Thursday, February 14, 2019

Folktales about polyamory (Valentine's Day #FolkloreThursday Special)

Today is both #FolkloreThursday and Valentine's Day! I didn't want to do a plain old "love stories" theme, so I polled people on Twitter about what they wanted to read. The majority vote went to polyamory. So, here we go.

(Disclaimer: I'm not poly. Please correct me if I got something wrong.)

First off: What is polyamory? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, it is "the state or practice of having more than one open romantic relationship at a time." It is about being in relationships with more than one other person at a time.

You can read a lot about it from various sources, such as this article in Teen Vogue, or this video, or this webcomic on non-monogamy. Don't take my word for it, please educate yourselves.

In terms of finding folktales that are "about polyamory", here are some things that I had to consider:
1. Polyamory is not polygamy. Polygamy means one person being married to multiple people (usually a husband with multiple wives) and is a cultural and legal practice where participants are not necessarily all equal.
2. Polyamory is not cheating. Someone having multiple lovers who don't know about each other is not polyamory.

With this said, the following folktales might not fit the definition perfectly either. I wanted to collect them so that people can pick them up and play with them, be inspired by them, and make tales with better representation. Because oral tradition works that way.

Gold-tree and Silver-tree
Scottish folktale

In this Celtic Snow White variant, Gold-tree is the daughter of a king and a jealous queen, Silver-tree. Since she is more beautiful, her mother wants to kill her; her father helps her escape with a prince, and start a new life. When Silver-tree finds out, she manages to find the girl when her husband is out hunting, and stick a poison thorn in her finger. Gold-tree falls into a death-like state. Her husband puts her in a glass coffin and grieves, and after a while, marries again. The new wife one day finds the coffin, and revives Gold-tree (so that she can see her husband happy). Not only that, but when Silver-tree shows up again, the second wife saves Gold-tree once and for all, tricking the mother into drinking her own poison. After that, the prince and his two wives live happily ever after.
Polygamy? Yes. But also, a whole lot of interaction between the two wives, and one woman rescuing another. Also, Kaleidoscope's Cassie Cushing tells a very pretty version of this.

The girl with three husbands
Spanish folktale

A father has a very strong-willed daughter. When three men court her at the same time, she decides she wants to marry all three of them. Her father tries to talk her out of it, but she insists, to he decides to send them on a quest, and see which one brings the best gift. One guy buys a magic mirror; one buys a magic ship, and the third a magic ointment that can revive the dead. The first looks into the mirror, and sees that the girl is dead. The second flies them all home on his ship, and the last uses the ointment to revive the girl. Getting out of her coffin, the girl tells her father "See? I need all three of them." And they live happily ever after.
(Once again, polygamy that could also be told as a polyamorous tale.)

Tengöri Hereberi Atyámuram
Hungarian folktale

A Magic Flight type tale, in which a boy, unwittingly promised before his birth, goes to serve on an island in the house of Tengöri Hereberi Atyámuram (a god-like figure, named after the first line of the Cuman translation of the Lord's Prayer). He falls in love with the lord's daughter, who helps him complete various tasks, and then they run away together. Her mother, however, curses them so that the young man forgets his love the moment he goes to visit his parents, and never returns to her in their home. Eventually, she finds him and reminds him, breaking the spell, but by that time, he is married again. I am including this story on this list because of what happens next: The husband says he loves them both, the two women get together, spend some time talking, and eventually return, telling him that they are satisfied with this arrangement. And they all live happily ever after.

The boy's dream
Greek folktale

A boy sees a dream, but refuses to tell anyone what it was about. His mother and father get angry and chase him away. The kings hires him, but soon becomes curious about the mysterious dream; when the young man refuses to tell, the king orders him to be executed. The princess, however, rescues the young man in secret, and they spend time eating and studying together every day. They fall in love, obviously. Eventually Kirali (a Turkish ruler or hero) starts sending tests to the king - which the young dreamer solves in secret, and the princess conveys to her father. Eventually the truth comes out, and the young man is invited to Kirali's court - where he finds out that Kirali's daughter is a witch, and she has been making up tests to lure him away, because she is in love with him, and jealous of the princess. When our hero finds this out, he suggests that he can marry both of them, and the women agree (no need for jealousy). One day, as they are all sitting together, the witch with a baby girl in her arms and the princess pregnant, the young man finally reveals his dream: He saw himself surrounded by three roses, "one open, one about to open, and one still a bud." It was his picture of perfect happiness.
(In my mind, this story is about two kinds of courtship, one a friends-to-lovers story and the other a love-hate story full of banter.)

The bear and the prince
Marathi folktale

In this stunning folktale from India, a bear who is "a demon and a magician" lives in an underground garden of trees that grow blood fruit. His daughter is human, and he makes the girl lure men into the cave every day, so that he can use their blood to water the trees. One day the girl comes across a prince in the jungle and lures him in - but they also fall in love. It turns out he has been on a mission, looking for the blood fruits to cure a sick princess he is also in love with. The girl helps the prince kill the demon bear and gather the fruit. The prince ends up marrying both her and the (cured) princess.
(I love the imagery in this tale, and also the implied love stories.)

Representation matters, people. There is more than one kind of happily ever after.

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