And the story goes…A Lord returns home to his castle. His faithful wolfhound greets him with tail-wagging capering. The Lord notices blood slathered all over the dogs muzzle but the dog doesn’t seem to mind or notice; he is acting completely normal. The Lord finds this strange and so hurries into his castle. He is met with a gristly site of carnage. Thinking only of his infant son, he rushes to the nursery; the wolfhound bounds joyfully right along side. The nursery is a scene of utter destruction, and the Lord believe’s his worst fears are confirmed: the wolfhound killed his child. Heartsick, he draws his sword and slays the wolfhound. But, the sudden cry of an infant echos through the dying dog’s howls. The Lord digs through the wreckage and finds, not only his infant son protected under the overturned bassinet, but the body of a great wolf with its throat torn out. The Lord is devastated by his tragic mistake and buries is faithful dog, but will forever hear the dogs dying howls. They say the Lord never smiled again.
The ‘faithful animal’ is an archetypal motif found in folk tales around the world. For example, in India it is a mongoose, in Malaysia it is a bear. The above synopsis is based on the Welsh version “Gelert”. One interpretation of the central metaphor in this story, the Lord’s tragic mistake, is beautifully expressed by Clarissa Pinkola Estes in her audio collection, The Creative Fire. Estes uses the folktale to illustrate how we can be led to ‘kill the wrong thing’ in our creative lives. She uses the example of a woman who dreams of being a writer and has created her writing space with all the inspirational doodads, but ends up shunning it as being inconsequential and silly. Instead of recognizing the truth of what is going on within, the woman kills her dream, dismantles her writing space and never writes.
We all have in us that which seeks to destroy our most cherished ideas and creative intuitions. And we all have in us that which seeks to protect what matters most. But, more often than not, we think, oh this is stupid and impractical, it will never work. Or, it’s been done before. No one will buy it. Or worse, I’m not worthy or good enough, so why bother? And we begin to make assumptions and become suspicious. We might even come to think this ‘thing’ is trying to cause us harm. Eventually, we may even kill the creative impulse as being dangerous and ‘not in our best interest’. We turn against the very thing that gives us life, or rather gives life its meaning for us. But our creative life bleeds out and we are stuck in a nameless kind of grief. When this is not remedied, the tragic cycle is perpetuated. We can even become like the wolf in the story and kill other people’s creative ideas.
Things I have found that feed into making the Lord’s tragic mistake: any and all negative self talk, reading or watching really bad story – which is like being addicted to junk food or porn. Ignoring our own instinct and writing what we think will sell, or be popular. Ignoring our own instinct and letting other ‘bad wolves’ read our work. Worrying about how many likes we have on social media. Engaging in social media in the first place. Feeding into the negativity on the news. Spending too much time reading or watching the news in the first place. Working a job that doesn’t support or nourish our own creative process. Taking a promotion in that job.
Things I have found that contribute to strengthening our relationship and trust with the wolfhound: positive thinking-focus on what you want, not on what you don’t want. Play. What did you do as a child that brought you un-self-conscious joy? Jung, apparently liked to play with rocks. He got into building a stone house as an adult. Join some kind of art class just for the fun of it: dance, music, art, cooking, flower arrangement, cabinet making etc.. Unplug from the world. Spend time in nature. Walks or hikes are acts of forgiveness in and of themselves : you go into the walk with a head full of crap, and by the time you exit, its’ purged. The trick here is to walk in unfettered, wild nature, with no one around to watch. If you cannot go for walks in the wild, create some kind of ‘natural’ space that is sacred, private, and sustaining for you.
While the wolfhound in the story cannot be resurrected, an alternative ending may be that the Lord is able to move past his horrible grief and guilt to embrace life again. I like to imagine he will soon have a castle full of wolfhound puppies, and a nursery full of bouncing babies.
Thanks for reading…
Source: Estes, Clarissa p. The Creative Fire. Sounds True. 1991. Audio CD.