Amplification of “The Handless Maiden”

Dream: An enraged man pursues me. I see that he is blind. Terrified, I manage to catch him in a suitcase and lock it, but his hands are not caught and still reach outside.

When I meditated on this dream three things struck me: (1) the blindness of the angry part of me, (2) the fact that I’d caught him in a suitcase, which showed me I was carrying my anger around with me and (3) the helplessness of the hands, which I write and paint, the instruments of my creativity.

The image of this dream made vivid for me the pain and self destructiveness of my former attempt to deny my anger. I felt the enormous energy I’d put into locking up the angry part of me, and how blind I was when angry. It was a metaphor for how, unwittingly, I had imprisoned my creativity, which kept on trying to get out, thus escalating both my anger and panic.

Yet it also showed me that I had not hidden my anger away in a closet or prison – I kept it with me… The dream called me to explore the relations between my anger and my creativity, and reminded to focus on freeing the energy and power I’d locked away in this dream I saw that my hands were still alive, that my creativity was still powerful, despite many obstacles and detours.

Instead of trying to hid and forget all I had stuffed into my shadow, I needed to use my energy to “open the suitcase”. I needed to develop sufficient self-confidence to look at myself honestly, so that I could release and heal my anger, and all that was under it. The dream led me way back to my childhood, to fear and deep hunger and need. I had to begin to feel compassion instead of anger, self-respect instead of shame. I began to pay attention inwardly — to stop being blind, to see.

Alissa Goldring, Artist and Grandmother
November 1996

One of the method’s Jung used to understand dreams was “amplification”, to associate the themes in the dreams with mythological or “archetypal” material. This theme of losing one’s hands is similar to fairy tales of “The Handless Maiden”

A commentary by poet Vicki Feaver (based on the writing of Marie Von Franz in The Feminine in Fairy Tales) includes:

The story reflects the way women cut off their own hands to live through powerful and creative men. They need to go into the forest, into nature, to live by themselves, as a way of regaining their own power. The child in the story represents the woman’s creativity that only the woman herself can save.

“Table Suréalisme” by Alberto Giacometti

“Handless Maiden” by Caz Love

“Armless” by John Roy

This is what Clara Pinkola Estes writes about the fairy tale, in Women who Run with the Wolves:

The Handless Maiden is a remarkable story, one in which we find the toes of the old night religions peeking out from under the layers of the tale. The story is formed in such a way that listeners participate in the heroine’s test of endurance; the story pulls us into a world that lies far below the roots of trees. From that perspective we see that “the Handless Maiden” offers material for a woman’s entire life process. It deals with most of the key journeys of the woman’s psyche “the Handless Maiden” covers the journey of a woman’s entire lifetime.

[It] is about women’s initiation into the underground forest through the rite of endurance. The word endurance sounds as though it means “to continue without cessation,” and while this is an occasional part of the tasks underlying the tale, the word endurance also means “to harden, to make sturdy, to make robust, to strengthen,” and this is the principal thrust of the tale, and the generative feature of a woman’s long psychic life. We do not just go on to go on. Endurance means we are making something substantial.

In mythos, the teaching of endurance is one of the great rites of the Great Wild Mother, the Wild Woman archetype. It is her timeless ritual to make her offspring strong. It is she who toughens us up, makes us potent and enduring and where does this learning take place? La Selva Subterrenea, the underground forest, the underworld of female knowing. It is a wild world that lives under this one, under the world perceived by the ego. While there, we are infused with instinctive language and knowledge. From that vantage point we understand what can not be so easily understood from the point of view of the topside world.

The Armless Maiden and the Hero’s Journey

The Girl Without Hands, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

Seeking the Hands of the Handless Maiden

The Handless Maiden and the Ill Bargain

Healing the Handless Maiden

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