Saturday, March 10

Grimmiore 3: The Virgin Mary's Child

How odd, to have gone this long and not known that The Brothers Grimm authored part of the bible!

The folk tale here is clearly one of the cautionary sort told to children less to entertain, more to reinforce basic lessons in the guise of religious folklore. A poor woodcutter and his wife cannot take care of their child and in their grief are met by the Virgin Mary who offers to take and raise the child in heaven. Already I am imprinting modern thinking into the story. Is this a pro-life message, the great idea that no child is unwanted, that God will provide?

Up in heaven the child plays all day, literally living on milk and honey, until one day when she's fourteen and the Virgin must go away on business Ah, yes, the pressing business trips of the Virgin Mary and in leaving hands over a set of keys to the girl. There are 13 keys Triskaidekaphobia, the magik of the biblical number and she may use 12 of them to open 12 of the doors of heaven but not the 13th. In each of the doors she is shown an apostle and a beautiful scene so the afterlife of an apostle is that they live their eternity in a tableaux behind a door controlled by the Blessed Virgin? but the 13th door remains closed as per Mary's instructions.

Oh! But the pull of the forbidden knowledge! The girls steps up and opens the 13th door, just for a peek, and there inside she sees the Holy Trinity Jesus, God and that Ghost live behind a door in a tableaux as well? emanating a brilliant glowing light. It would seem God would smite her at that moment but instead sits serenely looking on while she. just. has. to. touch. the. light. In an instant her finger turns gold, a gold that does not fade stained, by God! and she closes up the door.

When the Virgin Mary returns from her trip she asks the girl for the keys but can sense something is wrong. She feels the frightened, beating heart of the girl and asks her if she's opened the 13th door. No, she says. She asks again, again the girls lies. The Virgin sees her golden finger and knows she is a liar but these stories in a page taken from the Good Book regard Doubting Thomas she must deny her failure three times before she is expelled from heaven and into the darkness of the forest from which she came, unable to speak.

How odd, she isn't sent to hell for her transgressions in heaven but back to Earth. Why? Because this is a folk story and we need to ground things on Earth in order to make the story's intended audience feel the point driven home.

After years in the forest, living like a mute hermit she is discovered by a wandering king who instantly falls in love with the maiden. They are married and in time she gives birth to a son. The Virgin Mary returns and gives her the choice: either admit to having opened the 13th door or she will take her newborn son to heaven with her. It occurs to me at this point that this is a story probably aimed at young girls with a propensity for lying to their parents in the face of all evidence to the contrary. Who else would stand to benefit from hearing a story like this than a girl who (a) aims at one day marrying a king and (b) would fear most losing her child for some transgression in her past? The maiden refuses to admit her guilt and away the child goes.

Ah, now the townfolk are suspicious. Surely she must be an ogress, because how else can you explain a mute queen who loses her son overnight? A year passes, another child is born, Mary appears and the whole thing happens just as it did the first time. Now the townfolk are really suspicious all the while the mute queen has failed to learn how to write to explain her plight to even her husband. Third time's the charm right? Nope, this time Mary takes the queen to heaven and shows her her two previous children happy and playing and, despite her motherly affection, she denies any wrongdoing and I'm starting to wonder if the opening of the forbidden door has more to do with some sort of sexual transgression, a forbidden liaison that haunts her and forces her to deny against all hope for fear of destroying all the good she has come to experience.

Finally the villagers grab their pitchforks and torches and take the queen to the stake for a bit of a roast. And there like Joan d'Arc she cried heavenward to the Virgin Mary that, yes, she did open the door. The heavens wash out the fire and her children are returned to her, as is her speaking voice, and after a little moral about how you will be absolved of all your sins through confession, the end.

So, I'm going to have to hold to the idea that this is one of those stories told to young girls on the verge of puberty to scare them into obedience, and a touch of warning against any medicine (like natural remedies) that could lead to witchcraft, with a very subtle subtext that if you rumpus with the farm hands in the forest you can expect a lifetime of torment unless you confess your sins... which you better not commit in the first place.

Back when I was in junior high my school tried to introduce a Bible As Literature lesson to us, with a state approved textbook and everything. we had to have parental permission to participate in the unit and, in the end, a couple of fundamentalist kids killed the adventure for the rest of us by using class time to question, refute and otherwise monopolize all calls time with the stuff their parents taught them. They did this even when, for comparison, we were given Buddhist stories and Greek myths to discuss. And all I kept thinking was if talking about this stuff really makes you this uncomfortable then I sure hope you're wrong. How interesting it would have been to have had this story (and a teacher with a backbone) to discuss. It isn't in the bible but has so many points of contact, it was a collected folk tale but mentions the actions of biblical personages and their powers pseudo-factually. We really could have opened up the whole idea of authentic texts and authorship and the departure point of literature in the bible very nicely with this ragged mess of a story.
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