Author Topic: Plavacek or The Three Golden Hairs Of The Sun  (Read 5320 times)

Matt Koeske

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Plavacek or The Three Golden Hairs Of The Sun
« on: March 16, 2007, 10:06:50 AM »
I recently rediscovered what is probably the first fairytale I performed a full-blown Jungian interpretation of.  It was part of a college Literature class taught by a Jungian analyst, Ron Curran, at the University of Pittsburgh.  Ron was a mentor to me during this time, and although I haven't been in contact with him for years, he had a significant impact on my life.

This is one of the most wonderful and symbolically rich stories of all time.  It lends itself well to an alchemical perspective . . . especially in its contrast between the Old and New Kings.  There is a great deal to talk about here, and I hope you will find something that jumps out at you to seize onto.

A slightly different version of this fairytale was dramatized as "The Luck Child" in Jim Henson's Storyteller series (which I mentioned recently in the Film section).

Plavacek is a Holy Fool character . . . which may have something to do with my special fondness for this tale.  His heroic talents are not might and bravery but listening to the Other, honesty and integrity, selfless dedication to both his quest and those he meets on it.

A good model, I think, for the "adept", the one who pursues the Work.  These skills of Plavacek's are precisely the ones the ego needs to master in order to interact healthily with the Self.  When we pursue our dream work, for instance, we would do well to become Plaveceks (tr. "Floaters" on the currents of the unconscious).

The version below was adapted by Alexander Chodsko, and I found it online here as part of a free web book of Young Folks' Treasury: Myths and Legendary Heroes, Hamilton Wright Mabie, Editor.

Enjoy!

-Matt



It is said that once there was a King who was exceedingly fond of hunting the wild beasts in his forests. One day he followed a stag so far and so long that he lost his way. Alone and overtaken by night, he was glad to find himself near a small thatched cottage in which lived a charcoal-burner.

"Will you kindly show me the way to the highroad? You shall be handsomely rewarded."

"I would willingly," said the charcoal-burner, "But God is going to send my wife a little child, and I cannot leave her alone. Will you pass the night under our roof? There is a truss of sweet hay in the loft where you may rest, and to-morrow morning I will be your guide."

The King accepted the invitation and went to bed in the loft. Shortly after a son was born to the charcoal-burner's wife. But the King could not sleep. At midnight he heard noises in the house, and looking through a crack in the flooring he saw the charcoal-burner asleep, his wife almost in a faint, and by the side of the newly-born babe three old women dressed in white, each holding a lighted taper in her hand, and all talking together. Now these were the three Soudiché or Fates, you must know.

The first said, "On this boy I bestow the gift of confronting great dangers."

The second said, "I bestow the power of happily escaping all these dangers, and of living to a good old age."

The third said, "I bestow upon him for wife the Princess born at the self-same hour as he, and daughter of the very King sleeping above in the loft."

At these words the lights went out and silence reigned around.

Now the King was greatly troubled, and wondered exceedingly; he felt as if he had received a sword-thrust in the chest. He lay awake all night thinking how to prevent the words of the Fates from coming true.

With the first glimmer of morning light the baby began to cry. The charcoal-burner, on going over to it, found that his wife was dead.

"Poor little orphan," he said sadly, "what will become of thee without a mother's care?"

"Confide this child to me," said the King, "I will look after it. He shall be well provided for. You shall be given a sum of money large enough to keep you without having to burn charcoal."

The poor man gladly agreed, and the King went away promising to send some one for the child. The Queen and the courtiers thought it would be an agreeable surprise for the King to hear that a charming little Princess had been born on the night he was away. But instead of being pleased he frowned and calling one of his servants, said to him, "Go to the charcoal-burner's cottage in the, forest, and give the man this purse in exchange for a new-born infant. On your way back drown the child. See well that he is drowned, for if he should in any way escape, you yourself shall suffer in his place."

The servant was given the child in a basket, and on reaching the center of a narrow bridge that stretched across a wide and deep river, he threw both basket and baby into the water.

"A prosperous journey to you, Mr. Son-in-Law," said the King, on hearing the servant's story; for he fully believed the child was drowned. But it was far from being the case; the little one was floating happily along in its basket cradle, and slumbering as sweetly as if his mother had sung him to sleep. Now it happened that a fisherman, who was mending his nets before his cottage door, saw the basket floating down the river. He jumped at once into his boat, picked it up, and ran to tell his wife the good news.

