The Battle of the Birds
A Jungian interpretation.
There was once a time when every creature and bird was gathering to battle. The son of the king of Tethertown said that he would go to see the battle and that he would bring sure word home to his father the king, who would be king of the creatures this year. The battle was over before he arrived all but one fight, a great black raven and a snake, and it seemed as if the snake would get the victory over the raven. When the king’s son saw this, he helped the raven and with one blow takes the head off the snake.
This tale begins with an odd title, The battle of the birds, which the text immediately contradicts: all creatures were fighting, not just birds. A bird is like an idea because it sees far, moves fast and can go anywhere. A battle between birds suggests a battle of ideas or beliefs. The battle was not a skirmish but a momentous encounter, which suggests a conflict over fundamental beliefs. The ‘great black raven’ suggests Odin whose closest associates were two ravens.
Common Raven (Corvus Corax): Saffey Sound, Seward Peninsula, Alaska, Glen Tepke, 2007.
Since this tale seems pagan but was written in the Christian era, the battle might be between pagan and Christian beliefs. Jung and von Franz both showed that european fairy tales preserve pagan spiritual wisdom which has been suppressed by Christianity.
Bird (Christ) killing serpent (Satan).
Original version Beatus Apocalypse (Book of Revelation) by Beato of Liébana, 8th century.
Image from Rylands Beatus, 12th century, John Rylands Library, University of Manchester
Eddinger has shown, in his book Ego and Archetype, that the myth of Christ represents the psychological transformation which Jung called Individuation. When the bird (Christ) kills the serpent (Satan or the unconscious), this is an image of the hero’s journey: Christ is a dragon-conquering hero. The hero is the archetypal potential for consciousness. The Crucifixion represents the sacrifice (psychological suffering) required if consciousness is to be realized in human, mortal life.
The battle for consciousness is universal and therefor represented in all systems of mythology. By implication, it is represented here as the battle between Christianity and paganism, but this is Christian special pleading which projects ignorance onto pagan myth. Then the story procedes as a pagan fairy tale told in Christian times.
The King is the ruling force in consciousness, the current conscious view, and his son represents the potential for that view to be renewed, presumably by the events related in this story. Thus we have to consider not only a transformation in the animus from pagan to Christian forms, but also the evolution of consciousness from King to prince. The animus is an archetypal potential in the collective unconscious, while consciousness represents the development of an individual in relationship to the collective unconscious. Thus animus and consciousness are related to each other, but one is an archetypal possibility, the other an incarnated human manifestation. Consciousness includes all human feeling while the animus is just spirit or potential.
Animals suggest archetypal principles because they embody a variety of forms with unique qualities and are ancient, vigorous and true to themselves. Since all creatures were battling, fundamental oppositions were being worked out, a process which is central to psychological development. What are the opposites, how do they conflict, and what might emerge?
In particular the snake and the raven battled. Both are phallic, one suggesting the body phallus, the other the head phallus.
There is a parallel in a Polynesian legend:
Hina had to cut off the head of her eel-lover: she buried his head and from it grew a palm tree, source of the raw materials for the technology of her island culture.
Hina sacrificed bodily pleasure to transform her animus into technological/spiritual knowledge. Something similar is happening at the beginning of our Scottish story.
We will see that the animus/raven accompanies the prince and helps him on his journey, thus demonstrating that the animus can further consciousness.
Strictly speaking, since they are archetypes, neither the animus nor the hero themselves evolve as a species evolves or a personality evolves. An archetype is an eternal principle. What evolves is our relationship to the archetype, our way of making its qualities manifest.
The prince’s father will be ‘king of the creatures this year’ meaning that he is a year king (sacrificed annually) who is responsible for all the archetypes. Who will be king of the creatures next year? It is implied that the prince will succeed his father. This is a repetition, another image suggesting the transformation of a masculine figure.
In medieval europe the king ruled on God’s behalf. He was the earthly representative of an overarching sky god, like Zeus or Odin or Jahweh, which integrated all other archetypes. Jung called this overarching principle the Self. The king is a human manifestation which needs periodically to be renewed while an archetype is eternal and omnipresent.
