I invite you to participate in the beginning stages of a research project titled: Single, Female, & Alone: Experiences of Surviving & Thriving. I welcome your input about challenges and successes with being over 40, single, and without children. My intention for gathering these experiences is to broaden women’s sense of community and to increase information about strategies and resources for surviving and thriving.

Although my direct interest is about single, childless women age 40 and older, I also want information from women with partners and/or children; all women have useful information, ideas, and strategies for each other.

After I have designed a formal questionnaire, I will conduct follow-up personal interviews with all willing participants. In the design and implementation steps of this research project, all information will be confidential. When requested, participants’ input will be acknowledged.

Although other authors have written similar books, the combination of my Jungian perspective (wholeness and individuation) and use of practical information will offer an additional source of information and support.

Please see the following links; the first two links are my other blogs; the third link is the professional organization to which I belong.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Queen's Cloak: A Myth for Midlife

By Joan Chamberlain Engelsman
      Once upon a time, after the winter festival, the Queen realized she was bored and rather depressed. Looking at her ladies-in-waiting, she asked if anyone could think of something interesting to do. Most suggested the same old things, but one woman remembered that long ago the Queen had mentioned doing an inventory of the castle.
     "Now is the time," cried the Queen with delight, because doing something seemed better than doing nothing. During the weeks that followed, the women searched every nook and cranny. They set down what they found in long lists.
     One day the Queen and her maid were working in the attic when they came upon a group of boxes and trunks which had belonged to the Queen's mother. They had been delivered after she died. Some had been opened, but most had been put away untouched.
     Now the Queen went through them all. The last to be opened was the smallest. Inside the little trunk was a beautiful cloak made of different threads and colors. It was woven in an intricate design that made the cloak seem to shimmer.
     The Queen had never seen it before. As she lifted it out of the chest, she was surprised, but pleased, when a note fell to the floor. Written in her mother's hand, the letter was addressed to the Queen.
     My Dearest Daughter:
     This is a cloak I wove myself. Take what you need and give the rest to your sister. A wise woman will be able to tell you about its magic. This is my greatest legacy. I leave it to you with my love. 
     The Queen was shocked. She had not known her mother had a magic cloak, and now she did not understand the message. But she gathered the soft folds in her arms and carried it back to her apartment.
     In the days that followed, she tried on the cloak many times. It was too short, and really too small.
 The strangest thing was the way it changed. Although the cloak looked beautiful hanging in the wardrobe, every time the Queen draped it over her own shoulders the colors faded and the pattern disappeared.
     As for the magic, no one could understand it. The Queen uttered every magical phrase she had ever heard, but nothing happened.
     One day, the Queen told her her maid to put the cloak away because the mystery was too much for her.
     "Have you sought the help of the wise
woman?" asked the maid.
     "No," said the Queen. "I didn't know
there was one in the kingdom."
     "Oh, yes. She lives in a little house at the
edge of the wood."
     "If you know her, will you ask her to come
to the castle and explain everything to me."
     "I will do my best," said the maid.
     Several days later, she told the Queen that the wise woman could not come to the castle. On
the other hand, if the Queen wanted to come to the cottage, she would be happy to see her.
     The next day, the Queen and her maid set out in the royal carriage. When they got to the edge of the woods, the Queen followed the directions given by her maid and walked to the wise woman's house.
     Rap, rap, rap, went the Queen against the door. Then she opened it and went inside. The wise old woman sat by the fire sorting seeds.
     "Are you the wise woman? Well, I am the Queen. My mother said someone like you might help me."
     Before the woman could reply, the Queen told her the whole story. When she finished, the cottage returned to silence - broken only by the crackling of the fire and the pounding of the Queen's heart.
     Finally the wise woman spoke.
     "The magic and the cloak belonged to your mother. I cannot tell you how to use it. But if you want, I can tell you how to make a similar cape for yourself."
     "Oh, yes," said the Queen, as she clapped her hands in excitement. "I have always wanted to do magic."
