Friday, 18 April 2014

Fairytale grimoire: Rapunzel

This is one of the Brothers Grimm's most strangest stories. There are different versions of the tale and modern storybooks are cleaner and less dark. However, it's still full of dream symbolism and historic traits.

The heroine princess is called Rapunzel. Unlike the princesses of other fairytales, Rapunzel has unusual features and that comes in the way of her having extremely long hair. Rapunzel's hair is strong enough to act like a rope ladder for people to climb up. She doesn't get injured and seems invincible. Her tears have healing properties that can cure blindess. Her voice alone attracts a lover way out into the forest. She lives alone in a tower and was raised by a cruel witch. Her own mother feasted on vegetables while pregnant with Rapunzel and the special plants were called Rapunzel.

The name Rapunzel is from a real plant called Campanula Rapunculus, or rampion, from the bellflower family. It was a popular to grow and eat during meals hundreds of years ago. It's a plant that is a herb, flower and a vegetable. The root of Rapunzel can look like a turnip and cooked like one mainly in boiled water until ready to eat. The flower of this same plant is star shaped and lilac, light blue to purple in colour, containing a milky sap that was, centuries ago, used as a cosmetic. The leaves of the plant contains Vitamin C and tastes like spinach.

There are also myths about the rampion Rapunzel plant that distorts the behavour of children, turning them wild and quarrelsome. One legend tells of a girl from Calabria in Italy, who pulled up a rampion bellflower from the soil. Then the ground opened to reveal a secret staircase descending down into the earth. But this rapunzel plant has its mythical roots in death, funerals and bad luck.

The story outline
 (my version based on traditional and modern versions):

Once upon a time there was a pregnant woman who lived with her husband. They both lived in a cottage almost virtually next door to a witch that grew rampion in her garden. The witch's garden was not easily acessable as it was surrounded by a high wall. 
The woman was becoming ill with hunger as she wanted nothing else to eat but the rapunzel from the neighbour's garden. She pleaded with her husband to climb over the wall and fetch some rapunzel. The man didn't want to see his wife suffer, and at night he would climb over the wall and enter the garden, and pick some of the plants. He carried the rapunzel back over to his house and gave it to his wife. She enjoyed the taste and wanted nothing else but the plant. 
One night as the man was picking rapunzel from the garden, he was caught by the witch. He was so afraid of her that he made a bargain. He would continue to have the witch's plants so long as the baby is handed over to the witch after birth.
When the baby was born, it was a little girl and she was named Rapunzel, after the same vegetable that her mother always ate. 
The witch took the baby from her parents.
Rapunzel became a beautiful young woman but she lived in a room at the top of a tower. The tower had no doors or stairs. She was not able to get out and only the witch, who raised her, could get in through the window at the top of the tower. Rapunzel would be called to lower down her long long hair so that the witch could climb up it.
Rapunzel was a prisoner and she was also very gifted at singing.
One day, a prince rode by on his horse and he listened to Rapunzel's sweet singing voice. He was so enchanted that he followed the sound and came to the tower. 
Then he heard someone coming and he hid behind trees. He watched the witch call out, "Rapunzel! Rapunzel! Let down your hair!"
Soon a long rope dangled from the tower top. The witch climbed up and entered a window high up. The prince waited and eventually the hair rope dangled down the tower and the witch was descending. He waited for the witch to disappear through the forest. When she was gone, he left his hiding place and called out, "Rapunzel! Rapunzel! Let down your hair!"
He climbed up the rope of hair and entered a window at the top of the tower. He met the beautiful Rapunzel. They soon fell in love. The prince visited her every day.
Then one day, as the witch was climbing Rapunzel's hair, it felt painful as the witch tugged and pulled her hair. Rapunzel said "Owch! You're not as gentle as the prince".
Knowing that Rapunzel was seeing a man, thje witch became furious and cut off Rapunzel's hair. She banished her into the forest.
Later that day, the prince called for Rapunzel. The witch dropped down Rapunzel's hair rope. The prince climbed but when he reached the window and saw the witch, she let go of the hair and the prince fell to the ground. He landed in thorns and cut his eyes. He wandered blind and sad, looking for his lost love.
After so long, and years passed, wandering through the desert, he heard sweet singing. He was drawn to the lovely voice, and it was Rapunzel.. She recognised the prince after all these years. She was so overcome with joy at finding him again that she wept tears of happiness. Her tears fell into his eyes and his sight returned. Both Rapunzel and the prince returned to his palace where they lived happily.
The end. 


Some modern versions don't include twins that Rapunzel and the prince had. Rapunzel the story is older than the Grimm's tale as they wrote down oral stories and many other storytellers have been doing the same long before.

First of all what sounds to be happening at the beginning of the story is that Rapunzel's pregnant mother was experiencing a pica condition, where pregnant women are overcome by unusual food cravings. Some women desire non-food. So the story outlines a truth that a pregnant woman craved a particular food. The parents of the heroine seem scared of approaching their neighbour so the man resorted to stealing from the witch's garden. The witch contains her veggie garden within a high wall, as she contains her adopted daughter in a tower. The witch is nasty by character because she's stolen the girl from her parents and locked her in a tower. To the witch, the garden is as precious to her as the girl Rapunzel.

I can guess that further back in history, the witch of the story might've been based on a benign herbalist grandmother figure, who took custody of Rapunzel when the mother died during childbirth. Death during childbirth was far more common in the past. Elderly women with their wisdom and healing gardens took over roles as midwives, nurses, healers and carers. However, the message of the story changed over centuries because superstitious people feared anything to do with natural medicine, elderly women, magic and nature because of witchcraft. The old woman or forster mother became the witch.

Now Rapunzel as a heroine is often a recurring figure from older fairytales and myths, the maiden in the tower and the imprisoned princess.Here are some older versions of the fairytale.

"Saint Barbara" - A 3rd Century tale of a princess who was locked in a tower by her father. When she refused to follow his religious beliefs, he beheaded her. She was turned into a saint and appears in many countries as an icon.

"Petrosinella" - A woman steals parsley from an ogress' garden and is made to give away her baby daughter, who was named Petrosinella (it means "parsley" in English). The ogress locks the girl in a high tower and only visits her by climbing up the girl's long hair. A prince listens to her singing and rescues her.

"Persinette" - Similarly, a girl named Persinette (parsley) locked in a tower by a sorceress. Once, her own parents lost their daughter after being caught stealing parsley from the sorceress's garden. She visits the girl by climbing up her ladder hair. A prince visits her and the rest is similar to the story we know.  

"Danae" - From Greek mythology. A princess named Danae is locked away by her father. The god Zeus visited her in a shower of gold and then she became pregnant. She was thrown out of the castle with her baby son, who after many years later later, grew to be the hero Perseus.

A maiden in the tower could also be interprated another way. Perhaps Rapunzel is a symbol of the Divine Maiden at the axis point, on top of the mountain, at the highest peak, nearer the clouds, sun, moon and stars. She lives at the highest places, not as a prisoner but as a goddess. There is never an easy way to reach her. The hair is a symbol of trees, branches, ladders, ropes, all with the means to climb upwards.

The idea of a Divine Maiden on top of a building has existed since time began and she's regarded as a holy figure. She is the sun, the moon, stars and sky. Throughout history there are pieces of architecture revealing such Divine Maidens in the form of statues on buildings, rooftops. pillars and walls. These are called Caryatid. These maidens have been around since ancient times. It's no different to the seasonal decourative pretty sparkling girls (the dolls of fairies and angels) on the tops of trees.

By SheWolfNight

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