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Registered User
(9/5/02 11:10:55 pm)
The Faceless Maiden
I have an artist friend who has recently completed a beautiful series of paintings depicting a female figure who has no clear face. She asks if there are any myths, folk tales, or fairy tales about a faceless woman (or women) ... and I haven't been able to come up with any. Handless, armless, feetless, yes...but not faceless. Can anyone here help?

Unregistered User
(9/6/02 12:33:05 am)
Oh, that is interesting
That is very interesting, Terri. I'm in the middle of writing the 2nd draft of my second novel, Drowning Rapunzel, and in it the heroine is being painted by an artist. He won't let anyone see the painting until it's finished.

At the gallery exhibition:

"Beth craned her neck, trying to get a better view, she wished she was a few inches taller. Someone moved in front of her and she just gaped at the picture in awe.

There was something ethereal about her in the drawing, almost as if there was an inner glow shining through the canvas. Her hair and dress were the most vivid things in the painting, but her face and hands were almost translucent.

It was like looking at a painting of a ghost, the spectre of Rapunzel pining for her prince, the moment caught forever by the artist's brush. The painting was beautiful, more so than she had imagined. Beth knew that Josh had talent, but this took her breath away."

Not quite faceless, I just thought it was an interesting coincidence. :-)


Registered User
(9/6/02 3:10:48 pm)
faceless maiden thoughts
It may be helpful to think about tales of "the unborn" which go more in the direction of the idea that one's face was known by God before birth, but not by humans. (It was put to us tis way: the quintessential religious question, "what was the nature of your face before you were born?") It may also be fruitful to go in the other direction, into some of the Swedish female demon tales for instance. Some I have heard from old women at the Swedish American club were about "faceless" creatures that came in the night to do various awful things. I know there must be books of Swedish Tales... Also, as psychoanalyst for thirty-some odd years now, I have seen "many" dreams from dreamers who have dreampt the "faceless woman," or the faceless man. It seems an idea straight out of the dream lexicon, if one could put it that way.
hope this helps

Registered User
(9/6/02 7:17:41 pm)
Faceless Woman/Women

There is an entry in the Asian Horror Encyclopedia ( ) about the Mujina, a supernatural being without facial features.

I also found a Japanese story about a Mujina ( ) from Lafcadio Hearn's book, Kwaidan.

Edited by: BlackHolly at: 9/7/02 9:55:47 am
Registered User
(9/7/02 12:17:08 am)
Re: Faceless Woman/Women
Annette, Clarissa: Thank you, I'll pass your insights on to my painter friend.

Holly: I'm not able to make your links work. Is it just something funky about my machine?

Does anyone here remember a Native American story called The Rough Faced Girl? I remember the title and not what the story was about.

If anyone else has any other thoughts on the subject of faceless women, please let me know!

Edited by: Terri at: 9/7/02 12:19:22 am
Unregistered User
(9/7/02 5:15:17 am)
Rough Faced Girl
This story is a Cinderella tale in which the girl's face & hands (I think) are burnt and because of that she is the subject of much ridicule -- there are picture book versions of it available but I cannot remember which native culture it is supposedly based upon. Gail

Marsha Sisolak
Registered User
(9/7/02 9:17:39 am)
Re: Rough Faced Girl
The Rough-Faced Girl is currently out in a children's version by Rafe Martin and illustrated by David Shannon. It's an Algonquin tale and a version of Cinderella. Two sisters decide to marry the powerful Invisible Being. However, before anyone can marry him, they must prove that they can see him. Only their youngest sister, the rough-faced girl, so-called because of the scars on her face made by sparks from the fire, can see his presence everywhere. She then is escorted into his wigwam and accepted as his wife.

Registered User
(9/7/02 9:54:30 am)
Sorry, Terri!

Trying my own links again, I figured out why they don't work...they link with the end paranthesis in the URL. I went back and fixed it.

How embarassing!

isthmus nekoi
Registered User
(9/7/02 2:19:59 pm)
random connections
Some depictions of female figures from the Neolithic age are faceless (and often handless and footless) - the most famous of these being the Venus of Willendorf (sp?). As to why they are faceless is as good as anyone's guess!

I've also been struck by the image of a faceless woman - I didn't dream it, but certainly it surfaced from the unconscious so this may relate to the 'dream lexicon' pinkolaestes writes of. I connect her w/the High Priestess card in Tarot (but that would be my own subjective association).

