Fairy Tale Field Notes: Clever Else

10.05.18 Yellow Rythmic Sun

To begin, a full transcript to Clever Else can be read here.

Three worlds, lower, middle, upper, this tale traverses, starting in the confined bowels of the heroine’s, Else’s, father’s cellar where she’s dispatched to return with beer.  Have you ever been in a cellar?  When we’d go to Iran during the summer months on visits to my paternal family, the cellar is where we’d descend to endure bomb raids.  It was while the Iran – Iraq war was happening, eight long years, the sirens would whine and we’d be on our way down below waiting for the crashes and booms to subside.  When we’d return upstairs, sometimes windows would be blown out, shattered glass strewn about, out on the streets rubble and blasted bits of stone wall, soldiers moving bodies, people picking through the remains.  The cellar was not only used as sanctuary from bombings, it was also where my granny washed the clothes in a giant cauldron atop a fire, then she’d rinse them in the pond outside and hang them up to dry.  The cauldron was also used to cook butter and flour mixed with spices and sugar, the fragrance mouth watering, rising upstairs with the promise of warm, tasty melt in the mouth morsels.  Yet, the only time we’d be allowed into the cellar, her domain along with her trusty manservant, Hodgee Podgee, was during the bombings, and while it should have been terrifying it was not; it was magical and extremely exciting to get to see what was down there, not by peeking in through the upstairs door for a stolen glimpse of flickering light but while being down there in it . . . and the key here, as far as place goes, is a cellar is down there, down, below, underground, dug out of the earth, an underworld, a lower place, a place dark and shadowy, definitely not an everyday place but purposed, often to food and beverage storage and the practice of ancient arts bubbling in cauldrons, spiced with mystery and a sense of the unknown that tantalizes the taste buds with wonder.

Here we have Else, in the cellar, established as being ‘clever’ from the beginning of the story . . . and we observe her as she shows herself to be a woman who notices things out of the ordinary (an axe in the ceiling), quickly making associations (in this case the possible unfortunate outcome of a child unborn), leading to her emotional response (weeping over its demise) that consumes her completely; she is incapable in this state of turning off the tap to the beer or conceiving of removing the axe from where it looms overhead, consumed by her ‘kenning’.

This is where the use of the word ‘clever’ to describe Else feels as though it is intended to convey many different meanings through the telling.  Clever was used to attribute a sense of knowing and seeing, people spoke of the ‘clever woman’, ‘cunning folk’, ‘kenning folk’, deriving from to ‘ken’::to sense, to know, to see, to envision, to grasp, to perceive.  To be clever is to pick up on, to perceive quickly, to have ‘clever hands’ was the trademark of the pickpocket with lightfingers, to be dexterous, as the magician of the card tricks and sleight of hand, adept.

Clever is the domain of Mercury . . . quick thinking, message bearing, fast as a flash, coming and going traversing worlds with ease, clever is mercurial in ways.  Interestingly in Indian lore Mercury is Budha, prince of the cosmic spheres, the child . . .in a weakened manifestation, Mercury is clever, cunning, tricky, whimsical, manipulative, fickle rather than inquisitive, curious, educated, percipient in masterful ways applied as skillful oration, keen argument, sharp wits . . . Budha-Mercury is also Lord of both Virgo (earth element, cellars) and Gemini (air element, intellect), and metal (axe’s have both metal heads and wooden, earthy handles) . . . . and the tale is about Else, established through refrain by five other people in the story, as certainly being ‘clever’.  At the first reading, it appears this is a tongue in cheek use of the word clever, a contrarian approach to calling something the opposite of what it is (another mercurial trait).  By her actions Else appears foolish rather than clever, initially, or clever in a whimsical sense with little in the way of using one’s wits.  But then, absorbing the feel of this story, ‘kenning’ it from the bowels to beyond it begins to show a different face, concealed in the cloaks of Hermes, the trickster, cleverly . . .

I followed the tracks of the motion in this story, up and down, up and down, from father’s table to the cellar, one by one the cast empties itself down below.  First Else, then the maid (why wasn’t she sent to fetch the beer to begin with, isn’t that what serving people do?), then the boy, then mother, then father, and finally wrapping back around to Hans himself . . . there are pairings here: female, female, male, female, male, male, a total of six people . . . no kings, queens, princes, princes, witches, wise people, magicians, talking animals, allies of any kind, just three females and three males in want of beer, a common drink for common people, an everyday tale, the number six, in tarot six is The Lovers, again the domain of Mercury, the constellation of The Twins, of bringing together duality, opposites, in union, and we do have a marriage in this story . . . only it isn’t a merging of twin souls emerging in unity, but by the end of the tale we have a parting of ways, as ‘kenned’ by Else when she sees the executioners axe lodged firmly above her head, for she grasps that a marriage between her and Hans could result in the creation of something, a child, that possibly will die . . . when we perceive the child as symbolic of freshness, innocence, wonder, playfulness, and we examine the confines of the careful rules by which Hans lives in the middle world (no longer the physical confines of the cellar in the lower world instead confined by a mind-set) . . . reap the corn, work, industry, labor and toil, being full of care in this manner regarded as important . . .  we grasp that there is no space within this paradigm for simply eating, resting, and daydreaming a day away in a delightful field of corn, unhurried or worried by the work at hand, enjoying the middle world outside land, under the big sky, there is no space for a child of the sort created by Else and Hans, for childishness, to be so is to be sent away, bells jingling, exiled into a world beyond the village who does not see Else again . . . practically speaking in its setting, the story could be read as daydreaming and idleness is foolish, the consequence of which is exile and displacement, so do the work carefully, intelligently, cleverly or Else . . . .

