Princess Tuvstarr - A New Translation
New Translation and commentary
As I bent down to look, just opposite,
A shape within the watery gleam appeared,
Bending to look on me. I stared back,
It stared back; but pleased I soon returned,
Pleased it returned as soon with answering looks
Of sympathy and love; there I had fixed
Mine eyes till now, and pined with vain desire,
Had not a voice thus warned me: “What thou seest,
What thou seest, fair creature, is thyself…”
(Milton, IV: 460-468)
Have you ever found yourself in front of a lonely and strange tarn with magical and terrifying water, whose depth you can’t seem to measure? A place were your feelings are submerged and sunken into their unknown depths. An atavistic memory from when we were reptiles, stones or bears? Fir trees stand guard beside tarns like this, but when they lean forward above the mirrored water, the branches become cautious and timid because a whole large unknown forest is reflected back to them, when the day is still.
In the water, illusion and reality are not separate, both are joined in an endless reflection of stars and branches.
On the edges of the tarn grow mosses of green hues, and a tuft of a small woolly white flower.
When there is not even a fluttering of life by the water, trees hold their breath to listen and an anticipation is stirred. The fir trees start to hiss. They have seen him and felt him, far, far away, they have seen the hidden Forest King, soon he will be here, he will come, he will come. The white flower bows and whispers:
“He is here, he is here.”
And the still water moves and speaks:
“He is arriving, he is arriving.”
A few distant snapping branches are heard, the sound increases, it grows, it becomes a crash of broken twigs and branches, a few clattering steps follow in quick succession, then a breathless panting. With a steaming chest the Forest King steps onto the bank next to the tarn. The crown of his horns sway and then he becomes just as still as the water. He lowers his head slowly to drink. The next moment he has disappeared on the other side of the tarn.
This is his story and the cottongrass flower is his companion.
That summer the sun shone every day over the meadow of the Dream Castle. Among the flowers a girl is sitting combing her long, pale yellow hair and playing with the curls between her fingers. On the ground next to her, she has placed a large golden crown, too heavy to bear on summery days like this. This girl is the princess of the Dream Castle, and today she is happy to be outside of the high and stately halls.
She wants to be free from the Dream Castle. She always wears a dress of the whitest white, people call her Princess Tuvstarr.
One day during the height of the sun, a large moose appeared in the meadow and slowly walked towards her. When it came closer she was intrigued.
"Who are you?” she asked.
“I am Long-legged leap and what do they call you?” He replied.
“I am Princess Tuvstarr.” She lifted the crown out of the grass to reveal her royal emblem. The moose looked at the Princess with wonder.
Princess Tuvstarr rose from the flowers and studied him closely.
“You also have a crown. Take me with you! I want you to carry me out into life, out beyond the Dream Castle, I want to be free, I am ready.”
“The world is cold and big and full of meanness and evil, and everything wants to harm you,” he said.
“No, I’m young and within me there is a goodness for everyone, I want to give my goodness to the world. I want to see and experience the hills, rivers, mountains and sea."
“The road is too dangerous for you” he said.
“But you're with me. You are big and strong and can defend us both,” she replied.
The moose threw his head back and shook its huge crown of antlers, flames shone from his eyes.
Tuvstarr clapped her hands in delight as the moose bowed down, and she climbed on his back to sit behind his crown.
“Now show me the world." She shouted.
He stretched up slowly and carried her on his back.
“Hold on to the horns!” he said.
Then he took off with huge steps.
Never before had she been outside the meadow of the Dream Castle. Now she was travelling over valleys and plains like the wind and holding onto the great crown of a moose.
“Where are you taking me first?” Tuvstarr wondered.
“To the old forest” answered Long-legged, “because that's where I'm most at home. But we still have some way to go and we must hurry as we are nearing evening.”
As the day closed in Tuvstarr felt hungry and sleepy.
“Have you regretted leaving the Dream Castle already,” asked Long-legged.
“It's too late to turn around now, but be calm. I know a bog full of lovely berries, you can eat yourself full there.”
They travelled for a while longer, until the forest thinned and Tuvstarr saw a mile-long bog, where only occasional bushes grow.
“We will stay here for a little while,” said Long-legged.
Tuvstarr forgot all her tiredness and started to collect berries, some tasted as rich as apples.
“Why are some people dancing over there?” Tuvstarr looked over the bog and saw shapes in the mist.
“They are fairies. Beware of them. They look nice and friendly, but are not to be trusted, don't answer them if they ask questions, let’s hurry, get on my back, don’t let go of my horns and only look forward,” he said.
Tuvstarr nodded as they rode away, but the fairies had already seen them from far, they floated over the bog whilst dancing in strange undulating movements to an unknown music.
She held to the horns, when the fairies approached alongside them.
“Who are you, who are you? Answer us!” They called out.