"Look," said he, "you have always longed for a son; here is a beautiful little boy the river has sent us."

The woman was delighted, and took the infant and loved it as her own child. They named him Plavacek (the floater), because he had come to them floating on the water.

The river flowed on. Years passed away. The little baby grew into a handsome youth; in all the villages round there were none to compare with him. Now it happened that one summer day the King was riding unattended, and the heat being very great he reined in his horse before the fisherman's door to ask for a drink of water. Plavacek brought the water. The King looked at him attentively, then turning to the fisherman, said, "That is a good-looking lad; is he your son?"

"He is and he isn't," replied the fisherman. "I found him, when he was quite a tiny baby, floating down the stream in a basket. So we adopted him and brought him up as our own son."

The King turned as pale as death, for he guessed that he was the same child he had ordered to be drowned. Then recovering himself he got down from his horse and said: "I want a trusty messenger to take a message to the palace, could you send him with it?"

"With pleasure! Your Majesty may be sure of its safe delivery."

Thereupon the King wrote to the Queen as follows:

"The man who brings you this letter is the most dangerous of all my enemies. Have his head cut off at once; no delay, no pity, he must be executed before my return. Such is my will and pleasure."

This he carefully folded and sealed with the royal seal.

Plavacek took the letter and set off immediately. But the forest through which he had to pass was so large, and the trees so thick, that he missed the path and was overtaken by the darkness before the journey was nearly over. In the midst of his trouble he met an old woman who said, "Where are you going, Plavacek? Where are you going?"

"I am the bearer of a letter from the King to the Queen, but have missed the path to the palace. Could you, good mother, put me on the right road?"

"Impossible to-day, my child; it is getting dark, and you would not have time to get there. Stay with me to-night. You will not be with strangers, for I am your godmother."

Plavacek agreed. Thereupon they entered a pretty little cottage that seemed suddenly to sink into the earth. Now while he slept the old woman changed his letter for another, which ran thus:

"Immediately upon the receipt of this letter introduce the bearer to the Princess our daughter, I have chosen this young man for my son-in-law, and it is my wish they should be married before my return to the palace. Such is my pleasure."

The letter was duly delivered, and when the Queen had read it, she ordered everything to be prepared for the wedding. Both she and her daughter greatly enjoyed Plavacek's society, and nothing disturbed the happiness of the newly married pair.

Within a few days the King returned, and on hearing what had taken place was very angry with the Queen.

"But you expressly bade me have the wedding before your return. Come, read your letter again, here it is," said she.

He closely examined the letter; the paper, handwriting, seal—all were undoubtedly his. He then called his son-in-law, and questioned him about his journey. Plavacek hid nothing: he told how he had lost his way, and how he had passed the night in a cottage in the forest.

"What was the old woman like?" asked the King.

From Plavacek's description the King knew it was the very same who, twenty years before, had foretold the marriage of the Princess with the charcoal-burner's son. After some moments' thought the King said: "What is done is done. But you will not become my son-in-law so easily. No, i' faith! As a wedding present you must bring me three golden hairs from the head of Dède-Vsévède."

In this way he thought to get rid of his son-in-law, whose very presence was distasteful to him. The young fellow took leave of his wife and set off. "I know not which way to go," said he to himself, "but my godmother the witch will surely help me."

But he found the way easily enough. He walked on and on and on for a long time over mountain, valley, and river, until he reached the shores of the Black Sea. There he found a boat and boatman.

"May God bless you, old boatman," said he.

"And you, too, my young traveler. Where are you going?"

"To Dède-Vsévède's castle for three of his golden hairs."

"Ah, then you are very welcome. For a long weary while I have been waiting for such a messenger as you. I have been ferrying passengers across for these twenty years, and not one of them has done anything to help me. If you will promise to ask Dède-Vsévède when I shall be released from my toil I will row you across."

Plavacek promised, and was rowed to the opposite bank. He continued his journey on foot until he came in sight of a large town half in ruins, near which was passing a funeral procession. The King of that country was following his father's coffin, and with the tears running down his cheeks.

"May God comfort you in your distress," said Plavacek.

"Thank you, good traveler. Where are you going?"

"To the house of Dède-Vsévède in quest of three of his golden hairs."

"To the house of Dède-Vsévède? Indeed! What a pity you did not come sooner, we have long been expecting such a messenger as you. Come and see me by-and-by."

