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.