“What hurts you, blesses you. Darkness is your candle.” – Rumi
We’re on a quest to discover more about the murky depths of the mind and our worst enemy. In Going Dark we met the predator. Now we’ll dig a little deeper using the story of Bluebeard to learn how he operates and what we can do to overcome him.
Never Trust a Man with a Blue Beard
There are many versions of this tale of dodgy facial hair and murderous intent, but this one comes from Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes and features the key that won’t stop bleeding. This is my rewritten summary of the story from the book:
Once there was a man with a strange blue beard who, as luck would have it, was called Bluebeard. It was said he was a failed magician, but he didn’t like to talk about it. Instead, he concentrated all his efforts on procuring a new wife and courted three sisters at the same time. He took them on a lavish picnic and impressed them with tales of his exploits, but two of the sisters grew suspicious. They couldn’t deal with his strange blue beard and rejected his advances. Undeterred, Bluebeard persuaded the youngest sister to marry him.
She lived with him at his castle in the woods, and one day he had to leave on business. Bluebeard told his wife she could do whatever she wanted while he was away and handed her an enormous bunch of keys. She was free to go in any room she liked, except for one. He showed her the forbidden key, which was the smallest of them all, and then rode off into the woods.
She invited her sisters over and together they explored the castle, opening doors and rifling through cupboards. They found a door in the cellar that fit the tiny key and flung it open without a thought. One brought a candle and held it into the room. The horror! Piled in the corner were the skeletons of all Bluebeard’s previous wives rotting in the dark, the floor slick with blood.
The sisters screamed and locked the door, but the wife noticed the key was stained with blood. She tried to wipe it on her dress, but more blood poured from the tiny key. She tried everything she could to stop the flow, but it wouldn’t stop. Finally, she hid the key and tried to forget what she had seen.
Bluebeard returned home and asked for his keys back, and immediately noticed one was missing. Enraged, he dragged her to the cellar and opened the terrible door, determined to add to his dead wife collection. But she pleaded with him to allow her time to compose herself and prepare for death. He agreed and gave her fifteen minutes – more than enough!
She ran upstairs and called her sisters to look out for her brothers, who were at this very moment racing to her rescue. She knelt and prayed while her sisters watched the horizon. Soon they heard Bluebeard coming up the stairs, roaring for his wife to come to her doom. At that moment, her brothers arrived and ran into the castle. They drew their swords and hacked Bluebeard to pieces and left him for the buzzards, who were most grateful for the feast.
Let’s take the story apart and see what we can learn from it.
Bluebeard’s victim is the youngest sister because she’s naïve enough to fall for his superficial charm. As a young girl she represents innocence and the creative potential of life. She could also stand for the soul itself, since this is the object of the predator’s murderous intentions.
We can encounter the predator internally as part of our own minds, or externally as part of normal life. He comes in all shapes, but whatever form he takes, the predator is always a light-stealer and consciousness killer. The young and the naïve are prime targets, although he can still get you when you’re old if you don’t know what to watch for. Girls and women are particularly open to abuse because they’re trained to ‘be nice’ and conciliatory. And smile :).
Losing touch with your instincts can also make you easy prey. When this happens you’re too easily fooled by the surface of things, too willing to overlook the strange blue beard that makes you uneasy. You collude in your own downfall, whether through naivety, stupidity, cowardice, laziness, loneliness, greed, lust, wilful rebellion, peer pressure, fantasy, or cultural norms.
Innocence must be outgrown. It’s a harsh lesson but a necessary one, and perhaps the soul engineers the whole thing, as we’ll see. Until the loss of innocence, your life is nothing but potential as you skip through the fields like Persephone, gaily picking flowers:
“Persephone is untouched by life. Her abduction is cruel, yet governed by necessity; and she herself secretly invokes it, by picking the strange death-flower which Hades has planted in the meadow for her fascination. It is the plucking of the flower which heralds the opening of the earth beneath her and the arrival of the dark lord in his chariot drawn by black horses.” – The Astrology of Fate, Liz Greene
(Interesting aside: the name Persephone means ‘bringer of destruction.’)
So through innocence or wilful blindness, you’ve jumped into bed with the predator, but there’s still a part of your psyche that understands what’s going on. This is represented in the story by the two older sisters. Even when things are bad, there’s usually a part of you that knows where you went wrong and what to do about it. So the sisters stand for consciousness or knowledge.
Freedom to Know
Bluebeard tells his wife that she is free to do whatever she wants, except for one thing: she can’t know the truth. The predator always tries to make your life smaller so he can take your light, or consciousness, for himself. The key is the way out. It represents permission to self-knowledge, but here’s the thing:
Bluebeard is the one who hands over the key!
