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Cenerentola and the Little Date Tree

The little date tree which the Dove of the Fairies gives Cenerentola is a powerful symbol of the sacred. There are stories of  wish fulfilling trees which reveal much of their meaning.

For Instance:-

There was a man crossing the desert, on a long journey, in the heat of the day;  seeing a tree in the distance, he made his way to it so that he could enjoy its cool shade. He fell asleep under the tree and awoke refreshed but very thirsty. He wished for something to quench his thirst. Immediately he saw wonderful ripe mangoes in the tree and reaching upward, was able to pick and eat the juicy mangos. When he had eaten his fill, he was very happy and this made him think about happier t times and the beautiful roses that used to grow around his parents’ house. He thought that if he could smell the fragrance of these roses once again, he would indeed be happy and content. Immediately he had this thought, the man saw in the tree above him, the exact same roses that he remembered from his parent’s garden – the same colour, and shape, the same fragrance. But then he thought that it was really impossible for the tree to have both mangoes and roses growing on it. As soon as he doubted, the tree and all its goodness vanished.

This was the Wish Fulfilling Tree, which exists in the realm of Creative Imagination – it is very real, but when we doubt it, it is no longer available to us. While under its branches, we can achieve anything we wish for.

So, the little date tree which Cenerentola was given by the Dove of the Fairies, could well be a Wish Fulfilling tree. The Dove of the Fairies gave her this tree so that she could learn by her practices to have access to the inner realm whenever she wished, where she could with practice, live in this realm and evolve into the  Queen she really was.


There is another great tradition in which a date tree is held as sacred:

In the Koran it is said that Mary gave birth to Jesus under a date tree – verse 19:22-26

And it came to pass on the third day of their journey, while they were walking, that the blessed Mary was fatigued by the excessive heat of the sun in the desert; and seeing a palm tree, she said to Joseph: Let me rest a little under the shade of this tree. Joseph therefore made haste, and led her to the palm, and made her come down from her beast. And as the blessed Mary was sitting there, she looked up to the foliage of the palm, and saw it full of fruit, and said to Joseph: I wish it were possible to get some of the fruit of this palm. And Joseph said to her: I wonder that thou sayest this, when thou seest how high the palm tree is; and that thou thinkest of eating of its fruit. I am thinking more of the want of water, because the skins are now empty, and we have none wherewith to refresh ourselves and our cattle. Then the child Jesus, with a joyful countenance, reposing in the bosom of His mother, said to the palm: O tree, bend thy branches, and refresh my mother with thy fruit. And immediately at these words the palm bent its top down to the very feet of the blessed Mary; and they gathered from it fruit, with which they were all refreshed. And after they had gathered all its fruit, it remained bent down, waiting the order to rise from Him who bad commanded it to stoop. Then Jesus said to it: Raise thyself, O palm tree, and be strong, and be the companion of my trees, which are in the paradise of my Father; and open from thy roots a vein of water which has been hid in the earth, and let the waters flow, so that we may be satisfied from thee. And it rose up immediately, and at its root there began to come forth a spring of water exceedingly clear and cool and sparkling. And when they saw the spring of water, they rejoiced with great joy, and were satisfied, themselves and all their cattle and their beasts. Wherefore they gave thanks to God.”

This means that the date tree is considered a very sacred place, a place under which the spirit (the Divine Child) can be brought forth and nourished. The dates and the water beneath the tree nourished and sustained both Mary and her baby.

There is a clear parallel to this Koranic verse in the account found in the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew which is included in the apocrypha. In other words, this story of Mary giving birth to Jesus under a date tree, was known well before the Koran.

‘Then she conceived him; and withdrew with him to a remote place. ‏And the throes of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm-tree. She said: Oh, would that I had died before this, and had been a thing quite forgotten! ‏So a voice came to her from beneath her: Grieve not, surely thy Lord has provided a stream beneath thee. ‏ And shake towards thee the trunk of the palm-tree, it will drop on thee fresh ripe dates. ‏So eat and drink and cool the eye. Then if thou seest any mortal, say: Surely I have vowed a fast to the Beneficent, so I will not speak to any man to-day’.


It is interesting to note that some palm trees bearing dates, grow in rivers, or close to springs in the Middle East. Symbolically the spring beneath the date tree, bearing dates, is of the greatest significance. As we have seen in the fairy tales, the spring of fresh water, relates to the water of life and the quest for unity with the Divine. The date and the palm are sacred in Christianity.  The palm branches carried on Palm Sunday originate in the triumphal entry of Christ into Jeruslaem, so it seems that the palm tree was also there at his birth. As we have seen in a previous blog post,  the ash which is used on Ash Wednesday, is the ash from burning the palms on the Palm Sunday of the year before.