Unregistered User
(9/7/02 6:22:50 pm)

Does it count if one can't look on her face say as in Gorgon Medusa--who has a face but one that is too dangerous to view. Which might also put her in the same sort of camp as the rough faced girl--one who no one wants to look on for one reason or another--rendering them "faceless."

Unregistered User
(9/8/02 9:13:17 am)

Perhaps stories in which faces are obscured by coverings? Nothing is comming to mind, but surely such a thing exists.


Unregistered User
(9/8/02 12:26:26 pm)
Skuld, who is the youngest of the three Norns (Norse version of the Greek Fates), is thought to represent the future, and so is depicted as heavily veiled, or with her face averted, or even faceless, since the future is unknown. While the other Norns weaved the web of fate, she would tear it apart.

Although not a myth or fairy tale, the first thing that came to my mind was a passage in Rilke's The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, in which the main character muses on faces, how some people wear several faces while others wear one face until it is worn out and only the 'no-face' is left. Malte is walking down the street and comes across a woman sitting with her head in her hands; he startles her and she lifts her head too quickly, leaving her face in her hands. He says how much effort it took not to look up at the naked, faceless head. It is a haunting, lovely passage that might be worth reading/rereading. It comes at the very beginning of book, about three pages into the actual story.

Registered User
(9/8/02 4:50:38 pm)
Re: Facelessness
"Till we have Faces" by C.S. Lewis. Retelling of the Psyche and Eros myth by the sister who convinced Psyche that Eros was a monster. Must read to appreciate.

Veils impart a certain brand of facelessness and are especially popular with certain religious sects. It occurs to me that brides are also veiled, though I don't know the significance of that tradition except perhaps to impart an image of humility and piety.

Registered User
(9/8/02 9:47:43 pm)
thank you Terri for your welcome. What a lot of knowlege you have I can see from this board Goodness. I just wanted to mention that there is a page in the handless maiden story in wwrwtw that is about the veil and about bridal veil too. In the handless maiden, the king/prince/lover in various versions has a hood or veil or cloth over his face as he sleeps in the house of the spirit in white. handless maiden/heaven, etc....
just that and no more...

Registered User
(9/8/02 10:14:22 pm)
Re: The Faceless Maiden

Di Chirico painted "The Disquieting Muses", and then Sylvia Plath responded to that painting with a poem of the same name, literalizing the concept Di Chirico was playing around with--she describes these muses, who take on eerie fair god mother or wicked stepmother like qualities--as being, "Mouthless, eyeless, with stitched bald head." And also, "With heads like darning-eggs to nod /And nod and nod at foot and head/And at the left side of my crib."

It's a loose connection, I guess, but it's the only faceless women I could think of--muses. The poem alludes to Norse mythology and includes some fairytale atmospherics, but no specifics.

I don't know if this will help, but there it is, just in case.


Registered User
(9/8/02 11:47:08 pm)
bridal veils
There are a bunch of origin theories that I have read for the use of veils at weddings.

Veils were apparently the most important part of a Roman bride's dress, and were usually red or saffron (possibly symbolizing flame, for Vesta - the goddess of home and hearth). At some points in history it was full length and also used as the bride's burial shroud. In addition, it was said to protect the bride from evil spirits. Some sources say that the term for veiling is 'nubere' which is synonymous with marriage, and the word 'nuptial' comes from 'nubo' which means "I veil myself".

In European history, during times of arranged marriages, veils served a very practical purpose in not allowing the groom to see the bride's face (and back out if he was disappointed) until after the ceremony was performed. In fact, at some points the veil was actually opaque - so the bride couldn't see either and hence her father had to lead her down the aisle and literally give her to the groom.

Those of you who know, correct me if I'm wrong, but from what I understand in a Jewish wedding ceremony, it is the groom who ritually "veils the bride". This reason for this tradition may go back to the marriage of Jacob tricked into marrying Leah when he thought he was marrying Rachel - the younger sister that he loved.

Chinese brides used a veil called a 'red head cover' for hundreds of years. It seems to have evolved from a practical head cloth used by the working class out in the fields that got progressively more elaborate and 'upper class' and eventually was used in daily living - so that married women would not attract other men -and always for weddings.

Although not exclusively for weddings - in Far Eastern countries, it was believed that wicked spirits were especially attracted to women so, as protection from the Evil Eye, women always wore veils. The custom continued although the feeling behind it changed with time into a role of modesty and obedience, then a symbol of chastity and eventually became the sign of submission of women.