     "Very well," replied the wise woman. "But it is quite difficult and sometimes dangerous. First, the linen and wool you need you must make and dye yourself. So you must plant your own flax and spin your own wool. Next, you must take yarn from something you made for every member of your family. You will also need to add some material from your mother's cloak. Finally, you must get something from a stranger."
     "When you have collected all the right materials, you must weave it yourself in your own pattern. Once you have begun, you have only a year to finish it, and you cannot tell anyone what you are doing or why, otherwise there will be no magic."
     "That is ridiculous," said the Queen, stamping her foot. "I can't possibly do all those things myself. Besides. I don't need a magic cloak. I am the Queen."
     Then she turned her back on the wise woman and started to leave the cottage.
     "If you change your mind, your maid can advise you about some things. And I will help you if I can," said the wise woman gently.
     By the time the Queen got home, she was more depressed than ever. What was the point of being a Queen if you had to work like a servant? And how could she take back anything she had made for her husband and children? Maybe if she could tell them what it was all about - but she could never do it if she had to keep her reasons to herself.
     For two days and two nights, she didn't eat or sleep. She argued with herself. She really could not believe her mother had ever undertaken such a project. She could not imagine herself doing it. It was much too difficult.
     On the third day, she saw a face in the mirror. It was sad and frightened. With a shock, the Queen knew it was her own, and she began to cry for herself. After weeping a long time, the Queen stood up and called for her maid.
     "I have decided to make my own cloak. It will be very hard, but the wise woman said you could help me. Will you do that?"
     "Gladly," said the maid. "First let me draw you a bath and get you some food. Then we can plan."
     Since spring was just beginning, the Queen decided to start by planting flax. She selected a field far away from the castle so no one would see her. Then her maid arranged to have a farmer plow it.
     On the appointed day, the Queen and her maid rode forth as though for pleasure. When they reached the field, however, the work began. The Queen dug and planted while the maid held the tender shoots, handing them one by one to her mistress.
     Within an hour the Queen could do no more. Filthy and aching in every bone, she could barely hang on the horse for the ride home.
     "What happened to you?" said the King.
     "I fell off my horse."
     "That's too bad," he said. "Do be more careful."
     Had anyone ridden by on the following day, they would have been surprised to see their Queen (was it their Queen?) in bare feet and an old maid's dress bent over the rows.
     So it went. The trip to the field, the change of clothes, the digging and planting, the painful ride home.
     This is how the field was planted - with salt from tears and sweat, and blood from blistered hands and feet. But on the day it was finished, the Queen laughed. Running to her horse, she brought out a picnic she had hidden in her saddle. Like a pair of conspirators, she and her maid celebrated together.
     This part easy, thought the Queen. Now I have to take back something I gave my husband and children. The Queen knew they would be angry, because no one likes to give up something surreptitiously, but the wise woman said she had to tell them face to face.
     First the Queen spoke to her husband. I hope my voice doesn't quaver and I don't loose my nerve, she thought.
     "Good husband, do you remember your coronation robe which I embroidered with gold thread?"
     "Oh, indeed. I was very young, but that robe made me look and feel like a king. I really showed everybody, didn't I?"
     The Queen coughed. "Yes, dear. But now I need to pick out the gold thread for another project."
     "That's terrible. If you take out the gold thread, the robe will look like any other robe. No one will know I'm a king."
     "That's silly," said the Queen with a smile. "The robe does not make you look like a king. You were born to your position and have your own power and authority."
     "Oh, that's right," said the King with a sigh of relief. "Besides, I think it's time for a new one. The weavers guild has pestered me to wear something they have made. I think I'll have a design contest. It will be good for business."
     So while the King planned his new wardrobe, the Queen picked out the gold thread, rolled it into a ball, and set it aside.
     Next the Queen went to her son. Hanging on the wall was a small tapestry on which she had woven her family's coat of arms.
     "I have come to take down the small tapestry I made for you," she said. "I need the material for a new project."
     "But mother, if you take it away, I will not have a kingdom of my own."