In other fairy tales,  the hero (the masculine) on his inner journey, is given Teachings and practices, they manifest as a flying horse or steed, as we have seen – the beautiful brown horse in the fairy of the Dawn, the little humpbacked horse, and even the stone ram. But it appears that when the feminine is on her journey, a different process occurs – she is given a ‘date tree’, through which she gains access to the sacred  inner realm of the creative imagination. Her practice in this realm manifests and supports her evolution. This is a powerful process, which is explored in Cenerentola. Her journey is quite different. As Robert Johnston has said, men must find the grail castle and ask the ‘grail question’, which is ‘Whom does the Grail serve?’ Only if he answers correctly can he gain access to the holy grail.  But women live in the grail castle and their journey is different. Cenerentola is the only one of the fairy tales which I have come across, which actually shows this process and we do well to examine it deeply.


Cenerentola – Ashes and Cinders. What has been burned?

I am very grateful to Nawab’s comment below, as it leads us into an exploration of the question – What has been burned?

‘Thank you, dear Nuria. Yes, it is a very good question, ‘what has been burnt?’ Zezolla has become a ‘cinder’ on the hearth, which could remind us of a sacrifice, the burnt offering upon the sacred altar.
Regarding the urging of Zezolla that her Father should marry her Guardian, in metaphysical terms it is indeed the energy of the ‘soul’ that brings us into physical manifestation–a complete disaster in one way, but also the only gateway to illumination, the Divine homecoming.’

The ashes themselves are a powerful symbol of the sacred, the residue or remains of something – the result of transformation. The sacred ash on Ash Wednesday comes from the burned Palms of the previous Palm Sunday, mixed with olive oil, are applied in a cross-form on the forehead of the believer. This reminds the devout; ‘Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return’. Indeed, the wearing of ashes is a sign of surrender and devotion.

In the Hindu tradition, the sacred ash is made of burned dried wood and symbolises the incarnation of power, and the struggle toward divine achievement, the power of God in man. Devotees apply this sacred ash as three horizontal lines across the forehead and other parts of the body.

What Zezolla has sacrificed is her life in the outer world. From the ‘royal chamber, the canopy of state, splendid apparel of silks and gold’, as it says in the story. This is the gateway to illumination, as Nawab has said – the Divine homecoming. Through her practice and guidance from the Dove of the Fairies, she has achieved this exalted state of ‘nothingness’.

In the Frog Princess story, Vassilisa’s frog-skin is burned by her husband, the Prince, perhaps, as we discussed earlier, because she was not ready or able to do it herself. Her frog-skin represented the ugly skin she was forced to wear by the dictates of outer life. She had to flee to the land of Kashchey the deathless and wait for her redemption. Kashchey is a character which is mysterious but seems to be related to the colour white, like the ashes. The name seems to mean old bones, which also implies death of course. Perhaps he is deathless because he is death. Thus, the Princess Vassilisa must endure the transformation into nothingness, so that she can be reborn. Sufis too must die before we die.

When Zezolla becomes Cenerentola she begins the next part of her journey to become Queen.

Cenerentola – Who does the stepmother really represent?

Cenerentola is a story which works on many levels. It is about the evolution of the feminine, without the aid of a ‘hero’. All the characters in the tale are part of the one being – Zezolla’s father the Prince represents the Heart in Sufi terms, while Zezolla herself is Soul. She is very young and unevolved; there is no mature ‘Mother’ in this story; her Mother is said to be dead. This leaves us with the question of who is the stepmother with her many daughters?

At first I felt that Zezolla’s ‘nurse’, who became the stepmother, was a manifestation of our real or natural mother; the one who cares for us as best she can but who cannot really meet our inner needs as the Great Mother. On pondering this further, I now believe that the nurse / stepmother represents the outer world more generally, and that this story is about the Inner and Outer Realms and the transition and movement between the two. Then the story makes more sense. The outer world is so seductive – when things are difficult, we go shopping, or redecorate the house, buy a new car, but this can only satisfy us for a short time. We look for appreciation, love and happiness in the outer world, but from where do we get the love and nurturing that we really need. It is from the inner realm, as we shall see.

So why does Zezolla encourage the marriage of her nurse to her father, when she already knows that this will be troublesome for her? At the wedding feast a dove comes to her from the Dove of the Fairies in Sardinia, giving her advice as to what she should do when things go wrong. It is much like in some other stories, where the hero does something which is perhaps ‘wrong’ but it turns out to be right. Like when the little humpbacked horse, tells Ivan not to pick up the firebird’s feather as it will bring him much trouble and strife. But he picks it up anyway. Zezolla too knows what she is doing when she persuades her father the Prince to marry her nurse. This will become a great battle for her.

