Lost in the Woods Fairy Tales

Wise Women: "Cap O' Rushes" - The Salt of the Earth

December 15, 2023 Autumn Woods Season 5 Episode 3
Wise Women: "Cap O' Rushes" - The Salt of the Earth
Lost in the Woods Fairy Tales
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Lost in the Woods Fairy Tales
Wise Women: "Cap O' Rushes" - The Salt of the Earth
Dec 15, 2023 Season 5 Episode 3
Autumn Woods

When her father's pride ejects her from her home, this Cinderella figure doesn't take it lying down. Join Cap O' Rushes as she uses her salty wisdom to win a new life for herself and reconcile with the heart that broke hers. 

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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

When her father's pride ejects her from her home, this Cinderella figure doesn't take it lying down. Join Cap O' Rushes as she uses her salty wisdom to win a new life for herself and reconcile with the heart that broke hers. 

Love this story? Let Autumn know!

Support the Show.

Wise Women: Episode 3

“Cap O’ Rushes”: The Salt of the Earth

            Welcome to Lost in the Woods Fairy Tales ™. I’m your host, Autumn Woods, and I’m so excited you’re here. We’re continuing our adventures in Wise Women, stories of women who wield their wisdom against adversity. Women who are smart, discerning, creative, cunning, and skilled. Women who use those gifts and talents in a godly way to guard themselves and others against evil. Our next story revisits the lost woman motif from Season 1, but with a twist. Even though the heroine of this English tale runs over a similar track as Cinderella and Thousandfurs, she never quite loses herself in the process, and she uses her wisdom to not only build a new life, but to reconcile with the heart that broke hers. Something we rarely see in this type of story.

            So, let’s get lost, as we read the story of (Cap O’ Rushes).

The End.

I need to give a special shoutout to longtime listener Kayla James for recommending this story. Thank you, Kayla, for reminding me how amazing this story is. Don’t wander away from the campfire. We’re about to shed some light on the incredible treasure hidden in this story.

We begin with a wealthy father and his three daughters. In an opening that smacks of King Lear, the father seeks to learn how much each of his daughters loves him. The first two give flattering answers that can’t possibly be true or constant. Saying that they love him as their lives and better than all the world places their father in a position above God, and if either girl marries, it’s likely that their dad would be booted off this lofty pedestal, anyway. Ironically, in some versions of this story, the two older sisters eventually turn the father out of the house and take all his money. How’s that for loving him more than all the world? The third daughter is wiser than her sisters. She loves her father and knows that she can and will have to live without him one day, but would rather not. She recognizes that he is not her end all and be all, but he gives her life a good flavor that she knows would be lacking without his love. He makes bland life better the way salt improves and enhances the taste of meat. You can eat unsalted meat, but it’s nowhere near as good as when it’s been rubbed in salt to bring out its best flavors.  Salt is also used to preserve meat from rotting, keeping it at its best for as long as possible. A good father does this, teaching his children right from wrong and training them in the way that they should go that they will not depart from it, becoming the best version of themselves (Proverbs 22:6). Clearly this is the kind of relationship the youngest daughter has with her father.  So, she tells him that she loves him “as fresh meat loves salt.” 

As Christians, we’re meant to bring out the best in others and preserve them from spiritual death and decay by seasoning them with the flavor of the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus says in Matthew 5:13, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” Our influence should be distinct from the world’s and change its culture to reflect God’s culture because we speak and operate from the fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom. We are supposed to be transformed by the renewing of our minds in Christ Jesus, and revolutionize the things, people, and areas around us in turn. If we try to conform to the world and its demonic systems, we’ll lose our effectiveness because we’re no longer seeking to please God, looking to the things we can see as our source instead of Him. The further you get from your original source, the less effective your flavoring will be. 

All of this symbolism is lost on the girl’s father, however, and he throws her out of the house because of her peculiar answer. He’s just had his pride built up by his two older daughters, and the youngest’s humble answer is jarring to him. He doesn’t know what to do with it except take it as an insult. When God is your source, sometimes, your personality, words, and actions are going to rub people the wrong way because they don’t have the same focus as you. They are thinking about themselves in the moment, not looking ahead to the future or the Kingdom of Heaven. Even saved people have these moments and have to be jerked back to reality. 

Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me” (Matthew 5:10-11). The girl’s father has falsely accused her of not loving him because she does not elevate him to God-like status. In reality, she loves him best because she refuses to inflate his ego and instead describes a love that, for all its simplicity, is constant and unchanging. Something that will still have value when the passion behind her sisters’ answers cools down.  

When her father throws her out and slams the door in her face, our heroine doesn’t cry or bang on the door. She’s a woman of action. She quits the premises, walks to a nearby fen. A fen is like a bog, full of water, reeds, and grass. It’s constantly filled with nutrient-rich groundwater that slows the decomposition of the plants in it, resulting in peat, an excellent source of fuel. Sounds like a reinforcement of the salt simile. A fen is a natural deposit of good, beneficial things. In short, good soil, like our girl here. As we’ve seen in other Cinderella-type stories, a woman turning from her father’s house to nature for refuge has come to the full acceptance of the fact that when her father forsakes her, the Lord will take care of her, supplying all her needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Psalm 27:10; Philippians 4:19). The wise woman is ready to receive what God brings to hand to provide for her next phase of life. 

In other stories of this type, a drab disguise is often forced on the heroine or created for her from animal skin. Here, the young woman fashions a head-to-toe disguise herself out of reeds. There is no horrific sacrifice or bullying involved in her covering. She methodically weaves it together out of durable, pliable material. Remember that weaving in fairy tales is a task similar to sifting, and reflects the healing process of the heart. The weaver takes all the pieces of her life, the good and the bad, and in imitation of God, weaves something brilliant and practical for her good out of the individual pieces. The action represents connection and renewed thinking. Our heroine is not dissociating from her life, but pausing to make sense of it and move forward. She is still the daughter of a wealthy man. She retains her good character. She has been rejected by her earthly parent, but not by the Lord, and she will rise from this disaster and seek a new situation independent from her old life by His unusual but constant provision. She is like the reeds she weaves, firm in her integrity, stance, and beliefs but flexible in the way she must bend with her circumstances to protect those intangible treasures. 

We get the idea that she’s not going through a full identity crisis, but taking practical steps to get herself from A to B in a form that will be better received than her own. People would be suspicious of hiring a wealthy looking woman who looks like she’s never done a day’s work in her life, but a shabbily dressed woman who looks down on her luck? That’s more readily acceptable. This doesn’t mean that she isn’t dealing with what happened to her or that her father’s rebuff doesn’t make her question herself as a valued daughter. Parental rejection does something to even the wisest and healthiest of people, but here’s our clue that she’s behaving pragmatically and not going through a Maid Maleen fugue: she keeps her finery on under the cap o’ rushes. It’s not stored in a nutshell or buried in the peat moss, it’s on her person, treasured in her heart and worn like a superhero outfit under her disguise. She knows who she is, but is also aware that her heritage won’t help her find new footing. So, she conceals her identity, for now, under the cap o’ rushes. 

Moses, too, was hidden in reeds, and remained very much himself. He came into Pharaoh’s palace through the back door in an ark of bullrushes and rose to prominence. The cap o’ rushes is this wise woman’s ark to carry her from rejection to the house she will one day be mistress of, although she doesn’t know it yet.  

When she arrives at a great house and asks for work, she mentions that she doesn’t need wages. This sounds funny to us, like she’s getting taken advantage of in desperation, but even this was a smart move. She knows that she is not truly a scullery maid, won’t be working there long, and doesn’t intend to take money away from anyone who is steadily employed there. Think of it more like an unpaid internship that helps her gain practical skills she might not have acquired in her father’s house. This is a brief wilderness stint for Cap O’ Rushes to do some reconnaissance and manual labor while she works out her internal issues and figures out what to do next. While there is some drudgery and healing that happens here, it’s not as intensive as what Thousandfurs goes through. Cap O’ Rushes does all the dirty work of her own free will. No one is cruel to her. Even the cook takes a liking to her. They only call her Cap O’ Rushes because she hasn’t given them her real name, and the servants all want to hang out with her after work, so she’s clearly being herself and not making enemies. She’s just under cover while she waits for the right opportunity to emerge. 