When the raven had taken breath, and saw that the snake was dead, he said, ‘For thy kindness to me this day, I will give thee a sight. Come up now on the root of my two wings.’ The king’s son mounted upon the raven, and, before he stopped, he took him over seven Bens, and seven Glens, and seven Mountain Moors.
The raven lifted the prince high and showed him the breadth of the kingdom. This emphasizes the far-sighted, spiritual aspect of the animus/raven.
‘Now,’ said the raven, ‘seest thou that house yonder? Go now to it. It is a sister of mine that makes her dwelling in it; and I will go bail that thou art welcome. And if she asks thee, Wert thou at the battle of the birds? say thou that thou wert. And if she asks, Didst thou see my likeness? say that thou sawest it. But be sure that thou meetest me tomorrow morning here, in this place.’ The king’s son got good and right good treatment this night. Meat of each meat, drink of each drink, warm water to his feet, and a soft bed for his limbs.
On the next day the raven gave him the same sight over seven Bens, and seven Glens, and seven Mountain moors. They saw a bothy far off, but, though far off, they were soon there. He got good treatment this night, as before – plenty of meat and drink, and warm water to his feet, and a soft bed to his limbs – and on the next day it was the same thing.
Why did the raven have sisters which provide for the prince’s bodily well-being? This is not a split-off, disembodied, head experience (a common theme in fairy tales is that a woman falls in love with a talking head that has no body) but unconscious support for the whole being. The raven’s sisters hint that the animus is ultimately a representative of the Self. Each archetype has its own particular qualities and, at the same time, originates from and represents the Self.
The raven’s sisters were reassuring; they implied that he was a sound guide who would lead the prince well. The animus is thus enhanced by its association with the feminine.
On the third morning, instead of seeing the raven as at the other times, who should meet him but the handsomest lad he ever saw, with a bundle in his hand. The king’s son asked this lad if he had seen a big black raven. Said the lad to him, ‘Thou wilt never see the raven again, for I am that raven. I was put under spells; it was meeting thee that loosed me, and for that thou art getting this bundle. Now,’ said the lad, ‘thou wilt turn back on the self-same steps, and thou wilt lie a night in each house, as thou wert before; but thy lot is not to loose the bundle which I gave thee, till thou art in the place where thou wouldst most wish to dwell.’
Both the prince (consciousness) and the raven (animus, Odin) were being changed by their encounter. As the unconscious works on consciousness, so consciousness works on the unconscious.
The prince had to walk now and carry a bundle. First the mind gave him a view of possibilities but now he had to go the distance on foot, carrying weight. So the prince had to grow up, become embodied. Inner work cannot be only a head trip but must be translated into action.
The king’s son turned his back to the lad, and his face to his father’s house; and he got lodging from the raven’s sisters, just as he got it when going forward. When he was nearing his father’s house he was going through a close wood. It seemed to him that the bundle was growing heavy, and he thought he would look what was in it.
When he loosed the bundle, it was not without astonishing himself. In a twinkling he sees the very grandest place he ever saw. A great castle, and an orchard about the castle, in which was every kind of fruit and herb. He stood full of wonder and regret for having loosed the bundle – it was not in his power to put it back again – and he would have wished this pretty place to be in the pretty little green hollow that was opposite his father’s house; but, at one glance, he sees a great giant coming towards him.
To inspire the prince, he was given a glimpse of what he longed for. Because he was weak he had to mature through more trials.
‘Bad’s the place where thou hast built thy house, king’s son,’ says the giant. ‘Yes, but it is not here I would wish it to be, though it happened to be here by mishap,’ says the king’s son. ‘What’s the reward thou wouldst give me for putting it back in the bundle as it was before?’ ‘What’s the reward thou wouldst ask?’ says the king’s son. ‘If thou wilt give me the first son thou hast when he is seven years of age,’ says the giant. ‘Thou wilt get that if I have a son,’ said the king’s son.
In a twinkling the giant put each garden, and orchard, and castle in the bundle as they were before. ‘Now,’ says the giant, ‘take thou thine own road, and I will take my road; but mind thy promise, and though thou shouldst forget, I will remember.’
