Monday, November 3, 2014
She is dearly loved by her mother. In all that Little Spark does, she feels her mother’s guiding hand and thoughtful attention. And the girl also loves her mother as much as she herself is loved. It is a quiet harmony of being: a harmony that comes to an abrupt and unwished-for end when, after a short illness, her mother dies.
From one day to the next Little Spark’s world changes forever. There are times when she feels that she needs to comfort her disconsolate father more than she herself receives the comfort which she as a child so needs and deserves. But things are to change still further, and the change is for the worse. Her father remarries soon enough. Perhaps too soon. Little Spark’s new stepmother is everything that her dear mother was not. No scrap of love or comfort comes from this stranger in her house, in her life.
Instead, Little Spark finds herself sent downstairs to the cheerless kitchen, and there she must scrub the pots and pans and tend to the stove fire as if she were a common servant; which, to all intents and purposes, she has now become. Her father, if the truth be known, discovers all too late that he is rather intimidated by this doughty woman, and keeps silent over the treatment of his daughter.
Miracles happen. As she sits quietly weeping among the blackened pots and the even blacker soot and charred wood of the kitchen stove, a miracle happens to Little Spark. An ineffable essence, a shining form, appears before her. Again her world changes. She feels herself overwhelmed with an unnameable love, and although her tears flow, they are now tears of an inexpressible joy and hope for what might now come. Is this the spirit of her mother come to comfort her? Or some other being? Although no word is spoken, she knows that all her desires will now be answered. What the form of light offers to her is transformation.
And Little Spark transforms. From a girl dressed in servant’s rags she is now a radiant beauty, worthy of the hand of a prince of the land. And (of course!) it is the prince who duly claims her hand and gives to her all love, honour and happiness in his palace, ‘forever after’. Well, we recognize this story, of course, as the story of Cinderella, which is the translation of the literal name ‘Little Spark’. The story endures through the generations as an evergreen fairy tale. But such stories retain their magic for a reason. In the story of Cinderella we can recognise a far older and deeper story: the story of us all.
Just as with Little Spark and her mother’s love, we also know an initial perfect bliss, a heavenly state. But we (or Eve, or Cinderella, or whatever name we give to the little spark that is the soul in these stories) must descend ‘downstairs’ to toil in the grease and grime of the ‘kitchen’ of the material world, in order to learn the hard and necessary things that will help us through worldly experience to progress. But there always is redemption, both in fairy stories and in the soul’s journey.
These eternal themes echo in our awareness. They travel through time to reach us, and they travel ‘in disguise’ as stories so that their inner meaning may be preserved. They continue to speak powerfully to us if we open ourselves to them. And perhaps now you might never read the story of Cinderella in quite the same way again!
Painting: Cinderella by Terri Windling