Fitcher’s Bird or the Girl Who Rescued Herself

Fitcher's Bird or the Girl Who Rescued Herself - Billy von Raven

Salvage wood, freshwater pearls, glass, watercolor, gouache, oil pastel, gold ink, music box, and found objects including wildflowers, fishing lure, jewelry, keys, trash, crawdad claw, lichen and moss from the Clackamas River, guinea feathers, tree bark, broken robin’s egg, seashell from the Oregon Coast, and toy doll

 

 

Inspired by the Grimm’s fairy tale Fitcher’s Bird, this piece reflects three worlds. The first world, harbored in the box on the left, is the dream world, the realm in which myth, spirits, and dreams are not just metaphors, but living types of truths. This is our unconscious, our dream house, the primeval source before being shaped by society’s conditionings, or as close as we can get to a kind of Cave of the Trois-Frères indigenous worldview.

The second world on the right is the everyday waking world. It is as far as we’ve gotten through the story, that is, the present. It is filled with the detritus of modern life, a kind of compost pile of traditions, and is looked over by perhaps the only spirit commonly recognized here: that of death. This represents the rational mind has been disconnected from the spirit world and the Earth it has created: machines, military complexes, industry, convenience devoid of fulfillment.

The third world, not really a world at all but perhaps a bridge, is the transformative space of the night sky, which is transparent to the cosmos beyond our world. This is also analogous to our consciousness when it is clear of all worldly limitations. When the sky and the mind is opaque, the cosmos is invisible, but the world is lit and full of action. When the sky and mind is clear, the universe is visible, but the world is dark and dreaming. This space is also the stage of the heroine and acts of courage take place here.

This brings us to the story of Fitcher’s Bird, in which a young woman uses her own wit to rescue herself and her sisters from the sorcerer or witch-hunter named Fitcher. This man has kidnapped and dismembered disobedient women, including her sisters. He leaves each woman with an egg and a set of keys to the house, with instructions not to open a certain door, much as in the Bluebeard story. But of course they do open the door, discovering the previous women’s bodies and dropping the egg in surprise. The blood spattered egg gives away the act of disobedience each time until our heroine knows to hide the egg before entering the room, where she find the bodies of her two sisters. She re-members her sisters, bringing them back to life. At this point, Fitcher does not suspect her act of rebellion and agrees to marry her. But she tricks him on their wedding day. She pretends a skull decked with flowers set in the bedchamber window is herself as the bride, after rolling in honey and feathers to disguise herself as a bird. With this incredible outfit she tricks the witch-hunter and all his friends to enter the house without her and her family, after which they set the whole place to fire. This is interesting because for many oppressive years throughout history, women who did heretical things such as reading and writing or practicing indigenous pagan arts were accused of witchcraft. Typical punishments included burning and being tarred and feathered. This heroine reclaims these punishments and uses them for her own empowerment. She is unafraid to be a powerful woman, even on penalty of death. I like to think that perhaps this story was told by Germanic grandmothers to encourage their young granddaughters to subvert the patriarchy.

As a transgender person, knowing that murder of transgender people is at a historic high (one every 29 hours and mostly women of color), I can identify with the kind of persecution those accused as witches faced. Any group of people who are marginalized for questioning the dominant paradigm, or for simply being different, have something vital to say about the ways in which the fabric of a culture are torn. It takes courage to point out the failures of a system that works for most people privileged by its biases. Often this generates negative and hateful attention, because this helps all of us to see our own shortcomings within the given system, bringing up shame, anger and fear. But the heroine in the story reclaims the symbols of violence, audaciously dressing in feathers as a way to embrace the cultural branding of a witch, while at the same time calling into the public arena questions of why such people are deserving of violent and genocidal oppression in the first place. Similarly, the gay rights movement reclaimed the pink triangle as a symbol of pride after it was used in Nazi Germany to mark homosexuals for death. The hero of any story, to me, is one who has the courage to be unashamed to be themselves, even in the face of death, and to stand up for others to do the same.

The music box plays an original melody, a kind of soundtrack composed by myself, which can be heard here on Soundcloud.

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