When Plavacek presented himself at court the King said to him:

"We understand you are on your way to the house of Dède-Vsévède! Now we have an apple-tree here that bears the fruit of everlasting youth. One of these apples eaten by a man, even though he be dying, will cure him and make him young again. For the last twenty years neither fruit nor flower has been found on this tree. Will you ask Dède-Vsévède the cause of it?"

"That I will, with pleasure."

Then Plavacek continued his journey, and as he went he came to a large and beautiful city where all was sad and silent. Near the gate was an old man who leaned on a stick and walked with difficulty.

"May God bless you, good old man."

"And you, too, my handsome young traveler. Where are you going?"

"To Dède-Vsévède's palace in search of three of his golden hairs."

"Ah, you are the very messenger I have so long waited for. Allow me to take you to my master the King."

On their arrival at the palace, the King said, "I hear you are an ambassador to Dède-Vsévède. We have here a well, the water of which renews itself. So wonderful are its effects that invalids are immediately cured on drinking it, while a few drops sprinkled on a corpse will bring it to life again. For the past twenty years this well has remained dry: if you will ask old Dède-Vsévède how the flow of water may be restored I will reward you royally."

Plavacek promised to do so, and was dismissed with good wishes. He then traveled through deep dark forests, in the midst of which might be seen a large meadow: out of it grew lovely flowers, and in the center stood a castle built of gold. It was the home of Dède-Vsévède. So brilliant with light was it that it seemed to be built of fire. When he entered there was no one there but an old woman spinning.

"Greeting, Plavacek, I am well pleased to see you."

She was his godmother, who had given him shelter in her cottage when he was the bearer of the King's letter.

"Tell me what brings you here from such a distance," she went on.

"The King would not have me for his son-in-law, unless I first got him three golden hairs from the head of Dède-Vsévède. So he sent me here to fetch them."

The Fate laughed. "Dède-Vsévède indeed! Why, I am his mother, it is the shining sun himself. He is a child at morning time, a grown man at midday, a decrepit old man, looking as if he had lived a hundred years, at eventide. But I will see that you have the three hairs from his head; I am not your godmother for nothing. All the same you must not remain here. My son is a good lad, but when he comes home he is hungry, and would very probably order you to be roasted for his supper. Now I will turn this empty bucket upside down, and you shall hide underneath it."

Plavacek begged the Fate to obtain from Dède-Vsévède the answers to the three questions he had been asked.

"I will do so certainly, but you must listen to what he says."

Suddenly a blast of wind howled round the palace, and the Sun entered by a western window. He was an old man with golden hair.

"I smell human flesh," cried he, "I am sure of it. Mother, you have some one here."

"Star of day," she replied, "whom could I have here that you would not see sooner than I? The fact is that in your daily journeys the scent of human flesh is always with you, so when you come home at evening it clings to you still."

The old man said nothing, and sat down to supper. When he had finished he laid his golden head on the Fate's lap and went to sleep. Then she pulled out a hair and threw it on the ground. It fell with a metallic sound like the vibration of a guitar string.

"What do you want, mother?" asked he.

"Nothing, my son; I was sleeping, and had a strange dream."

"What was it, mother?"

"I thought I was in a place where there was a well, and the well was fed from a spring, the water of which cured all diseases. Even the dying were restored to health on drinking that water, and the dead who were sprinkled with it came to life again. For the last twenty years the well has run dry. What must be done to restore the flow of water?"

"That is very simple. A frog has lodged itself in the opening of the spring, this prevents the flow of water. Kill the frog, and the water will return to the well."

He slept again, and the old woman pulled out another golden hair, and threw it on the ground.

"Mother, what do you want?"

"Nothing, my son, nothing; I was dreaming. In my dream I saw a large town, the name of which I have forgotten. And there grew an apple-tree the fruit of which had the power to make the old young again. A single apple eaten by an old man would restore to him the vigor and freshness of youth. For twenty years this tree has not borne fruit. What can be done to make it fruitful?"

"The means are not difficult. A snake hidden among the roots destroys the sap. Kill the snake, transplant the tree, and the fruit will grow as before."

He again fell asleep, and the old woman pulled out another golden hair.

"Now mother, why will you not let me sleep?" said the old man, really vexed; and he would have got up.