     "My son, that is not yours. You know that if you have ambitions to be a king, you have to find your own realm."
     "Oh, that's right," said her son with a grin. "Besides, I don't like your country. I'd much rather go adventuring with my friends and find something new."
     So while the Prince and his friends planned their travels, the Queen unraveled the tapestry, rolled the colored threads into balls, and put them away.
     Finally, she went to see her daughter. "My dear," she said nervously, "do you remember the afghan I made you when you were little? I need to take it back because I want the yarn for another project."
     "Oh, Mama. I love it so. It reminds me of how you used to nurse me. I still snuggle in it on rainy days. Someday when I'm married and have my own children, I plan to give it to my daughter."
     Dear me, thought the Queen, this is harder than anything.
     "I am happy it means so much to you. But now you are old enough to care for yourself. If you want, I can teach you how to make something of your own."
     "Would you, Mama? That would be wonderful. I'd really like to make something in a different color, and a little bigger. Besides, I saw another pattern I liked better."
     So while the Princess planned all the new things she was going to make, the Queen unraveled the afghan, rolled the wool into a ball, and put it away.
     After the Queen had collected something she had made from every member of her family, she took out her mother's cloak. Carefully she cut it in half from neck to hem. She quickly took apart one half and set it aside for her own cape. After deftly catching the threads along the edge of the other piece, she wrapped it so it could be sent to her sister.
     "Half and half. I think that's fair, don't you?" said the Queen, making a face. "I'll ask the next traveler to take it along to her kingdom."
     Now that the Queen had finished many of her tasks, she decided she would talk to the wise woman. This time, she rode her horse. It was easier than getting out the royal carriage.
     Tap, tap, tap, went the Queen. Suddenly she was feeling very shy, so she waited a long time at the door until she felt brave enough to enter. The wise woman was sitting by the fire shelling nuts.
     "How is everything going?" she asked.
The Queen told her about planting the flax, about getting something she had made from every member of her family, and about dividing her mother's cloak.
     "That is very good," said the wise woman. "But what have you taken back from your sister?"
     "From my sister? Nothing," said the Queen angrily. "She is a terrible person. I have neither seen nor spoken to her since before I was married. I have not made her anything."
     "Not even when you were young?"
     The Queen started to answer as before when suddenly she remembered. "Oh no! When I was fourteen, I made a shawl to look like the starry heavens. I can't ask her for that. She would kill me."
     "If you do not get it back, you cannot make your cloak."
     "And you are a mean and stupid old woman," cried the Queen. "Even if I did that, how could I get something from a stranger when I don't know any?"
     The Queen slammed the door as she left and galloped her horse all the way home.
     In the days that followed, the Queen's anger abated, but it was replaced by fear. Fear of her sister, fear of the journey, fear of the unknown. The only thing the Queen had to encourage her were the balls of thread she had already collected, the calluses on her hands, and the calm presence of her maid.
     One day, the Queen rode out to the field of flax. Looking down at the rows, she realized all the pain and labor she already known would be meaningless unless she asked her sister for the shawl. So she resolved to go.
     The Queen's decision to visit her sister threw the castle into a frenzy of preparation. Her family was shocked, but she allayed their suspicions by telling them she felt obliged to deliver a package entrusted to her by their dead mother.
     Early one summer day, when all was ready, the Queen left for her sister's kingdom. She was dressed in beautiful clothes and rode a white horse. Her trunks were filled with fine clothes and jewelry and lovely presents. All these were packed on a mule which followed the royal horse.
     In her excitement, the Queen forgot her sister's piece of cloak. But the maid remembered, and she tucked the package among the many boxes on the mule.
     As long as the procession wended its way through the Queen's realm, she was guarded by her husband's soldiers. When she crossed into her sister's kingdom, however, she was alone. As she rode along, leading the mule, her fear returned.
     Not long afterward, a man appeared from the woods. He barred the way with his sword and ordered the Queen off her horse. Pushing her to the side of the road, he pawed through the rich gifts. When he saw the remnant from her mother's cloak, he laughed.
