“The Frog Prince” (German: Der Froschkönig, Dutch: de kikkerkoning) is a fairy tale, best known through the Brothers Grimm’s written version; traditionally it is the first story in their collection. Since some months, I have a project or tendency to understand my own psyche through the forests I visit and images that remind me to a fairytale. Different moments in the forests in my village, I have seen frogspawn and frogs, and at some point the fairytale for this month became obvious: the Frog Prince. This seems also the right fairytale to conclude the first phase of my journey as a forest therapy guide, of my 6 month long practicum, of my transformation (very froggy) and retell the story as my harvest of this woodwide voyage.
In the first weekend of March, I found frogspawn while guiding a forest bath for the first time in a romantic forest, with a castle and named after the lime trees that once lived there.
On Friday March 13th, Belgium started it’s light or soft lock down to cope with the corona crisis. Two days later, I went for a walk for three hours and got positively surprised by the song of frogs. I think I never heard and saw frogs in the wild. And no, I did not kiss the frog. Nowadays I practice physical distancing. Every prince can wait 😉 but the sun can kiss my cheeks.
The story how I know it
Once upon a time, there was, and there wasn’t a princess often goes to play at the cool spring under the old lime tree in the dark forest near the castle. She has a golden ball that she throws up and catches while playing. One day the golden ball falls into the deep well. She starts to cry and feels pain in her chest, because of all the loss and grief. Nothing happens, of course. So she tries a different strategy, makes herself comfy between the arms of a tree, and dreams and creates a saviour. She waits for a kiss. Nothing happens. Of course, it’s March. Sleeping Beauty’s story is for February, a voice told her, time to stop sleeping/resting/dreaming, because spring is coming. So stand up and do something. Hence, the princess goes back to the pool and looks into her mirror. Her saviour is perhaps herself.
And when she thought about that, a frog appears. An edge dweller who lives in the world of land and water. The frog tells her he is willing to take the golden ball out. He does not want gold or jewellery as a reward, but the friendship of the princess. She agrees immediately, as the golden ball is as important as the sun for her. Some squirrels who witness the scene, whisper that the golden ball represents the wisdom of all women. A lot at stake. And the princess knows she has to sacrifice something for this. When the princess promises the frog he can lie next to her at the table and in bed and even get a kiss, he grabs the ball. However, after the frog gives her the ball, the princess runs home with her ball without taking the frog with her. You have to know she has some commitment issues.
The next day, the frog knocks on the door of the castle. At first she doesn’t want to let the frog in. No way she will become friends with such an ugly thing, but her father asks her why there is a talking frog at their door. She tells the story and her father thinks she should keep the promise. As this was a kingdom where old men rule, she could only agree. So, she reluctantly eats with the frog from her golden plate, and her father forces her to take the frog to her bedroom. Finally the frog asks for the kiss she promised. After hesitating for a long time, she kisses the frog. And he turns into a prince, because he was actually cursed. And they both found love, and left this kingdom where old men rule, for a kingdom where they were equals and lived happily ever after.
About lime trees
As I wrote in A kiss in the shadow of a linden tree (last November), lime trees are important trees for Germans, but also for Belgians. The Celts and the Germanic people saw it as a sacred tree – it was the residence of Freya, the goddess of fertility. Marriages, for example, were made under the lime tree. Some say this fairytale should be seen as a sexual initiation or transition ritual of young girls. 8 years ago, I learned from the book “Women Who Run With Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman'” by Clarissa Pinkola Estés that fairytales, in particular the ones about female characters, hold wisdom for women, how to cope with difficulties and transitions, how to become mature and transform to a next phase in womanhood. And this fairytale is no exception.
To me, the lime tree, representing a goddess, a feminine divine power, witnesses the change of the princess -and the transformation of the frog. In fact, all people who respect their feminine energy know they should witness, but not interfere. They know and trust that the characters will get what they need while walking the path.
Frogs are edge-dwellers
The frog lives in water and on land and can be seen as an ‘Aquarius’ who belongs to two worlds. A friend who is into astrology told me it’s also the first time the stars are in Aquarius for the first time in so many years and it symbolises liminality, this between-space. And look, the global crisis pushes people into a ‘forced’ liminality. Some people went into it voluntarily and full of trust, but for many people it is scary to lose track of time. Just like frogs, this whole transformation looks ‘ugly’ in the beginning. Personally, another silver lining of this lock down is that I am really ‘forced’ to live in the presence. In the beginning that was scary. I knew already for some time that letting go my desire to control the future, by plugging more in the presence, would be the best medicine for my chest pain, but I did not take it.