Tuvstarr continued to look ahead. And she didn’t look right or left. They repeated the question over and over, until their breath was upon her. When she didn’t answer, they became agitated and started to pull at her dress and hair, like a mist they girdled around them. She lost her grip for an instant as she tried to steady herself and her golden crown slipped from her head, the fairies carried it away and disappeared back in the bog.
They finally arrived at a small grove to rest for the night, it was getting too dark to continue. Before she went to sleep, she took off her dress and hung it neatly on a branch and laid down on the soft moss and fell into dreams. Long-legged stood awake protecting her.
Stars shone above his crown.
Early next morning, Princess Tuvstarr woke and started to stretch against the red-yellow morning light and went to collect dewdrops to drink. She was as naked as a sea-wave, only a small golden heart hung from a chain around her neck, shining unblemished under the sun.
“I will put my dress on your crown. I want to be free of it, “ she said.
Long-legged did as she asked, he couldn’t deny her anything. All night long he had been awake looking at this strange girl from the Dream Castle and when the morning came, there were tears in his eyes.
He felt like it was autumn again and was gripped by a longing for battle, danger and a desire to walk with a companion.
He suddenly ran as fast as he could. Princess Tuvstarr could barely hold onto his back. The branches whipped at her face and body, her golden heart swirled around her neck. Eventually Long-legged calmed down and slowed his pace. They travelled through a large, strange old forest. The fir trees had long beards and tree roots twisted like snakes on the ground and large, moss-covered rocks formed obstacles on their path and tried to block them from moving forwards.
The air inside this forest was stifling; an unexpected darkness covered the forest. With effort Long-legged walked across the roots and stones. A brooding silence surrounded them. Princess Tuvstarr felt an unknown weight upon her shoulders. Behind the dark branches of the trees, she felt that she was being observed. She was right, there was an apparition: two large staring green eyes beheld both of them, open and gaping above the bony fingers of the trees. Princess Tuvstarr tried to be brave, until a loud scream pierced the silence and she closed her eyes in fear.
“It's one of the great forest spirits, just answer her kindly, don't ask anything from her and above all don't let go of my horns,” said Long-legged.
A woman with green hair and green eyes stood behind a tree, her eyes burned. She didn’t show herself entirely, she hid behind the thicket wherever she could as she followed them. Princess Tuvstarr hardly dared to open her eyes, when she did, she could see the green eyes above her and a bloodied red mouth. The spirit followed them along, then Long-legged started to run.
“What’s your name?” A loud voice yelled in the air.
“Tuvstarr, I am the princess from the Dream Castle,” she answered shyly, careful not to ask the strange woman about her own name.
“What is that you have there in front of you?” Said the voice that seemed now to speak directly into her head.
“My finest dress,” Princess Tuvstarr answered.
“Oh, let me see.” The woman was now alongside them, floating above the ground like the fairies had done. Princess Tuvstarr let go with one hand to show her dress, she was too afraid to resist. In that instant, the spirit took her dress and disappeared back into the woods.
All was still again and light returned, the air was fresher.
“If you had let go with the other hand, she would have taken you as well as the dress and you would have never come back alive.
“But the dress, the dress,” sobbed Princess Tuvstarr.
That night Tuvstarr slept under a fir tree, while Long-Legged stood by and watched, he was always watching. When she woke up the next morning, he was gone.
“Where are you?” She shouted.
He appeared from the thicket. He had been up on the hill at night to look towards the east and west. What did he sense? He can't say, but his body was trembling.
He was in a hurry to get going. They moved quickly.
“To the east, to the east!” she said.
He barely heard what Princess Tuvstarr called out. He felt a fever in his body. He carried her back into an old forest, this one as large as any ocean in the worlds.
“Where are you taking me now?” said Tuvstarr.
“To the tarn” he answered.
“What is the tarn?” she replied.
“There is a water there. That’s where I usually go, now when the autumn is coming. Human have never been there. But I will show to you,” he replied.
Later that day, the tree-trunks parted and a tarn glistened with black-brown water and a golden sheen.
“Hold on tight, there are dangers hidden in the depths of this water, especially watch for your heart of gold, hold onto it the best you can,” he said.
Yes, such strange water, Princess Tuvstarr bent forward to look, and the chain with the gold heart slipped over her head and disappeared into the depths.
“Ah, my heart, my heart of gold, the one I got from mother when I was born. Oh, what should I do?” she was completely inconsolable, the water was too deep for her to swim down.
She just stared and stared down the depths to search for her heart.
“Come with me, this is too dangerous for you! I know how it ends, first the memory, then the mind, then the body,” he said.
Princess Tuvstarr wanted to stay. She must have her heart back.
“Go on, let me stay here alone. I'll find my heart.”
She wrapped her arms gratefully around his bowed head. Then she went to the water and sat down on a tuft of moss.