The giant is an affect, a big clumsy power that can destroy consciousness but can also be outwitted. It is a remnant of the prince’s infantile personality. He had to learn to live with affects without being dominated by them. He has to integrate anger, lust, greed, entitlement, fear, loneliness and dependency if he is to become a conscious, mature individual.
The prince had won a temporary reprieve and was given further experience of the good life, but his future was compromised; he would still have to face the affects.
The king’s son took to the road, and at the end of a few days he reached the place he was fondest of. He loosed the bundle, and the same place was just as it was before. And when he opened the castle-door he sees the handsomest maiden he ever cast eye upon. ‘Advance, king’s son,’ said the pretty maid; ‘everything is in order for thee, if thou wilt marry me this very night.’ ‘It’s I am the man that is willing,’ said the king’s son. And on that same night they married.
Now he had the support of the feminine. He had moved closer to wholeness, and would have help in future trials. So it is in maturation: we don’t do it alone, but with the help of our companions.
But at the end of a day and seven years, what great man is seen coming to the castle but the giant. The king’s son minded his promise to the giant, and till now he had not told his promise to the queen. ‘Leave thou the matter between me and the giant,’ says the queen.
The king’s son sought to be free of the affects, but he needed to integrate them. Since he had not done so, they came to get him, that is, his son. He would need his related side to deal with this problem.
‘Turn out thy son,’ says the giant; ‘mind your promise.’ ‘Thou wilt get that,’ says the king, ‘when his mother puts him in order for his journey.’ The queen arrayed the cook’s son, and she gave him to the giant by the hand. The giant went away with him; but he had not gone far when he put a rod in the hand of the little laddie. The giant asked him – ‘If thy father had that rod what would he do with it?’ ‘If father had that rod he would beat the dogs and the cast, if they would be going near the king’s meat,’ said the little laddie. ‘Thou’rt the cook’s son,’ said the giant. He catches him by the two small ankles and knocks him – ‘Sgleog’ – against the stone that was beside him.
The giant turned back to the castle in rage and madness, and he said that if they did not turn out the king’s son to him, the highest stone in the castle would be the lowest. Said the queen to the king, ‘we’ll try it yet; the butler’s son is of the same age as our son.’ She arrayed the butler’s son, and she gives him to the giant by the hand. The giant had not gone far when he put the rod in his hand. ‘If thy father had that rod,’ says the giant, ‘what would he do with it?’ ‘He would beat the dogs and the cats when they would be coming near the king’s bottles and glasses.’ ‘Thou art the son of the butler,’ says the giant, and dashed his brains out too.
The giant returned in very great rage and anger. The earth shook under the soles of his feet, and the castle shook and all that was in it. ‘OUT HERE THY SON,’ says the giant, ‘or in a twinkling the stone that is highest in the dwelling will be the lowest.’ So needs must they had to give the king’s son to the giant. The giant took him to his own house, and he reared him as his own son.
The sons of servants were not enough to meet the giant’s demands. Only the whole personality can satisfy – this is essential work which cannot be dismissed. Trickery is not adequate to deal with affect; affect must be assimilated by the whole self. It has its own value and must be allowed to evolve, not sidestepped. So it is with our emotional reaction: we must honor its demands and understand it rather than tricking it (denying it or repressing it or rationalizing it) with conscious ideas.
On a day of days when the giant was from home, the lad heard the sweetest music he ever heard in a room at the top of the giant’s house. At a glance he saw the finest face he had ever seen. She beckoned to him to come a bit nearer to her, and she told him to go this time, but to be sure to be at the same place about that dead midnight.
And as he promised he did. The giant’s daughter was at his side in a twinkling, and she said, ‘Tomorrow thou wilt get the choice of my two sisters to marry; but say thou that thou wilt not take either, but me. My father wants me to marry the son of the king of the Green City, but I don’t like him.’
The feminine, related side of the affect seeks out consciousness. There can be an alliance between conscious understanding and affect, an alliance which we call feeling, the discriminated, nuanced potential of emotions to articulate themselves and lead us in relationship.