In many ways, the Cenerentola tale is the back story of the Frog Princess and the burning of the frog-skin, as well as showing the evolution of the feminine as ‘One in Herself’. This is a powerful insight into the feminine. Paradoxically, it reflects both the before and the after, while being wholly in the present.

When the Prince marries the nurse, he has taken on the outer world with its many pleasures and seduction. His wife brings with her many daughters who belong to this outer world. We get a picture of this realm from the story – the delicious food, beautiful clothes, and trinkets. He becomes so taken up in this world that he forgets his Soul, his own beautiful daughter – his inner life which he once knew so well, lived, and loved. This is a scenario we are all familiar with – we are seduced by the outer life, by technology, by the speed of our interactions and communications. The sacred, the Soul is forgotten.

So what is it that has been burned?  What do the cinders and ashes come from? What has been burnt?  Cenerentola place is now among the ashes.  Zezolla has gone, she has become Cenerentola. A great transformation has taken place.


Trust No-One

 Petru's beautiful horse

This essay is in response to Murshid Nawab’s comment regarding Petru’s destruction of the magical communication device, in the story ‘Fairy of the Dawn’. As Nawab says – its takes time and preparation to rise to a state where we are able to bear or endure seeing the fates of loved ones, be they family or friends, but the most important aspect, as Nawab mentioned, is for us to see our own blind spots, especially the ones we really love! We so often don’t want to see them, even if we can. These rejected parts of ourselves, of our egos, are represented by Petru’s brothers, in the story of the Fairy of the Dawn. They are fearful, cowardly and have not got the discipline, tools, or strength to fight the fiery dragon at the edge of the realm. But they are also greedy and want the sacred water for themselves – without doing any of the inner ‘work’ of course. On his journey Petru sees how his brothers are trying to influence their father the emperor for their own purpose, and how the Emperor himself is becoming increasingly blind. When our small self or ego gains in power then the Higher Self loses its insight and its ability to hear the Voice within, even while another part of ourselves is on the inner journey. It is extremely difficult for us to ‘see’ and recognise when it is a part of yourself, who is sabotaging you.  Our inner and outer life, do influence one-another and it is in contemplation and meditation that we come to realise what is really happening – both inner and outer.

But it is on Petru’s return journey, carrying the sacred water of life from the Fairy of the dawn, that the Goddess Mercury warns him, to ‘Trust No-one’. When he returns to his own land – back into the world again, he is so happy to see his brothers and does not realise that they would do anything to harm him, even kill him, in order to steal this precious water of life.

There is a saying ‘After Enlightenment, the laundry’, but I wonder if there really is any ‘after the enlightenment’. Enlightenment is a gradual process and I do not think that many would feel truly enlightened on their deathbed. Sufis prefer to talk about evolution – about the process of perfecting ourselves. This is never finished in our lifetime – only the One is perfect. Jung has said that evolution is not linear, but is a circumambulating around the higher Self (the Divine part of ourselves).

Just as Christ, experienced temptation after his baptism, it seems to me that when there is a transition to a higher level of evolution or consciousness, there is a temptation to use the newfound wisdom and insight we have learned, for the purposes of the ego.

The ultimate Ideals for a Christian are Truth, Beauty, and goodness (spirituality), which are related to Faith, Hope and Love. So it is also with Sufism. The ‘Devil’ who tempts Christ, tempts him with Hedonism (hunger and satisfaction), egoism (might and power) and materialism (wealth). When Christ refused each temptation, the Devil departed.

Petru was protected from everything except the element of water, which is what he was carrying on his return. So his brothers realised that water would be the only element which could kill him. When we carry within us the sacred water we have won, the ego or small self wants to use that to its own advantage. We can see this sometimes in people, teachers or Gurus who give in to this. Their very spirituality is used by their ego to promote themselves. Spiritual ego is really the worst kind of ego as it is so deluded. So the truth is that we can trust no-one!

The Frogskin in the Frog Princess Resonance

The Frog Princess


Dear Nuria

You asked me what it was about “The Frog Princess” that captured my attention.  You asked, in particular, about the frogskins.

The first thing that captured me was that the princess is transformed into a frog by a king who was jealous of her power.  In some versions this is her father.  To me this symbolises the fear that the patriarchy have of the power of women, but, more than that, it also shows how the feminine can be forced to assume another guise (disguise) to survive.  Although the princess is transformed into a frog, she is far from powerless.  This intrigues me.  She catches the prince’s arrow in her mouth.  We speak of the arrow of desire.  But here we see how the desire for union manifests in both the princess and princess.