10.10.18 Red Spectral Serpent

Or Else, a clever tale yes? As I sat on the steps with Else, I felt the blow of a blade against my neck, my head rolled off and bobbed away in a river of beer and tears . . . I listened as she shared her vision, we wept together. I listened four times more as she shared her kenning with the maid, the boy, mother, and father, and they joined in commiserating and grieving over her vision. We sat and listened to a vision shared, and we wept together. We saw what she saw, felt what she felt, we were gathered in a sharing, communally participating in her kenning, unmindfull. Then Hans came down and heard her words but he neither felt nor saw them, he’s all practicality and action, so up the stairs we all hurried and with that Hans and Else were wed . . . it’s quick, short, sweet, really unmemorable as far as a wedding, which is a communal activity, goes; I was more involved down there with my head bobbing away . . . upstairs, in the middle world of form and function, its screwed back on, events whirl by quickly, there’s not a whole lot of space for intuition when Hans is at the helm moving things right along to his cornfield . . . after he leaves I watch Else cooking up her stew, singing a happy tune, skipping along through cabbage patch and pumpkin vines, she spots a bluejay, it’s a lovely day and when she arrives at the cornfield up on the hill, the clouds hang low, sheep chase dragons and she really doesn’t want to let go of the feeling by getting to work right away, so she eats, and a sweet warm feeling fills her, she wants to bask in the warmth of the day, so she lays down and snoozes right where she is, curled up, smiling in the grasses, oh they tickle her nose and a bunny hops by and she’s drifting off in a blissful reverie, she knows she’ll get to the corn sooner or later, so she enjoys the fullness of the sun on her back, the ants crawling about below her eyes, and pretty soon she’s asleep and dreaming . . . .

Clever women dream, cunning folk weave spells by means of picking strands of their own or your dreams from the air and alluring you with them, they ken what it is you desire, you see, by means of grasping, perceiving, and understanding what they see; depending on their nature they may fleece you, or they may assist you . . . but this story is not about those clever other’s. Our heroine has grasped that there is danger in marrying Hans, to a child, this is where the storyteller pops her head up and whispers . . . “she kenned, as clever women do, but she did not fully comprehend, such is the shifty nature of dreams, visions, spun from the skeins in the lower world” . . . . she saw truly, there is danger . . .  in relationships where there is no space for dreaming.

The loss of dreams, shared dreams, communal participation in dreams, this idea began jingling around my ears, and as of now I feel that this is what Clever .. Else . .is about, when we get caught up in activity, industry, and work to the point where we lose our ability to feel, sense, empathize, and share in one another’s dreaming, engage actively with the vision . . . in this story when Else shares her foreboding, active engagement may be empathizing but also gently removing the axe looming overhead, working with the vision with awareness (but then there’d be no story would there?) . . . there is danger to the community and the village . . .the doors to our hearts shut fast, locking the lie of Else being ‘in’, while making exiles of intuition, imagination, sending them to wander beyond alone, with neither village nor community, leaving it to the rule of Hans; there’s usually a ‘Hans’ in every village, that person who prods toward practicality, eschewing playfulness and wondering wanderings in favor of reap first, all Else after  . . . . and this is also necessary perhaps to a village dynamic, after all what would happen if everyone sat around, somnambulically weeping and wailing with nobody to say, okay enough y’all, let’s get cracking, wake up . . .  granted this is one layer to the story, and interestingly within it there is a core truth for at a certain level, what it states when Else goes away in a fright to ask, “Who am I if I am not I?”,  that is a journey as well, the path of the bodhisattva to circle back around to Budha-Mercury . . .

. . . it appears on the surface that Else is about the divergence of paths when there is incompatibility between people, in which one is cast out by the village (the other gets to stay behind, usually the one who conforms to village rules and standards, in this case it’s Hans) and has to go beyond the village, beyond the village into the upper world, which offers something beyond the confines and constraints of ‘village life’ (is this the beginnings of mental illness in some ways, who once upon a time would have been regarded or dismissed as the ‘black sheep’, the oddball who couldn’t or wouldn’t conform to the mores of the collective?) . . . it’s not necessarily a physical going either, for we can access ‘beyond the village’ even from within the village by climbing into the cellar with the question of Who am I if I am not I? . . . and beyond the surface, bobbing along with my head and pickaxes, barrels of beer bearing halflings and dwarves, cellars and cellos, is the clever woman with her clever story, cleverly told to a community with open hearts who share dreams and visions with tears spilled, grieving and laughing together, working and playing together, or else . . . . I’ll likely return to this tale again, for now these are my field notes and ponderings . . . the song below has a choral line I like that relates to an element of Else, Lagta nahin he dil yahaa . . . heart isn’t belonging or sticking to here, loosely translated, when the two of them meet in the beautiful moon then even in the strangest desert place something fresh and springlike comes into being, the whole world begins to spin alive . . . what are your thoughts, perspectives, or feelings?

 

 

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