For a long time, Long-legged stood still and watched over her. But when she no longer seemed to notice his presence, he turned and disappeared with slow, lingering steps.
Many years have passed now and Princess Tuvstarr still sits and looks in wonder into the water for her golden heart. The princess is gone and there is only a flower with her name, a white little flower that grows at the edge of tarns, named Cottongrass.
Every now and then Long-legged comes back, he stops and looks at the flower. He knows what the flower really is as he nods his crown and walks beside it. As he looks, the flower opens her petals. He is an old friend, but she doesn’t want to follow him back to the Dream Castle, she can't anymore, as long as the spell is binding her.
The magic she is looking for is down there in the tarn.
Far, far down in the water lies a lost heart, a heart of gold.
The Old Forested Path: The Unconscious to the Self-Conscious
When exploring all the varied mosaic of meanings, relations and dreams in fairytale images, the image will always be larger and greater than what we can analyse. Relationships differ depending upon the dreamer and reader. The primordial image of a King is different for someone who grows up with a protective father, or for someone else who barely knew their father at all. When we develop a generic “dream theory” and start adding dreams into dictionaries and meanings, then we challenge Mercury and Loki (God of the Storytellers or the Trickster) because they refuse to be followed by mere intellect or ideas, they will always elude being captured. If we would happen to capture Loki to contain him in an excel sheet, or a bullet point keynote presentation, his story would lose its wonder. To emphasise this further: in Northern myth, it is the binding of Loki that unleashes the end of the world.
In the fairytale or folktale, we often come upon a revealing material that is represented in a much larger epic or mythical narrative. One such example is the story of the “fall” in the garden of Eden, viewed as the great cataclysmic psychological and spiritual event, which has informed much of our Western thought over millennia. We can see how this story “echoes within” the Princess Tuvstarr story. In the biblical story, Eve receives her self-consciousness by biting into an apple and she gains knowledge of her own mortality and learns to distinguish from good and evil. The stature of her original primordial “Eden" consciousness (the Dream Castle) is lost after this knowledge. The Eden consciousness is free from the burdens of guilt, or the thoughts of nakedness and mortality. Becoming self-conscious binds us to a limited notion of self (with a small s, or our ego structure). Eve is thrown into the world of “hard reality,” she can no longer dance in the groves of Paradise, she also has to figure out how to pay her bills, take kids through College, go through a depression, or worry about who will look after her when she gets old.
William Blake often mentions how we become broken by the knowledge of death and the limitations this bestows on our consciousness. But William Blake also sets us another challenge: is our commitment to do good despite our limitations, a path back to Eden? A kind of apotheosis, where we can make the world divine again by moving from self-consciousness back to Eden consciousness? Is this even possible? Arguably the redeeming feature of Christ is that he leads us as a shape of a vulnerable human. Here all shamans, prophets and spiritual traditions attempt at getting us back into the larger notion of the Self, where we surrender our self-centredness and serve something greater.
The story of the Tree of Knowledge is not complete without also mentioning the Tree of Life, they are not the same tree.
In Norse culture the Tree of Life is the navel of the world, the centre of the Universe - the anima universalis. The Tree of Life contains other fruits than the apples of knowledge. Within Yggdrasil as it is called, we have the seeds of life. The central image of this Sacred Tree is the great Well at the bottom of its roots, the Well of Memory. This Well has within it all the memory of all of humanity through the ages. These memories feed the main roots of the Tree and make up the great notion of the past. In all the comparative mythic material I have read, I have never found a greater metaphor for the great Unconscious, the other contender would be the Akashic record, which Rudolf Steiner claimed he had access to.
Adam and Eve were sent from comfort and ease into the world of mortality and suffering by becoming self-conscious. They came to be free of a paternal figure and made into spiritual refugees from their heavenly home, I suspect many of us have inherited this story of exile to a spiritual home. What about apotheosis or finding our way back to a home, to a place where we are found?
One of the most beautiful explorations of this exile story from the heavens, is Tolkien's story of Beren and Luthien (one of his finest writings). Beren and Luthien choose to live within the periphery of their earthly limitations having known the immortal realms and been invited to dwell there. But as William Blake reminds us: it is in our human frailty, where true love, the jewel of creation, is found. I think William Blake was onto something here as such a love is a divine pathway back to Yggdrasil (Tree of Life). Love exists in the unconscious and in the self-conscious - Eden is still within us, even though we are bound by the gravity of hard reality.
In Greek Mythology, we have a parallel to the Garden of Eden:
“Prometheus presides over the procedure of dividing the meat of sacrificial animals between Gods and men. Previously there has been no need for division because Gods and men ate together. Prometheus tricked Zeus by offering him only the bones of the animal covered by a layer of enticing fat. For man he reserved all the edible meat. Zeus, angered by this trickery, withheld fire from man. But Prometheus slipped into heaven, stole the fire of the Gods and gave it to mankind. In punishment for this crime, Prometheus was chained to a rock where every day a vulture tears at his liver and every day it is healed again. Punishment was also sent to his brother Epimetheus with a box. From Pandora’s box emerged all the ills and sufferings that plague mankind - old age, labor, sickness, vice and pain.”