On the morrow the giant took out his three daughters, and he said, ‘Now son of the king of Tethertown, thou hast not lost by living with me so long. Thou wilt get to wife one of the two eldest of my daughters, and with her leave to go home with her the day after the wedding.’ ‘If thou wilt give me this pretty little one,’ says the king’s son, ‘I will take thee by thy word.’
The giant’s wrath kindled, and he said, ‘Before thou gett’st her thou must do the three things that I ask thee to do.’ ‘Say on,’ says the king’s son. The giant took him to the byre, ‘Now,’ says the giant, ‘the dung of a hundred cattle is here, and it has not been cleansed for seven years. I am going from home today, and if this byre is not cleaned before night comes, so clean that a golden apple will run from end to end of it, not only thou shalt not get my daughter, but ’tis a drink of thy blood that will quench my thirst this night.’ He begins cleaning the byre, but it was just as well to keep baling the great ocean.
After midday, when sweat was blinding him, the giant’s young daughter came where he was, and she said to him, ‘Thou art being punished, king’s son.’ ‘I am that,’ says the king’s son. ‘Come over,’ says she, ‘and lay down thy weariness.’ ‘I will do that,’ says he, ‘there is but death awaiting me, at any rate.’ He sat down near her. He was so tired that he fell asleep beside her. When he awoke, the giant’sdaughter was not to be seen, but the byre was so well cleaned that a golden apple would run from end to end of it.
By itself, consciousness could not cope with all the unconscious shit.
In comes the giant, and he said, ‘Thou hast cleaned the byre, king’s son?’ ‘I have cleaned it,’ says he. ‘Somebody cleaned it,’ says the giant. ‘Thou didst not clean it, at all events,’ said the king’s son.
They were discussing who enabled all the unconscious shit to be sorted out. It was not consciousness but neither was it affect. Rather it was the daughter of affect. Without feeling, consciousness is psychologically impotent. Feeling cannot arise except from affect but feeling goes far beyond affect in its ability to develop psychological life. ‘How do you feel about that?’ is the necessary question.
‘Yes, yes!’ says the giant, ‘since thou wert so active today, thou wilt get to this time tomorrow to thatch this byre with birds’ down – birds with no two feathers of one colour.’ The king’s son was on foot before the sun; he caught up his bow and his quiver of arrows to kill the birds. He took to the moors, but if he did, the birds were not so easy to take. He was running after them till the sweat was blinding him.
Birds represent thoughts because they travel far and fast and see into the distance but can become ungrounded. The giant’s task means to discriminate amongst thoughts, to select the most finely nuanced of them, and to integrate them into the grounded personality. This cannot be done by consciousness alone but will again require help from feeling. Logic alone is not enough to sort out thoughts; feeling is also required to evaluate their worth.
About midday who should come but the giant’sdaughter. ‘Thou art exhausting thyself, king’s son,’ says she. ‘I am,’ said he. ‘There fell but these two blackbirds, and both of one colour.’ ‘Come over and lay down thy weariness on this pretty hillock, ‘ says the giant’s daughter. ‘It’s I am willing,’ said he. He thought she would aid him this time, too, and he sat down near her, and he was not long there till he fell asleep.
When he awoke, the giant’s daughter was gone. He thought he would go back to the house, and he sees the byre thatched with the feathers. When the giant came home, he said, ‘Thou hast thatched the byre, king’s son?’ ‘I thatched it,’ says he. ‘Somebody thatched it,’ says the giant. ‘Thou didst not thatch it,’ says the king’s son. ‘Yes, yes!’ says the giant.
Again it was not done by affect, nor by consciousness alone, but with the help of feeling.
‘Now,’ says the giant, ‘there is a fir-tree beside that loch down there, and there is a magpie’s nest in its top. The eggs thou wilt find in the nest. I must have them for my first meal. Not one must be burst or broken, and there are five in the nest. ‘Early in the morning the king’s son went where the tree was, and that tree was not hard to hit upon. Its match was not in the whole wood. From the foot to the first branch was five hundred feet. The king’s son was going all round the tree.
