Valemon and the Wild Third Daughter is a jewel of a Scandinavian fairy tale. Epic, gutsy, funny, mysterious – it takes us through both the exhilaration and consequence of following your desire. One day a white bear arrives at the entrance to a castle and beckons you leap onto its back. There are no guarantees but your heart sings at the sight. What will you do? Safety or the deep forest?
Read an extract from Martin’s commentary on Valemon and the Wild Third Daughter, from A Branch from the Lightning Tree.
Pebbles Disguised as Apples
The daughter arrives at a cottage where children are circling their mother desperate for food, so hungry they are sucking on warm pebbles pretending they are apples…
The firebird inside the daughter is starting to flap its wings now. We sense that it has taken a long time to move through the three temple doors of the three cottages and be thus gifted. Our clearest signal that she is coming to the end of the wandering stage occurs when she arrives at the cottage of the children and the woman. From being in a state of passively receiving, she is now moving into the active stage of giving. Her suffering, seemingly random, has actually given her the capacity to provide warmth and sustenance for herself and others. We may not enter this stage till our forties or fifties in this world.
The scene of the ragged children heating pebbles to pretend they are apples is particularly alarming. The absence of what is juicy and water-filled means they must chew on something teeth-breaking, rough, and lacking any nourishment, with only the fantasy of sustenance to keep them going. Whole cultures chew on pebbles disguised as apples. A relationship can drag out for decades on the dim memory of that “one summer” so many years ago. The cult of the spin doctor testifies to this kind of activity. Much pebble-heating is required on a national level to persuade a people to go to war, dangling the flimsy scent of righteousness around a core of something the body naturally resists swallowing.
That pebble-eating culture is what many of us face today. There are so many pebbles rattling around on television I’m amazed the sets don’t break. The curious, wild, and abundant third daughter is, by her very authenticity, opening the door to real food for that family. A deeper fall altogether occurs when we forgot what a real apple was ever like, forget its texture and vitality and settle for the hard nugget of fragrant nothingness.
The Sobbing of the Beloved
We know that ability to move into grief carries great significance mythologically. In certain Lakota creation myths, the rivers and great lakes of America are the tears from the Creator’s eyes. Our weeping can be a meeting of inner and outer worlds, an external expression so clear in its message that it can arouse the same in others. Tears can be a vital tool in any significant ritual; they peel back the surface of expression to its tender center.
Many great forces can anaesthetize us to the tears of the soul’s opening. Years sucking on heated pebbles can do that, or a sense that to attend to the soul’s weeping would bring too much grief. Best to swallow the draught of the great Swallower of Continents and stay en-tranced. For both men and women, lack of a real soulful life, or too much attention to the bone wearing minutia of the things of this world can leave us feeling as if something vast is draining us, but we don’t know what.
There are many changes of the mythological stage-set occurring in this story, as one awesome force takes the lead and the others a supporting role. Now it is Valemon who finds himself in a state of enforced passivity, frozen, his only hope the abundant powers revealed through an encounter with the deep feminine.
The Listener by the Door
In his slumber, Valemon appears to reach an impasse. The sleep is too strong to wake from, despite everything endured by the daughter—he cannot wake. This is where we encounter the curious figure of the Listener by the Door—the alerter to the hypnotized masculine. Jean Houston calls this the “observer self,” some part of us immune to the magnetic pulls of these contesting forces, standing outside the field of negotiation.
Looking at this moment from a larger perspective, we can say this is a fragment in time that has been recurring with increasing urgency over the last eighty or so years. The fierce up-swelling of feminism could be seen as attempting just that; the men’s work born out of the eighties and onwards is internal work in the masculine towards a similar, but not identical end. Both break out of a poisoned sleep into awakening, free from the great devourer. It is interesting that we need some third component for this to occur, to avoid polarization. It could be that on the everyday plane, myth and psychology embody that observer, that they illuminate enough complexity to diffuse the stand-off, the viciousness of all-out gender war.
Another larger interpretation is that the planet itself may be trying to awaken us from the thing that Eats And Consumes All. In this case the listener by the door is a tsunami, a flooded New Orleans—something that in the cold light of day says, “For Christ’s sake; don’t you hear the sobbing of your Beloved?”