A Radical Fairy Tale

This story is based in the ideas I wrote about in my last post ‘Breaking the Magic Spell’ . It is intended to demonstrate the radical power of narrative to empower healing by re-framing our challenges in a fairy tale format, where we are our own heroes. The illustrations are examples of the experiments I describe at the end of my last post. They are studies of how we might add to the power of telling our own fairy tale by creating a mandala-like image reflecting our story, to help us contemplate it as a regenerative cycle rather than as a linear, zero-sum game. This story is allegorical of some of my own experiences, and is here to characterize what this theory looks like in writing. It is not intended to judge or inflict harm on any individual. We are all composed of every character in our fairy tale narrative, each one a representation of internalized forces that have come to define us as we understand ourselves today.

“If participants are willing to draw/paint, they are asked to start with a bullseye pattern with 3 rings. In the center ring is the space to visually describe the physical place or setting where the story takes place, in the next ring outward is a visual representation of the characters involved and in the outer ring are images that indicate the transformation that takes place within the story. Again, intended to be used for reflection afterward.”

“If participants are willing to draw/paint, they are asked to start with a bullseye pattern with 3 rings. In the center ring is the space to visually describe the physical place or setting where the story takes place, in the next ring outward is a visual representation of the characters involved and in the outer ring are images that indicate the transformation that takes place within the story. Again, intended to be used for reflection afterward.”

Once in a time there was a red-headed girl who lived in a stone house that stood on a sacred place at the edge of the world. From a very young age, she could hear secrets whispered on the winds passing through the tree canopy, spoke with animals and sometimes called weather from the four directions if she allowed herself to dissolve into them just so. The moon visited her through the window, but sometimes frightened her, as he was so loud in the night when at his greatest aspect.

The girl and her red-headed sister were born to a good witch and a woodsman. In foolishness, they had unknowingly built their house from living limestone quarried from the cliffs at the edge of the world. In doing so, they had disturbed the spirits who had inhabited the land since the beginning of time. For this offence there must be atonement, agreed the spirits, and so they granted the woodsman seven years to raise his children before being struck down by a tree as he felled it to clear land for hunting.

The witch became inconsolable and turned herself inside out with grief. Where once she had smiled, now she scowled. Where once she had been a seeress, now she was blinded by rage. Where once she healed, now she cursed. If the witch couldn’t have him in life, she wouldn’t allow anyone to share him in death, so she cast a spell to cause the woodsman to be forgotten unless it was she who spoke of him. The woodsman’s name fell into disuse and his true likeness was concealed from the sisters.

Because of this, the girl fell ill within weeks and nearly died of a broken heart, but the spirits bade her return to the earth for death was not her Wyrd (fate). When she recovered from the illness, the girl bore a scar that ran the length of her left arm, leaving her in constant pain but also with intuitive gifts so that she could not be deceived and could find her way in the absence of light. The girl’s grandmother came to nurse her back to health, but was also stricken with illness, and she died from a curse within a few short years.

Finding themselves forgotten, in time the sisters became dirty and unkempt from neglect and so as to live, they were compelled to leave the stone house at the edge of the world to find sustenance in the wilderness. The girl did not know what to do, so she asked cliff-dwelling birds, her only friends. They told her where to go to find water, so the sisters climbed down the golden limestone cliffs at the edge of the world to find the river, who allowed them to drink, bathe and be healed in her waters.

Again, the girl did not know what to do, so she asked the frogs and fishes who lived along the shoreline. They told her where to go to find food, and the sisters swam across the river, where the prairie plants spoke to them of their nourishment and medicine. When the sisters tired, they fell asleep in the forest and their father’s spirit would charm horned and clawed beasts into bearing them home. In the girl’s dreams, the grandmother would weave cloth and fashion garments for them to wear when they awoke.

In such a manner, the girl and her sister grew by their own efforts, but so too did the witch’s temper, full of rage that they had thwarted her spell by continuing to hold their father’s memory in their hearts. After seven more years had passed, the witch resolved to travel to the nearest village to enchant another husband. She had grown weary of toiling alone in the stone house at the edge of the world, so she hid her bitterness behind her second face and disguised herself as a kindly maid.

In accordance with her plans, the witch soon found a suitor to fulfill her wishes. In exchange for his services, she promised him a child, and so it was that they were wed and a third sister was born from the witch’s belly. Once the baby arrived, however, the witch changed the man into an ox with all the size, grace and charm one would expect from such a beast. The witch loved to hate him, constantly berating him for his shortcomings, but the ox just snorted in response and chewed his cud. 

