Spinning Straw into Gold

The Brother’s Grimm folk-story, Rumplestiltskin tells of a Miller who lies to the king, saying his daughter can spin straw into gold.

The miller, a foolish man, refers to his beautiful daughter’s blonde hair, which turns golden in the sunlight. However, the king is greedy and immediately summons the girl and locks her in a chamber to spin straw into gold on pain of death.

The poor girl sits weeping before the spinning wheel and pile of straw when suddenly a little man appears before her and asks her why she mourns. She explains her predicament and the little man offers to complete the challenge for her in exchange for a trinket – her necklace. Quick as can be, the little man begins spinning and sure enough turns the pile of straw into spools of fine gold strands.

spin straw into gold

The greedy king insists the woman repeat the challenge with more straw and more gold and again the little man appears mysteriously at midnight to help her. His request this time is for another trinket – her ring.

The third night, the king promises to marry the girl if she completes an even larger challenge. This night the little man appears and asks instead of a trinket – for the promise of her first born child. Rashly, she agrees.

In the morning the king marries her and the miller’s daughter forgets all about the little man and her wager with him. A little over a year later, the queen gives birth to a baby and one night when she is alone with the child the little man appears asking for his prize.

rumple

Distraught at her rash promise, the Queen begs for leniency but he will not relent. Finally, the little man makes an offer – if she can guess his name, she can keep the child. If she cannot, the child is his.

For three nights the man returns to her chamber as she guesses all the names she can think of. Every night she is wrong. On the day of the final visit a woodsman reports to the King and Queen of seeing a strange little man dancing in the forest, chanting about taking the Kind’s child and his name is Rumplestiltskin.

Armed with this knowledge the Queen addresses the little man who in a rage, stamps a hole in the floor and disappears forever.

alchemy

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What kind of magic the little imp had that he could turn raw materials like straw, into gold? It is not clear in the tale but the imp wields dark enough magic to require a human life in exchange for it.

What is straw but the raw materials of life and what is gold but the value attributed to anything of value – a tradeable substance worth purchasing?

 alchemist

How does one turn the raw materials of life into great value? Well any craft or art does so.

A potter turns earth and clay into pots, vases and bowls which can retails for hundreds if not thousands. Carpenters can take offcuts of timber and craft beautiful pieces of furniture. Ironmongers turn ore from the rocks into swords and machinery.

How about wordsmiths, poets, story tellers, artists and musicians?

artist

The work of an artist is to take the raw materials of life – conflict, pain, doubt, sorrow, loss, heart break, fear, trials, growth and to spin these feelings into songs, stories, poems, plays, films and paintings. These works are worth gold – plentiful in value to the viewers, listeners, readers and collectors.

But often the cost of great fame and wealth for artists is the loss of some form of themselves, their integrity, their privacy, their soul. It is as though they sell their first born child for the wealth that art, the spinning of gold from straw, will bring them.

And the solution – to know the name of fame and glory – and to label it for what it is. This acknowledgement allows an artist to accept, their wealth did not come from self, but from a whimsical imp that would trade their soul for money. In knowing this, they redeem a part of themselves and can retain their sanity and soul.

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