As you point out in your book, the princess frog is found in the marsh, and the marsh is a crossing place.  Her frogskin enables her to move between both the active realm and the inner realm.  She takes up her place in the outer realm, in court.  Her inner feminine is filled with the deep knowing that you have spoken about in your talks at different times.  This is what guides her hand when she makes the beautiful shirt for the tsar and bakes the bread.  You have spoken about the rich symbolism of the embroidered shirt and the bread, so need for any further comment here from me.

Although the princess appears as a frog, she knows who she really is.  At some deeper level, the prince hears her with his inner ear, because he accepts all that she says and does as she bids him to do.  The princess is not perturbed in anyway by the malice of her sisters in law.  She knows what it is right and fitting to do.  She does not suffer from doubt, but is filled with confidence.  Confidence means “with faith” and it seems to me that all that she does, when in this captured state has a certain sure footedness, because she is connected to the deep inner realm.  Our own doubt and misgivings can come from accepting the guise of the frogskins, from taking on the guise that the patriarchy, directly or indirectly, makes us wear, as being who and what we are.  The frog princess has no such misgivings.  She never loses sight of who she is really is – no matter that others do not see this.  She does not need the regard of others.  She does not dignify the folly and malice of the sisters in law by responding to them by taking taking them seriously, but instead just responds calmly and with good humour.

When she appears at court as a beautiful queen, the white swans that appear symbolise divine harmony.  The swan is a symbol of discrimination and union.  Her gracefulness and discrimination at the ball – taking a sip of the ceremonial wine, putting the bones in her sleeve – these are the outer signs of her inner grace, of knowing what it is right and fitting.

When she appears arrayed as a queen, the imagery reminds us of Mary as the Queen of Heaven.  I think this reminds us that all women have this connection to the wise and powerful feminine, whose beauty is the manifestation of grace.

The burning of the frogskins is a difficult aspect of the story.  You mention that you felt a sort of horror.  I felt a sense of shock, but unlike in many tales where some irrevocable action takes place – I am thinking of Orpheus looking back and losing Euryidce – in this story the burning of the frogskins is ambiguous.  When would she would have been ready to leave her frogskins behind?  Three days is a long time in a fairy tale.

First the princess is transformed into a frog by the patriarchy, which can be seen to represent all the harmful aspects of power, the denial and oppression of the other, which in this case is the inner feminine.

The second time, the princess transforms herself into a swan (I think everything in the tale points to her transformation into a swan, rather than a cuckoo).  Here, it is as if the next stage in her transformation must be via the outer masculine, the force of acting in the world.  So, it seems to me, that the feminine can be harmed by the patriarchy and must learn to deal with the world in a different guise, going about her work without attracting unwanted attention until the time is right.  The ripeness is all, as Hamlet says.

When the prince burns her frogskins, but she is not ready, I think that this is just how life is.  The masculine principle, by its nature acts in the world, with imperfect understanding, and makes mistakes, and yet it is by this mistake that the frog princess flies into the inner realm for the next stage in her evolution, separate from the masculine.  It is by this seeming “mistake” that the prince commences his inner journey.  It is the rightness of our desire that transforms our actions.

So, in this story, after I write this, I realise that what shines through is the desire of all of us as seekers, for love and for union with the divine.  Whatever the harm that is done to us, as the princess is caught up in the spell of the jealous king, we have to discover our inner, deep knowing and trust in the process, as the frog princess trusts that her beautiful shirt and bread will be known as the work of a princess.  Then, when, the prince burns her frogskins, this is like when we find ourselves thrust out without protection, without being prepared, and yet must see and recognise this as a time for reflection and inner growth, just as the frog princess does.  Only then can both the masculine and the feminine be united in divine harmony.





The Witch and the Angel do not discriminate

Petru's beautiful horse


It has puzzled me for a long time as to why the witch Birscha (in The Fairy of the Dawn story) seems to have aided, not only Petru (our hero) but also his brothers, who wished to steal the ‘water of life’ which had been so hard won. They were prepared to kill him for the power this water would give them over the Emperor their father and the whole land.

Many years ago, an elderly Sufi teacher told me that the Angels do not discriminate; this was why anyone (even the mafia) could pray to Angels and expect their help. Angels are beyond the so-called rights and wrongs of humanity – for them there is no heaven and there is no hell. Thus, the angelic beings must come to earth, to learn about evil – so as to discriminate between good and evil. The angelic beings on earth are therefore faced with great evil, so that they can learn. I found this very comforting as it gave meaning to my own encounter with Evil. Evil is Live spelt backwards so that it is indeed about death, death of body and soul.

