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.