Eggs are the potential for the development of new consciousness. Though they are high in the sky (spiritual potential), they are earthy and solid, controlled entirely by gravity, unlike a bird. Unlike feathers, which are entirely of the spirit, eggs represent integration of spirit and earth into a potential whole. New life emerges from the integration. This is the goal of the prince’s journey, hinted at by the eggs the giant tells him he must fetch, evidence that the giant is driving the prince’s development with his challenges and threats.
She came who was always bringing help to him. ‘Thou art losing the skin of thy hands and feet.’ ‘Ach! I am,’ says he. ‘I am no sooner up than down.’ ‘This is no time for stopping,’ says the giant’s daughter. She thrust finger after finger into the tree, till she made a ladder for the king’s son to go up to the magpie’s nest. When he was at the nest, she said, ‘Make haste now with the eggs, for my father’s breath is burning my back.’ In his hurry she left her little finger in the top of the tree.
Feeling suffers and is symbolically crippled as it enables the prince to meet his challenge. This is an image of pain and sacrifice which are necessary for development. No gain in consciousness without paying a price.
‘Now,’ says she, ‘thou wilt go home with the eggs quickly, and thou wilt get me to marry tonight if thou canst know me. I and my two sisters will be arrayed in the same garments, and made like each other, but look at me when my father says, “go to thy wife, king’s son”, and thou wilt see a hand without a little finger.’ He gave the eggs to the giant. ‘Yes, yes!’ says the giant, ‘be making ready for thy marriage.’
Then indeed there was a wedding, and it was a wedding! Giants and gentlemen, and the son of the king of the Green City was in the midst of them. They were married, and the dancing began, and that was a dance? The giant’s house was shaking from top to bottom. But bed time came, and the giant said, ‘It is time for thee to go to rest, son of the King of Tethertown; take thy bride with thee from amidst those.’
She put out the hand off which the little finger was, and he caught her by the hand.
He recognizes her and choses her because of her willingness to sacrifice. No gain without sacrifice.
‘Thou hast aimed well this time too; but there is no knowing but we may meet thee another way,’ said the giant.
But to rest they went. ‘Now,’ says she, ‘sleep not, or else thou diest. We must fly quick, quick, or for certain my father will kill thee.’
They were fighting for consciousness. Any lapse into unconsciousness would defeat their effort.
Out they went, and on the blue gray filly in the stable they mounted. ‘Stop a while,’ says she, ‘and I will play a trick to the old hero.’ She jumped in, and cut an apple into nine share, and she put two shares at the head of the bed, and two shares at the foot of the bed, and two shares at the door of the kitchen, and two shares at the big door, and one outside the house.
The giant awoke and called, ‘Are you asleep?’ ‘We are not yet,’ said the apple that was at the head of the bed. At the end of a while he called again. ‘We are not yet,’ said the apple that was at the foot of the bed. A while after this he called again. ‘We are not yet,’ said the apple at the kitchen door. The giant called again. The apple that was at the big door answered. ‘You are going far from me,’ says the giant. ‘We are not yet,’ says the apple that was outside the house. ‘You are flying,’ says the giant. The giant jumped on his feet, and to the bed he went, but it was cold – empty.
‘My own daughter’s tricks are trying me,’ said the giant. ‘Here’s after them,’ says he.
Feeling, which is an agent of consciousness, plays the trickster to transcend affect. A trickster turns reality on its head, insists that subjective perceptions are not necessarily accurate, demands a more nuanced understanding and thus promotes consciousness.
An apple is a hint of wholeness, here divided and sacrificed to promote the further development of integration. It also represents sexuality – Eve’s apple. The prince and the giant’s daughter have an intimate sexual connection to each other, a connection in which the affects are heightened and at the same time brought into the discipline of relationship. Another repetition that feelings evolve from the arousal and subsequent discrimination of affect. If we avoid affect, feeling cannot develop; if we get stuck in affect, feeling cannot develop.
In the mouth of day, the giant’s daughter said that her father’s breath was burning her back. ‘Put thy hand, quick,’ said she, ‘in the ear of the gray filly, and whatever thou findest in it, throw it behind thee.’ ‘There is a twig of sloe tree,’ said he. ‘Throw it behind thee,’ said she.
