The Pioneer Gift – A fairy tale

Sanguine Pelican – Lino cut print by Fuchsia Voremberg from 2021 Moon Calendar produced by Simone Kay and Lewis Kay-Thatcher

I’ve been reflecting on the relationship between pioneers and the institution and what goes wrong. This story came to me which explores this dynamic. It is just my imaginings and I’m sure you will find different ways to interpret it.

Once upon a time there was a handsome prince who would one day become king. He looked at his father’s kingdom, and while there was much that was good and holy, he could see how things could be done so much better in order to generate even more beauty and creativity in the world.

On the birthday he came of age, the king showed his love and pride in him by granting him enough power to begin creating the better world he could see so clearly in his mind’s eye. On that same day, the wise woman who lived in the woods gave him a special birthday gift. It was a fire bird with the most striking red plumage who always sang the truth. When the bird flew, she sang her prophetic song and new life would spring up in what looked like dead and desolate land. Yet the bird could only be seen by the prince and the wise woman. Everyone else was unaware of the significance of the gift he had been given.

So the prince set about turning his dreams into reality. Together with the fire bird, he explored forgotten bits of the kingdom bringing healing and restoration to places that had been ravaged by war and famine. Regularly the prince purposefully strode out from the palace with the bird on his wrist. And when he released her to fly, a spirit of hope, joy and new possibility was let loose in his father’s land.

As word of the success of the prince’s endeavour began to spread, the king became concerned that he would not be able to keep up this rapid growth and transformation. So he begged his son to take a wife to share the work with him in order that he wouldn’t be overwhelmed and become discouraged. For a while the son was able to resist the increasingly persistent concerns of his father. But, eventually, he too became persuaded that he needed help to achieve all he believed was possible.

The prince took a wife and together they began to build in the places which needed reconstruction. They worked hard and buildings went up, rivers were redirected and barren fields began to sprout crops. Things were going so well and he enjoyed co-labouring with his new wife so much, he clipped the wings of the fire bird. No longer did he need her help to do the resurrection work they had started together and he didn’t want her to fly too far without him. Yet despite grief and frustration, she continued to go ahead, as far as she was able. And there were times newness sprang up in unexpected places.

However, the prince did not really like this. He wanted his and his wife’s endeavour to prosper without the assistance of the fire bird. He knew the places that should be rebuilt and wanted just him and his wife to be responsible for this amazing turnaround in the fortunes of his father’s kingdom. He no longer enjoyed the assistance and companionship of his gift and began to resent the influence of such a small and insignificant creature on his grand plan. So, to curtail her activity further, he locked her in the castle.

Here too the fire bird flew around and tried to bring her gift. But she could only sing the truth. Once her song had been one of love and hope for the future. Now it was shrill and critical of the prince and his wife. The prince took to throwing stones at the bird when he caught sight of her and covering his ears to block out the song which was increasingly desperate and rage inducing.

Finally, he decided this situation could not go on. He set a trap to catch the bird, put her in a cage and covered it with a cloth. The bird grew silent. She could no longer see the sky and bring her gift to anyone or anything. There was no way out and she lay at the bottom of the cage waiting for a different kind of release, the freedom of death.

Then one day the wise woman came out of the woods to see what the prince had been able to achieve with his vision and the gift he had been given. She was impressed. There was life and energy in places where previously there had only been devastation. However, she also began to notice something else. It wasn’t so much who was present and engaged in communal life, but those that were missing; the uneducated, the poor, the sick and there was a lack of diversity of age, colour and tribal identity. The wise woman was confused. She knew this wasn’t the fruit of her gift!

She sought out the prince and found him hard at work with his wife and the others he had recruited to his cause. They were doing good work, but she was surprised that there was no sign of the fire bird. The purpose of her gift had been to make the work easier and more joyful. Yet he had chosen the harder road, which at the same time appeared to the king and his subjects the most obvious and sensible one.

She asked what had become of her gift and he began to curse her for giving it to him. He went back to the castle retrieved the cage and threw it at the wise woman in disgust. She picked up the cage and at the sight of her the bird began to stir and find her voice. The wise woman uttered an incantation and instantly new feathers grew. The bird began to flap around her cage. The wise woman opened the door and set the fire bird free.

The scarlet songstress soared high up into the broad expanse of blue sky. Once more she could bring the gift of her song and release divine resurrection power in the world. Never again would she let a prince, or anyone else, silence her and she lived happily ever after.