The Old Queen

There was once upon a time an old Queen whose husband had been dead for many years, and she had a beautiful daughter. When the Princess grew up she was betrothed to a Prince who lived at a great distance. When the time came for her to be married, and she had to journey forth into the distant kingdom, the aged Queen packed up for her many costly vessels of silver and gold, and trinkets also of gold and silver, and cups and jewels; in short, everything which appertained to a royal dowry, for she loved her child with all her heart.

She likewise sent her maid in waiting, who was to ride with her, and hand her over to the bridegroom, and each had a horse for the journey, but the horse of the King’s daughter was called Falada, and could speak. So when the hour of parting had come, the aged mother went into her bed-room, took a small knife and cut her finger with it until it bled, then she held a white handkerchief to it into which she let three drops of blood fall, gave it to her daughter and said, “Dear child, preserve this carefully; it will be of service to you on your way.”

Thus begins the Grimm’s fairy tale, “The Goose Girl.” For illustration of how beloved children leave home in worthy ways, it’s a worthy tale. We have here an old Queen, the Queen Mother fulfilling the crone archetype. A mother who, presumably, left well herself and became queen; it almost goes without saying that the princess is better equipped by having in her mother the wise old woman archetype.

So, just as in the monomyth or great Quest literature in which the Hero sets out from his home village with his trusty steed or a knapsack thrown over his shoulder, so too must we each start from somewhere. We set out confidently, carrying our parents’ gifts and talismans with us, or we rush out helter-skelter, doing what we must to simply get away. Some are pushed out and some are kicked out. The manner in which we leave or are forced to leave is itself like a golden key that can unlock the mysteries of what inheritance was lost. In part, we can begin to see from the way we had to leave, just exactly what’s missing and will need to be reclaimed if we are to grow up and claim the crown.

This old Queen is the epitome of the wise old woman. Wise old women become so after about 50 years of conscious, deliberate living, seldom less but possibly more. Fifty years is just about right for brewing a beginning wise woman. There are so many archetypal, mythical, magical ways in which women can become wise by around age 50 that it astounds me that we know and are taught so little about it in this culture of Botox. For one thing, there is a biological basis for large changes around age 50, for more women enter menopause at age 51 than at any other age. For another, between age 50 and 51 or so, every woman (and every person, in fact) experiences the astrological archetypal pattern of a Chiron return. Chiron, the planet symbolized by the mythical centaur, the wounded healer, returns to rest in the place of a person’s nativity after she has lived 50 years, signifying that one has had every opportunity for healing one’s childhood wounds. The 50th year is a year of opportunity for great freedom, something the ancient Hebrews knew and had written into their priestly laws, for in Leviticus 25: 8-12 we read:

You are also to count off seven sabbaths of years for yourself, seven times seven years, so that you have the time of the seven sabbaths of years, namely, forty-nine years. You shall then sound a ram’s horn abroad on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the day of atonement you shall sound a horn all through your land. You shall thus consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim a release through the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, and each of you shall return to his own property, and each of you shall return to his family. You shall have the fiftieth year as a jubilee; you shall not sow, nor reap its aftergrowth, nor gather in from its untrimmed vines. For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you. You shall eat its crops out of the field.

The best is yet to come, if a person has benefitted from living his or her first 50 years. If a person has his or her eyes open even a titch.

So the first story we tell is the one about the person or persons we left: our parents. Were they an old King and an old Queen, sending us on our ways with talismans and magical talking horses and a handmaid for good measure? Trunks packed and overflowing with royal gifts and inheritances? Or were they poor but wise peasants, whose only parting gift was a blessing that sustained us on our journeys into the unknown?

Did we even have parents who were awake or able to give us anything? Were they parents who helped us pack our things or who threw them onto the porch after us? Did they take us to college in the family vehicle and tearfully kiss us goodbye, as sentimental as Kodak moment parents, or did they act out the parting with all the right words and deeds but fail to give us what we really needed for our journeys?

What is the effect of leaving poorly or too soon, or too late, or not at all? What holes and gaps in our characters did we have that we are passing on to our children, if any? What can be changed or transformed and even healed, and what is the permanent wound that has us limping forever like Jacob? Like Chiron?

Recommended Reading

The Goose Girl.” Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1993.

Related Third Eve articles:

  1. Come Forth!
  2. Stop and Listen
  3. Leaving Home

14 responses

  1. I’ve watched “Heroes”, I really like it for the same reasons – I’m waiting for the next series to start here!

    Yes, the “God” thing. It has tormented me all of my life, finding my way with it. I believe what you are saying about our Godless society is true. I have looked for God in nature because I can’t come at a literal male God as figurehead, which has driven me to the Jungian approach – and now your broader approach. Lately I have been calling God the Silent Source, but only silent in the way of peace. I hear this source a lot in nature, and around me – well, within, I suppose. I sense it.