A horse represents libido – the couple are carried on their development by sexual libido for each other. This is not a talking horse – like the horse in a Yakut fairytale – but a variant of that, a listening horse; in its ear is the next symbolic idea. When libido listens, or when we listen to libido, then can feeling progress.
No sooner did he that, than there were twenty miles of black thorn wood, so thick that scarce a weasel could go through it. The giant came headlong, and there he is fleecing his head and neck in the thorns.
Black thorn wood slows the giant, and draws its blood. Again, affect has to be tamed, slowed, discriminated, made to sacrifice blood, for the development of feeling. The giant is slowed by the dense growth of the unconscious. Thus affect is forcibly brought into relationship with all the innate phallic contents of the collective unconscious. Each thorn is the potential for discrimination; though they operate organically and without direction, the thorns stop the giant in his tracks.
‘My own daughter’s tricks are here as before,’ said the giant; ‘but if I had my own big axe and wood knife here, I would not be long making a way through this. ‘He went home for the big axe and the wood knife, and sure he was not long on his journey, and he was the boy behind the big axe. He was not long making a way through the black thorn. ‘I will leave the axe and the wood knife here till I return,’ says he. ‘If thou leave them,’ said a hoodie that was in a tree, ‘we will steal them.’
‘You will do that same,’ says the giant, ‘but I will get them home,’ He returned and left them at the house.
The hoodie functions like the thorns, to impede the giant’s progress. The giant (like affect) has great power and a strong focus but the unconscious opposes its power; the unconscious tends in a different direction, towards the evolution of consciousness.
At the heat of day the giant’s daughter felt her father’s breath burning her back.
‘Put thy finger in the filly’s ear, and throw behind thee whatever thou findest in it. ‘He got a splinter of gray stone, and in a twinkling there were twenty miles, by breadth and height, of great gray rock behind them. The giant came full pelt, but past the rock he could not go.
‘The tricks of my own daughter are the hardest things that ever meet me,’ says the giant; ‘but if I had my lever and my mighty mattock, I would not be long making my way through this rock also.’ There was no help for it, but to turn the chase for them; and he was the boy to split the stones. He was not long making a road through the rock. ‘I will leave the tools here, and I will return no more.’ ‘If thou leave them,’ says the hoodie, ‘we will steal them.’ ‘Do that if thou wilt; there is not time to go back.’
The rocks demonstrate the overwhelming solidity of the unconscious’s purpose. Though the giant gets through, it has taken so much time that he has to give up his tools and could never do this again. Defy the unconscious at your peril, it will prevail.
At the time of breaking the watch, the giant’s daughter said that she was feeling her father’s breath burning her back. ‘Look in the filly’s ear, king’s son, or else we are lost. ‘He did so, and it was a bladder of water that was in her ear this time. He threw it behind him and there was a fresh-water loch, twenty miles in length and breadth, behind them.
The giant came on, but with the speed he had on him, he was in the middle of the loch, and he went under, and he rose no more.
Again the lake is an image of overwhelming power, but also something more. Water tends to symbolize feeling because it flows freely and cannot readily be controlled, like rain or tears. So the image shows that affect has been drowned in feeling, another repetition which confirms earlier interpretations that affect is transformed into feeling.
On the next day the young companions were come in sight of his father’s house. ‘Now,’ said she, ‘my father is drowned, and he won’t trouble us any more; but before we go further,’ says she, ‘go thou to thy father’s house, and tell that thou hast the like of me; but this is thy lot, let neither man nor creature kiss thee, for if thou dost thou wilt not remember that thou hast ever seen me.’
Everyone he met was giving him welcome and luck, and he charged his father and mother not to kiss him; but as mishap was to be, an old greyhound was in and she knew him, and jumped up to his mouth, and after that he did not remember the giant’s daughter.
The prince was learning new psychological skills (to relate with feeling) but could easily be drawn back into his old familiar adaptation, especially when he returned to his family of origon. It is not easy, having journeyed into the unconscious and returned with new discoveries, to integrate them into one’s previous life. The old family patterns have a strong grip and tend to reassert themselves when they are evoked by a familiar setting. So when a young couple marries and creates a home for themselves they are flung back into their own childhood-home psychology and into what they learned in childhood from witnessing their parents’ marriage; they have to struggle to transform those old patterns in the light of new insight and new possibilities which were not accessible to their parents.
