For the last few months, I have been discussing the folktale "Frau Holle." If you are unfamiliar with this story as it was recorded by the Grimm brothers, please refer to the May 8, 2016 post.
The folktale of "Frau Holle" is filled with rich symbolism. The story begins with a discussion of spinning. Jacob Grimm stated the "the spindle is an essential characteristic of wise women" making it an essential symbol for this story." She jumps into a well and emerges into a lake: all the symbols Jung identified with the Mother archetype. Each of her tasks move us further into this archetype, opening the oven ( a womb symbol) and gathering apples from a tree (symbolic for fertility.) The symbol of snow is the element of purity represented by the innocent child. Reviewing these symbols it appears that the entire story was crafted from the wise woman and female perspective most likely on an unconscious level.
Carl Jung theorized that all elements of a dream or a story are parts of the Self. In the path to individuation, we seek to integrate our subconscious mind into our conscious reality. This includes bringing light and awareness to our shadow side. The following interpretation of "Frau Holle" is the author's based on her current knowledge and understanding of Jungian theories.
The girl seeks to find a spindle, an element essential both to her value as a female and for economic sustencance. Symbolically that is the journey to the Self. She lives in a world that is discordant with a highly critical step-mother and a lazy step-sister. Jungians would identify all of these as parts of the girl. We can seeher own internal desire for perfection when she mindlessly jumps into the well after the missing spindle. She was unwilling to face the consequences of being less than the "good girl." She finds herself falling through the deep shaft of the well, an obvious reference to the unconscious mind and enters into a lake. She is now in the otherworld, a place foreign to her as is her unconsicous mind. It is here where the language of symbols and metaphors prevail.
We see all of her tasks as symbolically referencing the Great Mother (or Wise Old Woman) archetype. The Great Mother is the one who represents the duality of light and shadow, embracing both sides. These are the archetypes of integration and the archetypes of the Self; for Frau Holle is the Self, that part that is both shadow and light, and contains inner wisdom. The girl is a youth and in many ways this is a story of maturation; but it is also the story of the innocent, naive self, becoming awake and aware of her full potential. As she seeks a return to her conscious state, Frau Holle praises her and grants the girl the gift of golden knowledge, for she brings the wisdom of Frau Holle back with her.
After her return, she is changed and seeks to tell others of her experience (an act found often in the hero's journey (see Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces) and described in detail in Carol Pierson's book Awakening the Heroes Within. The girl attempts to do so when she shares her story with her step-mother and step-sister.
In the side story we see the step-sister fail miserably in her attempt to win favor with Frau Holle. The step-sister could be seen as the "Shadow," the negative part of the psyche which is unaware of the ways of succeeding in these tasks. She comes back showing her true nature (covered in tar) as does the first girl (who was covered in gold). The journey to individuation is this very journey to discovery.
Crone is "a phase in which you can be more authentic, more capable of making a difference in your family and in the greater world. Life gives you experience, and when you draw from it, that's true wisdom. By the time a woman is in her crone years, she is in an amazing position to be an influence. To change things for the better, to bring what she knows into a situation, to be able to say, 'Enough is enough.' You don't have to just go along with things, which is often a part of the middle years. You're often something of a loose cannon."
Jean Shinoda Bolen
Monday, August 8, 2016
Sunday, June 26, 2016
In this post we begin an in depth examination of the folktale "Frau Holle" ( note, the story is provided in the previous post). "Frau Holle" is a folktale collected by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm and included within the 1812 and the 1857 editions of The Grim Brothers' Children's and Household Tales. This story has had significant impact on the people in Germany and continues to be seen within their current culture.
"Frau Holle" is the Grimm tale KHM 24. It is the Aarne-Thompson tale type 480: "the tale of the kind and unkind girls." Motifs found within the story are many and include N285.3 Old Woman Helper (although a more indirect, rather than direct helper), A1135.2.1 Snow from Feather or Clothes from a Witch; F475.1 Night Spirit; and F93.02.1 Otherworld Journeys (entrance through the well). It is the story of an unlikely hero and its plot fits well within both Joseph Campbell's and Vladimir Propp's story structure. Stith Thompson identified over 600 variants of this "good girl - bad girl" tale, found from Europe to Asia, Africa, North and South America.
Geographically the "Frau Holle" story is said to originate in Hesse, Germany. The actual "Frau-Holle-Pond" is in Hoher Meissner a forested, mountain area with a pond. At the end of the pond is a statute of Frau Holle in her mythological state, as a young woman with a long white dress. According to local lore this is a place of offering to Frau Holle from ancient times.
The Frau Holle character is believed to have derived from an ancient Germanic goddess known as Frau Holda, Hulda, Huld, Hulee, Holl or Holle. She may also have a connection with the goddess Perchte and Berchta in southern Germany and in the Norse goddess Frigga. Her name means "benevolent, faithful one" or "hidden one." This is a goddess associated with birth, death, the seasons, the underworld and household chores. She is also connected with spinning flax and water.
