From Trauma to Wholeness #2

Colleen Szabo
12 min readOct 30, 2022
Illustration Arthur Rackham

This article is a continuation of From Trauma to Wholeness: Brothers Grimm’s Fitcher’s Bird.

We left the story with the murder and dismemberment of the first girl; now the wizard says “I will fetch myself the second”, for there are three sisters in the story. Again, he magically steals the girl by merely touching her. By this detail we are meant to understand that the power of our culture’s value system is spread or communicated on an almost invisible level; we have only to be “touched” by it. Its infusion is hardly noticed, for it is subtle; rather it spreads wraithlike, as does a microbial disease. One day we are hugging our stuffed bunny, and next day we are entangled in damaging Facebook dramas. Well, not literally. That sounds like a horror flick.

We humans, particularly as adolescents, are geared to take in the culture that surrounds us, though some, like the third sister, do question the viability of status quo. For the most part, nobody has to instruct us or badger us in order to effect social conditioning, though that can happen. Conditioning is not always obvious, for at its core it’s a matter of beliefs and values and therefore consciousness, underlying everything we do. It seems to us to be all of a piece, and most of us fall for it all too easily, assuming it is just “reality”; the way life is, the way people are. Conditioning is partly meant to uphold consensus reality, a narrow strip of thought and action and possibility folks can agree upon.

The second girl fares exactly as the first. Then the wizard goes for the third, But she was clever and crafty. This sister is one who is already wise to the wizard’s game, wise to the ways that anyone can lose their soul in an egocentric society. When he had given her the keys and the egg, and had left her, she first put the egg away with great care, and then she examined the house, and at last went into the forbidden room.

Now I assume that the egg takes on an amplified meaning. If we say the wizard’s touch includes the power to affect the girls on a subtle or nonphysical level, as in the idea of social conditioning, then the egg can also be figured as the energy body- the aura. The human aura is egg shaped. In energetic healing, we understand traumas as held not only in the physical, but also in the ethereal or energy body. One way to organize this principle is according to chakras. So, we can imagine the staining of the egg as energetic distortion in the aura or energy body caused by trauma. There are numerous ways our energetic bodies can be affected by trauma or woundings, and held therein.

This third sister has figured a few things out before the wizard ever snatched her. Most importantly, she knows that the egg is her responsibility, not his. In other words, though he claims it’s his ( he says preserve the egg carefully for ME) she doesn’t follow his instruction. She knows better. If the egg is feminine creative potential, she knows that the masculine has no claim upon it; it’s not theirs to exploit. If the egg is the feminine creative soul, then she has learned how to claim, nurture, and protect it.

Protection is indeed a famously important aspect of what we commonly think of as magic, and it’s implemented not necessarily through physical means. Since so much of our experience is indeed nonphysically based, it’s important to protect the energetic body, which holds and expresses our nonphysical emotions, thoughts, and spiritual feelings like joy. Lack and greed being the opposite of the “higher” or more expanded/spiritual experiences of abundance and gratitude, we can encourage the latter if we want to move out of the former. That can look like avoiding exposing ourselves to inner and outer experiences that cause fear and distress (protection), and moving towards that which lightens our beingness with love and connection (nurture).

So the third sister already knows of the possibility of trauma lurking in this forbidden inner chamber. Before she goes there, she carefully shelves the egg; she makes sure that she is in a state of consciousness that will not be affected by the carnage her society has wreaked in its dysfunction. Mindfulness in the sense of employing witness consciousness is implied here, for when the third sister enters the chamber, she was able to do something about it, to bring healing on some level; mind, body, emotion, soul, and/or spirit. In witness or observer consciousness, she was not believing in distressing thoughts and feelings, not rendered powerless by the experiences symbolized by the bloody dismemberment. She knows something about how it all went down, so she can untangle some of it.

The basin is the same as that universal symbol of magical transformation, the cauldron, part of Halloween culture along with witches and wizards. Whatever goes in, comes out radically altered. It can be used for creating evils, or for healing the same; it can be used for breaking down or construction.

Both her sisters lay there in the basin, cruelly murdered, and cut in pieces. She began to gather their limbs together and put them in order, head, body, arms and legs.

Notice that healing is depicted as everything in its proper place, in order, and connected, as opposed to the chaos of jumbled body parts: unity. Perhaps those of us who have experienced anxiety and/or depression can identify with this metaphor.

