Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Allerleirauh, Dymphna, and Falafel

The Brothers Grimm story, “Allerleirauh”, also known in various forms as "Donkey Skin," Deerskin," or "Many Fur" is the horrific tale of a king who develops an unsuitable passion for his daughter after the king’s wife dies. The daughter runs away, disguises herself, and eventually finds a new career and a good romantic partner after a lot of hard work and heartache. You may read a more in-depth description and analysis here.

St. Dymphna’s experience is similar, but her story ends much more violently. Although St. Dymphna has a shrine in Gheel, Belgium, many think that her story is apocryphal. Who knows for sure? I appreciate her existence in whatever form. She is the patron saint of people suffering from emotional distress, insanity, family dissonance, as well as of runaways and princesses. She is my kind of saint.

In the past, I have given out little medals and chaplets of St. Dymphna to friends who need a little bit of help. My first medal was one I found under the kitchen sink when I was organizing my mother’s pots and pans. “Look what the last renter left,” I said.

“That’s not from the last renter. I had that in New York,” my mother replied. She didn’t think it was odd to find the medal under her kitchen sink over twenty years later. It is fitting that the medal came from New York, as St. Dymphna has a bar on St. Mark’s Place. I often thought about going in, but I never did. Instead, I always ended up going to the falafel restaurant nearby. While working in the library system there, my sanity often depended upon the nourishment of falafel and baba ganouj.

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