The goddess has a dual nature. Myths describe her as traveling on cold winter nights with a band of witches while also protecting children as they sleep. She determines the worth of children and metes out their rewards and punishments. Norman Cohn describes Frau Holle in this way, "Holle...is a supernatural, motherly being who normally lives in the upper air, and circles the earth. She is particularly active in the depths of winter; snowflakes are the feathers that fall when she makes her bed. She travels in the twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany and this brings fruitfulness to the land during the coming year...She can sometimes be terrifying - she can lead the furious army which rides through the sky on the storm, she can also turn into an ugly old hag with great teeth and a long nose, the terror of children. Yet in the main she becomes terrifying only when angered...She is also concerned with childbirth - babies come from her secret places, her tree, her pond...She is accompanied by...the souls of the dead, including the souls of children and babies who have died unbaptized."
Scholars believed that this ancient goddess became Frau Holle within the oral tradition and her myths were transformed into folktales (and later recorded by the Grimm brothers).
In the next post, we'll look at the symbolism found within this story and the psychological analysis of the tale through the lens of depth psychology.
Sunday, May 8, 2016
THERE was once a widow who had two daughters -- one of whom was pretty and industrious, whilst the other was ugly and idle. But she was much fonder of the ugly and idle one, because she was her own daughter; and the other, who was a step-daughter, was obliged to do all the work, and be the Cinderella of the house. Every day the poor girl had to sit by a well, in the highway, and spin and spin till her fingers bled.
Now it happened that one day the shuttle was marked with her blood, so she dipped it in the well, to wash the mark off; but it dropped out of her hand and fell to the bottom. She began to weep, and ran to her step-mother and told her of the mishap. But she scolded her sharply, and was so merciless as to say, "Since you have let the shuttle fall in, you must fetch it out again."
So the girl went back to the well, and did not know what to do; and in the sorrow of her heart she jumped into the well to get the shuttle. She lost her senses; and when she awoke and came to herself again, she was in a lovely meadow where the sun was shining and many thousands of flowers were growing. Along this meadow she went, and at last came to a baker's oven full of bread, and the bread cried out, "Oh, take me out! take me out! or I shall burn; I have been baked a long time!" So she went up to it, and took out all the loaves one after another with the bread-shovel. After that she went on till she came to a tree covered with apples, which called out to her, "Oh, shake me! shake me! we apples are all ripe!" So she shook the tree till the apples fell like rain, and went on shaking till they were all down, and when she had gathered them into a heap, she went on her way.
At last she came to a little house, out of which an old woman peeped; but she had such large teeth that the girl was frightened, and was about to run away.
But the old woman called out to her, "What are you afraid of, dear child? Stay with me; if you will do all the work in the house properly, you shall be the better for it. Only you must take care to make my bed well, and shake it thoroughly till the feathers fly -- for then there is snow on the earth. I am Mother Holle.
As the old woman spoke so kindly to her, the girl took courage and agreed to enter her service. She attended to everything to the satisfaction of her mistress, and always shook her bed so vigorously that the feathers flew about like snow-flakes. So she had a pleasant life with her; never an angry word; and boiled or roast meat every day.
She stayed some time with Mother Holle, and then she became sad. At first she did not know what was the matter with her, but found at length that it was home-sickness: although she was many thousand times better off here than at home, still she had a longing to be there. At last she said to the old woman, "I have a longing for home; and however well off I am down here, I cannot stay any longer; I must go up again to my own people." Mother Holle said, "I am pleased that you long for your home again, and as you have served me so truly, I myself will take you up again." Thereupon she took her by the hand, and led her to a large door. The door was opened, and just as the maiden was standing beneath the doorway, a heavy shower of golden rain fell, and all the gold remained sticking to her, so that she was completely covered over with it.
"You shall have that because you have been so industrious," said Mother Holle, and at the same time she gave her back the shuttle which she had let fall into the well. Thereupon the door closed, and the maiden found herself up above upon the earth, not far from her mother's house.
And as she went into the yard the cock was standing by the well-side, and cried --
"Cock-a-doodle-doo! Your golden girl's come back to you!"
So she went in to her mother, and as she arrived thus covered with gold, she was well received, both by her and her sister.
The girl told all that had happened to her; and as soon as the mother heard how she had come by so much wealth, she was very anxious to obtain the same good luck for the ugly and lazy daughter. She had to seat herself by the well and spin; and in order that her shuttle might be stained with blood, she stuck her hand into a thorn bush and pricked her finger. Then she threw her shuttle into the well, and jumped in after it.
She came, like the other, to the beautiful meadow and walked along the very same path. When she got to the oven the bread again cried, "Oh, take me out! take me out! or I shall burn; I have been baked a long time!" But the lazy thing answered, "As if I had any wish to make myself dirty?" and on she went. Soon she came to the apple-tree, which cried, "Oh, shake me! shake me! we apples are all ripe!" But she answered, "I like that! one of you might fall on my head," and so went on.
