(excerpts from Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Este´s, PhD)
“Once there was a poor motherless child who had no shoes. But the child saved cloth scraps wherever she found them and over time sewed herself a pair of red shoes. They were crude but she loved them. They made her feel rich even though her days were spent gathering food in the thorny woods until far past dark. But one day as she trudged down the road in her rags and her red shoes, a gilded carriage pulled up beside her. Inside was an old woman who told her she was going to take her home and treat her as her own little daughter. So, to the wealthy old woman’s house they went, and the child’s hair was cleaned and combed. She was given pure white stockings and shiny black shoes. When the child asked after her old clothes, and especially her red shoes, the old woman said the clothes were so filthy and, and the shoes so ridiculous, that she had thrown them into the fire, where they were burnt to ashes. The child was very sad, for even with all the riches surrounding her, the humble red shoes, made by her own hands had given her the greatest happiness. Now, she was made to sit still all the time, to walk without skipping, and to not speak unless spoken to, but a secret fire began to burn in her heart, and she continued to yearn for her old red shoes more than anything. As the child became old enough to be confirmed…the old woman took her to an old crippled shoemaker to have a special pair of shoes made for the occasion. In the shoemaker’s case there stood a pair of red shoes made of finest leather that were finer than fine; they practically glowed. So even though red shoes were scandalous for church, the child, who chose only with her hungry heart, picked the red shoes. (The old lady’s eyesight was so poor she could not see the color of the shoes and paid for them.) The shoemaker winked at the child and wrapped up the shoes.”
Further along in this story, the old woman learns what the child has done and takes the shoes. The old woman puts the red shoes away on a high shelf. The child could still see the red shoes and “her glance became a gaze and her gaze became a powerful desire.” Also, an additional note about these shoes: these shoes were dancing shoes. These red shoes were touched by the desire to dance. To be free. Unfortunately, the child’s heart had become so hungry for the red shoes (because of the restraint and constraint forced upon her) that the red shoes began to dance out of control. (Note: restriction often sets up binge)
The child became weary but could not stop dancing. Sadly, this story ends with the child pleading to the executioner to cut off the shoes. To do so, he must also cut off her feet. The feet with which she, once, solidly stood.
One of the lessons (“truths”) that can be extracted from this story is that a girl’s/a woman’s meaningful life can be taken from her. The child found great meaning and joy in creatively making her own red shoes. Unfortunately, this joy was stolen by another’s judgement. Without what mattered to her most, the child was left with a starved soul. A soul that, then, searched for “feel betters.”
“It is a famine of the soul that makes a woman choose things that will cause her to dance madly out of control.”
The loss of the handmade red shoes represents the loss of a woman’s own self-designed life and passionate vitality. This leads her to loss of accurate perception. This leads her to excess; which leads to the loss of her own feet.
The feet represent the basis on which we stand. Our knowing.
When a woman realizes she has lost her feet, the efforts she puts forth to fight her battle (whatever this battle maybe) is most worthy. It is a battle back to herself.
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