That it was the kiss of an old greyhound that did the mischief means that it may be old loves and old loyalties which, though positive in themselves, betray the person as he or she tries to change.
She was sitting at the well’s side as he left her, but the king’s son was not coming. In the mouth of night she climbed up into a tree of oak that was beside the well, and she lay in the fork of the tree all that night.
That she sat beside a well is a repetition confirming our interpretation that she is about making feeling humanly accessible, in relationship with daily life. The well is in contrast with the sea which drowned her father. There feeling had great power and was able to absorb affect completely and transform it. Here feeling is quiet and still, and can be assimilated in small quantities with small daily amounts of work, as needed. When a patient begins to explore feelings which have been repressed, the patient fears that, if the dam of repression is not maintained, then he or she will be overwhelmed and ‘drowned’ by feeling. The work is then to learn that he or she can dip into feeling in small increments and thus live in easy relationship with feeling.
That she slept in an oak tree means that she was a pagan tree sprite, a goddess of the tree which (the tree) represents the organic unfolding of life. Bringing feeling into the Prince’s world is part of an organic plan. Individuation is here compared to the growth of an oak tree. ‘As the twig is inclined, so the tree is bent’ means that, though the particular form that our life takes is determined by circumstances and by our will and agency, nevertheless the overall potential for unfolding growth is given to us by nature. To block it causes injury and loss.
A shoemaker had a house near the well, and about midday on the morrow, the shoemaker asked his wife to go for a drink for him out of the well. When the shoemaker’s wife reached the well, and when she saw the shadow of her that was in the tree, thinking of it that it was her own shadow – and she never thought till now that she was so handsome – she gave a cast to the dish that was in her hand, and it was broken on the ground, and she took herself to the house without vessel or water.
‘Where is the water, wife?’ said the shoemaker. ‘Thou shambling, contemptible old carle, without grace, I have stayed too long thy water and wood slave.’
The shoemaker and his wife are a new set of images which seem to appear arbitrarily. But they have been chosen by the unconscious and their meaning will be related to meanings we have already deciphered. Shoes connect us to the ground. They are our conscious standpoint. While consciousness is on the ground, rather than up in the air, it is soundly based and in relationship with obdurate, universal reality. The shoemaker provides for this.
Each pair of shoes is sized for an individual, so the shoemaker supports individuality. However the shoemaker makes shoes for everyone which means that he stands for the current prevalent state of consciousness, a state which needs to be renewed, since it tends to ossify; it needs to be renewed if it is to remain flexible and productive.
The shoemaker was at odds with his wife and daughters, which suggests that consciousness might be renewed through the feminine.
‘I am thinking, wife, that thou has turned crazy. Go thou, daughter, quickly, and fetch a drink for thy father.’ His daughter went, and in the same way so it happened to her. She never thought till now that she was so loveable, and she took herself home. ‘Up with the drink,’ said her father. ‘Thou home-spun shoe carle, dost thou think that I am fit to be thy slave.’
The poor shoemaker thought that they had taken a turn in their understandings, and he went himself to the well. He saw the shadow of the maiden in the well, and he looked up to the tree, and he sees the finest woman he ever saw. ‘Thy seat is wavering, but thy face is fair,’ said the shoemaker. ‘Come down, for there is need of thee for a short while at my house. ‘The shoemaker understood that this was the shadow that had driven his people mad. The shoemaker took her to his house, and he said that he had but a poor bothy, but that she should get a share of all that was in it.
The feminine was represented and supported by the tree sprite who he took into his house.
At the end of a day or two came a leash of gentlemen lads to the shoemaker’s house for shoes to be made for them, for the king had come home, and he was going to marry. The lads saw the giant’s daughter, and they never saw one so pretty as she. ‘Tis thou hast the pretty daughter, here,’ said the lads to the shoemaker. ‘She is pretty, indeed,’ says the shoemaker, ‘but she is no daughter of mine.’ ‘St. Nail! said one of them, ‘I would give a hundred pounds to marry her.’ The two others said the very same.