"Lie down, my darling son, do not disturb yourself. I am sorry I awoke you, but I have had a very strange dream. It seemed that I saw a boatman on the shores of the Black Sea, and he complained that he had been toiling at the ferry for twenty years without any one having come to take his place. For how much longer must this poor old man continue to row?"

"He is a silly fellow. He has but to place his oars in the hands of the first comer and jump ashore. Who ever receives the oars will replace him as ferryman. But leave me in peace now, mother, and do not wake me again. I have to rise very early, and must first dry the eyes of a Princess. The poor thing spends all night weeping for her husband who has been sent by the King to get three of my golden hairs."

Next morning the wind whistled round Dède-Vsévède's palace, and instead of an old man, a beautiful child with golden hair awoke on the old woman's lap. It was the glorious sun. He bade her good-by, and flew out of the eastern window. The old woman turned up the bucket and said to Plavacek: "Look, here are the three golden hairs. You now know the answers to your questions. May God direct you and send you a prosperous journey. You will not see me again, for you will have no further need of me."

He thanked her gratefully and left her. On arriving at the town with the dried-up well, he was questioned by the King as to what news he had brought.

"Have the well carefully cleaned out," said he, "kill the frog that obstructs the spring, and the wonderful water will flow again."

The King did as he was advised, and rejoiced to see the water return. He gave Plavacek twelve swan-white horses, and as much gold and silver as they could carry.

On reaching the second town and being asked by the King what news he had brought, he replied, "Excellent; one could not wish for better. Dig up your apple-tree, kill the snake that lies among the roots, transplant the tree, and it will produce apples like those of former times."

And all turned out as he had said, for no sooner was the tree replanted than it was covered with blossoms that gave it the appearance of a sea of roses. The delighted King gave him twelve raven-black horses, laden with as much wealth as they could carry. He then journeyed to the shores of the Black Sea. There the boatman questioned him as to what news he had brought respecting his release. Plavacek first crossed with his twenty-four horses to the opposite bank, and then replied that the boatman might gain his freedom by placing the oars in the hands of the first traveler who wished to be ferried over.

Plavacek's royal father-in-law could not believe his eyes when he saw Dède-Vsévède's three golden hairs. As for the Princess, his young wife, she wept tears, but of joy, not sadness, to see her dear one again, and she said to him, "How did you get such splendid horses and so much wealth, dear husband?"

And he answered her, "All this represents the price paid for the weariness of spirit I have felt; it is the ready money for hardships endured and services given. Thus, I showed one King how to regain possession of the Apples of Youth: to another I told the secret of reopening the spring of water that gives health and life."

"Apples of Youth! Water of Life!" interrupted the King. "I will certainly go and find these treasures for myself. Ah, what joy! having eaten of these apples I shall become young again; having drunk of the Water of Immortality, I shall live forever."

And he started off in search of these treasures. But he has not yet returned from his search.

« Last Edit: March 16, 2007, 10:18:47 AM by Matt Koeske »
You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way.

   [Bob Dylan,"Mississippi]

Matt Koeske

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Re: Plavacek or The Three Golden Hairs Of The Sun
« Reply #1 on: March 16, 2007, 10:16:40 AM »

I love these following lines especially . . .

After the old Sun has had his third hair plucked and answered the third mystery (with Plavacek hiding beneath a bucket nearby), he grumbles:
Quote
But leave me in peace now, mother, and do not wake me again. I have to rise very early, and must first dry the eyes of a Princess. The poor thing spends all night weeping for her husband who has been sent by the King to get three of my golden hairs.

And:
Quote
Plavacek's royal father-in-law could not believe his eyes when he saw Dède-Vsévède's three golden hairs. As for the Princess, his young wife, she wept tears, but of joy, not sadness, to see her dear one again, and she said to him, "How did you get such splendid horses and so much wealth, dear husband?"

And he answered her, "All this represents the price paid for the weariness of spirit I have felt; it is the ready money for hardships endured and services given. Thus, I showed one King how to regain possession of the Apples of Youth: to another I told the secret of reopening the spring of water that gives health and life."

The gifts of consciousness from (and contact with) the Self as the reward for "weariness of spirit" felt and "hardships endured" and "services given".  Fascinating.  How often do we consider the weariness of spirit we feel when pursuing the Self as a currency?  Yet it seems to me that this is a very deep and mysterious truth.

-Matt
You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way.

