2 Ancient Myths to Find Comfort in During Loss or Grief

2 Ancient Myths to Find Comfort in During Loss or Grief


These ancient myths hold archetypal wisdom that can guide us through some of the darkest times in our lives.

Being in the midst of a life crisis can be isolating. The intense emotions and whirling thoughts feel uniquely personal, and we might believe no one could possibly understand us.

In the modern world, we easily forget the truth that we human beings are connected—not just across the world, but throughout time. While the details of our experiences may be exclusive to us, they are not aberrations in the larger picture. Humans have experienced similar breakdowns or losses—the same roiling emotions and runaway thoughts—since the beginning of our existence. One way to help ourselves remember our interconnectedness is through reading myths and fairy tales.

For many people, myths and fairy tales are nothing more than made-up, entertaining stories. Yet, in times of crisis, there’s no better place to turn.

Myths and fairy tales are carriers of the greatest human truths, what we might call perennial truths. What is true endures through time, and the fact that many myths have gone unchanged for thousands of years is evidence of that. No matter what the origin of the myth may be—no matter the culture, time, or place it was written or told—we can relate to the truths these tales whisper to us.

Through myths, we dive into our collective unconscious, a term coined by Dr. Carl Jung to refer to our shared psyche. This is where we collectively store our journeys, human longings, and deepest fears. While reading a seemingly made-up tale of a character undergoing some trial or tribulation, we link to the collective unconscious. From that wide database of experience and wisdom, we find deeper lessons and knowledge that can help us in the here and now.

The more we let a story penetrate our consciousness, the more secrets it reveals. We might not be trapped in a castle or conquering literal dragons, but we do often feel siloed and have plenty of personal dragons to slay. Reading a myth might give us the courage to “let down our hair” or set out on a new adventure.

Myths and fairy tales share metaphors and symbols that our minds understand at an unconscious level. In this way, their messages shape-shift depending on what the reader needs. So, trust yourself and the messages that come through as you explore the myths below.

The Myth of the Handless Maiden

This story begins with a mother, father, and daughter. They are a poor family living a simple, quiet life. One day, a man offers the father riches beyond his belief. The catch? He must give the man the land, and everything on it, beyond the apple tree in the backyard.

When the father looks behind him, he sees nothing but wasteland. He grins greedily.

He doesn’t know that his daughter is standing in that field, eating apples from the tree. He doesn’t know that the man making the offer is the Devil.

Once he discovers what he’s done, he makes several attempts to renegotiate. But this only puts his daughter in a worse situation. In the end, his daughter loses her hands.

The story then turns to center on the girl and her journey into the unknown. She has been exiled from everything she knows and has no knowledge of the world beyond the borders of her father’s land. The girl is left to wander out into the forest where she must fend for herself.

At some point, she falls under the protection of a kind king who crafts her new hands made of gold. She could be content with this outcome, but something within prods her on, back into the forest. This time, her journey into the forest is intentional. This time, she grows back her original hands.

After reading the story, ask yourself:

  • Are there people in your life who would trade you (or your trust) for wealth (status, approval, belonging, etc.)?

  • Are there times in your life when you’ve been exiled?

  • What does the loss of hands symbolize for you?

  • Who are the fathers and mothers and kings in your life?

  • Can you recognize false protection and walk away from it?

  • Can you find a way to grow back your own hands?

The Myth of Mis

In this tale, a young woman named Mis loses her father to war. Overcome with grief, she licks his wounds, hoping to bring him back to life. When nothing works, she can’t seem to muster the energy to pull herself together. She cannot mourn the way she is expected to or take over the household duties as tradition requires.

Instead, she runs into the woods as fast as she can and becomes feral and wild. Feathers and fur grow on her body, and her nails turn into claws. Soon, she is feared by the whole village. She becomes an outsider.

One day, the king offers a reward for any man who can bring Mis back to civilization. One man agrees to try. He goes into the woods and courts her like the wild wolf she has become. He gives her food and plays her music. He washes her. He brushes her fur until it changes back to her black hair and trims her claws until they once again become human nails.

One day, Mis says she is ready to return to the village. And that is when they return, together. But Mis is not the same woman that she was before losing her father. She never will be. The forest has healed and rebirthed her.

Reading this myth, perhaps these questions come to mind:

  • How do you react in times of extreme grief or loss?

  • Are there times in your life where you simply cannot do what society expects?

  • When have you felt like an outsider?

  • What does the “going wild” part of the story represent to you?

  • What does a rebirth process look like for you?

  • Does nature have healing properties for you in your life?

  • Who is that someone in your life who would tend to you, even in your most feral state?

Myths like the Handless Maiden and the Myth of Mis orient us within our lives, especially during difficult times. They remind us that we are not alone in our pain. They show us our choices—the ones we’ve already made, and the ones to come. Once we feel settled in our own story again, we might intuitively remember what comes next.

Take this quiz to see which spiritual archetype best fits you.

2 Ancient Myths to Find Comfort in During Loss or Grief

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