From Edinger. “Ego and Archetype”
The act of rebellion of dividing the meat is the ego wanting to be an independent self which must generate food for itself, the stealing of the fire is a similar process. In these stories, we choose to develop our independence and free will at the price of suffering.
We learn that there is a direct consequence when leaving the Dream Castle and going out into the world on the back of a moose.
In Eden consciousness, death may be there, but it is not “psychologically” experienced, even if it does exist. This can be seen with the ancient Yogis; after a lifetime of discipline and practice, they rest in a reflective witnessing consciousness, no longer bound to the ideas of death, or the ups and downs of the small self, they have attained freedom from this story and integrated it into their unconscious. Hail to the Vedas!
Arguably death can be seen as born as an idea within self-consciousness which ceases to exist when the small self is absorbed into the larger Self.
The road between the unconscious and self-conscious is represented by a moose in this story, the Forest King. He guides Tuvstarr through the deep forest towards his home, just like the serpent leads Eve to bite into the apple. Although the one who stands behind the serpent is made clear in the biblical story. With Princess Tuvstarr, the moose has a protective energy, he takes care of her. Folklorists studying the notion of self-hood in folktales have rediscovered many aspects of self perception. Writers such as Kvideland and Sehmsdorf offer us fascinating insights, especially in relation to animal totems called the “fylgja.” The word fylgja means "to accompany," it is the same word as the "fetch" in Irish folklore. Fylgjas seemingly accompany you at birth and at death. In the larger mythic imagination across the world, animal powers bring forth the original instruction about the intent and purpose of your life, they know the answer to the question: “why are you here?”
They are sometimes depicted across cultures sending you your soul’s instructions. Trouble is, we forget these original instructions, or we catch a glimpse of them, here and there. One insight about the fylgja is the role it has in dreams. When you are asleep the fylgja leaves and goes out flying, running on four legs, or swimming in the sea. The experiences that the fylgja has whilst it travels translates directly as our own dreaming-self. The fylgja is our dreaming soul: the moose being the dreaming body of Princess Tuvstarr. Our dreaming soul knows a thing or two about Eden consciousness, or the larger and freer notions of ourselves.
The first element that gives us a clue about the theme of the fall in this story is that Princess Tuvstarr first loses her crown (her divine status). This occurs after the question is posed by the fairies: “who are you?”
A question we must all ponder, from Zen dojos to the pub - “who are you?”
But Princess Tuvstarr is not travelling from the small self to enlightenment, she is going in the opposite direction, she is heading to the world, to that spell which binds us and like the moon-Goddess Inanna before her, her clothing is removed each step of the way until finally her own golden heart is taken from her. She is then bound to search for the path back to her golden heart. The Cottongrass flower is part of this unfolding. Many plants have this apotheosis directly within them, a dream language that can teach us the way back to our unconscious worlds - this commentary is not to explore this, that’s for another writing post, but many entheogenic plants can be seen having this potential of opening a passage back to our wider Self and allowing us to see outside of our smaller self-conscious periphery.
When Princess Tuvstarr left the Dream Castle to experience a new consciousness she left her authorities behind her, the King and the Queen. When we are young, we seem to project the deeper Self to our parents and authorities, we naturally want to be free of them to gain our independence. We bite into the apple. Eden can be seen through the mother, the caring, directing and protecting energy. The early ego-Self relationship being a parental projection, which makes our psychological welfare vulnerable when we have a schism with authority figures, such as teachers and parents. When they reject us it can damage our psyche and give rise to strong feelings of alienation. A “personal” fall many of us experience when we are younger.
Princess Tuvstarr is of divine origin and was driven by her own will to seek the world outside her Dream Castle; she was driven to become self-conscious and independent, she ends up having to find her true heart that she lost in the process - she looks at the water of the tarn into depths that she can’t reach. It is a spell that is laid on all of us as we gaze into this unknowable and vast “Well” under the Tree of Life.
I hope one day that all spells are broken and the golden heart found and we learn to attend our original home.
Edinger, E. F. (1992). Ego & archetype: Individuation and the religious function of the psyche. Shambhala.
Bauer, J., Norelius, E., & Strömgren Elly. (1947). Bland tomtar och troll: En samling sagor. Åhlén & Åkerlund.
Kvideland, R., Sehmsdorf, H. K. (2010). Scandinavian folk belief and legend. Univ. of Minnesota Press.
Tolkien, J.R.R. (2022). The Silmarillion. Harper Collins Publishers.