Blue Beard, and why our deepest work is often our darkest

Barbe Bleue

Barbe-Bleue donnant les clefs des garde meubles a sa femme, gravure par Gustave Dore, 1862, pour illustrer le Conte de Charles Perrault — Bluebeard giving keys to his wife, engraving by Gustave Dore, 1862, illustration for Charles Perrault’s tale

The tale of Blue Beard is one that terrifyingly enough, all women will come to understand in our lives. Particularly as we begin to recognize the difference between our higher consciousness and our Ego. Their separateness. And as we start to see the “predator” within our own psyches that seeks to keep us Ego-bound and unenlightened. As Clarissa Pinkola Estes calls it, this predator seeks to turn all crossroads into dead ends. It does so by convincing us to dismiss our wildish nature.

In the this tale, from Women Who Run with the Wolves, Blue Beard was a particularly strange man with a bright blue beard who had his eyes on three sisters. He wanted to marry them. But the two oldest sisters had their doubts. Something about him just didn’t sit right.

In an effort to win them over, he took the three sisters to his castle where he showed off his lavish lifestyle…his acres of meadow and forest, his horses, his enormous estate, and so much more. He fed them, charmed them, and gave his all trying to win the sisters over. Showing them what he believed they wanted to see.

After the trip to his castle the two older sister discussed their experience and agreed that despite all of his efforts, something was still off.  So they declined his proposal.

The younger sister, however, was enchanted by him. She saw him to be nice enough, so she agreed to marry him.

1455261682_50a73d2691_bAnd off she went to Blue Beard’s castle, leaving the protection of her sisters for the first time.

Soon after arriving, Blue Beard told her that he’d be leaving to go on a trip. He gave her the keys to his entire kingdom. He told her, my dear wife… this home is yours as it is mine. Take the keys and explore this entire castle. Do whatever you wish…

The only thing you must not do is use this one key.

Whatever you do, do not open the door to which this key fits. She complied.

Blue Beard left for his trip, and the two older sisters came to visit. Naturally, they were very curious about his kingdom… so the three sisters took the keys and explored the castle, trying to find that mysterious door.

They wandered around the entire castle, not finding anything but empty room after empty room…until they came upon one lone door at the end of a hall. This must be it.

She was nervous, but needed to know what was behind this door her husband was so insistent about her not opening…so she inserted the key into the lock, turned it, and pushed the door open.

What she saw filled her with fear and dread. The room was full of dead bodies–the rotting corpses and skeletons of Blue Beard’s previous wives.


She shut the door as quickly as she could, and ripped the key from the lock. But she looked down and noticed that the key was bleeding.

She rubbed it and rubbed it, scrubbed it with a sponge, did everything she could… but once she opened the door,  the key would not stop pouring blood.

She tried to hide the key in her wardrobe, but the blood soaked through everything. She tried to pretend that nothing had happened, and go about life at the castle, but the blood was everywhere. She couldn’t ignore it.

Blue Beard returned home from his trip and the younger sister tried to act as if nothing had happened. He asks for his keys back, and she returned them all but the bleeding key. She said she must have lost it while riding her horse. Angered, he shakes her violently and the key drops to the floor. It’s pouring blood. In a rage he exclaims that he will have no mercy on her and will kill her for disobeying him.

He drags her to another room, and as he’s about to murder her, like the many wives before, her brothers appear. The older sisters had returned home to seek their help. They rescue her and end up killing Blue Beard, and she safely returns home… a new woman.

…so what does it all mean?

Well, to me, Blue Beard is a symbol for the demon/predator in our psyches. He’s this part of all of us that convinces you to ignore your deepest gut instincts and follow your ego instead. He is deceptive, powerful, and his ultimate purpose is to prevent you from following your wildish nature and discovering truth.

He says… the truth is here, but don’t you dare find it.

Imagine what type of life she would have lived had she never checked what was behind the door? Not looking behind the door wouldn’t have prevented what was behind it from existing. She would have been living comfortably next to a room full of rotting corpses.

The room and it’s contents reveal the deep, uncomfortable existential truths that awaken your spirit and force you into authentic consciousness.

Because sometimes the truth really is fucking painful.

The bleeding key shows that once you have been shown the truth, you can’t go back and un-see it. It will just keep bleeding, seeping through and touching everything in you see.

There isn’t a place you can look where reminders of this truth won’t show it’s face after it’s revealed itself to you.

You have to face it, you have to acknowledge that it is real, as terrifying and horrific it may be. Once you face it, then you can take the steps to move past it.

In this story, the older sisters are reflective of the deep, intuitive wild feminine nature…they reveal the importance of listening to and trusting in your gut.  While the brothers are the more action based masculine energy that must be utilized to take charge and truly put an end to the lie that Blue Beard has pushed on you.

Can you think of a time when Blue Beard has emerged in your life? I can. Blue Beard was my decision to stay in bad but comfortable relationships, and places that were no longer serving me. The Blue Beard in me knew that the room was full of rotting corpses, but he wouldn’t allow me to acknowledge it…he wanted me to live my life alongside piles and piles of bodies. Once I saw it… it didn’t go away.

The bleeding key was that awful truth I didn’t want to hear. The truth that I tried to bury deep inside me and pretend didn’t exist. But as we all know by now, we can’t bury the truth once we’ve uncovered it. I had to face it head on. Step into the room. Confront Blue Beard. Had I just listened to my gut long ago,  I could have saved myself a lot of anguish.

Moral of the story… not trusting in your instincts can kill you.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the Blue Beard tale, or any interpretations you have of this story. Leave your wildish wit and wisdom in the comments… 

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PS. The way I told the story in this blog isn’t exactly how it was told in Women Who Run with the Wolves, or the many older adaptations of this story from history. The great thing about sacred storytelling is that the smaller details really don’t matter. Stories change from generation to generation, from storyteller to storyteller, and so on. The symbols, and the deeper meaning behind the story are the keys which mustn’t get lost!


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