Monday, March 3, 2014

Goddesses in the Dust: The Red Shoes

Unearthing the divine feminine, one archetype at a time...

Since I was little I have always worn red shoes.

Not until I was older did I realize there was a whole mythology surrounding them. Hans Christian Anderson's telling of the fairy tale is the most famous, but the psychologist and storyteller Clarissa Pinkola Estes recounts a version handed down from her Aunt Tereza's Magyar-Germanic roots. As she says, The Red Shoes is a cautionary tale that highlights the precarious state of a woman's wildish core and the self preservation necessary to avoid the myriad traps in life that will lure her from keeping true to herself. 

Red shoes have had starring roles in a couple of movies. (Who could forget Dorothy following the yellow brick road in the Wizard of Oz?)

The Red Shoes was made into a film starring Moira Shearer. 

The story starts as it often does, with a poor motherless girl. She has very little, but she fashions her own clothing, including a pair of red shoes, sewn from scraps. They are not much, but she loves them because she made them herself, and they serve to keep her safe and warm as she navigates the thorny woods. But an old woman comes along in a fine carriage and offers to take care of her. The price she must pay is throwing away her old clothes, including her beloved red shoes, in exchange for fine clothes, living in a mansion....and doing what the old woman tells her to do. The girl is sad, because no matter how many riches she is surrounded with, the humble red shoes gave her the greatest happiness because she made them by hand.  


One day the old woman takes her to a shoemaker. The old woman's eyesight is poor, so she doesn't realize that the girl, driven by a hungry soul, picks a pair of shiny patent leather red shoes instead of the black ones she is instructed to buy.

The girl wears them to church and all are scandalized - even the statues peer down on her with scorn. But an old bearded man winks at her and suggests she dance, which she does. Once her feet begin to move they cannot stop and she cavorts across the hills. The old woman's coachman goes after her and after a great struggle her feet are calmed. The old woman in a fit of anger takes the shoes and hides them. 

You can imagine what happens next. The girl continues to take the illicit shoes, dancing out of control more and more, and the old woman continues to hide them, forbidding her from wearing them. But the old woman falls ill one day and the girl once again puts on the red shoes. This time she cannot stop the dancing - it is out of control. She dances across hillsides, through graveyards, finally into a forest where the town's executioner waits with an axe. "Please!" she screams to the the executioner and begs him to cut off the shoes and free her from this living hell. He cuts through the straps but the shoes stay on her feet. Finally she cries to him that her life is not worth living this way any more so he must cut off her feet. This he does, and the red shoed feet continue to dance away, off into the distance, disappearing into the forest. And now the poor girl is a cripple and has to make her way through the world with only one thought in her head: never again does she wish for red shoes.


So what's the moral of the story? Red shoes symbolize life's blood, groundedness - and sacrifice. As Estes says, "The psychological truth in "The Red Shoes" is that a woman's meaningful life can be pried, threatened, robbed, or seduced away from her unless she holds on to or retrieves her basic joy and wild worth. The tale calls our attention to traps and poisons we too easily take onto ourselves when we are caught in a famine of wild soul. Without a firm participation with the wild nature, a woman starves and falls into an obsession of "feel betters," "leave me alones" and "love me - please." 

She goes on to say that "the loss of the handmade red shoes represents the loss of a woman's self-designed life and passionate vitality and the taking on of a too-tame life." It speaks of the out of control nature of addiction women encounter when they are so starved they can no longer tell how much is enough. It speaks of sneaking a secret life to escape one's shadow self. It speaks of how a woman goes dead when she tries to take the shoes off too late. But is also speaks of the rebirth possible when a woman tries to make her way back to life. When she once again begins to fashion her own red shoes by hand. They may not be as shiny as the fancy patent leather ones in the store, but they are her own. 

At my daughter's engagement party (who says the mother of the bride to be can't wear red?) 

Estes says, "Dance in red shoes, but make sure they're the ones you've made by hand." 

No, I didn't make these little numbers by hand. 

But I revel in the metaphor of wearing red shoes and the meaning behind them. They remind me to stay connected to my deepest self, to stay true to my artistic vision and creative power, and most of all, to remain grounded in myself. 

22 comments:

  1. Love the story Amanda, I never knew about them. You in your heels; let's note how beautiful you both were. Last time I tried on heels I was three and tried to put both feet in one shoe and walk. Needless to say, I hit the edge of the coffee table and had a cut head to boot. Wonder if there is a red boot tale. My little (now grown) boy child, always wore a pair of red cowboy boots. I painted many pictures of those boots and even did a series of postcards for him with his legs sticking out of the boots. He'd be climbing a tree, poking around and doing bad things little boys do.

