Melusine

As told to me by Sarah Constantin, the story of Melusine:

A lady is cursed by a bad fairy to turn into a loathsome serpent every Saturday. She meets a man, and they fall in love, and she says, "you can marry me, but don't visit me on Saturday, no matter what."

He responds, "Sure, sure, anything," and leaves her alone on Saturdays.

But his friends rag him about this. "What's up with your wife, what is she UP to on Saturdays?"

So he sneaks into her bathroom one Saturday and sees a giant snake in the bathtub, and runs away in disgust and abandons her.

Moral of the story: nobody can actually handle the snake. Nobody can be allowed to see the snake.

Of course that has to be the primary form of the story that is told, because it is a direct version of this basic fear, that if we are known, we will be reviled. But like Kierkegaard, I see other stories to unfold out of this one, that we might better comprehend its nature.

The shy lovers

He peeks in one Saturday and sees her, a snake-woman, and desires her even more than before. But he is ashamed of it. So he never speaks of it, and she never knows that he saw her.

And the rest of their lives, they are mostly happy. But pervading her experience is shame at her snake-nature, exhaustion at keeping the secret, and the secret wish that he'd barge in one day and know. And the even more secret ashamed wish that he'd like what he sees. And he too wishes things were otherwise in his innermost heart: that he could tell her, and that she might accept even this bestial love.

They grow old and die together, neither knowing how they might have been accepted.

The snake, enraged

When he sees her bathing, half-snake, she is enraged, furious that he has intruded on her secret shame, certain that he can no longer accept her, grieving for the love she has lost, angry at him for bringing it to an end. So before he can say a word, she coils herself about him and suffocates him. She can no longer believe she could possibly have him, so neither can the world.

Afraid to love

Seeing her, his desire is aroused, but he is ashamed, so he acts shocked and disgusted, and calls her her a vile monster. Because that's the type of man she thought she married. Not some snake-lover.

This is a source of strife between them forever, until the day they die. He feels he must revile her snake-nature, and she feels betrayed, but also a betrayer. And he never suspects, that if he had instead embraced her, she would have in turn accepted him utterly.

And they grow old together, spiteful, bitter, lonely

An excess of good intentions

She isn't transforming into a snake at all. She just enjoys the occasional solitude of a weekly bath alone. But he has heard too many fairy tales, and starts hinting of his secret desires. Because he imagines she will perhaps feel more accepted this way. Because he imagines it might lead to fuller intimacy. Because it might make her feel safe, and he wants nothing more than to make her feel loved and safe and accepted, completely, totally.

But she has no snake-nature to show him, and feels inadequate, that she cannot live up to his fantasies. She never lets him see her bathe, because she is sure he would be disappointed at what he sees, just her. It is forever a barrier between them; he feels untrusted, she inadequate.

Love, rejected

When he sees her, half-snake, he loves her just as much as before and tells her so. But she is still ashamed and cannot accept this. She pushes him away and calls him a pervert. No healthy man could love her fully as she is, so he must be sick. Depraved.

As they grow old together, it remains forever an impediment. She feels angry, betrayed, disgusting, contemptuous of him for loving her snake-nature. And he feels deep shame for the love he bears for her.

Love, patiently offered

When he sees her, he finds that he loves her even so. His beautiful snake-woman. But she cannot accept this, cannot believe it, pushes him away, for he must be lying, forbids him from touching her in this state. But every Saturday, he visits. And over time, she sees that the desire and love in his eyes are real.

After a year of such visits, she accepts that he wants her, but she is still ashamed, because only a sick pervert could want her like this. Sometimes she lets him kiss her, touch her, other times her shame overpowers her love and duty and she pushes him away. But still he keeps visiting her every Saturday, until she notices that the love in his eyes is so clean and pure, just as it always was, just as she had always hoped for in his heart of hearts, that she cannot quite still believe that it takes a deformed soul to love her in this body.

And on the last Saturday of the second year, when he kisses her, she allows herself to melt into him and her desire is inflamed like never before. Happy, unashamed, loved, pure.

Love, bravely asked for

When he sees her, she knows it will no longer do any good to hide herself. But she was never really ashamed, only prudent. In her heart of hearts she knows that she is beautiful even so, to those who can see past their own anxieties and inhibitions. And now that he has intruded on her secret, willingly, and even against her instructions, he has consented to know.

So she beckons to him, that he come and embrace her. But he is ashamed of his desire, fearful of what others might think if they knew. Surely he is not a snake-lover. So he remonstrates with her for deceiving him, calls her a monster, refuses even to look at her, even on the other days of the week.

But she trusts that he will come to permit himself to love her again, so she is strong and brave. Every day, for a year, excepting Saturdays, she offers him a kiss and embrace. And by the end of the year his fear eases and his heart softens, and he thinks to himself, surely there is no harm in embracing his wife in her human form. It was not a snake-loving thing to do before. Why would that change? And he cries tears of relief, for in his heart he always loved her, even so. He begins to kiss her and embrace her again, but stays away on Saturdays.

Then in the second year, she asks him, only to visit him on Saturdays, not to touch or show affection for her beastly form. But she is the same person, so can he not visit and talk with her? At first he refuses, but as the year progresses, he begins to visit her on Saturdays - at first, just to greet her, for it saddens him deeply to have to reject her in this way, and wishes it natural to love her thus. Then, gradually, he starts entering the room, conversing with her, and he cannot help but notice that their hours of conversation on Saturdays are indistinguishable from those on other days. Yet still he neither looks at her nor touches her.

At the end of the second year, she begins asking him to kiss her during their Saturday visits. She offers to put a towel over her snake bottom, so it will appear the same to him as other days. At first he refuses, but his fear eases yet again, and over time he begins to kiss her on Saturdays. By the end of the third year, he finds himself caressing her, notices himself caressing even her snake parts, and he feels no fear or shame, and is able to love her with his whole heart again, and they make love, unreservedly, completely, giving of their whole selves for the very first time.

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