The story of "Silver Hands" repulsed me for many years. I could not understand how the young woman — let's call her Silvia— could offer herself up to the devil just so her father could keep his riches. How could she willingly hold out her hands for her father to chop off?
After many readings, I began to have more compassion for Silvia. Sometimes we are not aware that we have choices. She was raised in patriarchal society where the women, and in particular the daughters, did what they were told. She didn't know any other way. She was senseless because of her culture and lack of wild environs. And she trusted her father. She was either unable to see or to comprehend the destruction her father had already wrought: he had destroyed his family's habitat. Even before he mistakenly sold his daughter to the devil, he had ruined her home. He is the ultimate and deadly consumer: he consumed the natural resources, but he still wanted more, more, more.
This story mirrors our own world. How many of us tolerate (or turn a blind eye) to the destruction of our habitat? How many of us tolerate abuses and degradation of ourselves, others, and the land? As the ecosystems which are our homes deteriorate and we do nothing, how are we any different from Silvia waiting under the single remaining tree for the devil to take her away?
When we first see Silvia, we are given clues that she is beginning to awaken to her true condition. Perhaps she has started to hear the call of the wild. After all, she is standing near the only tree. When she is preparing to meet the devil, she draws a circle around herself on the ground — a ritual harkening back to the old ways, before the rule of the pater.
Still, her father cuts off her hands. He deprives her of her ability to care for herself. This is a stunning blow, to say the least, and she begins to come more fully to her senses. She knows she must leave home and the barren landscape. She steps into the wilderness and begins to wander.
This sense of shock and loss is very similar to what happens when one is struck down with illness — and it does feel as though we have been struck down. If the illness does not leave, we either have difficultly caring for ourselves, or else we cannot take care of ourselves at all. We feel helpless; we are helpless. We begin wandering, either metaphorically or physically. We look for places, people, or things which can cure us. Many of us set off for wild places, just as Silvia did.
Sometimes we find helpers on the way, like the woman in white in "Silver Hands." When illness or disfigurement comes calling, we can become more open to that which had been invisible. We look for meaning to our suffering in stories, under sofa cushions, in the forest, up in the mountains, beneath the clouds, in the dirty clothes hamper. We ache to discover ourselves as we once were.
Yet finding our whole healthy bodies again, restoring ourselves to ourselves, seems nearly impossible without first delving into our own inner wild — our soul. Depth psychologist and ecotherapist Bill Plotkin writes in his book Soulcraft that the soul "is what is most wild and natural within us."
Silvia's first foray into the wilderness is her first attempt at being wilder or "rewilding." She finds someone who loves her. He even has someone fashion new hands for her. But they are not her hands. They are made from the same kind of technology which destroyed the land and dismembered her. She hungers for comfort, however. Most of us do. When we have been ill for a long while, we crave comfort the way a starving person craves food. Comfort equals sustenance. But the comfort of modern civilization or the comfort — in Silvia's case — of being a queen with silver hands is a soulless comfort; it is an unwild comfort. She is still not taking care of herself. She is not in touch with her inner or outer wilderness. She remains a part of the patriarchal world. This becomes clear when her husband deserts her to go fight a war. Like her father, her husband does not understand how to love, and he gives up his wife, at least temporarily, to fight in a war.
Silvia begins to connect with her creativity when she gives birth to her daughter. The devil shows up and makes mischief, however, and she is soon running for her life with her child. This time she wanders deeper into the wilderness, and she does not stop until she meets the forest people.
She is welcomed into the community of forest people. She begins to learn their ways. Her true rewilding begins. Even though she is in the forest, she is now in community too. Being wild and in touch with our true wild does not mean we leave community. It doesn't mean we lose our senses— we regain them instead. The wild is not about chaos. Nature is dangerous and frightening and wonderful, but it is not chaotic. It makes sense. It is sensual. To come into communion with our outer and inner nature is to discover the wild. True community can help with that process.
The forest people are indigenous people, or at least people who understand their environs. They understand the language of the animals and the land. They navigate through their world as a part of it, not apart from it. They understand that all the flora and fauna — including human beings — have their place in a healthy ecology. The forest people embody the wild, truly, and make certain their existence does not destroy the habitat they share with many others. As Silvia becomes a member of this community and learns to care for herself and her child (her creation), her hands begin to grow back. She has re– membered herself. (It's interesting that she is in the forest for seven years; because our cells are continually dying and renewing; we have a new body every seven years.) Her husband returns, now a wild man himself, and the family is reunited. All is well with the world.