Stephanie Pope on the Hero's Journey Essay Series: Pt 4 The Stolen Child for
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The UnHappy Hero Pt 4: The Stolen Child-Stephanie Pope

                                    For he comes, the human child,
                                    To the waters and the wild
                                    With a faery hand in hand,
                                    From a world more full of weeping than he can understand.

                                                         -W.B. Yeats, The Stolen Child

The image of happiness in happiness psychology reminds me of a certain fantasy image. It is the fantasy of our having lived a perfect childhood. For some of us our young post modern image of American happiness, at least our WWII baby boomer image of it, is an idyllic and carefree state of awareness like we might imagine all childhood need be but, alas, no longer can be nor shall be ever again. Nowhere in the image of childhood is there the slightest hint of a failure to thrive. Furthermore, I must admit, I continue to be caught up by the image of the two grapes and the two eyes on the plate of the Pale Man in Pan’s Labyrinth. According to mythos these are the eyes of Aidoneus or Hades or imagination itself.

There is, from Greek imagination, the more familiar tale of the stolen child, Persephone but there is also in the Christic imagination from Italy St Lucy of Syracuse and from Sweden the child of light, Santa Lucia. A symbol of growth out of darkness, Lucy carries two eyes, the light of the body, on a plate. St. Lucy fire to this day celebrates a convergence in the borderland regions of psychic imagination from which the lux, the root word in both “Lucy” and

Santa Lucia, 1521 oil on wood

“lucid” re-forms a noble imagination where one’s poetic sense matters to one’s sense for aliveness beyond the life situation at hand.  What works is at work in one through one’s own poetic purview of freedom.

The story of St Lucy is like the story of Ofelia in Pan’s Labyrinth and like our own soul-recoveries since the days of WTC and 911—the world soul in me and in you lives in the felt-sense for the world we must still touch in the world itself.  But, that “still” is in abeyance and that touchiness is sorely swelling big time. There is a forced loss of innocence that must be dealt with in a world so full of weeping none, least of all a twelve year old girl-child, can understand.

There is a Shrine to St. Lucia in the Church of the Company of Jesus Guanajuato, Mexico that provides another legend in another cultural imagination in which Lucy plucked out her eyes rather than have them be a cause of sin on the part of a man who loved her. Lucy sent the eyes to him on a plate.

Two eyes on a plate, two grapes resuscitate again in a sin in a sex. To know and not to know; to know something that you still don’t know consciously; how shall you be bidden still to unknow it? In the keep of the hide what is still worth keeping? How shall you see into that dark light of lux the sum of all those unpleasant qualities and all those insufficiently developed felt-senses that are to otherwise hide?

A metonym plays and is in play betwixt the beloved and the unloveable, the not-living and still loveable, and the not loveable, not liveable condition in the imaginal and transitional space itself which lay metaphorically at the midpoint of all our lives. What is it to have come here? What is it to have become here a sexually ensouled soul? Surely it is to have undergone a rite of wounding. (see endnote 1) Surely it will have been an attempt to be-come in the human child a psyche that loves.

A fringe region goes unnamed between conscious and unconscious things. The imagination is what we call this space. It is a space for making. At the midpoint of our lives the imagination re-engenders what it is to have become sexually ensouled.

Imagination displays between any combination of grape the remains of winedark stories. Over and over these stories continue to be not quite doable let alone sayable things. Often these stories are regrettable spots to have found oneself. What will come to happen here is a story for future telling.  But, something big has already happened. What has been ingested will not be entirely digested because it is not entirely digestible. In the nether region of transitional space one will remember, revision, revise but the images will have already come from memories, dreams, reflections, myths, legends, fairy tales and metaphors lived once upon a time.

What will have already happened is the workings of imagination itself. Is life worth living now that what one loves is dead? Like chyme in the body of the greedy toad at the entrance to the underworld labyrinth mired beyond root, release and reasons, a psyche’s belly region names imagination as a medial zone. Imagination is where the chyme, that intermediate substance, that thick semi-fluid mass of partly digested food, will serve up the medial remedy. It is an absence space, a vessel where new poetries takes shape. This region of imaginal psyche is a place of confinement, oblivion and neglect yet it is where the force of something poetic may still be possible. This psychic region creates resemblances for our own often impoverished imagination at midlife. 

In his book, The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue, the author addresses exactly the loss of this certain image of innocence in the imagination at the midpoint of our lives. His stolen child takes on the dual nature of the changling. In an interview Donohue tells of his memories growing up in Pittsburg. Where Keith Donohue grows up in the Birdland neighborhood of Scott Township, weekends and summer vacations mean freedom. "Our parents opened the door, and they said `Go,' and we went," he is quoted to have said when interviewed by Regis Behe for the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. "We poked around in the woods, rode our bikes. We came home for meals when it got dark. Kids today, they don't have that freedom. The edge of the yard is the border. It's unfortunate and sad for all the reasons we all know about."

To write his novel Donohue does what Del Toro does in Pan’s Labyrinth. He plays an outside reality against an inside one, an upper world akin a lower world and a literal logic in contiguity with an imaginal one. The Stolen Child is locked in time; all that the image represents in what it use to be appears before what threatens its reality in still being now; what can still be passes through what is now. The holy and the unholy cannot be told apart –and must be.

For both men, Donohue and Del Toro a blurring of boundaries between reasoning and imagining form the edge of the yard in which the story of new growth is no longer one of growing “up” and where the story is now to be revised downward. The image will be torn apart again. “…The world underneath, is a real world, and it's just as valid, our imaginative reality, as our everyday reality. I was highly aware of that, and that's the fun part of it," Donohue explains.

The imaginal reality underneath is just as valid in its function shaping reality as our everyday reasoning is in shaping how reality appears and takes hold before us.  It is not too far a leap to reimagine our state of unhappiness as greedy as a toad in the act of child-stealing. Take away what is really so, the truth that there has been a failure to thrive due to four kinds of failures one of which is a failed imagination (see endnote 2) and replace these with the image of the one happy childhood. You will satisfy the greedy toad gnawing away the roots of the tree of life. Don’t be fooled. Stay in the felt sense for what you know you still don’t know. The rest is mere construction, somebody else’s mythic dominant—a labyrinth.

Our happiness is like the stolen childhood of Ofelia as she holds a stolen child before the nightmare her psyche inherits. The light eater, the lux has something to say to her. It may just be about becoming who she is through a choice she must make in how to react to an unjust world like the one she is about to inherit. It may just be about how Ofelia will be-come the human child, how her ennobled nature is to become this sexually ensouled psyche that loves.


1)See  Dennis Patrick Slattery, A Limbo of Shards pp192-212 “Eros and Psyche: The Rite to Wound and the Swelling of Consciousness 2003

2)See The 911 Commission Report, 2004 p339

extended reading:

Santa Lucia, The Scandanavian Celebration: Lucyfest

Lucia de Syracusa /St. Lucy

The Taking of Persephone
(suitable for middle primary;names the 4 dark steed of Aidoneus)

Hero, Pt1
Hero, Pt 2
Hero, Pt 3

Hero, Pt 5

poetry: Grandmother Eyes

more poetry: Ric Williams on Pan's Labyrinth, the infinite turning &t
for the absence of rain more-Ric Williams

more poetry: W.B. Yeats, The Stolen Child

Pan's Labyrinth

The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue

mythopoetics mythopoesis
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