As Frau Holle shook out her feather bed in the sky realm and made it snow in Vienna, I turned a corner in the Leopold Museum and beheld a Feather Cloak. It looked as if gossamer had been used in its weaving, so fine and beautiful was it.
The artist is Zeami Motokiyo and the work depicts the feather cloak worn by a fairy in the No play, Hagoromo. In the story, a fisherman finds the cloak. The fairy owner begs for it to be returned because she cannot re enter heaven without it. She says if the fisherman will give her the cloak she will dance for him. The fisherman says she must dance first for how can he be sure she will keep her word once she has the cloak. The fairy gravely replies that in heaven there is no need for deceit and the fisherman is humbled and returns the cloak. The fairy dances for him as promised.
We have been reading the Irish fairy tale of the Selkie to the children recently. I was struck at how differently the two stories describe the meeting of a mortal man with a mystical woman. In the Selkie story, a fisherman steals and hides the Selkie’s seal skin, trapping her in human form and compelling her to marry him and have children. Many years later, at her first opportunity she finds her skin, leaves her children and husband and returns to her seal form and back to the Selkie family, she was torn from. Ever after she watches over her human children from the sea.
Both stories illustrate the fraught nature of dealings with magic creatures, the first gently through the gaining of wisdom and the second quite violently through the shattering of a family.
I do love art galleries.