     "Give me your clothes. You can wrap yourself in this old rag."
     As soon as she was naked, he looked at her and laughed again.
     "You're a dried-up old stick, aren't you."
     Then the man gathered up all her belongings, took her horse and mule, and disappeared as quietly as he had come.
     As tears and humiliation overcame her, she wept bitter tears.
     Since there was nothing to do but continue, she finally dragged the piece of cloak around her. She was as sad and forlorn a figure as any who ever trudged along the road.
     It was evening when she reached the castle. "Who are you?" demanded the gatekeeper.
     Drawing herself up as best she could, the woman said, "I am the Queen's sister. Please take me to her."
     Sick and exhausted, the woman did not notice the bright lights and music filled the castle. Nor did she see all the people who stopped to stare at her.
     When she was ushered into the great hall, she only had eyes for her sister. Gathering her last strength, the woman removed the remnant of their mother's cloak. Standing naked, she offered it to her sister.
     At that moment, she collapsed.
     In the days that followed, the woman struggled between life and death. When her eyes could focus again, she saw her sister sitting beside her.
     "So, you have decided to live. Good, I am glad."
     The woman's heart began to pound until she realized she had nothing to fear. She was lying in a fine bed, the people in the room seemed ready to help her. Furthermore, her sister was smiling.
     "We thought you might die. But we put our resources at your disposal, and now you have recovered."
     "You do not hate me?" said the woman.
     "Not at all," said her sister. "But since you always wanted to kill me, I have wondered why you came and what is the meaning of this piece of cloth."
     "It is from our mother's magic cloak. She entrusted it to me. Now I have given you half, according to her wishes."
     The woman lay back on the pillow. "Why did the gatekeeper let me in?"
     "We were having a masquerade, and he thought you were a guest dressing as a beggar."
     "That's almost right," said the woman. And the two sisters laughed.
     Under the care of her sister, the woman grew strong. They had time for many talks and grew to know each other as never before.
     As the summer drew to a close, the woman made plans to return to her own kingdom.
     Her sister gave her many presents, but the woman refused them.
     "This time I will travel lightly."
     "What can I give you to commemorate our reunion then?"
     "Many years ago, I made you a shawl that resembled the starry night. Now I have need of it. If you will give me that, I will be grateful."
     "It is yours,"said her sister.
     And when the woman left, they parted sweetly. "Let me ride with you to the border."
     "No," said the woman. "This time I am simply dressed with nothing but a mule. I do not think anyone will bother me."
     When the sun was high overhead, the Queen decided to rest for awhile. She was hot and sweaty by the time she reached a small lake she remembered seeing before.
     This will be a perfect place to stop, she thought. I can even refresh myself with a swim. So the Queen led her mule to a secluded spot, took off her clothes, and slipped into the water.
     While she was relaxing, she noticed a man coming down to the lake from the other side. The woman concealed herself from view, but continued to watch.
     Like herself, the man took off his clothes and went for a swim. Then, gracefully, he stretched himself out on a rock to bask in the sun.
     The sight of the man made her heart pound. Then, slowly, heat began to spread through her loins. Hardly aware of what she was doing, she began to slide through the water toward the rock. By the time he saw her, however, the woman had resolved her mind. She stood in the lake and held out her hand.
     The man gazed in appreciation; then he rose to meet her. They played together until both were content. Then the woman went back to the water.
     "I don't know you," said the man.
     "No, you don't" said the woman, who suddenly started to laugh. "Will you give me something to remember this day?"she said.
     "What would you like?"
     "Your stockings would be perfect."
     So the man picked them up, waded out into the lake, and tied them around her waist. "I will need nothing to remember you," he said with a smile.
     Then she swam off to the other side of the lake. After she got home, the Queen unraveled her sister's shawl and the woodsman's stockings, rolled up the yarn into balls, and put them away.