   [Bob Dylan,"Mississippi]

Matt Koeske

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Re: Plavacek or The Three Golden Hairs Of The Sun
« Reply #2 on: March 16, 2007, 10:19:18 AM »

Can anyone translate "Dède-Vsévède" into English for us?
You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way.

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Sealchan

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Re: Plavacek or The Three Golden Hairs Of The Sun
« Reply #3 on: March 27, 2007, 01:35:15 PM »
This story features a ferryman, a youth-giving tree and a illness-curing well.  What three archetypal aspects of the psyche might these represent?

Also, Plavacek's miraculous birth and successful marriage to the princess seems like the heroic story of the first half of life, whereas the quest for the three golden hairs seems like more of the story of the inward journey of the second half of life per Jung's breakdown of the development of the individual psyche.  All in all, this story might represent a some kind of a complete myth in as simple a form as possible.

I've always been fascinated by efforts to map out the processes and stages of conscious development.  This story seems like a fascinating example of the full process. 

And if this story isn't complete in this sense (certainly it really can't be) how could it be augmented to include more of the mystery that is consciousness?

Matt Koeske

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Re: Plavacek or The Three Golden Hairs Of The Sun
« Reply #4 on: March 27, 2007, 04:37:18 PM »
I've always been fascinated by efforts to map out the processes and stages of conscious development.  This story seems like a fascinating example of the full process. 

And if this story isn't complete in this sense (certainly it really can't be) how could it be augmented to include more of the mystery that is consciousness?
 

Yes, this is an especially rich story.  Depending on how one interprets it, we could see the quest for the three golden hairs as an endeavor into the inner and the outer world simultaneously.  Plavacek's relationships with the other kingdoms (to whom he is a kind of culture hero/savior) demonstrate a moral consciousness and a relational honor/lack of selfishness.  We might say that this approach is the functional one to take to any relationship with the Other, whether internal or external.

This is distinctly contrasted by the selfishness of the King, who wants to reap the rewards of Plavacek's heroism, but for himself alone and not for the benefit of others.  Thus, he is lost in the world/unconscious indefinitely.  And not only lost, but trapped in the repetitive damnation of the ferryman.  Perhaps this is a kind of complex or neurosis in which our own selfishness or narcissism traps us in an automatic response mode . . . where we apply specific formulae to life situations instead of actually confronting them from a more intimate and vulnerable place.

It's interesting that Plavecek derives his wisdom and wealth from listening in on the relationship between the maternal Fate and her solar son.  The Fate is ultimately the more powerful, yet she must take an indirect/deceptive approach to extracting his hairs and wisdom.  Also, the Sun represents the devouring quality often associated with the dark mother.  The conventional archetypal dynamic of mother and solar child that we see in the Mystery religions and Christianity is here, but the energy of this dynamic seems hostile to Plavacek.  We get very much a Jack and the Beanstalk scenario.

I'm curious as to why the Sun is a hostile force to Plavacek.  It seems to be an archetypal reflection of the King-as-Father.  Notably, Plavacek survives the hunger of each in the same way (and with maternal support).  If we see Plavacek as the alchemical New King and the other king as the Old King, we can see some of the workings of the first opus.

But is there some Mother work yet to be done here, too?

That's one of the things I like about the Iron John story.  The prince takes up a different relationship to the archetypal masculine as the Wild Man.  After his period of apprenticeship at the Feminine well and subsequent "Kitchen Work", the prince learns how to own up to his achievements/true "royalty" . . . and at the marriage to the princess, Iron John is redeemed and escapes his enchantment due to the respect and elevation afforded him by the prince's quest.

In the Plavacek story, the archetypal masculine and feminine figures remain in a very "deific" and distant/magical role.  So maybe we should ask, what will happen in 20 or 30 years when Plavacek is confronted with the next New King and Luck Child.  Will Plavacek have learned how to be both old and wise?  Will he know how to become the good father that he lacked (in the King)?

These are sort of silly and pointless questions, but when we look at the prince from Iron John, it seems that he has learned some of these lessons.  He hasn't only learned dignity and selflessness, but also how to value the Father.  He can then inherit the kingdom rather than "steal" it.

So we might say, Plavacek (like the archetypal Fool) is blessed by Fate (the Great Mother), but has maybe not learned how to rely on the part of his own masculinity and selfhood that is not buoyed up by this Mother.  But I could see very different interpretations.  I suppose it's a matter of personal preference.
You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way.

   [Bob Dylan,"Mississippi]