The Witch and the Forest Goddess Part II

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Then I asked Rahul to tell me the story of his original picture, the house with rainbow colors. This is the story he told me. A woman wanted to go to the hills. She wanted to go to a special hill, a hill with a temple. The conductor said that she didn’t have enough rupees to go, but she finally got to the temple anyway. After reaching the temple, she descended the hill again and found the house, which she claimed as her own. Some boys came by, and they asked her if she had a place for them to stay. She told them they could stay with her. Again, she wanted to go to the temple, but this time she had no money at all. She had the idea to approach people on the way, asking for donations. She was rewarded with a bag full of money. She reached the top of the mountain and then returned to her house. At the house there was a spike, and a bird tried to sit on it and was pierced and died.  The boys shared the bird – one ate the head, which was said to make the eater into a king, and the other ate the body, which was said to make the eater into a rich man. The prophecy came true, but then the boys went into the forest and were captured by a witch. The witch gave them poison, and they vomited the two pieces of the bird, both of which she ate, conferring the position of the kingship and the wealth onto the witch. Now poor and without status, the boys went further into the woods and found the forest goddess, who heard their story and took pity on them. She gave them a magic ring, which allowed them to retrieve their royalty and wealth from the witch, who was duly punished.

This wonderful story had to be finished before its natural conclusion because, despite the charm of the storyteller, it had continued for longer than the patience of the adults in the room. I thought the story told Rahul’s fantasy of being reunited with his idealized mother, represented by the first generous woman and again by the forest goddess. The abandoning bad mother, I thought, was represented by the witch. Although Rahul has not seen his mother for years, I am guessing that he holds a fantasied image of her as an ideal mother in his mind to protect him from the pain of the awareness of the loss. If he had to believe that he was truly abandoned, he might also wonder what he had done that was so bad (stealing a biscuit, losing a ball, etc.) to deserve to be left behind, and a sense of himself as that bad could be crushing. In fact, to believe that you were bad enough for your mother to leave you, you might believe you deserved to eat dirt.

Rahul responded to this intervention with an enhanced sense of himself. He sought us out with his eyes and seemed to be longing for more attention. However, perhaps most important was that we offered the caregivers a new glimpse of a child’s inner world and the way these insights could be used to understand a child’s behavior. As the stories suggest, our view into a child’s inner world is only one of many possible meanings, but increasing one’s repertoire of ways of understanding human behavior is likely to expand the caregiver’s capacity for empathy and consequently to enrich the caregiving environment of a child. In addition, as the photos in the Part I posting indicate, we helped Rahul feel connected with the father figure of the children’s home and in that special connection gave him a chance to identify with the Professor’s power and kindness.

After our experience with Rahul, we brought colored pencils and paper to the other boys.

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Winnicott DW (1958). Collected Papers: Through Paediatrics to Psychoanalysis, London: Tavistock Press

One thought on “The Witch and the Forest Goddess Part II

  1. Susan Phillips

    Thank you, Alex for this glimpse into your work with children and their caretakers in India. Your careful and thoughtful description of the process of drawing and storytelling, and then expanding through responsive “listening” to potential underlying themes as way of building emotional connection and capacity for children and those who care for them daily is inspirational! The photographs bring it all to life.

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