I've been reading a very cool essay on 'freeing the ensorcelled world' by Dave over at Via Negativa, (the article is on his personal page, here) and it made me recall Marie-Louise von Franz' book 'The Shadow and Evil in Fairytales.' In it she talks about the basic mistrust of 'village' people towards one who spends a lot of time alone or out in the wilderness on their own. She has many 'tales' with which to illustrate the common attitude towards those who 'go their own way.'
This topic actually fits in well with the previous topic about monks, and reinforces our awareness of the need for community in the monkish life, whether as a vowed community or a loose-knit community of friends, co-workers, church or other groups. No one is a monk entirely alone. Even Tenzin Palmo depended to some extent on others to do what she did. Going far back in time we see that Anthony of Egypt had regular bread deliveries made by local church members to the tomb where he was initially living, and later when he removed to the 'inner mountain,' a colony formed around him, and many petitioners sought his counsel. He also visited Christians in jail.
So there was support, and there was also, of course, its opposite. I remember Pir Vilayat, the late head of the Sufi Order of the West, saying that he had to endure a long period when people criticized him and expressed their belief that he was not good enough to head up the Order, but that eventually, he probably evolved more, and the people around him became more able to 'see' him and to accept him in that role.
But anyway, that's not really what I want to talk about in this post. I'm more fascinated with an instance of conflated identity I've stumbled across by re-reading portions of two of my most all-time favorite books. In my perusal of Marie-Louise's 'Shadow and Evil', I came across this story, which made me think of Ursula Hegi's protagonist, Trudi Montag, in Stones from the River, (who is also a central character in the collection of short stories, Floating In My Mother's Palm.) Trudi is a dwarf who grew up running the village's local pay-library, the place where people came for paperbacks, novellas, 'stories.' She continues this work into her middle-age and is 40 years old at the time of this passage. Here is Ursula Hegi - (her narrator is an adolescent girl who has been forbidden to visit the pay-library):
"By the time I was twelve, Trudi Montag had inherited the pay-library. Though she was in her early forties, she was less than one meter twenty tall. She knew everything. As soon as it happened. Before it happened. She had the dubious gift of guessing what went on behind closed doors. These insights she embroidered into stories which she circulated around town. Bearer of news - good and bad - she walked through the streets of Burgdorf on O-shaped legs, wearing cardigans that never quite closed over the wide bosom of her striped housedresses, moving with the assurance one usually sees in women who are truly beautiful. To each encounter she brought her friendly curiosity; yet, when people saw her advancing toward them, they expected the worst; even good news barely made up for that first sense of dread they'd felt at the sight of her.
"On the surface Burgdorf was a town of great virtues while underneath all kinds of transgressions were hushed up. Herr Pastor Beier, who listened to the confessions of countless sins, could be counted on to whitewash them all through absolution, but Trudi Montag would not let the town forget any of its flaws. Every day at noon, as soon as the bells from St. Martin's rang, she closed her library for two hours, and set out to carry the morning's gossip through town. Like an ancient trader, she bartered until she had extracted a piece of gossip from her listeners. In her pay-library Trudi Montag told me that my mother had stopped going to church after my brother, Joachim, had died, and that our housekeeper's son, Rolf, was illegitimate. [more scandalous stories, such as the suicide of the narrator's uncle.]
"In front of the pay-library stood an old chestnut tree that carried huge blossom candles in the spring. I'd flatten myself against its trunk, scanning the street to make sure my father wouldn't see me before I entered. The kitchen behind the library led into a living room with a huge gold fish tank and a blue velvet sofa. If I sat next to Trudi Montag on the sofa, I'd find myself sliding towards her along the slope created by her weight. Instead of pictures, she had mirrors on her living room walls, small mirrors of all shapes in ornate frames. I'd lean my head against the velvet and listen to her stories." (pp. 20-22, with apologies to the author for leaving out delicious details in the interest of brevity.)
And here is Marie-Louise, discussing how fairy tales account for 'spirit possession' in disobedient children, but my real point is the similarity between this character, called Frau Trude, and the character of Trudi Montag: "Grimm story (No. 43) called 'Frau Trude'. 'There was once a little girl who was obstinate and prying and rather impertinent, and she didn't always do what her parents told her. One day she said to her parents that she had heard so much about Frau Trude she would go to see what she was like. People said that she looked so funny and that everything she had looked so wonderful, and that there were such strange things in her house, and the girl was very curious and wanted to see it. Her parents forbade her to do this and said that Mrs. Trude was a very bad woman who did evil things and that she would not be their child any longer is she went there. But the girl paid no attention to what her parents said and went all the same. When she got there Frau Trude asked her why she was so white...[it turns out the child sees things there that frighten her, like the blood-soaked butcher, the hewer of trees, and so forth, and then Frau Trude "turned the girl into a block of wood which she threw onto the fire and when it was glowing red she warmed herself by it and said, 'That gives a good light!' " (pp.139-140)
Anyway, I'm wondering if Ursula Hegi intended Trudi Montag to possess echoes of Frau Trude, or if it is just one of those strange coincidences, or better yet, an unconscious dip by Hegi into the collective unconscious, producing an instance of synchronicity. Anyway, this bit of apophenia enriches the character of Trudi Montag for me even more! I happen to feel that this is one of the best books of fiction in the world, or rather the two of them together, and in non-fiction, 'Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tale' is way way up there too.
I guess the point is that when we stray outside the perspective of innocence, a perspective that is reinforced in 'polite society' and in the neat and tidy life of the 'middle-class' village, we may become frightened, we may suffer, but all of that is just a source of energy to the 'old earth mother,' the 'baba yaga' or whatever we want to call her. Frau Trude. She's seen it all.