If he didn’t want her to open the door, why give her the key? Perhaps it’s a test of loyalty, perhaps he’s setting her up to fail. But it’s more likely that he knows she’ll open the door. He secretly wants her to open the door. After all, if she doesn’t open it, he can’t kill her and take her light/soul.
This is a clue that you can’t awaken to full self-knowledge without a confrontation with the predator. Not only do you collude in your own abduction by the darkness, but the darkness contains the key to your awakening. The predator doesn’t want you to be conscious, or know who you are. He doesn’t want you to awaken, but he gives you the key anyway.
If you obey the predator and refuse to use the key, you choose death. But using the key opens you to the secrets of the psyche – all the dead bodies. Perhaps it would be better not to see those terrible things, to stay asleep and not know the truth. If self-knowledge means death and destruction, then unconsciousness seems preferable. But this is an important initiation – a spiritual rite of passage – to gain sovereignty over your own mind and soul. To refuse it, is to refuse to live.
The door represents a psychic barrier that stands between you and self-knowledge. Every time you refuse to think for yourself, you keep that door firmly closed and collude with the predator. The destruction in the room represents all the things you’ve killed in your attempt to ‘be nice’: hopes, dreams, desires, intuitions, potentials.
The blood on the key represents your creative juices, your life force leaking away through lack of use, denial or self-destructiveness. The blood pours over the dress which represents the persona. This means you can’t hide what you’ve learned – the truth is out. Now you know the predator is out to get you and you’ve got a fight on your hands.
The predator wants to kill the creative feminine side of the psyche, the part from which all new life arises. This part of the soul is buried deep. It knows the way forward, knows what you need in order to grow and live a full life. This is where your best insights and potentials come from, but to reach them you must go into the darkness. But that means you also have to deal with the destruction you find there. In other words, you must accept the darkness and not turn away from it. You must be willing to face it. That doesn’t mean letting the predator have his wicked way with you. It means getting smart.
The bones of the dead wives represent the soul – the hardest part of the psyche to destroy. Their flesh may have rotted away, but the bones are still there. Like we see on the Death tarot card, the destruction is a blessing in disguise and rebirth is on its way. This means the situation isn’t hopeless – there’s life in these old bones yet! The soul is reborn through consciousness, by becoming awake to the truth and breaking the habit of ignorance.
Poison Becomes Medicine
The wife pleads for time to prepare for death and the predator, strangely, agrees. This is an important point in the story, even if it doesn’t quite make sense. She’s buying time to call for help, and you can do that too when confronted by the predator. He tends to pop up whenever you move forward or gain consciousness, when things are going well or you’re feeling positive. The predator rises up and tries to stop you by killing off the new awareness. He throws cold water over your hopes, like an evil bucket challenge, but you can learn to step out of the way.
The wife calls to her brothers who ride to the rescue. The brothers represent the part of the psyche that’s more aggressive and ready to fight and kill the predator. It’s a fierce self-protective energy that acts in the face of anything that would destroy you (doesn’t have to be masculine, has nothing to do with gender).
Bluebeard is dismembered and eaten by the birds. This shamanic image hints at a deeper meaning – he’s not just killed and forgotten. Finally, the part of the psyche that doesn’t want to die (which is the real reason he’s a failed magician and going about stealing light) is transformed. He isn’t annihilated, but absorbed back into the cycle of life. The carrion birds are soul-carriers and sin-eaters who carry the immortal soul to the Otherworld so it can be reborn. In terms of the individual psyche, the predator is recycled – his energy is redirected and transformed into something useful.
In practical terms what this means is that you refuse to agree with the predator when he puts you down. Don’t allow yourself to be sidetracked or undermined or devalued. Refuse to be silenced or blinded to the truth. Sidestep the bucket of cold water.
You fight the predator with more consciousness, more awareness, and use his energy for something positive and life-enhancing. So you could take his rage and use it to burn through all the things you no longer need, or pour it into your creative work. Or take his trickiness and cunning and use it to be more discerning.
As with vaccinations where a tiny bit of the poison is used to inoculate you and trigger an immune response which heals the body, you take the poison of the predator and transmute it into medicine. To free yourself from the power of the predator all you need to do is see it for what it is. In other words, look at how you collude with your own unconsciousness and create your shadow. Face your fears, think for yourself and refuse to give away your power.
All easier said than done, but you already have the ultimate weapon at your disposal: your true nature. Your deep soul wisdom or Self knows how to live. When you’re in a potentially dangerous situation, she’s the one who whispers in your ear, “Stop being so nice”, “Stop smiling”, and “Can’t you see he’s got a knife.”
She’s also the birds that sing when you need cheering up, the sun that comes out at just the right moment, and on the day you decided to give up for good, she’s the dog that appears on your path and makes you laugh and change your mind. But that’s another story for another time…
Next we explore the origins of the predator and the nature of evil in: Sympathy for the Devil