When she came to Mother Holle's house she was not afraid, for she had already heard of her big teeth, and she hired herself to her immediately.
The first day she forced herself to work diligently, and obeyed Mother Holle when she told her to do anything, for she was thinking of all the gold that she would give her. But on the second day she began to be lazy, and on the third day still more so, and then she would not get up in the morning at all. Neither did she make Mother Holle's bed as she ought, and did not shake it so as to make the feathers fly up. Mother Holle was soon tired of this, and gave her notice to leave. The lazy girl was willing enough to go, and thought that now the golden rain would come. Mother Holle led her also to the great door; but while she was standing beneath it, instead of the gold a big kettleful of pitch was emptied over her. "That is the reward for your service," said Mother Holle, and shut the door.
So the lazy girl went home; but she was quite covered with pitch, and the cock by the well-side, as soon as he saw her, cried out --
"Cock-a-doodle-doo! Your pitchy girl's come back to you!"
(Story comes from SurLaLune Fairy Tales)
What can we discover about the wise woman archetype from this fairy tale? “Frau Holle” or “Old Mother Holle” is a Grimm folktale from Germany. Holle is a mysterious character living within an underworld. She is repulsive and hideous in appearance with long, knotted white hair and large, yellow, buck teeth. A young girl disturbs her existence. As the girl searches for her lost item, she is required to perform certain tasks. Each of these tasks has a magical component, and it is unclear the source of the magic; for Holle herself remains kind, and fair, but mysterious. This is a “good girl, bad girl” tale in which Holle metes out justice based on the worth of each girl. At the end of the story, their worth is determined accordingly. Holle is the helper, judge and jury for those who come seeking something lost within themselves. The one who is worthy will see beyond Mother Holle’s hideous appearance, which threatens to make her invisible (for no one wishes to look in her direction). The worthy girl will make visible both Mother Holle’s true nature and her own. She will discover the value of hard work and selfless service for others and be rewarded in kind.
Friday, March 18, 2016
The study of folktales is a multidisciplinary pursuit which may include a review of the associated anthropological, sociological, religious (moral) and psychological issues found within the story. Folktales contain a mixed view of aging, matching common proverbs such as “there’s no fool like an old fool,” or ““what an elder sees sitting; the young can't see standing.” Folktales both appreciate the experience and wisdom of aging while also fearing those who are older and closer to death. This appears to be true no matter where the culture. (See, D.L. Ashliman, “Aging and Death in Folklore,” last modified May 12, 2008, http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/aging.html.) Even in Asia, which is highly influenced by the Confucian reverence towards elders, stories exist which show another side (e.g., “The Wise Old Woman,” a Japanese tale).
Folktales containing the “Wise Old Woman” archetype portray many women who are marginalized and stereotyped within their cultures. Ugly, feeble, poor and invisible, these women are surrounded by ambivalent family and friends, and are sought out only by those who fear them. How does this treatment reflect the beliefs and culture of the people who tell these stories? Although beyond the scope of this paper, a full analysis of the “Wise Old Woman” archetype would include an examination of the historic treatment of elders (especially aging women) across cultures. Peoples and Baily authors of Humanity: An Introduction to Cultural Anthropology, believe that three factors impact the treatment of the elderly. 1) The amount of control the elderly have over significant property or inheritance, 2) The amount of literacy within a culture (less literate cultures value more the experience of the elder), and 3) The amount of technological change within a culture (more change leading to less regard of the elderly).
The negative stereotyping of aging women continues to be highly influential today with many women seeking their lost youth through plastic surgery, hair dye and other means. Those retired are thought to be “sent out to pasture” (whether retirement communities or assisted living centers) and are often treated as invisible, ugly, undesirable and weak. The very presence of the elderly make those younger uncomfortable, for like the Buddha, they suffer in the knowledge of their ultimate demise. An exploration of folktales can bring to light the underlying multicultural issues surrounding aging that may be carried along to current societies without reexamination.
It is my hope as a storyteller and depth coach that we can rediscover the wisdom in these tales and take them to heart. Why should increased literacy lead to less respect for the elder? Why should technological advances make us less concerned with the wisdom found within human experience? As George Santayana once said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." There is a way to see the elder that is prominent in many of these tales. It is the archetype of the Wise Woman. It is the motif of the helper and the hero. The Wise Woman is on the return phase of Joseph Campbell's hero's journey. It is the stage for becoming the Sage. It is the time for giving back and sharing the knowledge of the journey with others. When we discount this knowledge, when we forget about the elder's contribution to our world, we lose this insight, and we risk the safety of this world.
In my next blog post, we will begin the exploration of these folktales starting with one of my favorite stories, "Frau Holle" (as recorded by the Brothers Grimm).