This will be an unfamiliar tale to many as it is one of the few fairy tales that remains true to its origin. The Wood Maiden is a Czechoslovakian fairy tale centred around the daughter of a poor widow. As a family they aren’t blessed with much, merely a tumbled-down cottage and two nanny-goats. The young girl is sent each day to take the goats to graze within a nearby birch wood. Her duty whilst the goats grazed was to collect flax, then use her spindle to twist and wind it together. Upon returning to her mother each night, the young girl would hand over a full spindle for her mother to then turn into reel. This was the daily routine for the mother and daughter and way to generate an income.

The fairy tale is filled with joyous moments of the young girl dancing and singing in the sunshine. That is until a long golden-haired maiden appears, dressed in white gauze as fine as a spider’s web. The maiden entices the young girl to dance, even suggesting that she teach her how to dance all day. What lurks beneath this seemingly sweet offer is the fact the young girl gets completely swept away in the moment – the maiden has gathered musicians in the form of birds who sit along the birch tree branches and provide the music. 

As the two dance, the young girl loses track of time and task; however as the sun sets they stop dancing, the music ceases, maiden disappears and the young girl realises she has unspun flax and an empty spindle. Cross with herself, she heads home to her mother, knowing she will be disappointed. Her mother notices the change in mood and questions her.

The next day the young girl sets out again with her two goats, promising herself she will not be influenced by the maiden to dance, waste her day and further disappoint her mother. The maiden appears around midday and tries to persuade the young girl to dance with her again; she gives in and spends the afternoon twirling away to the sweet music being played by the birds in the treetops.

Again, at the end of the day the spindle is empty. She bursts into tears and before you know it the maiden takes the flax and magically spins it around the spindle. The young girl goes home with a full spindle to her mother. However, when she arrives home the young girl is questioned by her mother as to where the spindle from the day before was. The young girl comments to her mother that she danced too long but has more than made up for it with the spindle she’s now brought home.

The fairy tale continues with the young girl repeating her day. Despite making a promise to herself – again – that she won’t dance with the maiden, the young girl reaches the end of another day with an empty spindle. However, before she leaves the maiden asks for her basket and puts something in it, making the young girl promise she won’t look in it until she gets home.

The excitement of what might be in the basket is all too much and the young girl looks inside – the basket was full of birch leaves. Frustrated she’s disappointing her mother again, she throws a handful of leaves out of the basket and continues home. Her mother is expecting her and full of questions about the endless spindle from the day before – it gave her skein after skein of yarn. In confusion her mother asked the question of what evil spirit spun the yarn; at the mere mention of the word evil, the yarn vanished from the spindle.

The young girl confesses about her distractions and the maiden. The mother informs her that what she has described is a wood maiden who will dance a boy to death but are kind to little girls sometimes and make them presents. When she looks in the basket the birch leaves had all turned to gold. This gift the maiden bestowed on her gave them enough wealth to buy a farm with fields and cattle, pretty clothes and more. She never saw the wood maiden again.

What are the lessons for us in this fairy tale? Firstly, being thankful for what you have. Never does the young girl or mother complain and they seem to go about each day with happiness. Their life is simple, routine, and productive, yet it is full of joy with the mention of sunshine and joy. Sometimes in today’s world we forget to simplify our days and strip back the unnecessary noise or distractions.

Secondly this fairy tale teaches us about restraint and temptation in two ways.

  1. The young girl didn’t follow the instructions to not peak in the basked. We all know the saying “good things come to those that wait” and in this case it was true. The riches would have been far greater if the young girl had not peaked in the basket before getting home. It’s the need to peak behind the curtain we need to fight to minimise any disappointment we may feel or potential impact on a situation.
  2. Whilst in the end it has worked out positively for the young girl, the temptation presented by the wood maiden to dance is all too much and the objective for the day is forgotten. By the time the end of the day arrives, the guilt of not achieving the objective sets in and the flow on impacts are eventually realised – you can’t cover it up for a long time.

It’s this point I want to leave you all with – how are you identifying the distractions and temptations in your day and focusing on achieving your set objective or purpose. There are many strategies we can use to strengthen our focus and determination, what works best for you?

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