The witch Birscha taught Petru so that he could manifest his beautiful and magical horse to guide and advise him on his journey. It was with his horse that he was able to find the sacred water from the well of the Fairy of the Dawn. On his return, he is advised by the Goddess Mercury, to trust no one. This Goddess had previously given Petru a magic device so that he could see and hear what was happening back home with his father, the Emperor. He knew but did not want to believe that his brothers were trying to overthrow their father. He was so upset by this that he smashed the magic device. It was Birscha who told Petru’s brothers that he was returning home with the Water of life. Why did she do that? In pondering this I realised that Petru’s denial of what he had been shown was his last weakness, the last lesson that he had to learn; to distrust even the brothers whom he loved. To heed the warning of the Goddess and his intuition and not be lead astray at the very last minute of his journey.

It was only when he heard the neigh of his beautiful horse, his inner teacher, that he came to his senses and so managed to avoid his own death and destruction, and the loss of his prize, the sacred water. With this he returned to heal his Father and the whole Kingdom.

There is a higher and greater purpose which the Witch and the Angel serve.

Sacred Teaching – the Structure of Belief


As you can see from the last post, there is an underlying spiritual or religious tradition behind these stories. Spiritual teachings or perhaps we could say, the religion and belief system underlying them, should be understood, and excavated in the tales. For the hero, the quest cannot be achieved without it a deep knowing of these traditions.

In the first part of The Little Humpbacked Horse we can see this clearly, when the three brothers set out to catch the demon which is trampling the Tsar’s corn each night. The older two brothers make much of performing the outer rituals of their religion – they bow and pray, before going out to challenge the demon, while in fact they are afraid and hide themselves. They come home in the morning pretending that they have waited for the demon, to challenge it. The outer trappings of their religion do not give them the courage or belief to make a stand against something that they know to be destructive. They are superficial and no longer have a function.

The youngest brother Ivan (our hero) does not do any of this. He is depicted as a fool, and yet is shown as being connected to a deep sense of the feminine and of the mystical. When it is his turn to confront the demon, he simply takes a crust of bread and waits for her to show herself. She is indeed a representation of the feminine (a white mare) which has been repressed and denigrated in that society. When Ivan eventually overcomes this demon, after a great battle, she does a deal with him and so he wins his friend and guide, who represents the Spirit of Guidance, the Teacher, and the Teachings – his little humpbacked Horse. When he returns home, he does not tell his brothers or his father what has happened but simply goes about his business. He is laughed at but this does not bother him at all. He has done the deep inner work and can now proceed on his quest, with his guide and teacher.

Later in the story the same brothers try and cheat Ivan out of his hard-won prize – his horses, with no thought to what is right and wrong. Later in the court of the Tsar, where Ivan finds himself, there is again this outward show of devotion, which causes Ivan much grief. The whole land and of course the Tsar, is devoid of a spiritual or mystical underpinning. Ivan’s task is to restore and integrate the sacred feminine principal and so heal the empire.

In the story of Golden Chisel and the Stone Ram, it is clear that the people in the village did not have an active working belief system or religion which sustained them deeply. We are told that they had no fresh spring water for their tea and food – no water of life, no spiritual nourishment, to sustain them. But there was a tradition, which was well known and a prophesy – that one day spring water would burst forth from the lips of a stone ram. A young stone mason (Golden Chisel), after spending a night in the mountains (in a ‘high’ place, possibly meditating or contemplating), sees a light shining in the dry pond near the village. This light is the Divine Light or Spirit of Guidance. He digs where he sees the light and finds a brilliant stone roughly in the shape of a ram. The time he has spent on his inner work, has allowed him to ‘see’ this Light.  He has in effect found the core or kernel of a true teaching, –  there in the old spiritual beliefs of the village, where he found the light and went digging. The stone was very hard and blunted his tools as he chiseled his stone ram. So we too must chisel out our own Ideal of God and create our ‘structure’ of belief. It is hard and difficult and requires all the tools that we have – our practices and belief systems. When the stone ram is at last complete, the little stone ram comes alive and speaks to Golden Chisel, offering gold and riches, but Golden Chisel only asks for fresh water for the village. In a sense he was being tempted, just as Christ was tempted in the desert after his baptism. With the insight and wisdom he had achieved, he could have anything he wanted, but he was a true Teacher and only asked for this wisdom and life to flow to the village. The Stone Ram brought fresh water from the sacred Yellow River to the village each night. As the story unfolds we discover much about the difficulties and ultimate success in bringing new Teachings to the world. Golden Chisel had to contend with the jealous god of the Yellow river, before he could be successful in allowing the water to flow directly to the village. He truly was a new messenger or prophet.

