The horrific image of a father cutting off the hands of his daughter belongs only in fairytales, or does it? Hands symbolize our ability to grasp and to hold, to take care of ourselves (and others). To be without hands is to be disempowered, helpless and dependent on others. How many fathers inhibit their daughters’ development, keeping them as little girls, preventing them from growing into strong, powerful woman?
There are an abundance of tales depicting this brutal image such as the “Handless Maiden” fairytale; gruesome stories of mutilation, of fathers (or brothers) hacking off the limbs of young girls, either in rage or in selfish bargains with the Devil (Shadow). Traditional narratives about these stories see it as an initiation rite of the wounded feminine soul. But the troubling abuse in the story echoes the constant underlying fear and threat of physical or emotional violence that saturates the lives of girls and women.
The Story goes like this: A struggling miller unknowingly sells his daughter to the devil in exchange for wealth, having promised the devil whatever is behind his mill, not realizing that it may be his daughter (who was there sweeping). During the transaction the father chops off his daughter’s hands, but due to her ‘healing’ tears the devil can’t claim her. The first part of the fairytale could represent a father’s unconsciousness – his ignorance of his own impact on his daughter and how his behaviour might disempower or even brutalized her.
The tale carries on when the daughter leaves, meets and marries a King who gives her silver hands and she gives birth to a son. However, due to the devil’s meddling, she was forced to retreat deep into the proverbial forest. Here an angel restores her hands as she encounters her emergent self without the old identity and crippling habits. She is eventually reunited with her husband.
The fairytale becomes a blueprint for the journey of individuation – a transformation from wounded child to wholeness. The story represents an initiation into the power of our own deep instincts aligned with the creative power of Nature, which we access if we take the journey inwards, into our deepest wilderness.
Other versions of the “Handless Maiden” include "The Girl Without Hands" (Germany), "The Girl With Her Hands Cut Off" (France), "Olive" (Italy), "Doña Bernarda" (Spain), "The Armless Maiden" (Russia), “The Armless Bride” (South Africa), "The Girl Without Arms" (Japan), "Rising Water, Talking Bird, and Weeping Tree" (French Louisiana) and many others.
Read an in-depth exploration about this fairytale at: https://jessicadavidson.co.uk/tag/handless-maiden
Image credit: Jel Ena
A post I wrote for @jungsouthernafrica
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