I did a short series recently using the fairy tale archetype of the Beastly Bride; the bride who secretly turns into some kind of animal or possesses magical powers granted from that animal.
There are are a number of different versions of this tale. The most common is about the Swan Maiden. In the standard version, the swan maiden lives in a magical land, far away, and flies to ours from time to time to bath in our waters. Why she would want to do this is never explained. But, when she arrives and decides it’s time for her earth-bath, she takes off her swan gown, transforming into a beautiful, nubile, naked young thing and goes skinny dipping in a river or lake.
Invariably, some peeping tom of a hunstman happens by, realizes what’s happened and grabs the swan gown. Without her gown, the swan maiden can’t transform back into a swan and fly back to her own land, so she is stranded here. The huntsman then, with her gown held hostage, forces her to marry him and usually bear him several children. In all the versions, the husband hides the gown somewhere, and while the swan maiden pretends to be a perfect wife and captive, she is ever on the lookout for it.
One day she finds it, often in the presence of the children she bore under the rape of her husband, and without a second’s hesitation, she slips the gown on and flies back to her own magical land, heedless of her childrens’ cries.
There are as many reactions to the tale as there are versions of it. Some people condemn the swan maiden for abandoning her children…. I am far more inclined to be sympathetic to the poor creature held in a foreign land against her will, routinely raped until she produced numerous children, and that her escape was understandable. But, some will disagree. Certainly it’s not the childrens’ fault the their father was such an awful person.
In some versions, the husband then realizes what a jerk he was and goes on a quest to prove his love and worthiness to possess such a magical creature for a wife. In what I can only attribute to Stockholm syndrome, sometimes the wife approves of his accomplishments and goes back with him. Sometimes he fails and meets his death along the way. Often the wife refuses to follow him back, and he returns to our world with the knowledge that he is an awful person.
Above all though, the Beastly Bride is not to be trifled with. You may contain her for a time, but never forever. You cannot own her. She is more powerful, magical and crafty than her husband and care should be taken by him. In a mutual, joyous union from both parties, the couple can be unstoppable. But force her and hold her against her will, and you will suffer for it.
I cannot help but love the Beastly Brides 🙂