As is the case for the numerous “fairy tales” that feature three brothers or sisters, we can imagine these three sisters as one human being, of three different ages, as in three aspects of the self that were developed at different times. Thus the first two sisters are really the third at earlier ages, and she is now healing, or wholing (that’s what ‘healing’ means), these wounded inner aspects. She’s doing inner child work, as the common self help phrase goes.

For the first two sisters become whole again, and revive. They rejoice and kiss and caress each other, to emphasize that unity, wholeness, is based in love; it is love. We can also imagine that the three sisters are the fairy tale three tries. So, if I begin my healing journey in the condition of the first two, of still traumatized and caught in the web of my society’s dysfunction, the third try represents the day that I make some progress in disentangling myself from society’s harms.

Alchemy often represents healing as love, unity, or balance between masculine and feminine powers or inner aspects. This tale is no different, for when the wizard observes the third sister’s egg with no blood upon it, he said, “Thou hast stood the test, thou shalt be my bride.” He now no longer had any power over her, and was forced to do whatever she desired.

The sense of “test” fits in with another alchemical concept, that of mastery. Understanding the nature of ourselves and our world, how it all works, is mastery. When we master some aspect of our experience, we are not rendered powerless by it, for example in the case of toxic masculine or feminine traits and behaviors. We are of course talking an inner wedding here; an internal understanding and appreciation of the nature of masculine and feminine.

As additional benefit, when we bring the unifying power of love to our traumas, our fears are lessened through connection in the form of compassion and empathy for self and other. For trauma is passed on, isn’t it? It is the traumatized that hurt others, who are busy busy busy (in their minds at least), trying to shore themselves up against being retraumatized, against pain and loss.

So having seen through the values and behaviors of this greedy toxic male aspect, our three-in-one character is now free of its grip. She knows the curse is based on falling for the conditioned lie that anyone has a right to steal her away from her “house’ or integrated self, and exploit her divinely given resources, her gifts. Likewise, she no longer blames, but rather, she knows that the buck simply stops here. And in fact, the personal power that had been allotted this greedy aspect has been reclaimed, redeemed. The power she once gave away to her fears and psychic suffering is now available for other projects, such as self care and soul inspired creativity.

First thing the newly empowered sister does is another nod to the alchemical; she says the wizard must bring gold and silver to her parents. Perhaps this is hinting that when we heal ourselves, we heal lineages, ancestral karma. In fact she hides her sisters in the basket, and covers them with gold- coins, I assume. She says “Now carry the basket away, but I shall look through my little window and watch to see if thou stoppest on the way to stand or rest.” The wizard lifts the basket onto his back and it is so heavy that the perspiration streamed from his face.

If the wizard stops, one of the sisters on his back mimics the third sister, telling him she sees him, and insists he keep moving. This happens three times, so it must have some significance. Finally he manages to get the gold and silver and the two sisters into the parents’ house. In the obvious sense of course, he must not stop or he may discover the sisters in the basket. But I think this scene is another metaphor for the healing journey the third sister has been travelling. These transformational tales often do just that; they present the same event from different perspectives, as they are instructional tales. The same is true for dreams.

The “little window” the sister looks through is quite obviously the sixth chakra, the third eye. It’s the chakra that allows us higher perspective, as in the sister’s ability to detach from the sickness of her culture’s mode of operation, symbolized by carefully removing the egg from danger. It’s not that we should always be detached, but rather have the wisdom to know what is ours and what is not; what we are responsible for, and what is no longer, or perhaps never was, our responsibility. The 6th chakra is also the chakra of insight, understanding, and experiencing our journey in a multidimensional way. In other words, understanding that we are spiritual beings having a physical experience. We could never be merely our conditioned personalities and their tendency to lackful thinking; that’s a tragic prospect, surely. Though plenty of people adjust themselves to that description of life.

When the girl watches the wizard constantly, it implies perhaps meditation again; mindfulness, contemplation, self observation, as a way to dispel his old toxic mode of operation. As he is increasingly exhausted, it is a metaphor for how his power gradually fades over time within the sister(s)’s psyche and experience as a result of this sixth chakra practice. And it’s true that when we observe our old modes of operation from the higher perspective (the “little window”), persistently watch and learn from our harmful habits and thoughts, they will eventually exhaust themselves. And then, the gold and silver that represents enlightenment loosely put, is in the bag (or basket); carried home.

