Monday with the Wolves: The Three Gold Hairs

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Once upon a time, on a dark night, a lone old man staggered through the forest. Though boughs scratched his face, half-blinding his eyes, he held out a tiny lantern before him.

The old man was a sight to behold with his long yellow hair, cracked yellow teeth and curved amber fingernails. His back was rounded like a bag of flour, and so ancient was he that his skin hung in furbelows from chin, arms and hips.

The old man progressed through the forest by grasping a sapling and pulling his body forward, grasping another sapling and pulling his body forward, and with this rowing motion and by the small breath left in him, made his way through the forest.

Just then, in the distance, he saw a tiny flickering light, a cottage, a fire, a home, a place of rest and he laboured toward the light. As he reached the door, he was so tired the tiny light in his lantern died, and the old man fell through the door and collapsed.

Inside was an old woman sitting before a beautiful roaring fire, and now she hurried to his side, gathered him into her arms and carried him to the fire. She held him in her arms as a mother holds her child. She sat and rocked him in her rocking chair. There they were, the poor frail old man, just a sack of bones, and the strong old woman rocking him back and forth saying,

There, there. There, there.

And she rocked him all through the night, and by the time it was almost morning, he had grown much younger. He was now a beautiful young man with golden hair and long strong limbs. And still she rocked him, “There, there. There, there”.

And as morning got still closer, the young man had turned into a very small and very beautiful child with golden hair plaited like wheat.

Just at the moment of dawn, the old woman plucked three hairs very quickly from the child’s beautiful head and threw them to the tiles. Tiiiiiiiiiiiing! Tiiiiiiiiiiiing! Tiiiiiiiiiiing! they sounded.

And the little child in her arms crawled down from her lap and ran to the door. Looking back at the old woman for a moment, he gave her a dazzling smile, then turned and flew up into the sky to become the brilliant morning sun.

*

There are many stories that revolve around the leitmotif of golden hair, Clarissa Pinkola Estés says in her mighty book, Women Who Run With the Wolves. The kernel of this story was given her by her aunt Kata, “a gifted healer and powerful prayer-maker” who “endured a Russian labour camp for four years in the 1940s”. The theme of the story is about regaining one’s focus after losing it.

She analyses the story from the following angles:

    • night in fairytales as the realm of the unconscious, the “dark night of the soul”
    • what not to do when we’ve lost focus
    • the natural cycle of ebb and flow of idea, effort, endeavour
    • fatigue and near-extinguishment as a normal part of the cycle
    • to be held before the fire of the La Que Sabe, the two-million-year-old woman; the restorative, reparative force
    • wild woman’s expectation that the animus will wear out on a regular basis; she is not shocked that he falls through her door
    • hair as symbolic of thought
    • throwing away some of the idea to renew and strengthen it
    • getting right back to the bones, the jugular, of everything and anything in one’s life; there is where a woman’s Eden lies.

What do you think of this tale? Does it speak to you? Remember, the characters in these tales represent different aspects of the psyche. Also remember that while the tales feature commonly agreed-upon themes and motifs, each person’s interpretation is as valid as the next person’s.

*

Image: Ballroom by US artist, Patrick Dougherty. The structure, built of sticks, is located at Federation Square, Melbourne, Australia.

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14 thoughts on “Monday with the Wolves: The Three Gold Hairs

  1. What a wonderful analogy.

    I can appreciate the story liking the old man carrying the burdens of the world on his shoulders and it weathering & aging him, while every step forward becomes an effort. Then to have someone to unpack these burdens with, who will show love, compassion and acceptance can remove these burdens and make one so much younger again.

    Personally I have been both the old man and the old woman and appreciate the opportunity to be both.

    The day and night represent time. It is not a quick transition and is not without its dark hours, but the sun does rise and everything is fresh and new again.

    Lovely.

    Thanks for sharing. X

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    • Ah yes, the bloody everlasting guilt. Stand back, Jann, you’ve hit a nerve!