    My rejection of religion ties into dogmatic people and fundamentalism, and I haven’t been able to remove that prejudice. But I do believe in prayer, and I talk a lot to Him (/Her – see, some of the early religious studies stuck! ūüėČ I just don’t k now what other name to use, really). I do feel that when spirituality is honoured in heart-felt rites, it is powerful. I never forgot your writing of your experiences in church ages ago, they were so powerful to read.

    So, I too think that the absence of a compassionate God in many private lives today is not so good. I think it somehow ties in with the whole purpose of why we are even here on Earth – without a greater sense of Beingness (in whatever way), humans tend to flail and are very lonely.

    The grounded advice? Well, I think it would have been, in a way, the grown up me now going back to visit me at 20 or so (a la Richard Bach) and explaining a few basic things, as I would now advise a beloved daughter! The New Age stuff was very intellectually based, and cost a lot! Yes, there were basic truths there too, but so idealised. I’m now thinking I wish my mum had been a bit more able to give relating advice, as in with relationships, in a calm way (!) – but how could she, with her history?

  2. The bickering made a profound impact on me. First there was the blaming. Me, blaming myself because I truly thought it was me. The odd thing was that they would argue with one another, but with us kids my mom often retreated into silences when she was angry. So there was very little modeling of healthy conflict resolution.

    Needless to say when my rather volatile wife moved in with me I needed to learn that! Our first year together was rather rocky. I still like to talk, she is loud. LOL But she will talk, I will let her be loud when she needs to. It is important to me never to go to bed angry, with either my wife or my kids. Things seem worse in the night if they haven’t been addressed, much as a physical pain hurts more when you lie in bed and all is still.

    It was interesting that you said your parents didn’t fight in front of you and how you had to learn conflict resolution skills. We do disagree in front of the kids, but I too have always refused to really argue much in front of them. Your comment though is making me re-think that. If a disagreement is being handled in a respectful manner, should they know about it? I have always just wanted the safety net of childhood, that misty part never to be compromised. (especially for my kids who have come as broken vessels all ready in need of healing.)

  3. Irene, Irene. I’m sitting here on the other side of the world with tears in my eyes. So many things you said in your most recent comment are so profound and wise. It’s the trust, and the parts about seeing that others are learning too (compassion, eh?), and the “you were never good enough” and the floundering that follows… all that combined makes me feel teary.

    I agree that the “you were never good enough” part being laid at your father’s feet forever and ever is not… functional. It works until we see that it doesn’t work any more as a cause and effect and then blame; we must move on, and so we do (or we try to).

    I suspect that the “not enough” bit is common to most if not all people, and that most (if not all) feel it regularly. Some more than others, sure, but it must be common. Give a person the right situation and he or she is reminded that I am not God. :o) No one is so vast. But we think (unconsciously) that we are so many times.

    I’ve been watching the first season of the series, “Heroes” and it’s very good. One of the main characters is a Japanese guy named Hiro, and he has a lot of insight into human nature based on his reading of comic books (with their epic story lines and mythic themes). In the episode I watched last night, one of the characters was commenting on just how small we really are, we humans. I was also reminded of this over the weekend when seeing the new Nicolas Cage movie, “Knowing.” During the credits at the beginning of the film, one sees earth from a satellite view at night, and it’s quite beautiful and sobering to see us from that perspective.

    Anyway, yes. Not enough, not good enough. It’s actually true. It was not being good enough that awakened my spirit inside and sent me on my journey of faith. And I do mean that in the truest sense, not in the overbearing thump-them-on-the-head-with-a-Bible sense.

    What I wonder is what the “good grounded advice” would have been, “rather than the New Age” stuff? I have been reading and thus thinking about what the absence of God in our modern culture actually does to us, what it means to us as modern people, and what we are forced to turn to instead of God. Self, I suspect; but I am not completely sure about that. Perhaps the political system as god or the government as god or movements and causes as god; emotion as god, self-satisfaction as god, one’s children as gods… I’m not sure what people are doing with that. But I’ve been wondering.

  4. Scott, I’ve noticed a pattern among many friends who similarly moved away from family (and with good reason) only to later find that they wished that they hadn’t, and seek to be closer emotionally and even physically. I also notice that aging parents tend to move closer to their children when they are in their mid-70s to early 80s or so. It seems to be a sort of a full-circle thing for westerners, running off and then coming closer together later.

    Other cultures and peoples tend to stay closer throughout the lifespan. I think from time to time that we of European descent have it all wrong, and that this ‘wrongness’ descends from our colonial collective past.

