Goldilocks and the Three Bears: An Allegorical Read by Ron Dart

Cottage of Robert Southey

Goldilocks and the Three Bears is a much loved and much read tale that can be read at a simple literal level (or with varied moral reads) but it can also be read at a more complex and layered allegorical  level. First, though, there is a short history of the story to be told. The tale was initially published by Robert Southey (High Tory Anglican Poet Laureate of England from 1813 until his death in 1843) in 1837 as The Three Bears. It was not a young girl who entered the bears home but an old woman. Then, in 1850, Joseph Cundall turned the old woman into a young child called Silver-hair.  And, as the story developed, Goldilocks replaced Silver-hair, hence Goldilocks and the Three Bears. And, now we turn to the read and layered interpretation of the evocative tale.

Goldilocks was a restless child at home, at odds with her parents and eager to see a bigger world. Such is a legitimate and necessary part of the journey—weaning from parents, individuating, tradition of upbringing not speaking to soul or life direction. The journey of Goldilocks is a perennial one.  It is one thing to be “free from” something but another thing to be “free for” the next phase of the pilgrimage through time. We must always be alert that we are not just changing one cage for another—such is at the centre of so much religious and political culture wars, past and present.   

Goldilocks lacked discernment in the “freedom for” and so she unwittingly entered the home of 3 bears, the bears absent and the home inviting—such is often innocent entering the world of competing experiences.  It was just a matter of time before innocence met experience but Goldilocks was unaware of the threats to her existence, bears and humans often at odds, the underlying myth of the story unfolding and to be read as such.  

Goldilocks does, though, enter the home of the bears and she finds 3 bowels of porridge—one too hot, one too cold and one just right. Needless to say, in the path of life there are those who too emotional, too charismatic, too intense, too irrational, Dionysius the god—avoid such! But, there are also those who are too cold, too rational, too aloof, Apollo the god, political ideologies and religions veering in both directions. But, the porridge that is just right blends the best of the thoughtful and the imaginative, emotions and reflection—and yet, and yet–there is more!

Goldilocks then turns to the three chairs—one is too high, another moderate but still not right, the smaller chair just perfect and yet, once sat on, Goldilocks breaks it—the insight not to be missed—be wary of being too sophisticated, too high culturally, too aesthetic but also too middle, too bourgeois, too addicted to the middle way—Nietzsche once said, “Blessed are the balanced for they will be bland—Blessed are the moderate for they will be mediocre”. Aristotle beware! Goldilocks found the smallest chair to her liking and yet, once sat on, she broke it. A danger on the journey is finding the place we seem at peace in and yet there is more and such means we need either consciously or unconsciously to break it to grow deeper and walk further on the trail of life. Or, as Eliot aptly suggested “Old Men ought to be explorers….”

And finally, it was to the 3 beds—the one too hard, the other too soft and again the bed that was just right. There are those in life that can be too hard, too critical, too convinced of their worldviews and ways, often judgmental of others—and others can be too soft, too uncritical, grounded and rooted in nothing, Dante’s upper level of the Inferno—such are so open they invite and welcome demons unaware. Goldilocks finds the bed that is just right and falls asleep in it—such is yet another danger. We think we have found a thoughtful and meaningful explanation for our journey and we drift off into sleep and cease to ask deeper and further questions about ourselves, friendships, community and the larger political and public world we live in.

It is often the tragedies and suffering of life, painful experiences, like the bears that Goldilocks encounters, that wake us from our slumber and sleep. It is how we engage the bears (of various shapes and sizes, some smaller and less threatening, others challenging and more difficult and the larger bears that are almost too difficult to face into yet necessary to do so).

Goldilocks does flee from the wake-up experience of being in the bears den, learned much about the deeper and more complex journey and returns to her parents (to a larger Tradition) a sadder but a wiser person—she understands her parents (Tradition) in a more sophisticated and mature manner.  So, what seems to be the sad romp of the innocent girl becomes the process of education and transformation, the metaphors of porridges, chairs and beds each lessons to be internalized, none to be absolutized—la lotta continua!

I suspect Southey might be pleased with such a read, literal and moral level giving way to a deeper ontological one of being becoming being.

amor vincit omnia

Ron Dart        


By Ron Dart

The Sacrifices of Cain and Abel

THE Jewish tale of Cain and Abel often pits the aggressive and ambitious Cain against the more reflective and contemplative Abel, Abel the Shepherd, Cain the ever driven entrepreneur. The tragic myth ends with Cain killing his brother Abel.

If I may fast forward for a paragraph, the more benign Christian comparison-contrast of Mary and Martha highlights the contemplative Mary and the activist Martha. Jesus makes it clear who has chosen the better part.