      I am so tired of myself and many many other women indulging ourselves in guilt. Indulging? Yes, indulging! It’s another version of the martyr and is inauthentic.

      How are we to reclaim our wild, wise womanliness if we go round indulging in guilt?

      CPE says when we’ve lost focus, “Rushing is not the thing to do … sitting and rocking is the thing to do. Patience, peace and rocking renew ideas.Just holding the idea and the patience to rock it are what some women might call a luxury. Wild Woman says it is a necessity.”

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  2. I’ve thought so long as a sociologist, I can’t seem to think about the “psyche.” What struck me about this tale was how there are Biblical stories of the Samson and how his strength was in his hair. A woman took his hair, thus his strength. Why did this woman, who brought this old man renewal, take his hair? Was his hair the secret to his life force? Was that her compensation for giving him flight from decrepitude?

    The other thing that strikes me here is the old woman as having this unusual power of life. Patriarchal societies have tried to subjugate women due to their fear of the power women have over life. This is a story of giving life in reverse (reversing old age). I’ve never heard a tale like that. But it still makes this woman a little scary. She can’t just nurture him through the night, She has to pull those hairs out. She has to inflict some kind of pain before she releases him. Men fear women’s powers.

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    • I value your sociological reading of the story because you say out loud the fears and stereotypes we women live every day.

      I agree we’ve been conditioned to feel unease at the sight of a woman wielding power, and in the story the power is exaggerated, supernatural, so our unease will be greater. We’ve also been conditioned to see the woman’s power as somewhat monstrous or damaging – pulling the hairs. You sum up the fear perfectly.

      On the psychological reading CPE gives the old man is a woman’s animus – something like her ability to make change in the world – and the animus goes through natural cycles of increase and decrease all the time. If a woman is embarked on a big endeavour, eg, “concluding a manuscript, fulfilling one’s opus, caregiving an ill person,” there will be times “when the once-young energy turns old, falls down and can go on no longer.”

      The three hairs is the really interesting bit. On her reading, it’s like pruning a plant or deadheading roses. Throwing away some of the idea is a way to restore it and renew it, to make it stronger, clearer, once again.

      She says that in her family there is a saying: “Throw some gold on the floor”. This is derived she says from “desprender las palabras, which in the tradition of cuentistas, storytellers and healers in my family, means to throw away some of the words of the story in order to make it stronger.”

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  3. Yes of course I like it and and sufficiently, with her 9 analytical points, to provoke ones imagination that can but inspire the release of much writing in the milieu that gives me life, that of poetry. By the way, might this ‘Monday with the wolves’ blog of yours have by coincidental chance, inspired your last comment on Mirror, Mirror ~ on the wall, of mine ?

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  4. The “Ballroom” image is stunning.

    I was struck by the image of the old man in his weariness, pulling himself along by taking hold of one sapling after another. In the early nineties, I took on the management of a systems development project. It went on for a long time and I was away from home and from all that nourished me. Towards the end, I was just like that old man. I was so depleted I could hardly think or act. I was just fighting fires all the time. When I returned home, it was all I could do to eat and sleep and put one foot in front of the other. Eventually, I found other ways of being, other outlets for my energy and creativity. In Bob Dylan’s song, “Love Minus Zero/No Limit”, is a line: “there’s no success like failure and. . . failure’s no success at all”. Sometimes, you just have to let it go.

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    • I can relate to your fighting fires in systems development. Pointless stuff!

      And many organisations have it that their staff being at dropping point is proof they’re “good” leaders/managers, when what it really means is that the staff are at the furthest remove from their finest contribution, their best creativity, their most telling productivity.

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  5. –the removing of the three strands of hair reminds me of pruning a plant. Once all of the dead leaves are removed, it thrives, blooms, & is better. Without dong this, it will die and never come back…

    I so much appreciate your deepness. This makes me think on a deeper level, too. Xxxxx

    Like

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