A friend told me that many years ago she had convened a womens’ storytelling circle to discuss Clarissa Pinkola Estés’s famous book, Women Who Run With the Wolves. When they got to the tale of The Handless Maiden they thought they might spend a few weeks on it. Two years later, they finally exhausted all they wanted to say about it.
I want to see if it’s possible, here, to paraphrase some of the stories Dr Estés features and build a storytelling circle of another kind.
I finished the book a few weeks ago, and of all the stories, my mind jagged on The Little Match Girl. I assume different stories will leap out at different women. For me, it was this harrowing tale many will have heard before. Following is my paraphrase of Dr Estés’s version which was told to her by her Aunt Katerina, a woman who migrated to the US after World War 2. She says of her aunt:
During the war, her simple Hungarian farming village had been overrun and occupied three times by three different hostile armies. She always began the tale by saying that soft dreams under hard conditions are no good, that in tough times we must have tough dreams, real dreams …
Following the story are some pointers to Dr Estés’s analysis, which I may include in another post. Her analyses are profound, insightful, but bear in mind that anyone’s response is equally valid.
Once upon a time, there lived a little girl who had neither mother nor father, and she lived in a dark forest. She learned she could buy matches for a half-penny in the village near the forest, and sell them on the street for a full penny. If she sold enough matches, she could buy a crust of bread, return to her hut in the forest and sleep in all the clothes she owned.
Winter came and she was very cold. She had no shoes and her coat was so thin she could see through it. She wandered the streets and begged strangers, would they please buy matches from her? But no one stopped and no one paid her any attention.
One evening, she told herself, “I have matches. I can light a fire and warm myself.” She had no kindling or wood, but she decided to light the matches anyway.
As she struck the first match, it seemed the cold and snow disappeared and in its place was a beautiful room with a great dark green stove. She snuggled up close to the warmth of the stove and it felt heavenly.
Suddenly, the stove went out and she was again sitting in the snow shivering. She struck a second match and, this time, she saw a room with a table and on the table was a goose that had just been cooked. As she reached for the food, the vision disappeared and again she was back sitting in the snow.
She struck a third match and by its light saw a beautiful Christmas tree with thousands of little lights. As she looked up the trunk of this enormous tree, it stretched higher and higher until it reached the heavens, and suddenly a star blazed across the sky, and she remembered her mother had told her that when a soul dies, a star falls.
And out of nowhere her grandmother appeared, so warm and kind, and the child felt happy to see her. The grandmother picked her up and held her close with both arms, and the child was content.
But the grandmother began to fade. And the child struck more and more matches to keep the grandmother with her … and more and more matches to keep the grandmother with her … and more and more … and together she and the grandmother began to rise together up into the sky where there was no cold and no hunger and no pain. And in the morning, between the houses, the child was found still, and gone.
Dr Estés discusses the story from points including these:
- fantasy as the great anaesthetiser of women
- the pursuit or non-pursuit of warmth
- the loss of intention, being frozen
- finding nurture
- the difference between comfort and nurture
- the giving of light for little price
- the instinct-injured woman
- the final morphia.
What do you think of the story? Does it speak to you? Does it ravage you as it does me?
Image: Silje Kristin