    When we move away, or when we have emotionally distant family members nearby, we’re forced to create families anyway. This seems to work for people in their 20s and 30s, but eventually it’s a rare friend indeed who remains a friend for a lifetime. Conflict and change occur in friendships as in marriages and only the most stout of heart seem able to endure. But that’s a different story altogether.

    My main point in commenting to your comment, Scott, is what you wrote about your changed perspective as a parent. And how family members (for better or worse) are different from even the closest friends.

    Having read about your year in Italy on your blog, I know that it was a life-changing experience for you. What do you say to young people who get the chance to live far away from family during their early 20s or so? Do you recommend it?

  5. Scribbler, thank you for your comment! I can completely see the death/transformation card being played when we turn 50. Several of my friends have told me that the 50-51 transition year was the hardest they remembered in their adult lives. I thought it might just be the psychological impact of the “big five-oh,” but as I’ve learned about the symbolism involved I’ve begun to think that our human destiny includes being transformed at 50.

    Or, being crushed and deaded by it spiritually.

  6. Lee, I love your story. It made me smile that you commented in story form!

    I grew up with parents who didn’t fight in front of the children. I actually don’t know when or if they fought much otherwise. They have always been very much in love.

    Since leaving home I’ve observed a few things. First, that I had to learn conflict resolution skills in adulthood, and was surprised to find that I had conflicts with my husband (unlike my parents in their marriage); and second, that all of the people I know who grew up with parents who fought a lot were very much affected by it. They all wanted to stop the fighting, and they all thought there was something they could do about it.

    This reminds me that children of divorce also think that the divorce was their fault. It seems that children need their parents to carry the Royal Couple archetype, and when they don’t, childhood’s misty-eyed view is compromised.

    How do you think your bickering parents affected you?

  7. Eve, I would say she is learning, and doing so in her own time, in her own way. That it may not be exactly what she wishes for, but she should trust that it all will go the way it needs to. I would advise her to try and learn well from her mistakes. And to trust and act on what her heart tells her.

    I think maturity is the ability to see with a bit of distance, that not everything is about ‘me’.

    In my late teens and twenties, I felt lost, and uncertain of everything, definitely very down on myself, my ‘difference’. I was particularly emotionally underdeveloped in some ways, and more mature in others. I may have even been quite depressed, I think. I just wish I had had some good grounded advice at the time, rather than the “New Age” stuff I was finding. But then, who’s to say I would have listened? I now think I cowered a bit too much, even though at the time, I thought I was being very brave. On some levels, perhaps I was brave. So maybe the me now is being too harsh. But I blame that timidity as having had longterm effects on all the choices I’ve made, particularly in my career.

    Could I have done any better? (don’t be so harsh on yourself, I would tell my girl, lives generally don’t unfold the way we want them to – your time will come, just stay true..) I don’t know – I doubt it. This lesson, I think, was one in learning about being an emotional being, and how to contain that without suppressing it, how to find the wisdom beneath the emotions (emotions are a big negative in my family). And learning how to see others, who are learning too (or not), and thereby understanding where they may be coming from, preventing me from responding reactively to them. This is particularly pertinent to my relationship with my parents.

    Whilst writing this, I can hear my internal voice quietly saying “you were never good enough”. I had this in my head, screaming at me back then, and I’m still judging myself this way now. It does echo my father’s judgment of me, but that’s not the point anymore, is it? Yes, he was mistaken, and now, as an adult, I am responsible for starving this voice off. My advice here to my daughter? Well, here I flounder. Your advice, to re-frame, does seem to be a good place to start. Thanks for your thoughts.

  8. Heni, your ending made me smile. (“It wasn’t.”) It’s so nice when life turns out to not be as difficult as we imagined it might be. :o)

  9. Irene, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that everyone has a place in them where they’re afraid of taking “full responsibility” for themselves. Though I am beyond grown up now (hah!) I still think, from time to time, “Oh my, I’m a grownup now!”

    I wonder, too, about you saying you were immature. I’ve thought about that regularly from a parental perspective, as I have two daughters who seem, to me, to be “immature” for their ages and alway have. They are each very different from the other, but they do not fit in with their peers. One is awkward and one is not; but both clearly stick out in groups of their peers. There is nothing I have ever been able to do to change that, and I’ve been mulling over the idea of how it may be a disservice to them for me to think of them only in terms of “immaturity” rather than to do what therapists suggest, which is to “re-frame” the situation or their personhood. Take the art out of the “immature” frame and put it in a different frame.

    Maybe the different frame will be called “true to herself.” Maybe its style will be “creative” or “walks to the beat of her own drum.” I’m not sure it has to be “immature,” for what is maturity?