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    1. Red cowboy boots, now that's taking it to another level - I admire his style and gumption! As for walking with both feet in one shoe and ending up smashing into a coffee table, that would put me off heels for life as well!

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  2. It seems often women are afraid of being true to themselves because it might mean being different. Red shoes are not the norm but they can indeed be special and glamorous or even simple and comfortable, but the red speaks for itself. It's like a dare to be true as in the story you've shared here. Thanks Amanda.

    btw, have you seen "Assassination Tango"? It's about a hit man (Robert Duvall) who love the tango.

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    1. Rubye, I haven't seen this move but will now look it up. Ever since you recommended The Wall it seems we share similar taste in films.

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  3. A beautiful, cautionary tale that I was not aware of. Thanks for sharing this, Amanda.

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  4. I had not heard about the meaning behind the legend of the red shoes. I have had a pair of red shoes (sandals) every now and then. I love the pair I currently own - they are a bit on the naughty side :) I think yours are gorgeous,

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    1. Probably red shoes are meant to be a little naughty?

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  5. Looking back I remember that Mom often bought red shoes for you and never for me! All I could wear were Buster Brown's lace shoes. In fact, I bought a pair of red Earth boots and wore them all over Paris, but discovered that the negative heel was worse for my back than they helped it and so had to give the boots away.

    But I keep looking for a pair of red shoes that will work for my battered feet and will now make a bigger effort understanding a bit about the significance of red shoes.

    Did you see the Oscars last night and the red shiny boots on Pharrell Williams with his trademark tall hat? And then a film clip of Judy Garland skipping her way down the yellow brick road with her ruby red slippers prompted Whoopie to lift her skirt to reveal red shoes and striped leggings.

    Those red stilettos your wore for the engagement party are stunning! Yowser. That photo made up for all the others where you were frowning as a little girl!

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    1. Gad, those Earth shoes — I think they did more harm than good. I don't know why Mom bought me red shoes, but probably because I pestered her for them :))

      I saw Pharrell on the Oscars but was so fixated on the Mountie hat that I neglected to see what shoes he was wearing - red huh?

      Yes, what is up with all that frowning in my kid photos?

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  6. fascinating in every way! i didn't like the part where dancing girl had to lose her feet. she was responding to her "famine of wild soul" so why such harsh punishment? (I think thoughts like this) :^)

    you have spiritual "props"--red shoes, your bracelets--that ground you, amanda. i learn a lot from you xo

    how is the book coming? I am ready to write again. time has opened up for me. i could be giddy….

    love
    kj

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    1. I didn't like that part either, but there is always a cautionary aspect to fairy tales. The metaphor I take from this one is to honor your own deep soul yearnings and to not be distracted from your own journey in life.

      I'm currently querying agents for my novel, but just as I started that process another opportunity has come up that was completely unexpected - so very excited about that, but it means switching gears!

      From what I read on your blog, it seems you are entering into a new creative phase with your writing. Am excited to hear how that is going for you♡

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  7. This post has tremendous layers. I didn't expect to see that gorgeous picture of you at the end with your red heels and it made my eyes water.

    It's funny, I first read 'famine of wild soil' and even after I could clearly see 'soul,' my mind kept forcing it back to soil. What do you suppose that could mean in relation to this arresting metaphor (of the red shoes?) A famine of wild soil?

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    1. From an archaeological standpoint, that is a loaded question. I often substitute soil and soul. A connection to our feminine roots, perhaps? Don't get me started, Suze, I could go on all day about this stuff!! xoxo

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  8. I am proud to say that I wore red shoes today, and I love them. Ain't no one gonna chop off my feet

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    1. Good for you Mim! Wear those red shoes the way they were meant to be worn! xoxo

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  9. I too love your tale. I wish I had heard it as a younger woman but I will definitely tell it to my granddaughters. Thank you for sharing this.

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  10. lions and tigers and bears. No red shoes here, and I just gave up my cherry red Tracker (sniff). New adventures ahead in "mountain air"... sounds nice, but it's not red

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    1. Not to sound ignorant (which I obviously am) but what is a Tracker?
      Which mountain's air are you heading for? :))

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  11. Powerful symbols in a thoughtful post. I have red shoes too, but I'm not going to try to unravel the feminine version of red shoes. I'm glad you did that for me.

    Blessings and Bear hugs. Bless those red shoes, too!

    Congratulations to your daughter on her engagement.

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    1. Wow - the Bear wears red shoes! Would love to know if you wear them often, or only for special occasions?

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  12. Ohhhh very snazzy shoes Amanda

    ... I once owned a pair of red open toed, corduroy platform shoes - I could run and cycle in them, don't think I got chance to dance in them though*!*

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