Thursday, July 2

The Black Bride and the White Bride

In fairy tales there is a naturally recurring theme of a false bride taking the place of the true bride. The false bride is often referred to as the Black Bride and the true bride is referred to as the White Bride.
Joan Gould talks about these two as two halves of the same woman. Often we see marriage as the fulfillment of a set of relationships: daughter, friend, lover, mother, sister... "With this ring, I become everything I am meant to be!" we should say.

However, the reality of the expectations of these relationships is often overwhelming- even oppressive- and enters the Black Bride. She is hideous. A shrew who is completely self-centered. The Prince wonders how he could have been so duped as to marry such a evil, foul woman, who is so obviously not the angel of the house he believed her to be...

What woman hasn't found herself transforming (some days when the kids are too clingy, or you find nails in your washer from your husband's pants) into that ugly, selfish witch? You want to love them and be everything for them, but part of you just wants to escape to the hammock and read, or find a quiet corner to paint, or just come home at the end of the day to find that your house is clean and quiet and no one is wanting anything from you. And yet, we also long for a home and family and people to give ourselves to. We long for someone to love us, and grow old with us. How could we not? No one wants to be alone, especially women, whose very DNA calls them to seek out the best genetic material available and procreate.

And how do we reconcile these two aspects of ourselves? Fairy tales seem to suggest two options. In The Black Bride and the White Bride the White Bride is revealed and the Black Bride killed. Do we really want to sacrifice our Selves to our children and husbands? If we did, there would be no Black Bride.

The other option lies in another story I've mentioned recently- the story of the Seal Wife. (I managed to find this copy of the story, but itis only briefly mentioned among other information about Selkies) In this story the wife is forced to abandon her true home, and after many years of marraige and bearing children, she finds her seal skin, and returns to her home. In some ways this story is slightly disturbing. What mother would abandon her children? And yet, she is not just a mother, but a beautiful creature who had been forced into servitude- although it wasn't exactly slavery since the story does say that she grew to love her husband. However, the story also makes it clear that her children were old enough not to be completely dependent on her, though that doesn't make it much less horrifying that she abandoned them.

Somewhere between these two extremes lies the key to a happy wife and mother. She does not put her Self to a gruesome death, but she also does not abandon her family to swim in the solitude of her own individual indulgence. The key is balance. Much like the rest of life, balance offers the opportunity to be both the dark and light aspects of Bridehood. How do you pin that down? Is there some method that we must all learn to execute in order to retain our essence without letting it drown us?

Perhaps that is the fairy tale I'm looking for.


Laura said...

thanks for writing this out - it helped clarify things for me.

Did you see this link:

Apparently, the Secret of Roan Inish is about a selkie - we're renting it.


Chara said...

I saw parts of that movie when I was in high School on Bravo, and it seemed interesting to me, but I didn't know what it was about. You'll have to let me know if it's good!

Lissanne said...

I just read your post and I think that I have to disagree with your conclusion. I think that to let that black bride live on and balance out the white bride is in the end, to lose yourself to darkness. Balance between the two is not the goal. In the end, there will be a clear winner and if we don't have the guts to die to our "selves" then we can never really live in that beautiful place that we were meant to. In the end, don't we all long to be that pure and spotless bride?

P.S. I am totally with you on the coming home to a clean house, sneaking off to a corner to read bit. :)

Rebecca said...

This is just what I needed to hear today. I just finished reading Nancy Holder's book "The Rose Bride" which is based on "The White Bride and the Black Bride."

Thank you for encouraging me. Helping me feel like I am not alone. Beautifully done.

Amy Gaskin said...

I think the the key to finding balance is being acutely aware of our dual nature - how do we get the spiritual and subastral to peacefully coexist? Yes, at our core we are spirit - and our spirits are genderless, and there is no marriage in Heaven - but we can sing "this world is not my home, I'm just a-passin' through" all day long and but it doesn't address the fact that we're HERE and there's a reason we're HERE as WOMEN. And that has been such a hard thing for me to understand - that even though the truest part of me is not meant for the mundane tasks of this world - this body and all it can do still means something very important.

P.S. Have you seen The Secret of Roan Inish? :) You'll love it.