This same metaphor can be extended to describe the nature of lack consciousness on the collective level; it’s unsustainable. No social group can sustain the gimme gimme mode forever, since living off of “other” without giving back will eventually use up the resource. There are only so many houses you can walk to and beg bread from, and one day they won’t have any left to give you.

Central American Day of the Dead features flower decorated skulls, holding the symbolism of renewal, mortification, and the beauty of Gaia’s circle of life

Meanwhile, the bride prepared the marriage-feast, and sent invitations to the friends of the wizard. Then she took a skull with grinning teeth, put some ornaments on it and a wreath of flowers, carried it upstairs to the garret-window, and let it look out from thence.

Obviously this girl is not going to plan a normal wedding. The skull is another iteration of the “little window”; the sixth chakra or maybe even the seventh, as it wears a crown (wreath). Wreaths, crowns, and halos are meant to emphasize the crown chakra, the chakra of mastery and connection with the expanded, freer higher self. We can imagine the skull as bejeweled, as our sister has come into some form of self authority; the different developmental challenges we have met and moved beyond are the metaphorical jewels in our crowns.

In alchemical story, this self authority is usually represented as marrying into a royal family, or otherwise gaining the rule of a country, and thus crowned. For kings and queens answer to noone but themselves. Self authority implies self responsibility then, as in when the girl took good care of the egg on her own terms. The skull is an age old symbol of mortification, reminding us of our mortality and therefore our spiritual nature. We will die one day, and then what? This lifetime is but a temporary stopping place for an eternal soul. So why waste it as a metaphorical beggar, in greed and cruelty against self or other?

Next our young lady gets into a barrel of honey and rolls in feathers, so she looked like a wondrous bird, and no one could recognize her. Honey is the sacred nectar of the gods, and associated with the sixth chakra through honey bees’ humming. Honey bees are also sixth chakra animals because they build using hexagons, six sided cells. I imagine the feathers which come from a feather bed or down comforter, are white; they usually are. As a white bird, she symbolizes not only the higher realms, but also purification.

The theme of purification is about to pop into view in another metaphor. She heads back to her parents’ house and meets some of the wedding guests on the way. There is a short exchange:

“O, Fitcher’s bird, how com’st thou here?”

“I come from Fitcher’s house quite near.”

And what may the young bride be doing?” “From cellar to garret she’s swept all clean, And now from the window she’s peeping, I ween.”

The metaphor of sweeping and cleaning is an old one for healing, as represented in the witch’s broom. We clear ourselves of unwanted or unhealthy thoughts and beliefs in order to move out of lack consciousness, for example.

“Fitcher” means fisher. Fishing is an old metaphor for a keen search for wisdom, as well as for meditation. There are the fishing raptors, whose eyes are astoundingly long range and precise; they are the far-seeing ones, the ability to see the bigger picture. Then there are the standing fishers, such as the heron, who hold still and gaze into the water for long periods of time; the meditators. Both activities could represent the sixth chakra, as they are forms of watching, seeing. The heron, for example, is sacred bird of the Druids, symbolizing learning, the ability to focus on a task, as when the sister focuses on the wizard’s progress.

Illustration Arthur Rackham

The sister meets the wizard on his way to the wedding as well, and the same exchange takes place. The bridegroom looks up, sees the decked-out skull, thinks it’s his bride, and nods to her, greeting her kindly. Though this toxic masculine aspect has been rendered harmless, he still needs to go. When all the guests are in the wizard’s house, the sisters’ brothers and kinsmen arrive and burn the place down. So the loving, protective masculine comes to support the feminine, and the exploitative aspect is cleaned out.

And that’s a wrap! Our interactions with toxic masculine or feminine inner figures (as well as outer ) will engage us less and less, as we understand and drop the beliefs and values that once made them important in our human development and prominent in our lives. The traumas inflicted by society’s dysfunction will be less triggering, as we learn how to look at the bigger picture, at the ways in which we can use our suffering for insight and wisdom. There certainly is lack consciousness and trauma all around, and so there’s no lack of material to work with!

Turns out it was a good story for Halloween! What with the cauldron and gore and skull.

Bless you on your journey.