I've been dealing with the parental wound lately; the lack of mother love. It's funny but what the ups and downs of my relationship issues have been leading me to is not my animus but my Mother. I've come to realize that the great, big, gaping hole in me - the one that howls like a starving, half-crazed wolf - is Mother Hunger, hunger for love and nourishment, acceptance. Hunger for Home.
So I poked around the internet and, while there's surprisingly little on the internet about this specific form of negative mother complex, I did manage to stumble on this site which contains author and analyst Jules Cashford's amazing essays (I've only read the one referenced in this post - there are many more to savor once I finish this post!) including a relevant piece studying the story of Hansel and Gretel.
One thing that struck me was the motif of the devouring mother, or the hungry mouth (the Evil Witch in the story.) I never thought of myself with a devouring mother, quite the opposite in fact as I had an absent mother, the lack of a mother. But, it seems, when the Mother archetype is wounded, she becomesthe hungry maw that seeks only it's ever elusive satisfaction.
So what to do? For many years I thought that nothing could be done about it; certain wounds could never be healed, just managed. But the very fact that I've been lead here must mean something. So I poked around and found Cashford's essay. The whole process of transforming the Devouring Mother into the inner source of nurturing appears to be a long and complex one, but does seem possible. I guess it's important to remember that Jung said that we never solve our problems, we just outgrowthem.
Continuing with Cashford's essay let's take a look at what that might look like. First off, there's the relationship between Logos and Eros, the mind and the heart. Originally, it's the mind that keeps us safe, but at some point we must rely on our feelings and instinct. The mind helps us deal with things. It's the mind that schemes and helps us avoid being truly thrown "to the wolves." Of course, the problem is that Hansel - the mind - can only bring us back to the problem, never lead the way forward. For that we need the white bird, the symbol of the Self. It's only when we follow the bird that we finally break free of the endless cycle of suffering. Of course, originally it's to more intense suffering, but it's our legitimate suffering. Unlike the neuroses that we escape to - and are trapped in - when we try to avoid our problem, this suffering is ours. It belongsto us, as ugly and as horrible as it is.
When Cashford gets to the resolution I get lost; everything up to the point where Gretel shoves the witch into the oven makes sense to me. Part of it may be that I'm still pretty early in the process (basically I'm exploring the nature of the witch), but part of it is Cashford's explanation doesn't resonate with me. My own feeling is that Gretel pushing the witch into her own fire represents "burning" the witch - the hunger and desire - in it's own "fire." In other words, cooking in one's own juices. This is, in fact, the dragon's fire that I wrote about in an earlier post on snake symbolism:
"[It] is hard to accept: the fire has to burn the fire, one just has to burn in the emotion till the fire dies down and becomes balanced. That is something which unfortunately cannot be evaded. The burning of the fire, of the emotion, cannot be tricked out of one’s system; there is no recipe for getting rid of it, it has to be endured. The fire has to burn until the last unclean element has been consumed, which is what all alchemical texts say in different variations and we have not found any other way either. It cannot be hindered but only suffered till what is mortal or corruptible, or, as our text says so beautifully, till the corruptible humidity, the unconsciousness, has been burnt up. That is the meaning, it is the acceptance of suffering."
(Marie-Louise von Franz, Alchemy.)
So, the way I'd interpret it is that Eros (Gretel) draws us to those situations in which we have to cook in our juices. While our mind may tell us to stay safe, our heart keeps dragging us into just those situations where the witch is tossed into her own fire. Again, early days but this seems to be the more likely interpretation of the fairy tale, at least for me.
(Later on I re-read what I had written and had some more thoughts)
The house is a spun sugar fantasy of a relationship. It's not a real house, it's a fantastical house. When we've been driven from "home" (nurturing) by a mother who cannot give us the mother-love we need, we end up lost in the woods. And what we come upon is this faux house; it's not only not a real house, it's pure temptation. It's everything we thought we wanted, we are fed after we've starved for years (the years of famine.) But inside the house is the witch, the demonic caricature of the murderous stepmother. Something else to consider is that it's the Self itself that brings us to this deadly situation, because this is exactly what we need in order to truly resolve the problem at home. It's in the witch's house itself that the treasures of the Self reside.
Another thing is Gretel; this whole experience with the evil stepmother makes her completely helpless. When we are denied this mother-love our feelings can't function; we feel like we can't let ourselves feel, like it's all too much for us, leading us to rely on logic and reason. This can keep us out of trouble for a while but by itself it's incapable of finding a way out of the situation. The problem is that Gretel - our feelings - can't find her power until we're actually in the witch's house, i.e. the middle of our tumultuous emotional drama.
What does this mean? Is it that being in the situation with the witch puts the mind under lock and key forces us to rely on our feelings? Or is it that being in this situation allows us to bring some of the witch into us (Gretel doing to the witch what the witch had planned to do to her)? In either case the empowerment of feeling is part of the healing process as Gretel becomes more active, until at the end she tells Hansel they can't both ride on the white duck.
Gretel, as the female child, is the renewal of the feminine instincts. In the stepmother and the witch, and the presence of the famine in the land, the female instincts (emotion, instinct) are wrong, turning them into the opposite of the nurturing mother, into the destroyer. But, as with many stories of "evil" older women, their actions instigate the confrontation and change needed for renewal. The white dove is a symbol of the Goddess, and the white duck at the end is also female; with one hand the Mother Goddess drives us to wholeness with her terrifying side, and with the other she lures us to the same with her angelic side. All of this is in the service of pushing the young feminine, represented by Gretel, into her own power.
This reminds me of significant dreams I've had about the young girl in me (breaking and entering , the girl with long white hair) - is she the Gretel in me? The tender, connected emotional part? The part that the tough, intellectual surface me has always protected, the way Hansel protected Gretel? This seems to be the case, but I'm still not quite certain what she needs to do now. I know that I've been in the witch's house with my continuing relationship issues (the sugar spun fantasy of love with the raging, hungry witch inside.) What exactly is that Gretel's supposed to be doing?
In my life right now Hansel has been jailed. Gretel is suffering (the whole thing with G is the pain of her Cindarella suffering - loving and loving, but with no reward.) But what is the thing with tricking the witch with the bone, and with Gretel pushing her into her own oven? How can I empower my inner Gretel to find her power? From my dream I've started by rescuring the trapped little animal, but later the girl was blind (a weakness) and she ran away. Do I need to keep my emotions present - keep Gretel from running away - when all I want to do is stop feeling for him? I need to ponder this some more...