I have to say 6 last months have been interesting and confronting. How more I dived into forest therapy practice, how more I realised I do not want to be the environmental engineer fixing things, controlling and monitoring nature, that I have some control issue… I had some existential thoughts about my current paths. In the past months, I have been reflecting, perhaps overthinking, satoyama, this space between the wilderness and the tamed world, the space where the ‘magic’ happens. After living for 2,5 years in Japan, and actually learning about this concept because of a research project in rural mountainous areas, I know it is also about control. This idea of control of nature in Japan disturbs me, this idea of control of nature as a reaction of fear for the unknown (and all the natural disasters in Japan), as I also wrote in previous blogs like Meeting Japan’s curse spirits during a Forest Bath (in June 2019) and Changing the Stories We Live By #4: Grief (in the winter holidays). It disturbs me as much I do not like to acknowledge I have also control issues and that I am afraid too. As guides we dwell a lot in satoyama, sometimes we are on steady land, sometimes we are in the flowing waters. I start to understand what this space can offer to others and to me. In edges, you can find a lot of diversity. Diverse plants, diverse medicines and diverse stories.
Six months ago, when I started the way of becoming a forest therapy guide in Colorado, when ‘the forest awakened’, I had expected other lessons than the one I got and am still getting. The lock down in Belgium, in the house of my parents, where I had not expected to be at the end of my training as a guide, feels in some odd way like a gift of the universe to even really stop, take a distance so I can find the courage to accept what I really want, what I really love and leave the path that taught me a lot in the past but does not feel the path for today and tomorrow. But it is scary to leave your comfort. What if this is the time to reflect … about fear and love, to look back and see the choices I made were because of fear or because of love? And if the choices were made of love, did I go for the fullest, or was there still some fear pulling me back? What makes me afraid? And most importantly, what do I love?
An invitation for intimate (re)connection
I am amazed what I discover in last weeks by being outside every day for an hour or more and visiting the same forests around my parent’s house. The silver lining of this whole ‘staycation’ is that I start to get to know names of flowers, like magnolia and forsythia, and get to know the giant beeches and other trees, and find wonder in the ordinary, like the arrival of the first bumblebees and the song of a moorhen hidden in sunlit reed. It all becomes more familiar. Before dusk I smell this profound woody smell, of evergreens, and since today this peculiar smell of hawthorn. I have to admit I have never been so intimately connected with the local forests and nature since my childhood. And not only with the forests. In the past weeks I have been observing my parents. I have not lived with them in the same space for so long time since I am a teen, I think. After some days lock down I got frustrating, and a friend pointed me out I was judging them too much. I realised I do not judge people I do not know well, but I am a judge to the persons and places with who I share the strongest ties. I told this to one of my kindred spirits and she reminded me to take this time to observe my parents and family, learn their stories, learn the stories of the family and the place, not in order to change them, but to change my view on them. Then real magic, real transformation can happen. She added that it can take years, and that is fine. The process matters more.
So I started to listen to stories about them as children, and some traumas they carry, and how some of these stories, sad and good, are connected to my own story. I also re-examine stories of other important people in my life, or let’s say re-examine my perspective of the stories of them. I know I can judge people too fast, and as I said, in particular the people I love the most. It’s my way to control, and control comes because of fear, not because of love. I am afraid for real connections, perhaps since I lost my grandfather, the man who taught me so lot, due to a forestry accident when I was 17. Before his death, I had my whole life planned, and he would be part of it. But then he died unexpectedly, and I realised in a painful way that when you plan, life happens. In the last 14 years I have asked myself if the reason why I wander woodwide, collect seeds, but do not stick to a land where I can plant them, and more importantly, take care of them so they can grow into maturity… is because I am afraid to feel the heart-breaking pain of loss. So isn’t it safer to not get too close to anyone or any place?
On the other hand, the nature seems to ground me, wherever I go. I found and still find a lot of solace in nature. And I can see the connections and relationships in this woodwide web of interbeing: a web of the beings who I encountered, who supported me and who taught me something.
Becoming the frog
More and more, I feel I also want to root. And it seems I am rooting in the place where I grew up. For now. And as long as I am here, I like to think how to help others to root too, through stories and forest therapy.
Lastly, it does not mean I think I should only make choices because of love. Fear -and anger- are also important. Anger helps to set up the boundaries in a right way that our own stories do not get tangled too much with other stories, so we do not hijack their stories. Everyone has to be their own hero in their story, to be their own saviour.
But I can be someone’s frog. Sometimes we need frogs, guides and other edge-dwellers for some little help. Perhaps, I wonder while writing this, I am not the princess in the tale, but the frog, and are my two lesson for the next weeks, months, years…
- to get more comfortable in satoyama, this between-land, and let go fear and control of the future
- and to be bold, learn to ask for a kiss and things I want, not withhold myself and not be afraid for intimate connections with the same land, the same beings, the same persons.