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