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.