Hmmm. This is getting rather long. I'm stopping now. I'm just always fascinated by the symbolism of physical symbols.


Registered User
(9/9/02 5:06:46 am)
Hmm. Chris, the "muses" that you mention sound almost like inverted versions of the Graeae from the Perseus myth, who had but one eye and one tooth between them (who, in turn, seem similar to that folktale about the girl whose betrothed wanted her to spin, until he saw her guests at the wedding, their fatures deformed from years of such activity ... can't recall the title off-hand). But they all either have shared features (symbolizing, perhaps, a community of woman, and how "easily" it can be defeated by men) or exaggerated features (the community of women tricking men in turn, through easy cooperation). Wholly faceless women ... I'll have to wrack my brains some more....

Judith Berman
Registered User
(9/9/02 6:17:49 pm)
Veils and the Tuareg
Veils are usually associated with women but there is an Islamic north African group, the Tuareg, where the men are veiled, not the women. There's an interesting article on what this is about by Robert Murphy, "Social Distance and the Veil," in AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGIST 66:1257-74. This was published some time ago (1964), and I'm by no means a Tuareg scholar, so I can't say what current thinking on the subject is, but it's food for thought.


Unregistered User
(9/9/02 7:31:26 pm)
Yes! I know this article well..I did a fair amount of research on the Tuareg at one time (around the mid-70's) and even then the world was changing so drastically. Droughts had forced so many Tuareg men into the cities where they wore western dress and were forced to put aside the veil. It's interesting because a woman recalled that when her brother returned home after many years of working in the city--she recognized him by his wrists and feet--the two cues she was used to seeing--but not his face which she had never really seen. The legend the Tuaregs tell is that once women were veiled--but after their men returned home in utter failure after a raid, the women threw down their veils and insisted the men wear them to hide their shame at having failed. Hmm..Tuareg women are the real poets and storytellers--they were literate while men traditionally were not--and performed every year in these fabulous annual courts of love and poetry expositions. It was the desire of every man, dressed to the teeth, camel brushed and shining to be the subject of one their remarkable praise poems.

but for all that, it would seem the reason Tuareg men are "faceless" has more to do with maintaining status in a very small and potentially conflicted social unit (several "tents" banded together). Men could keep just enough distance through the veil to be able to negotiate in close quarters without hostility--men of higher status wore their veils very high, while the lower the status, the more of one's face became exposed--men would adjust their veils in conversations up or down depending the relative status of the person they were talking to...they would also give cues by the way they touched the veil as to their state of mind. All of this is to maintain some sort of functioning profile in a social context--But the veiled woman (at least in the Arab world) is intended to symbolically "disappear" in public--to be rendered invivisble in the public world of men. Faceless indeed. Fatima Mernissi has a great book on the subject, "Beyond the Veil," and though it may be out of print now, I'd also recommend Evelyn Accad's book "The Veils of Shame" which is a study of the image of women in North African Literature. But I guess this has flung us far from Terri's question...sorry.

though I guess obliquely it raises the question of why such an image might have power to a storyteller? what it is intended to evoke? The powerlessness/lack of status of the woman at that moment--or the desire of the storyteller to express the seeming unknowable reaches of the female...

Registered User
(9/10/02 9:02:46 pm)

Re: Tuaregs
The faceless images remind me of Magritte's paintings. His mother committed suicide by throwing herself in the river when Magritte was young. He is supposed to have been the one who found the body - the current had tangled up her clothes so that her face was obscured by them. Magritte's images of faceless men and women are supposed to have arisen from this terrible experience. Sometimes the faces in his paintings are swathed in cloth; sometimes they are hidden, by an apple or other object. They are extraordinarily compelling and have great power. It seems to me that part of their power is to do with their withholding of access to the observer/painter. It is the other side of the coin to the powerlessness of the veiled woman.

Registered User
(9/15/02 8:09:19 pm)
Japanese tale
In addition to the tales mentioned earlier, another Japanese story tells of The Girl with the Black Bowl. Her dying mother had placed it upside on her head, obscuring her lovely face, and told her not to take it off. The narrative is Cinderella-based, I believe, as the girl ends up in service to a wealthy family with a handsome son. She resists everyone's desire to see her face and hence know her identity -- instead, her kind and gentle nature is shown to be the true indicator of her self. In the end, the bowl is shattered, showing her to be lovelier than ever and raining down riches on the happy new couple. So, in short, how a woman adapts to enforced facelessness?

Laura S.

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