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The Handless Maiden: Talk and Workshop

Talk: The Handless Maiden: what does a Fairy Tale say to Women and Men Today

“The most we can do is to dream the myth onwards and give it a modern dress. And whatever explanation or interpretation does to it, we do to our own souls as well, with corresponding results for our own psychic well-being” (C. G. Jung, CW 1977, volume 9, part i, §271).

My task is to give the tale the modern dress of contemporary philosophy and psychology, with an interpretation so clear so that every man and woman can recognise themselves.

Fairy tales reveal suppressive conventions.

In 2008, Marina Warner, researcher into fairy tales (Warner, 1996), writes in the cover notes of the movie, “La belle and la bête” (Cocteau, 1946), “Aristocratic French women (such as) Mme D’Aulnoy, Mme de Murat, and Villeneuve created a vogue for fairy tale in their salons in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries in Paris. They were reinventing the form as a vehicle to attack conventions of their day, especially those concerning their condition as women”.

I am using the Handless Maiden for this purpose. 

The narrative of fairy tales alert us to what is missing.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes (Estes, 1992) gives a detailed and lengthy analysis of “The Handless Maiden”; here are her reasons for using myth/fairytale:

"In this [story-telling] tradition a story is 'holy,' and it is used as medicine. The story is not told to lift you up, to make you feel better, or to entertain you, although all those things can be true. The story is meant to take the spirit into a descent to find something that is lost or missing and to bring it back to consciousness again" (Estes, Clarissa Pinkola. Women Who Run with the Wolves: Contacting the Power of the Wild Woman. Sydney: Random House, 1992.)

A woman's autonomy and individual subjectivity is what is missing, and needs to be brought back to consciousness.

Fairy tales reveal unconscious processes

Marie Louise Von Franz says:

“Fairy tales are the purest and simplest expression of collective unconscious psychic process. Therefore their value for the investigation of the unconscious exceeds that of all other material” (von Franz,

The Interpretation of Fairy Tales. Boston: Shambhala, 1996, p. 1).

Retreat into the forest, solitude and silence

"To retire to the forest would be to accept loneliness consciously, and not to try to make relationships with good will, for that is not the real thing … The virgin soil would be that part of the psyche where there was no impact of collective human activities, and to retire to that would be to retire not only from all animus opinions and views of life, but from any kind of impulse to do what life seems to demand of one. The forest would be the place of unconventional inner life" (Marie Louise von Franz, 1993, p. 97)

Why should we pay serious attention to fairy tales?

What the ancient Greeks called muthos was very different from what we nowadays call “myth”. For the Greeks a muthos was a true story, a story that unveils the true origin of the world and human beings.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes, speaks of her reasons for using narrative, including fairy tales:

“In this [story-telling] tradition a story is 'holy,' and it is used as medicine. The story is not told to lift you up, to make you feel better, or to entertain you, although all those things can be true. The story is meant to take the spirit into a descent to find something that is lost or missing and to bring it back to consciousness again.”

That which is being retrieved in the tale of the Handless Maiden is women’s spirituality and subjectivity, which has been lost in patriarchal culture.

The fairytale of the Handless Maiden is part of a collection gathered from peasants by the brothers Grimm in about 1812. Fairy tales, when looked at symbolically, guide us to understand the unconscious reasons for our collective and personal problems.

Although this Tale is essentially about the predicament of women, men are equally represented, and transformed. The feminine body, that of the Handless Maiden, is mutilated at the beginning of the narrative, and healed by the end. This suggests that the patriarchal assumptions which initially wounded her have been made conscious, and healed through the achieving of her subjectivity/individuation. This is done through different feminine modes of restoration - meditation, solitude, prayer, virginity.

The final achievement, as posed by the narrative, is a coniunctio, or marriage. This coniunctio can be read on various levels; within an individual psyche, between men and women, and as commentary on gender relations in our culture.

In addition to Jungian thinkers, I call upon the work of contemporary French philosopher Luce Irigaray. This creates a unique and very contemporary analysis, which goes to the heart of many of our most perplexing questions, especially as women. Both men and women are welcome to this talk. Attendance is essential for the women joining the workshop, as all the foundational concepts are covered in the talk.

The Workshop: The Handless Maiden Workshop of women: Healing through the Feminine

This is a story about the place of women in contemporary patriarchal culture. But haven’t women been liberated? Hasn’t this already been achieved? What else can be said about the feminine?

You will be surprised to discover what this fairy tale can reveal for your personal psychology, and autonomy.The role of maiden/young queen, virgin and angel are archetypes of the feminine with absolute relevance or us today, as initiators into a more conscious way of being ourselves as women. Are we a father’s daughter – the daughter of the patriarchy? Or a mother’s daughter, and if so, what do we mean by that? Are we virgins? What might it mean to be a virgin at 60? How would an angel guide us and what might we mean by ‘angel’?

With these feminine archetypes guiding us, we will explore the meaning of being without hands (or with silver hands) in our everyday lives. Our own personal feminine genealogy will provide some guideposts for this journey.There is time for fun – it is not all serious! This workshop is experiential and participatory. It is essential that you have read the fairy tale before the workshop, and have attended the talk on the same subject the night before, as this will give the background for our exploration.

The Grimm Fairy-Tale of the Handless Maiden

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