Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Veiling the Dead? - Part II (Little Red Riding Hood)

In part one of Veiling the Dead, the central question was whether there is a meaning to the red veil burials of the Argaric Culture of Spain or the Djumbulak kum burials of the Taklamakan Desert.  For that matter, how about all red-shrouded burials since the Paleolithic?  Is it part of something bigger?

Let's go down another avenue using an ancient European story-with-a-twist found in Charles Perrault's "Le Petit Chaperon Rouge" or the Grimm brother's reconstruction of "Little Red Riding Hood".  The story is theorized to be about two thousand years old by (Tehrani, 2013) and has many widespread variations emanating from the Northern Middle East in his view (keep that in mind).

Little Red Riding Hood (Carl Larsson, 1881)
Interpretations of this story are all over the place, usually involving fruity Freudian or boring feminist constructs.  A compelling case could be made, however, that this folk story is fundamentally concerned with a question of superstition, specifically the one discussed in Part 1.

The maiden's red cloak and the presence of an old woman are important clues to the interpretation of this story, where the innocent girl attracts the attention of a wolf while picking flowers in the forest, despite having a red cloak and despite the oversight of an old woman who cares for her.  In many versions, it has a bad outcome.

The maiden is devoured along with the old woman, who I would interpret as an 'Elder mother' of folklore, the protective elder tree being strongly associated with red wool dye.  Regardless of whether the maiden and the old woman die, usually, many versions end with some sort of revenge on the wolf (significant in Elder folklore).

In the Grimm reconstruction it is interesting that the elder lady has already been eaten and, in a horrific twist, the wolf assumes the identity of the elder woman, who should be the guardian of the girl, regardless of whether she has a supernatural identity.  To the disguised wolf the maiden comments "what big eyes you have", to which the wolf responds "the better to see you with".

My interpretation is that it appears to be a religious lesson for a young person of the early Christian Age.  The Tehrani (2013) time frame and his proposed geographical origin is significant in this regard.

The moral of the story warns: 'Trinkets, idols, spells and fairies won't protect you from the cold eyes watching from Hell.  This girl was certainly not invisible in the forest meadows.  Little Red Riding Hood was eaten by a monster wearing the clothing of her dead eldermother.'  The story chastises the helplessness of dumb idols like Dagon-before-the-Ark or the contrast between Moses and the impotent Egyptian court magicians.

Within the context of Christianity spreading in the late Roman period, it is perhaps a more direct warning for marriage-age girls to adopt and maintain Christian wedding rites instead of pagan ones.  Quite coincidentally, it is around this time that blue wedding dresses (associated with the Virgin Mary) came in to vogue in the West.

Fleury Francois Richard (1820)

In summary, this bed-time fairy tale is opposed to the traditions you see in Part 1 as far as I read it.
Part 3 I'll try and close the loop by looking at more prehistoric burials.

"The Evil Eye" Alan Dundes, 1981 [Link]

"The Evil Eye, Thanatology, and Other Essays" Roswell Park, 1911

"Beware of the Evil Eye, Volume 1" John Elliot, 2015 [Link]

"Why is Ochre Found in Some Graves"  National Museum of Denmark


  1. I volunteer my corpse to be covered in red ochre when I die so we can see what all the fuss is about.

  2. Wow! What a fascinating take on a story that everyone knows.

  3. I really enjoyed your Red Riding Hood interpretation. Christians warning those Pagans to forget your beliefs or else! (and to think at one time young warriors in a rite of passage ceremony(?) in the Srubnaya Culture consumed wolves & dogs!) And the 1820's Richard painting just glows. I look forward to Part III. I've been thinking about the use of red ochre in Yamnaya burials and wondering if this tradition came from the Caucus or from East Hunter Gatherers. And certainly, in Yamnaya burials in kurgans, to mark the place of a burial would be important as other family members were buried there over the years. And WHY was red ochre discontinued in Corded Ware burials as CWC is closely related to Yamnaya & Catacomb. Thank you again for this enjoyable read! jv