Did you know that gemstones are mentioned in many fables and fairy tales of long ago? If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you know I am fascinated with the many myths and magical stories associated with stones and crystals.
Scholars of folklore have noticed that gemstones often signify that the reader has entered a special or magical place – with out-of-this-world sightings like streets paved in gemstones, jewel-encrusted goblets, and robes sparkling with precious diamonds, rubies and emeralds. There are many such stories featuring gemstones. There is one that is a particular favorite of mine – “The White Cat”, a French tale by Countess D’Aulnoy (1650 – 1705). The fairy tale is extraordinarily long, but enchanting.
The basic story is one of a young prince’s quest for his father, the king. In his travels he discovers a magnificent castle, with a gate covered in red garnets, walls of crystal and doors made of coral, lapis lazuli and pearls. Within the castle are fine robes encrusted with emeralds, and a beautiful white cat who wears a strand of pearls and holds a goblet of gemstones. Here are a couple of little snippets to give you an idea:
The Prince could not believe that any danger threatened him when he was welcomed in this way, so, guided by the mysterious hands, he went toward a door of coral, which opened of its own accord, and he found himself in a vast hall of mother-of-pearl, out of which opened a number of other rooms, glittering with thousands of lights, and full of such beautiful pictures and precious things that the Prince felt quite bewildered. After passing through sixty rooms the hands that conducted him stopped, and the Prince saw a most comfortable-looking arm-chair drawn up close to the chimney-corner; at the same moment the fire lighted itself, and the pretty, soft, clever hands took off the Prince's wet, muddy clothes, and presented him with fresh ones made of the richest stuffs, all embroidered with gold and emeralds. He could not help admiring everything he saw, and the deft way in which the hands waited on him, though they sometimes appeared so suddenly that they made him jump...
The Prince was so much astonished that he thought he must be dreaming, but the little figure came up to him and threw back its veil, and he saw that it was the loveliest little white cat it is possible to imagine. She looked very young and very sad, and in a sweet little voice that went straight to his heart she said to the Prince:
"King's son, you are welcome; the Queen of the Cats is glad to see you."
As might be expected, it turns out the cat is really a princess who has been cast under a spell by wicked fairies. The only way to break the spell is for the prince to chop off her head and tail and throw them into the fire! Though skeptical, the prince agrees to the grisly task, and voila! A beautiful princess appear! And they are married immediately and whisked off to the king’s castle on a royal carriage drawn by horses with shoes made of rubies and diamonds.
As in many such stories, the gemstones symbolize great wealth and royalty – and let us know how special its characters are. You can be sure at the time the fairy tale was written, only the very wealthy could afford gems.
I adore the portrayal of the prince and the cat shown here. (It could be relevant that my best cat EVER, “Binky”, looked a lot like the white cat, and acted every bit as sweet and refined as the cat in the story. But I also love the fan the cat holds (see my previous post on fans) as well as the beauty of the costumes and ornamentation.
Wouldn’t we all love to discover a magical castle filled with sparkling gemstones? Ah, well, I suppose it is not to be. But we can dream, can’t we?
Until Next Time,