The Western Tradition has perennially parsed the vita contemplativa-vita activa tension, the West since the Reformation giving, increasingly so, the nod to the vita activa. Our late modern western ethos is merely the secularized version of the protestant vita activa. Most think they are being truly free but, in fact, they are victims of their often unanalyzed drivenness, completely addicted to doing, doing, doing, incapable of deeper dives into the waiting silence of their being.

The Medieval Victorines (Hugh and Richard), drawing typologically from the Jewish Tradition, legitimately so, suggested that Leah and Rachel represent the active and contemplative way. Jacob thought by serving Laban for seven years, Rachel would be his wife, but Laban made it clear that it was not right for the younger sister to be wed before the older sister. The seven years embodies the active life that culminates in the contemplative life, Jacob working for Rachel but needing to receive Leah as part of the journey.

It is significant in Dante’s Purgatorio (XXVII) all who will continue their ascent up Mount Purgatory must pass through the wall of fire, the fire that purges the dross from the gold of the self, the fire that burns away an unhealthy active life (Leah) from the fuller and more meaningful contemplative life (Rachel). Dante is making it abundantly clear in Canto XXVII that the earthly paradise can only be reached by the driven active life being purged so the contemplative life can be internalized—such is Dante’s 3rd dream in Canto XXVII.

Leah did birth 10 sons for Jacob but it was Rachel who gave birth to Joseph and Benjamin (more beloved). It is not, of course, a case in which the vita activa is condemned and the vita contemplative idealized—it’s more a matter of how these two ways of being are to be ordered and priorized on the journey.  What, in short, must pass through the fire so the gold will be revealed?

The contemplative vision of Richard of St. Victor is elevated and placed in the Paradisio in the heaven of the sun (Canto X).

Let me now return to Cain and Abel. Evelyn Underhill has rightly suggested that the West unduly and immaturely so, diverts and wastes too much energy conjugating three verbs: to want, to have and to do. The more substantive verb is “to be”—such is the contemplative way. Such is the way of Abel and such a way, in the West, dominated by aggressive Cains, again and again, kills the Abel within.  It is, though, Abel who is the shepherd and guardian of being, the shepherd who protects the depths from the wolves that would devour being.  Cain did not only kill Abel in the past—he does so relentlessly in the present and has been doing so for centuries.

If sin, at the deepest level, means missing the mark of being (“to be or not to be that is the question”, the tragedy of Hamlet and those immersed in the tragedy not knowing how to live from their deeper being), then to turn, to repent, is to turn from shallow notions of the self and identity to greater and often unmined depths. It is, in short, to heed the call of Abel, Rachel and Mary. 

How is the inner Abel to oppose the aggressive and drivenness of the culture of Cain and the Cain within?

Such is the challenge of the Cain-Abel myth, the Leah-Rachel myth and the Martha-Mary myth in its varied and various readings and interpretations, myth, of course, being a perennial truth we ignore to our peril wrapped in the garments of a story.

It is significantly counter cultural in an ethos dominated by Cain (at crude and subtle levels) to heed and hear the still small voice of Abel—It takes much disciplined courage and attentiveness to speak the life and light giving word, ABEL COME FORTH—Cain, like Gollum, must be opposed—much hinges on this being done and done wisely and well. 

Amor Vincit Omnia


The Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin, Mary

Dear Sons of the Holy Cross,

Who can resist settling in with this Holy Day in the Liturgical year (THE ANNUNCIATION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN, MARY)? So much flows and ushers from an adequate understanding of this reality. Then, a couple of says later (March 29), we sit with John Keble (a fine refiner of both the catholic Anglican way and the best of the Patristic ethos and insights. Do allow Mary and John Keble to guide, massage and warm your souls, minds and imaginations.

The next gathering of the SHC will be this Tuesday (March 28) from 6:00-8:00—–note the time change–look forward to seeing one and all. We will bring to an end the final section of DEAREST SISTER WENDY: A SURPRISING STORY OF FAITH AND FRIENDSHIP. We have covered, thus far, “The Art of Seeing” and “The Art of Loving”. We conclude with “The Art of Letting Go”—most apt, indeed, for the Lenten season.

Also, a reminder that our retreat is April 21-22–look forward to seeing one and all in a few weeks. I will send the schedule out next week for the 2 days. Can each of you let me know if you are attending? I seem to have misplaced my list.

You might also enjoy my seven reflections of Coleridge’s THE RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER. I put him up there with Keble, although the “damaged angel” (as he has been called) is often not put on the same shelf as Keble and Pusey—he does need to be there, though–his sheer breadth, depth and height raises the Anglican vision to yet a more comprehensive fullness and catholicity–a must read and know for the faith journey.

And, final weeks for getting essays in for LEGATUM II—it will be a bounty and beauty not to miss. I hope you are enjoying THE WAY OF THOMAS MERTON: A PRAYER JOURNEY THROUGH LENT. I’m on my 2nd meditative read through it. 

amor vincit omnia