Cenerentola (an old version of the Cinderella story) shows very clearly that there has been an old and hidden matriarchal or Goddess religion in Sardinia since ancient times, and it is this which underpins the whole story. The Dove of the Fairies is the leader or high priestess of this religion, and it is she who teaches and advises Cenerentola. We see as the story develops how Cenerentola learns and evolves until she is ready to become the Queen she was destined to be. The story is about her quest and she is the only person named. It is unusual, as it demonstrates the path that the feminine must take towards enlightenment.

The Frog Princess gives us very little hint as to any tradition, except that there is a lack of any understanding of feminine spirituality, and so the hero must find the old witch – the Baba Yaga, to help him. She also comes out of that ancient tradition of a matriarchal religion.


The Structure of the Sacred Teachings, in the story ‘The Fairy of the Dawn’

Petru's beautiful horse


There is a part of The Fairy of the Dawn story which demonstrates the search for hidden or lost teachings; so that the hero has a wisdom structure to carry him through the inner realms, and who can advise him on his journey.

When our hero, Petru first comes to the bridge at the edge of his father’s realm, he must fight the terrible dragon guarding the bridge. He is unable to do this because his horse cannot handle the sight of the dragon and neighs and rears up at the mere sight of it. He knows that he cannot fight the dragon as his horse is not steady or strong enough. He must return for a better horse. This horse is a symbol of the structure – of his belief system or religion, which in this case could not quite sustain him. So, he returns to find his old nurse and teacher Birscha eagerly waiting for him at the gate of the palace. She tells Petru that he will never reach the spring of the Fairy of the Dawn unless he rides the horse which his father the Emperor rode in his youth. In other words, he must use the ancient teachings or knowledge base and steed of the Emperor, who is in fact the Heart, according to Sufis. He represents the Divine One. Birscha tells Petru to ask his Father where the horse is to be found, and then mount it and be off.

Petru does as he is told and the Emperor immediately knows that it can only have been the witch Birscha, who has told him this. ‘Fifty years have passed since I was young’, he says. This symbolises the completion of a (7 x 7) cycle – it is a Jubilee, a return to the beginning. A fresh start. ‘Who knows where the bones of my horse are rotting; or whether a scrap of his reins still lie in his stall?’ the Emperor tells Petru. Petru is devastated at this but Birscha understands the hints and symbols he has been given. The bones or structure of the Teachings are still in the horses’ stall somewhere – hidden. The scarps of the reins signify the remains of practices – means of mastery of the ego – like prayer, chanting, song or sound, breathing practice, meditation, and contemplation. These are the reins which control life. Birscha understands and sends Petru to find the scrap of the reins; the place was full of saddles, bridles, and bits of leather, but he picked out the oldest, blackest, and most decayed pair of reins and brought them to old Birscha.

With respect to Teachings and mysticism, it is thought that the Illuminated Souls, who came to earth, like Rama, Krishna, Shiva, Buddha, Abraham, Solomon, Zarathustra, Moses, Jesus, Mahomed and in many others known and unknown to the world,  have directly received the sacred wisdom as a transmission from ‘above’. The Wisdom is always the same, but understood through the prism of the culture or times it was received. From this direct vertical transmission, a religion is perhaps eventually formed. Followers of the original Prophet or Teacher are taught, and the religion is spread horizontally over the regions and the peoples of the land, sometimes over hundreds and thousands of years. But the purity of the teachings become diluted or distorted over time, so that they are gradually lost, being constantly re-interpreted. Therefore, many teachers ask that their words are not to be changed under any circumstances.  Petru must search in the stable (the Temple of God) for the oldest version of the practice, so to discover their original purity and wisdom.

When he brings the reins to the old woman, she performed a ritual – murmured over them and sprinkled them with incense, before holding them out to the young man. In a way, they are transformed and now carry the real mystery. ‘Take the reins’ said she ‘and strike them violently against the pillars of the house’.  The pillars of the house can be seen as the Seven Pillars of Sophia – of the Feminine Wisdom – the Spiritual structure of the Teachings. In the Book of Proverbs (9 1) ‘Wisdom has built her house, she has hewn seven pillars. Sophia calls out to humanity, ‘Let the simple turn in here — Abandon the company of simpletons and you will live, you will advance in understanding’. (Prov. 9. 4 – 6). The Seven-pillared temple, upon which Wisdom is standing, symbolises Her Church or structure. She teaches and protects. It is very interesting that the central figure seen with Sophia is a man holding a sword above a dragon, signifying strength. This could indeed be Petru. Petru did what he was told, and scarcely had the reins touched the pillar when, to his amazement, a horse ‘whose equal in beauty the world had never seen; with a saddle of gold and precious stones, and with such a dazzling bridle you hardly dared look at it, lest you should lose your sight.’ By striking the reins against the pillar of wisdom, he has manifested his inner guide, his psychopomp – the whole wisdom teaching.

