Rose Rylands video blog this month tells the iconic, archetypal story of The Handless Maiden. What a tale, what a tale. I’m just going to begin and perhaps afterwards I’ll say a little bit about some of its many layered meanings.
Once up on a time, once upon a time there was a Miller who lived by an old run down mill in the forest with his wife and daughter. The mill had fallen into disrepair the family had become very poor. They didn’t have the money to fix the mill. The great water-wheel that spun. It would have ground the flour for the whole village. but had stopped working and his wife was having to grind the flour by hand. It was terribly labour intensive.
They didn’t have much money as a result. They were living in difficult conditions. In poverty really. A simple poverty, you understand.
A strange being
One day, the miller went into the forest. He was gathering kindling. While he was gathering, a strange being
slid out of the forest behind him. They say it was a strange forest man. A denizen of the dark woods. He floated a few inches off the ground. Smelled of sulphur. Hollowed out dark eyes. I’m sure you can guess who it is.
He surprised the miller. The miller jumped up. The forest man said “Don’t worry! Don’t be afraid! I’ve been watching you for a very long time, from the edge of this forest. I can see how you struggle. But you know, I have great powers. I could restore your mill to full working order and fix the wheel. I can also make great wealth appear in your life.”
The miller said “That is fantastic! Yes! Please. What’s the deal?” Even the miller knows there must be a bargain to be struck.
This strange old being of the forest, this denizen, said “Look, I just want to do this for you! I can see whats going on and I have the power. I can fix it.” he said. “All I really want in return is whatever is in the garden, at the back of the house. Just give me whats in the garden right at this moment.”
The miller thought to himself, “There’s really only the old apple tree” so he agreed. They shook hands on it. The strange forest being said “Well, I’m going to give you a week to really think about this bargain and what it really means. Meanwhile, if you turn around and walk home now, you will enter a different life.”
The miller was terribly happy. As he was walking back down the hill towards the house his wife came running up the hill and said “You won’t believe it, you won’t believe it, the water-wheel is fixed and its turning again”.
“The house is full of beautiful things, fine linen and a banquet on the table. “Its as though wealth has arrive in the house. I don’t know how its happened. We have new dresses, new clothes. There’s money in that empty drawer.”
They returned to prosperity. She asked him how it happened. He told her about the strange forest being and the bargain. And that he was to let him have what was in the garden at the back of the house. At that moment, the daughter, their maiden daughter, came from the back garden. They realised she’d been there all the time, sweeping under the apple tree. The miller realised with a terrible, piercing, sinking heart that he had traded his own daughter with the Devil.
Of course a week went by the maiden daughter prepared herself. She didn’t object to the deal that was done. She was glad to see her parents affluent once again, not suffering. Even the village prospered because they were now grinding flour for the whole village.
The day came when the strange denizen of the woods arrived to collect his side of the bargain. The daughter came out of the house and she stood outside there. She drew a circle of chalk around herself. Dressed in pure white, she was absolutely clean, pure and beautiful. And the devil, the denizen, couldn’t get near her. He was jumping up and down, sulphur coming out of his ears and he was absolutely furious.
He said “I can’t have her when she is this pure. I can’t get past the magic of this circle. “It is too bright and too white. We had a deal. I’m going to go away and come back next week. I want her dirty, I want her smutty and no chalk.”
Off he went and the following week, out she came. She was muddied up, her clothes were dirty and dishevelled. Her hair was all in knots and as she stood there and saw him coming she started to cry. She wept those great, oceanic tears that only deep grief can really produce. Her face was so awash with tears, she used her hands to wipe her face and wiped her body and she wiped herself clean.
The Devil was furious
The Devil was absolutely furious. He said “I can’t have her when she is clean. I tell you want I’m going to do, I’m going to come back next week…” this time he spoke to the father, to the miller. He said “You are going to take that silver axe that you keep at the back of the shed, the one you cut her ambilical cord with when she was born and you are going to cut off her hands. You are going to take the hands off so there will be no interference, no wiping, no nothing and bring her out to me.”
A father cutting off his daughter’s hands. The following week he came back and they brought her out. As agreed in the bargain with the Devil, the father sliced with a sharp silver axe, his own daughter’s hands. Not once did she object. But then that poor girl felt so out of place, so disfigured.
All the visitors that came to enjoy the affluence of the family she would sit in the middle feeling so, so uncomfortable. She knew she didn’t belong there anymore. One night, she left the house and went to the darkest edge of the forest, where there wasn’t even a path and disappeared into it.
For years she wandered in that forest, the handless maiden everynow and again when she was really starving
couldn’t even find berries or nuts to chew upon, a bird would come and drop a little bit of something. Just
enough to keep her going.
The rest of the story is continued in Part 2 of The Handless Maiden – coming soon.
If you have enjoyed this story of The Handless Maiden – try our other TA Earth posts.