Ever wondered from where we get our attitudes? What influences the big decision we make in life – not just how we choose careers, but how we choose our partners, our friends, our lifestyles. What’s a conscious choice? What’s a subconscious influencer?
I was talking to my partner the other day (long story how we chose each other, but there were false starts aplenty along the way on both sides, I assure you) about how I’d noticed our friends from different countries had different ideas about relationships. Some go with the flow, some are incurable romantics, some take a more strategic view. If your parent’s marriage was an inspiration for you, you have a starting point. But what if it’s not? And even if it is, what and who else is influencing some of the biggest choices we make?
I was asking my partner what he thought about this puzzle: why is it that in our culture we critically view other approaches to life relationships when, given our divorce rate, we might justifiably be accused of throwing stones in a glass house?
I’m not suggesting there’s a ‘right’ way, but the messages we take in from our culture do impact our expectations, and from an early age.
As you might know, if you’re a regular reader, I’m particularly interested in myths and folk stories and how they teach us lessons but can also serve the needs of an over-culture, rather than our personal needs as a free-thinking individual.
Cinderella v Vasilisa
Take the classic story of Cinderella; the young woman facing adversity in the face of her dreams, mostly in the shape of a mean stepmother and two equally mean and ugly step-sisters.
Now this story is ancient, and it appears in many guises in different countries. The magnificent Jungian therapist and folklore expert, Clarissa Pinkola Estes talks about this story of emerging womanhood spanning thousands of years and many cultures, even cropping up in myths that predate those of ancient Greece.
Interestingly, in other cultures, this story has evolved in different ways to the one we know in Western Europe and the US. For instance, in the Russian and East European versions, our heroine Vasilisa faces a quest with far more frightening, challenging milestones than her Western counterpart. She goes deep into a forest looking for a cannibalistic witch, finds her, gets over her fears, solves tests put to her by the witch and returns to vanquish the mean girl gang her father’s brought into their home.
Bit different from the version I wondered at as a child with rapt admiration. Remember Cinderella in the Ladybird books? My favourite shade of blue comes form the dress she wore on one of her incognito dates with Prince Charming.
And then there was the Disney princess version. How influenced have you been by that animated classic? Bibbidi-bobbidi-boo! Bet you can hear it already…
Because when you look at Walt Disney, genius he may have been, he was working in interesting times. Cinderella was released after World War II in 1950. When men came back from fighting and women, who had been manning the fort and doing men’s jobs, were expected to step back and be happy with a more domestic role. Cinderella was a huge hit with its homely values. Do a bit of sewing, be meek and mild even when you’re hurt by others, pretend to be someone you’re not to win your prince charming… oh and have tiny feet and wear glass shoes. Because you’re so dainty, presumably, they won’t shatter under the (non)weight of your delicate step.
Interestingly, Cinderella’s blue dress prevails in most remakes and film adaptations of the classic fairytale. Blue as a symbol for the Virgin Mary’s robes, perhaps?
But what Vasilisa has, that Cinderella lacks, is her doll. The doll is a gift from her dying mother. ‘Feed her a little, give her a little water,’ says the mother, and she will help you in times of crisis.
When Vasilisa comes to a crossroads in the forest she asks the doll for help. The doll signals the way forward. Time and time again, when Vasilisa faces a test, the doll shows the way.
I’ve seen various explanation as to what the doll represents but I agree with Pinkola Estes on this one; it’s our intuition.
Remember her? The intuitive knowing. The inner guide?
For some reason, Cinderella has lost her doll, but Vasilisa is all the stronger for hers. No one gives her anything after her mother dies. She solves her own problems by listening and acting. She faces her fears, she takes action and she is rewarded with triumph. And then she gets on with the business of being Vasilisa.
I know which version I’d want a child to hear and be inspired by. What about you?
Can you remember how to get in touch with your intuition? Have you fed her throughout your life? Heard her and acted or have you closed your ears to please others and ‘done the right thing’? Do you nurture that super power, the inner knowing what is right for you? If you do and you have a practice, please share. I’d love to hear from you.