Now, the house was made of limestone quarried from the land at the edge of the world, and so the spirits of the land also lived within the stone house. They had spared the witch’s life out of pity for the girls, but there was still a reckoning to be had, for her magic darkened the skies and dulled the sacredness one only finds at the edge of the world. Because of the witch’s lust for power over others, the spirits grew hungry, as the stones had not been honored in their use. The limestone, once shining golden in the sunlight, began to reflect the darkness of her magic.

The house is the central location in the story, so it is at the center of both images (though they could be arranged differently, the decision was arbitrary). Roots grow inward as medicinal plants push upward, out of soil toward the limitless expanse of sky. The difficulty that arose from the place is sublimated through the toxins being pulled from below ground and released via the mechanism of growth, performing an alchemical process, turning loss into healing.

The house is the central location in the story, so it is at the center of both images (though they could be arranged differently, the decision was arbitrary). Roots grow inward as medicinal plants push upward, out of soil toward the limitless expanse of sky. The difficulty that arose from the place is sublimated through the toxins being pulled from below ground and released via the mechanism of growth, performing an alchemical process, turning loss into healing.

But babies have powers of their own, so the sisters hoped that the new life would bring lasting change to the witch’s unpredictable temper, and for seven years it was so. However, once she had become drunk with her own dark magic, the witch could not bear to relinquish her powers to restore a peaceful order within the home. As a result, anger thrived inside the household, feeding her demons all the more. The energy in the stone house became foul, rotting food and turning drink to ash in their mouths.

The sisters were separated and each enchanted to speak a different language, as the witch slowly poisoned them against each other to keep them in her thrall. One day, in despair, the girl called out for help from the spirits of the stones and they told her of the Shild (debt) that was owed by her family for disturbing them. They said that this bad Oorlog (karma) would be passed on to the sisters and to their offspring if it was not righted, and that she should seek the help of the Norns (fates), the weavers of destiny, to heal the wound.

With careful practice and help from the Norns - Urd, Verdandi and Skuld - she slowly began to see the edges of the shadow that her mother cast. She told the ox and her sisters of the shape of this shadow, but they could not perceive it clearly due to the witch’s enchantments, though they suffered by it greatly. The girl began testing her newfound magics, using powerful rituals, materials and words to poke holes in the shadow. Sometimes these experiments would fail, sometimes they almost killed her, but she was unwavering in her task.

The witch became aware of the girl’s growing powers and threw hexes to ensure that her control could not be challenged within the household. The girl was then cast out and banished from the stone house on the edge of the world. The witch spoke ill of the girl to the villagers, saying that she was dangerous and not to be trusted. So she was made to leave the village as well, as she was not safe where these rumors had been seeded. This saddened her, as the girl knew no other home but the land at the edge of the world, but she resolved to venture outside of the shadow cast by the witch.

And so the girl wandered in the wilderness for a decade, following the sun and stars, guided by her father’s spirit and the spirit of her grandmother. She made friends with fire, burning herself at first, but in time learning to use it to keep warm in the freezing winters. She met many travelers on her journey and gained the ability to shapeshift into whatever was required to survive. She swallowed poisons to visit the underworld - which caused her to fly apart into pieces - and then pulled herself back together again into new shapes. She did this over and over again until it became a way of being.

She fell asleep in a fairy ring and was lost outside of time. While in the realm of the fey the girl lived out an entire lifetime, marrying a lion tamer in a great three-ringed circus tent where she performed as an aerialist. While many who journey there are never seen nor heard from again, she was fortunate to be guided back to earth with help from a fairy god mother. When she returned to this world, the girl was surprised to find that she knew things backward and inside-out, and that this was her secret power. 

One day, after she had wandered for years and years, the girl was struck by lightning and awoke suddenly to find herself at home, but not the stone house at the edge of the world. This was a strange new home that stood on chicken legs, above the water in a city of lakes. She had lived in the house for seven years but was unaware of it until just then, surely an aftereffect of having visited the fey. The girl found that she was part of a new family, with three children of her own – one a changeling brought by the fairies to help guide her weaving work.

The girl was no longer a girl, she was a witch, but not as the old witch had been. When she discovered her own truth and spoke it aloud for the first time, the magic spell was broken and all who had been bound by it were freed to speak their truths and see themselves outside of the shadow. The new witch had learned through her ordeals how to use her powers to heal rather than hurt. The depth and breadth of her knowing ensured that the bad Oorlog (dharma) would not be passed on to her own children - or her children’s children - but would stop with the crone, who was still haunted by spirits trapped inside her limestone house.

The new witch learned to weave her own Wyrd (destiny), clothing her family and loved ones in splendid garments created from the fabric of new stories. She went on to share her magics with the world, in co-creation of a brighter future that emerges more clearly from the shadows each day. Even as those shadows continue to grasp at our edges, they cannot have power over us if we choose to cast them out of our circle of protection.