Dark Night of the Soul

The Handless Maiden part 6: Wandering and Waiting

Our story continues: the queen with silver hands has given birth, but all is not well

The queen and her son were no longer safe in the castle, and so, with the baby bound to her breast, the queen bid farewell to the king’s mother. Weeping, she left the castle and returned to the forest.

She wandered, not knowing where she should go or where she would be welcome. She prayed for guidance and an angel appeared on the path.

The angel led the queen to a cottage deep in the woods. Over the door was a sign which read, “Here all dwell free.” A maiden dressed in white came to the door and greeted the queen. She welcomed the queen and the baby into her home and took care of their every need.

The queen lived in the cottage in the woods for seven years.

One day, as the queen bent over a stream to drink, the child fell from her arms into the water. Frantic, she called for help and an angel appeared. The angel wanted to know why the queen did not rescue her child. “Because I have no hands,” she replied. The angel smiled and said, “Try.”

As the queen plunged her arms into the water and reached for her child, her hands regenerated, and the child was saved…

Here All Dwell Free

The maiden became a mother and this brought her to the attention of the devil who wanted to destroy the new life before it could get started. So now the maiden is alone again, wandering the forest with her child. She’s separated from both the king and the king’s mother, with nobody to take care of her, seeking nourishment from within.

This stage of the journey is about healing and getting back in touch with your instinctive nature. You can’t stay within the walls of the castle forever, living in a passive state, being waited on by courtiers. And you can’t spend the rest of your life struggling to do things with your silver hands. They’re not very practical, and besides, they’re starting to itch!

As we saw in part 4, the silver hands represent a lack of spontaneity and as long as you have them, you can’t really touch life or feel alive. You can’t nourish the new life that’s coming into being unless you can find a way to heal. So you wander some more and find yourself deep in the forest where you learn new skills and slowly (or suddenly) re-grow your hands.

The forest is an underground forest, a place of initiation. What happens in this part of the story is another rite of passage. The queen lives deep in the woods and finds peace at last. Nothing much happens. But this nothingness is part of the process of healing, as Robert A Johnson explains:

“Nothing happens, which is enough to frighten any modern person. But that kind of nothingness is the accumulation or storing of healing energy.”

You’ve been through a hell of a lot up to this point: you’ve been straddling two worlds, learning to navigate the confusing realm of the unconscious, letting go of anything you no longer need, and dodging attacks from the predator. All this underground activity can leave you tired and depleted, so taking time out to do nothing makes a lot of sense.

You may want to get on and do stuff, but the new life that’s coming into being must be tested. What you’re doing needs to come from the right place within your being, not from your silver hands. You will re-enter the world at some point, but first you need to heal your wounds. And the best way to do that is to do nothing.

Doing nothing is also a good way to reconnect with the level of your being symbolised by the angel in the story. There’s a part of you that knows what you need at every stage of the journey. It’s been there from the start, guiding your steps, even when you couldn’t see or feel it. This is the instinctual psyche, the part of you that’s connected to the divine and the Wild Mother.

The forest is her realm and when you surrender to her guidance, you will find your way to wherever you need to be. The queen finds her way to a cottage in the woods and is greeted by a maiden dressed in white. The maiden already knows the queen, a sign that she’s connected to the Wild Mother, and she takes care of her for seven years.

The queen learns new things while living in the woods, but we don’t know what they are because the story hasn’t preserved that knowledge. In Women Who Run With the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estes suggests there are missing portions to the tale that link back to older stories and women’s initiation rites. These would have included teachings on the cycles of life and death and rebirth.

Whatever happens during these seven years in the forest, the process is about getting back in touch with your soul and allowing it to lead the way. This is what you’re doing when you’re doing nothing. It doesn’t mean being passive and unconscious, because we’ve already seen that never ends well. It means getting in touch with your native wisdom and you do that by being receptive – listening, waiting, planting seeds, incubating, and gestating.

This is a time for introspection and solitude. Entering the forest means not going into the world, but trying to understand your experiences and what your life means on a deeper level. When you turn inwards it can look like you’re running away from life. But you’re turning towards yourself and your pain so it can be healed. By turning inwards you’re fully engaging with life. To go out into the world now and try to do and achieve in worldly terms – that would be running away.

You have to go through whatever you have to go through. You can’t avoid it. Healing can sometimes be painful because you have to relive old wounds, only now you can hold them in conscious awareness without turning away or denying your pain. The queen’s hands were severed – that’s a pretty grievous wound. A severance of the soul. Re-growing her hands won’t be easy. And it will take faith.

A clue to how this healing occurs can be found in the words etched above the door of the cottage: “Here All Dwell Free.” This is a place where you can be free, but what does that mean? In Here All Dwell Free: Stories to Heal the Wounded Feminine, Gertrud Nelson explains:

“Freedom, however, is not being rid of responsibilities; it is being free of random shoulds and oughts. Freedom doesn’t dwell in randomness but in conscious choice.”

The queen doesn’t spend seven years doing whatever the hell she wants. Dwelling free means living a natural life, spontaneous and heartfelt and guided by the soul. It means letting go of old dependencies and expectations, and not trying to measure your life based on other people’s values, especially masculine ones.

This is a process of stripping back the ego and the desire to be someone or achieve something in the world. Or perhaps the need to be perfect, or good, or nice, or whatever it is women are supposed to aspire to. There’s no point in re-growing your hands and then going back to your old ego clinging ways again.

Your time in the forest demands that you empty, so that you may be filled later. If you don’t manage to do this, your hands will either never grow back, or you’ll only end up losing them again.

The queen’s hands grow back when she accidentally drops her child in a river. The child represents the new self and when it falls into the water, it’s in danger of being lost in the unconscious. In a horrible moment, she suddenly forgets who she is, or who she’s becoming, and drops the child. But the angel is there, encouraging her to try. At first she thinks she can’t rescue the child on her own, but her angelic self knows better.

It’s been a difficult journey and you’ve spent so long not believing it was possible for things to change, for life to return, that you’re afraid to reach out for what you want. You may have lost your faith and trust in life. Perhaps you think that if you reach for what you want, your hands will be chopped off again. You need to trust that life won’t just wound you again.

This is why the angel has to encourage the queen to try. She’s not sure she can do it. You have died and are now coming back to life, but part of you might not quite believe that yet. But if you try, you might be surprised.

The death, the endings, losses, wounds, and dissolution, won’t go on forever. The child is your new life, what you’re growing into. You have to believe in it in order to save it and bring it out of the unconscious so it can be given life.

It’s important that whatever you do at this time reflects your true values and your deepest soul nature. If you try to do something that doesn’t nurture your soul, you’re likely to poison the river and lose the child. And your hands won’t grow back.

This is about re-claiming your sovereignty and living an authentic life. It’s a process of maturation where you slowly come into your own and learn to fully inhabit your own life. This means you can’t rely on others to guide or lead the way because you’re developing your own inner spiritual authority. The path will appear at your feet as you take each step.

As you do this, you’ll become more focused and centred. You won’t be swayed by anything or anyone that crosses your path. You become inner-directed and self-possessed. You know who you are and where you’re going. As your hands re-grow, you regain your grasp on life. You may need to practice with your new hands and your confidence will take time to build. But you’re now fully on the way to being reborn.

Finally, we leave the queen busy healing in the forest because the king is about to return home to a gruesome discovery…

Read the whole series here: The Handless Maiden

Images: Alone; Trading post; Silver Hand

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