their sense of self, helping them to "thicken" their stories. We go from the old normal -> through an experience of liminality and "undoing" our story -> to arrive at a new normal, where we are intentional in our responses. We then can return to the beginning of the story and help others.
This is the hero's journey, folks. We get to take that fairytale, mythic path every single day.
But it goes deeper.
We get to take that path every single moment of the day. In the pause between stimulus and response, where we make a conscious choice, we are responding to the call to adventure. That moment is sometimes briefer than the blink of an eye.
In every breath, in every response to our children, in every time we choose to speak up against hatred, and in every moment that we respond out of choice and not out of habit, we are heroes. We can have a thousand epic journeys in every day.
Those tiny, miniscule stories are woven together into the novel of our lives, the huge bildungsroman that tells of our journey from innocence to knowing, and then, we hope, into wisdom.
There is so much more to pull out of those few short hours, and I hope to bring you examples and insights over the next few weeks.
If you missed last night's facebook live, I have the video for you right here! Enjoy!
I know, I know. It's the holidays. You are, maybe, frantically checking your bank balance daily to make sure that you can cover all the food, feasting, gifts, events, clothing... Or maybe you're super organized and have it all in hand, carefully budgeted.
I want to encourage you to give yourself this gift. A gift of a new way of seeing your life story, and your path into the new year.
Mother Holle and Baba Yaga are well known in their home countries. They are powerful expressions of the wild feminine. Both have been pointed out as expressions of pre-Christian goddesses hidden in tales for children. Mother Holle rewards the good and punishes the bad. Baba Yaga, in her chicken-legged hut, provides information, wisdom, and initiation, but only to those who follow her rules and don't get themselves eaten in the process.
What will you get out of this work? A stronger sense of your own power to understand and choose your life story, artistic and writing invitations to take you deeper into the stories, and a potent technique for shifting your viewpoint when you feel stuck, overwhelmed, or lost in the woods.
We will be exploring two stories together over the course of four weeks. Want to know a little more about the kind of work we'll be doing? Check out this post: A Taste of Story-Reading.
Maybe you feel a little lost or fearful, or maybe you are downright terrified. Maybe you are searching for a new start, or a new way forward. Maybe you feel lost in the woods. Or maybe you feel like you are finally coming into your own.
I'd love to support you through story. My Story/Readings are an opportunity to explore your life story through the lens of fairy tales. Together, we venture down these ancient paths to find the wisdom you seek. From high, far-off cliffs and from humble cottages in the woods, we find a new perspective and new possibilities.
I've lowered the price on my story/reading sessions and simplified the offerings. It would be an honor to work with you.
Want to try it? Click here!
Questions? Comment below and I'll answer!
I'm a woman in America. This means that my life has been defined by certain outside forces. I'm a queer woman in America, in a relationship with a woman. We have a child. I'm white, middle class, educated. We live in a house. Somehow, the bills get paid.
All of these facts contribute to my experience of the world.
It would seem that I ought to work from a "modern" understanding, that I ought to relate mostly to stories of "modern" women.
Where I find my deepest resonance, is with fairy tales.
Perhaps, to you, fairy tales are unrealistic, misogynistic tales, told to keep little girls in their place, emphasizing making a good marriage and giving up agency.
I find them to be the opposite. Perhaps it is the fairy tales I choose, but my heroines are brave, resourceful, kind, and adventurous. They do not wait around to be saved. They save their loved ones, trick giants and kings, weave shirts of nettles, create worlds.
They are invincible in their vulnerability.
Recently, I worked with a woman with the tale of Tatterhood. For her, on first hearing, the story was of how the brave and exciting Tatterhood gave up what and who she was, became acceptably beautiful, in order to marry the prince. "Wow," I thought. "That is so far from my reading. Why is that?"
Together, we explored questions of what it is that is being unveiled when Tatterhood removes her hood. What conditions have to be in place for us to remove the veils we use to keep ourselves safe from others? What is the question we need to hear in order to take that step? And how do we get someone to ask when we need it?
I love these stories. I love the depth that I can get to so very quickly through their wishing-well of images and archetypes. I would love to share them with you.
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.