The poor shoemaker said that he had nothing to do with her. ‘But,’ said they, ‘ask her tonight, and send us word tomorrow.’ When the gentles went away, she asked the shoemaker – ‘What’s that they were saying about me?’ The shoemaker told her. ‘Go thou after them,’ said she; ‘I will marry one of them, and let him bring his purse with him.’
The youth returned, and he gave the shoemaker a hundred pounds for tocher. They went to rest, and when she had laid down, she asked the lad for a drink of water from a tumbler that was on the board on the further side of the chamber. He went; but out of that he could not come, as he held the vessel of water the length of the night. ‘Thou lad,’ said she, ‘why wilt thou not lie down?’ but out of that he could not drag till the bright morrow’s day was. The shoemaker came to the door of the chamber, and she asked him to take away that lubberly boy. This wooer went and betook himself to his home, but he did not tell the other two how it happened to him.
Next came the second chap, and in the same way, when she had gone to rest – ‘Look,’she said, ‘if the latch is on the door.’ The latch laid hold of his hands, and out of that he could not come the length of the night, and out of that he did not come till the morrow’s day was bright. He went, under shame and disgrace.
No matter, he did not tell the other chap how it had happened, and on the third night he came. As it happened to the two others, so it happened to him. One foot stuck to the floor; he could neither come nor go, but so he was the length of the night. On the morrow, he took his soles out of that, and he was not seen looking behind him.
The feminine could not be met by callow youths, that is by an immature form of the masculine. It made fools of them.
‘Now,’ said the girl to the shoemaker, ‘thine is the sporran of gold; I have no need of it. It will better thee, and I am no worse for thy kindness to me.’
The energy they had (which the feminine tricked them out of) renewed the life of consciousness.
The shoemaker had the shoes ready, at dawn on that very day the king was to be married. The shoemaker was going to the castle with the shoes of the young people, and the girl said to the shoemaker, ‘I would like to get a sight of the king’s son before he marries.’ ‘Come with me,’ says the shoemaker, ‘I am well acquainted with the servants at the castle, and thou shalt get a sight of the king’s son and all the company.’
And when the gentles saw the pretty woman that was here they took her to the wedding-room, and they filled for her a glass of wine. When she was going to drink what is in it, a flame went up out of the glass, and a golden pigeon and a silver pigeon sprung out of it. They were flying about when three grains of barley fell on the floor.
Wine suggests the communion, that she was drinking Christ’s blood, meaning that she underwent his transformation which, as Jung and Edward Edinger showed, was the realization of the Self. The flame is a repetition, a new image which again represents complete transformation. The pigeons suggest the dove, which again represents Christ. This interpretation is confirmed by their colors, gold and silver, a new image which also represents highest value, again the realization of the Self. The barley grains suggest that highest value is embodied in the most humble things; Christ was born in a manger.
But here the Christ-like figure is the giant’s daughter, a tree sprite. In Christianity the feminine has been displaced and suppressed. All these images confirm and elaborate what was hinted at in the beginning, that the story represents a conflict (now a reconciliation) between pagan and Christian beliefs.
The silver pigeon sprang, and he eats that. Said the golden pigeon to him, ‘If thou hadst mind when I cleared the byre, thou would’st not eat that without giving me a share.’
Again fell three other grains of barley, and the silver pigeon sprang, and he eats that, as before. ‘If thou hadst mind when I thatched the byre, thou would’st not eat that without giving me my share,’ says the golden pigeon.
Three other grains fell, and the silver pigeon sprang, and he eats that. ‘If thou hadst mind when I harried the magpie’s nest, thou would’st not eat that without giving me my share,’ says the golden pigeon; ‘I lost my little finger bringing it down, and I want it still.’
The golden pigeon told the whole story. The Christ-like feminine had the power of language; she became a story-teller and thus achieved her own transformation. Through telling our own story we create our own human personality.
The king’s son minded, and he knew who it was he had got. He sprang where she was, and kissed her from hand to mouth. And when the priest came they married a second time. And there I left them.
They had already been married in the giant’s house. Now they were married again by a Christian priest in the house of the prince’s father. Now ruling consciousness itself was being transformed by integrating the feminine.