     Fall came quickly, and the Queen harvested the flax and spun the wool. Under her maid's direction, the Queen worked with an easy mind. She did not tire as easily as she had in the spring. In fact, she came to like the work.
     While she was making the yarn, the Queen began to imagine what the cloak might look like. She wanted it to be impressive, and rather elegant. Being a Queen was not easy. Wearing a magic cloak would certainly come in handy, she thought, especially when she was feeling overwhelmed.
     When the Queen had made and collected all the yarn she needed, she knew the time had come to design the pattern. Her mind was full of many images: the straight rows of flax; the reflections of the spinning wheel on the floor; the vee that spread out behind her when she swam in the lake; the curving path that led to the wise woman's door.
     The Queen tried to remember the pattern in her mother's cloak. I wish I had not unraveled it so quickly, she thought. But she did recall patches of blue from the piece she clutched to her body as she stumbled to her sister's castle. I do not have any blue, she thought, except for a few strands, so I will dye the flax that color in memory of her.
     Then she set out the balls of yarn. Not only did she need to make a pattern, she had to decide what colors to use where. The more she thought about this project, the harder it became. As she planned, she tried to imagine how it would appear to others.
     Will it look regal? Will it make me look strong, she thought? What is the best style? How can I work in all the patterns and colors?
     As the days grew shorter, the Queen became more upset. No one could help her, and she began to feel that all her work had been in vain.
     One day, she sat down on the floor and placed the balls of yarn around her. As she stared at them, she noticed the red and black had rolled together.
     I really don't like them together, she thought. So she moved the red ball. Then she moved a gold one.
     From where I sit, she thought, some colors seem more complimentary than others. And so she moved the balls around her. While she did, she held them in her hand, gathering in her lap those she was unsure about until she found the perfect place.
     That afternoon, she played until she knew all the shades and textures of the yarn. Finally the Queen had them spread about her in a way that pleased her. Even the colors she didn't like had found a place.
     Then she stood up in the middle of them. At that moment, she knew how to design her cloak. The cloak flows out from me, she thought. The colors and patterns will only look right when they come out from the center. "Which is me," she said out loud with a smile and a tremble.
     In the days that followed, the Queen worked out her design. Carefully she balanced the patterns, mindful of the final effect but attending to her own preference.
     Finally the Queen and her maid set up the loom. As the Queen began to weave, she started to sing. They had a merry time, and soon everyone in the castle found reasons to come to the Queen's apartments. Even the king, who came more than most.
     At last everything was accomplished. The Queen's cloak fell in soft, radiant folds from her shoulders to the floor. It had a deep hood which she could wear as a collar or pull up over her head.
     When she walked, the cloak moved about her gracefully while the light played off the gold and silver threads. The intricate pattern showed the various colors to their advantage.
     "Now it is time to go back to see the wise woman," said the Queen.
     So one fine day, she wrapped up her cloak and walked to the cottage at the edge of the wood.
     Knock, knock, knock, went the Queen at the door. When she entered, she found the wise woman stringing her garlands.
     "I have come to show you my cloak," said the Queen, as she draped it over her shoulders.
     "Do you want me to tell about the magic?"
     "No," said the Queen. "I understand. It is not in the cloak. That is why you could not tell me. It comes from making the cloak."
     "Yes," said the wise woman as she stood up, "I see you have became a wise woman yourself."
     The two women laughed and embraced. They spent the day enjoying each other's company, stringing  garlands for the winter festival, and eating and drinking cakes and wine.
     The night of the great festival, the Queen wore the cloak for the first time. Although it was very beautiful, most people didn't even notice it. Instead they saw the Queen - which is as it should be.
     And the Queen used her wisdom like magic to bring peace and healing to the land.
Engelsman, J. C. (1994). The queen's cloak: A myth for midlife. Wilmette, IL: Chiron Publications. (Specific permission granted for this posting from Chiron Publications.)

Photo Credit: Queen Elizabeth I, The Rainbow Portrait, attributed to Isaac Oliver. Image borrowed from wnymodelphotography.com