‘Jump on the back of the brown horse,’ said the old woman, and went into the house.

Now the horse tells Petru to ‘sit firmly in the saddle’, and off they go to fight the dragon, cut off its head, and cross the bridge, before travelling deeper and deeper into the other realms;  to the spring of the Fairy of the Dawn and back again. We need a teacher like old Birscha, to lead us to our guide, who shows us the way; – the steed who carries us through the realms.





The flying Horse and the stone Ram, as vehicle, steed and guide.

The flying horse, or the stone ram, is ridden by the hero on his or her journey through the realms. It really represents pure intellect, life, and light – all aspects of the Divine. It is in effect a Psychopomp, the archetype which guides the soul through its various transitions – through the inner realms of the journey. Perhaps in Sufi terms, it can be seen as the Spirit of Guidance. Without it the hero cannot proceed in his or her quest.

In each of the Fairy Tales in my book, the hero wins his faithful steed and guide, after a great battle, conflict, or inner work of some kind. In Golden Chisel and the Stone Ram (an ancient Chinese Han Fairy Tale), the hero Golden Chisel finds a brilliant stone, in the centre of the dried-up pond in his village. He had spent the night in the mountains before this, perhaps meditating, so that he could finally ‘see’ the light in the stone shining there. He then had to chisel or carve the stone, which was vaguely in the form of a ram. The Prophecy had said that water would flow from the mouth of a stone ram. So, Golden Chisel spent a long time chiselling the hard stone, into the shape of a ram. When it was finally complete it came alive and the stone ram speaks to him. They make a deal so that the stone ram will bring water from the sacred Yellow River to the village, so that the villagers could have fresh spring water for their tea and their food. Nourishment of the soul. It is the Stone Ram who takes Golden Chisel to the river each night, and who carries the water from the river to replenish the village.

The Little Humpbacked Horse is the true Psychopomp in this story but he also was hard- won. The hero wants to find the ‘demon’ who is trampling the Tsar’s golden corn. This demon turns out to be a white mare (representing the inner Light of the feminine which was totally lacking and repressed in the land of the Tsar). The hero does battle with her, by jumping on her back, facing her tail, and hanging on for dear Life, never letting go. After a long time trying to dislodge him in violent ways, the mare gives up. He has passed the test and now they too make a deal. If he lets her go, she will give him two magnificent horses and a little humpbacked horse with long ears like a donkey. She tells him that he can do what he wishes with the two horses but on no account, must he give up his little humpbacked horse. This will be his guide, friend, and steed, although he has no idea of this at the time. This little horse advises him, takes him to the various realms that he needs to journey through and finally guides him to his goal.

While in the Fairy of the Dawn story, there is yet another way in which a beautiful brown horse, manifests for the hero. At first Petru the hero, rides a horse to the edges of consciousness, to fight the fearsome dragon which guards this bridge between the realms. In trying to overcome the dragon, Petru realises that his horse is not steady enough  to hold him, as he fights. He returns to his father’s palace and is met by his old nurse / witch, who immediately knows exactly what the problem is. She teaches and guides him to find the oldest reins in the emperor’s stables, and in striking the reins against the pillar, a magnificent, beautiful brown horse stands before him. There is much symbolism here but the pillars represent the wisdom of Sophia (the Divine Feminine) and the structure which holds this wisdom. This horse carries Petru to the bridge, where he fights and overcomes the dragon, cutting off its largest head. Now he is in the next realm of consciousness, where his horse advises, and explains his journey, so that he eventually reaches the centre where the Fairy of the Dawn guards the sacred water. He then must carry this water back to his father the Emperor, so that he can be healed. This return journey is very unusual in fairy stories and is important. After all we do have to return to this outer realm and our lives.

I would say that the Baba Yaga – the witch and Teacher in the Frog Princess, who guides the hero in that story, is also a Psychopomp. She rides a ‘horse stick’ in many stories and takes on this function of the flying horse. She teaches the hero, when he is near the end of his quest and without her, he would never have found his princess wife again.

And in the final story of Cenerentola (Cinderella), the Dove of the fairies acts as a spiritual teacher and guide for the heroine, so that she grows and evolves into the Queen she really is. Birds also can act as a Psychopomp in ancient myths.