    I know that, though I haven’t considered myself immature, I have been told long ago that I led a sheltered life. However, I am still leading a mentally sheltered life for I’m optimistic in strange ways, and very dark in other strange ways and seem to have a perspective that just doesn’t ‘fit in’ and never has. While these traits have been called many things, most of which were never positive, in adulthood as I’ve come to love and respect myself, I’ve learned that there are many good words for these traits. They have dark sides, too, and handicaps; but they all work together for a good that is “Eve.”

    So just as a lengthy aside, I wonder what you would say about your immaturity if you tried it in a different frame? Maybe whoever taught you to disrespect that part of yourself was mistaken. What would you say of this same trait in a beloved daughter, I wonder?

  10. Leaving wasn’t a problem for me; I went to college in my home town (to keep my part time job), but got so into college life that my mom had to beg me to stop by more often. When I first left it was to Italy for a year and since then it’s distance that has been the issue. I’ve settled about 2000 miles from my family and see them rarely. My wife’s family is even farther away, in northern Russia, the Komi Republic. There is an isolation in not having real family around — you can lean on family in a way you can’t lean on friends when you need help. That gives some freedom too, fewer ask anything from us because we’re so far away. Before having kids, the trade off seemed in my favor. Now I realize that was short term selfish thinking and am trying to at least renew connections, even if the nature of time-space is not going to alter the distances.

  11. It’s amazing how everyone feels compelled to tell their own home-leaving story.

    My mother remarried and went back to Germany when I was seventeen, and my father kicked me out of the house when I turned eighteen.

    All I can say is that, however much I screwed up after that, they were all my own mistakes, and grew up in lots of ways very fast.

    And I just turned 50 a week ago. I definitely feel like I started a new life after going through seven cycles of seven years.

    Interestingly enough, in Hebrew the letter nun is also the number 50. In the esoteric kabbalah, nun is the death card. Death represents total transition and transformation.

  12. And there lived in a country a queen and her king and their two beautiful daughters. But the royal family was torn with strife. The eldest daughter consulted a seer who bade her journey forth, that the family might yet be healed and happy. And so, with equal parts excitement and fear, she made her farewells to her parents, gathered her possessions. Her parents helped her pack for they truly loved her. They made sure there was room for all her treasured belongings, and even her most beloved of companions, the Royal Cat. But they seemed not just happy that she was leaving, but . . . relieved. So she smiled sadly and her carriage set off.

    Well, pretty much like that, except that I drove off in a bright yellow AMC Javelin and truly thought my leaving would make my parents stop fighting.

  13. I delayed really leaving home in many ways for many years. When I went to college, I chose a school about 80 miles from home (close enough to easily come home on weekends). I chose a high school friend for a roommate (no surprises). When I graduated, I moved in with my future husband, about 10 miles from my hometown (no surprises). My dad got me my first full-time job at his company (no need to go out into the big, bad world just yet).

    So when my husband said he had a job offer 350 miles away less than a year after we married, I froze. But then I realized it was time. I was with a person I trusted, I was still within my home state, and it just wasn’t going to be that scary, dammit.

    It wasn’t.

  14. I have been greatly captivated by the use of fairy tales in individuation, and took a while to read some books on the topic by Marie-Louise von Franz, whose accessible writing had me really engrossed. I’m sure I will have to reread them many times for it to really sink in. The story of the Goose-Girl is a wonderful example, and I particularly liked the part about the horse head, how the princess still had some ‘gold’ to unwittingly create a situation which would bring about the discovery and recognition of her true value. At the moment, this speaks volumes to me.

    On leaving home, well, I’ve been thinking on it overnight, and I feel like it happened in another life. I moved away to study (my home was then an hour away from Melbourne, and I didn’t yet have a driving license), but was placed in the care of my older half sister who lived in a flat near the city, sharing with another couple. I was also in my first relationship. In some ways I was glad to get away from the toxic environment that lay between my parents, and between my dad and I. But the ties to family were not severed at all, and I was always a very immature young person. I wish now, in my forties, that I had been more courageous. I have always been tied into my father’s money, and my mother’s need of my friendship – I felt that particularly strongly, and still do, especially as she is getting old now, and has no friends in her life. You see, she has always been my one emotional support as an artist, always pushing me on and believing in me. It has been a balancing act of them making my life an awful lot easier, but also being very tied in to them. It all makes me very sad now. And very appreciative. And at times, very angry too. I suppose you’d call that ‘very confused’..

    The effect of all this has mostly lead to a very sheltered life, but not without some blessings. I am still fearful of taking complete responsibility for certain aspects in my life (taking the easy way out), but lately I’ve been sensing that the grass looks awfully green out there.

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