Exile and belonging

There are many ways to write about awakening from a more constricted and ego lens reality. There are also many fields of knowledge and aspects of experience one can use to inform their narrative. Myths, fairy tales and folklore across cultures and eras are  containers of universal journeys into the depths of the psyche and into the outer world. Many are stories of a hero or heroine’s quest to freedom, love and the truth. These short stories can be read at a subjective and objective level. The characters can reflect aspects of our soul and the collective unconscious, as well as, the workings of  outer environments. I have over time posted bits on Andersen’s tales and archetypes from Greek mythology, the capacity of myths to awaken us and bring insights, and also, their potential to be used as tools to work on healing and growth. One theme dear to my heart is exile and belonging, which has been negotiated in stories since antiquity.

In her book: Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype, Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, refers to and beautifully adapts myths from many cultures to weave her narrative of our journey into the depths of our psyche to own ourselves and our right to be here.  In one of the book chapters she focuses on exile and belonging and she makes references to fairy tales and myths from Sleeping Beauty and the Ugly Duckling to the Greek myth of Hephaestus, who is hurled off Mount Olympus because he took his mother’s, Hera’s, side in an argument, which infuriated  her husband Zeus, Dr C. P. Estes writes ‘the problem of the exiled one is primeval. Many fairy tales and myths center around the theme of the outcast. In such tales, the central figure is tortured by events outside her venue’. She writes that things may go wrong from the beginning and one might be born into a family who puzzles over how this ‘small alien managed to infiltrate the family’ and exile can be brought about through neglect, abandonment, meanness and cruelty or even through striking a bargain, which one does not fully understand.

Below are extracts from Dr C. P. Estes’ sixth chapter on exile and belonging:

‘You may not belong to your original family at all. You may match your family genetically, but temperamentally you may belong to another group of people. Or you may belong to your family perfunctorily while your soul leaps out, runs down the road, and is gluttonously happy munching spiritual cookies somewhere else. Hans Christian Andersen1 wrote dozens of literary stories about children who were orphans. He was a premier advocate of the lost and neglected child and he strongly supported searching for and finding one’s own kind……….For the last two centuries “The Ugly Duckling” has been one of the few stories to encourage successive generations of “outsiders” to hold on till they find their own. It is what I would call a psychological and spiritual root story. A root story is one that contains a truth so fundamental to human development that without integration of this fact, further progression is shaky, and one cannot entirely prosper psychologically until this point is realized’.

“The Ugly Duckling” theme is universal. All stories of “the exile” contain the same nucleus of meaning, but each is surrounded by different frills and furbelows reflecting the cultural background of the story as well as the poetry of the individual teller. The core meanings we are concerned with are these: The duckling of the story is symbolic of the wild nature, which, when pressed into circumstances of little nurture, instinctively strives to continue no matter what. The wild nature instinctively holds on and holds out, sometimes with style, other times with little grace……… The other important aspect of the story is that when an individual’s particular kind of soulfulness, which is both an instinctual and a spiritual identity, is surrounded by psychic acknowledgment and acceptance, that person feels life and power as never before. Ascertaining one’s own psychic family brings a person vitality and belongingness’

‘Girl children who display a strong instinctive nature often experience significant suffering in early life. From the time they are babies, they are taken captive, domesticated, told they are wrongheaded and improper. Their wildish natures show up early. They are curious, artful, and have gentle eccentricities of various sorts, ones that, if developed, will constitute the basis for their creativity for the rest of their lives. Considering that the creative life is the soul’s food and water, this basic development is excruciatingly critical. Generally, early exile begins through no fault of one’s own and is exacerbated by the misunderstanding, the cruelty of ignorance, or through the intentional meanness of others. Then, the basic self of the psyche is wounded early on …..In many cultures, there is an expectation when the female child is born that she is or will become a certain type of person, acting in a certain time-honored way, that she will have a certain set of values, which if not identical to the family’s, then at least based on the family’s values, and which at any rate will not rock the boat. These expectations are defined very narrowly when one or both parents suffer from a desire for “the angel child,” that is, the “perfect” conforming child…….. If the child is wildish, she may, unfortunately, be subjected to her parents’ attempts at psychic surgery over and over again, for they are trying to re-make the child, and more so trying to change what her soul requires of her. Though her soul requires seeing, the culture around her requires sightlessness. Though her soul wishes to speak its truth, she is pressured to be silent. Neither the child’s soul nor her psyche can accommodate this. Pressure to be “adequate,” in whatever manner authority defines it, can chase the child away, or underground, or set her to wander for a long time looking for a place of nourishment and peace….’

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