Letting Go: Opening to Spirit

This is a Reflection given at The Interfaith Centre of Melbourne’s  Interfaith Service, Letting Go: Opening to Spirit.
The spiritually inclusive service was held at 3pm Sunday March 12, 2017, at Toorak Uniting Church.

Dr Nicholas Coleman’s Welcome to Spirit

We acknowledge
The One beyond All
Source of the Universe
Substance of Life
Known and worshipped
By many names and by none
Here – now and hereafter

I really love Nick’s Welcome to Spirit – this acknowledgement that the Divine One is the whole universe and nothing exists save God or the One, is the core of Sufi belief and knowing. We are all part of this One, of the Unity that we are born into. Little ones are happy and still close to the Source, but as we grow up we develop our ‘personality’, we learn attitudes and opinions, develop coping mechanisms which help us deal with the world we live in.

However, these things, make us feel more and more separate from the One, and it is this separation which makes us ‘panic in our humanness’. What has been lost is our feeling of Unity with God, of Peace and happiness. Murshid Hidayat (the son of Hazrat Inayat Khan) used to say, very emphatically that the Soul is happy, it is happiness.

We come to realise that our attitudes and expectations of ourselves and others have to be ‘let go of’, before we can return to the place of Peace and happiness. This is a long and difficult task, and for the small self, it feels like death.

We can let go of fear and anger, not by ‘killing them’, which is repression: things repressed come up and bite us when we least expect it to, but by having mastery over them. We need to have fear when we are in danger, so that we can run or fight! We need the energy of anger to support the fight sometimes!

What makes us angry or fearful? Why? What can we do about it? What is it that causes our heart to be ‘wrenched and torn’? When we discover this, we can let it go. This is what separates us – instead of thinking that we are right, let us listen to what the other has to say. There is a possibility that we have much in common with them. Silence is often better than arguing, especially with someone who has made up their minds – just let it go. It is even harder sometimes, in our own families – to let go of giving ‘advice’ to our grown children, for instance. They don’t listen anyway, and just resent the interference. Love and silence and the occasional ‘Really!’ when we are told something we disagree with, goes a long way.

I had a dream, just after I was pondering this. My husband was working with Donald Trump. Yes Really! I noticed that he was using pencil and paper, and that he was quietly looking for a common ground behind all the mayhem. If we listen to others, we will find a truth that we can work with, rather than seeing and objecting to something we disagree with.

Hazrat Inayat Khan was a very charismatic and noble being; he was often taken for a religious leader or a prince. People would ask him what he believed in but he would first ask what they believed in. In the case of a young man on a boat he was travelling in, the young man said – Oh I don’t believe in God but I do believe in Nature. Then Murshid replied ‘Ah, I too believe in this’ and so they had a common ground on which to continue their conversation.

Sometimes it is interesting to ask Why. I was listening to a talk on RN last week. A book had been written called Love Dog, eat Pig, wear cow. This is shocking but it reflects our attitudes. I have a friend who is Korean – for her, dog meat is cooling if you have a fever. We take chicken soup for the same reason. Why do we have an attitude that we ‘know’ is right. It can be cultural, religious a parental dogma. Do we need it? Let it go!

Letting go of expectations is another great burden we can relieve ourselves of. Expectations of ourselves – often our inner parent still ruling us. We so want our parents to be proud of us, but what would we do to make ourselves proud? I had a friend in S. Africa – he left Germany as a 19-year-old, to get away from his father who was cruel and autocratic, but when he became a director of a small Safari company he had started with my ex-husband, he told me his father would be so proud of him if he knew. I was very surprised.

We also carry the expectations of others – let them go. Say no or act ‘no’ if it can’t be said! So freeing!

But we also expect things of others – our families and workmates. I have a friend who after years of frustration and anger with her husband for not taking out the kitchen rubbish every day, and not putting the bin out weekly (or bringing it in), finally gave up and did it herself. Of course he ‘should’ have done this for her, but rather than have a constant battle about it daily, better to accept and use the energy for something constrictive. As my dear husband would say – ‘what do you expect from a pig, but a grunt’!

We need to let go of the ‘Shoulds’ in our lives. I should be a good, I should be kind and supportive, I should look after the weak and defenceless! Well no! I have learned that the more we do for others, the more they expect.

We need to let go of so much in our lives.

This takes a long time, but knowing and experiencing we are all one, letting go of our differences, seeing God in one another, is truly the way towards a Lightness of Being.

In our beautiful prayer Khatum, we say ‘Raise us above the distinctions and differences which divide, and unite us all  in Thy perfect Being.’