 It comes as it often does in this tale type, in the form of a three-night dance party. Everyone wants Cap O’ Rushes to come with them to the dance and look at all the pretty people, but she tells them she’s too tired and will stay home. She is tired. Tired of her cap o’ rushes. When everyone is gone, she doffs her disguise, scrubs herself clean, and arrives at the dance in her finery. Not only is she the most beautiful person at the ball, but she also captures the heart of her employer’s son. Like Cinderella’s prince, he won’t dance with anyone else all night, every night. Her inner beauty enhances her outer beauty like a salt seasons a dish, drawing the young man to her and gaining the admiration of everyone in attendance. Even though she has been through adversity, Cap O’ Rushes retains her radiance because “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4). She hasn’t lost herself. She’s not pursuing the young man with selfish motives. She’s here to have a good time and see what’s what because her curiosity is still alive. Prudently, she opts not to close down the party, but slips away at a decent time in order to get home and get dressed in her disguise before anyone knows where she’s been. 

She’s good natured when her fellow servants fuss at her about missing out on seeing—well, herself—and we get the idea that Cap O’ Rushes is staying incognito not out of fear, but out of wisdom. She wants to keep her current situation, prevent her healing process from being publicized, and find out more about the master’s son. Can she trust him? Will he pursue her even after the initial excitement wears off? Is he going to be different than her father? Because as together as she is, she still has to face those “growing up girl” questions and make sure the answers are sound. She doesn’t put her suitor through an obstacle course like Cinderella does, nor does she drop her dowry in his food like Thousandfurs. This three-night appearing and disappearing act is for Cap O’ Rushes alone as she teaches herself that she really has not forgotten how to discern someone’s character, including her own. Remember that she has been accused of being unloving. Even if she knows better, there’s a human part of her that has to deal with that and decide that it’s a lie. She determines for herself that she is capable of loving well and being loved well in return. It takes two nights for her to solidify her assessment, and a third to receive a token of her suitor’s pledge. Two is a number of judgement and discernment. Three is a number of completion and transformation. After this, the young master’s brief season of testing begins.  

On the third night, the young man tries again to learn his partner’s name and where she comes from, but she still won’t tell him. Desperate to communicate his affections, he slips a ring on her finger and tells her that he will die if he never sees her again. This is a pretty wild claim of love, like the ones her sisters made to her father. In order to give him time to back up his statement, Cap O’ Rushes disappears before the dance ends, still wearing the ring. She doesn’t reject the proposal. She gives him a chance to demonstrate his sincerity. When his initial ardor cools, will his love be steadfast and life-giving? That’s the kind of love she knows how to give—so much so that her life was upended by it—and she expects nothing less in return. 

Let’s stop and talk about her fiancé for a minute. He’s not a love-struck, possessive insert-Ken-doll here. He’s kind, as shown by his treatment of her and the frightened cook later in the story. He is genuinely happy to see our heroine, loves her, and wants to know more about her. He isn’t trying to make a conquest and run, but longs for a permanent relationship with her, which he demonstrates by giving her a symbol of covenant and authority, a ring of engagement. God desires intimacy like that and deeper with us. When we come to Him through Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant, we are granted a measure of His power and authority. We are adopted into God’s family, seated with Jesus in heavenly places, and given access to heavenly resources. What we bind or loose on earth is bound or loosed in heaven (Matthew 18:18). We are given authority to trample serpents and scorpions and overcome all the power of the enemy and lay hands on the sick and have them recover (Luke 10:19; Matthew 10:1). Once upon a time, a signet ring carried the name of its owner, and anyone who carried that symbol walked in the authority of that person’s name. We walk in God’s authority through the name of Jesus. We didn’t do anything to merit this, because “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).

The marriage covenant is the closest example we have on earth to explain the magnitude of this relationship. A wedding ring is a symbol that you are bone of your spouse’s bone and flesh of their flesh. You are freely given the authority of their name, their position, and access to their resources. Just like we can’t do anything to earn God’s offer of a new life, Cap O’ Rushes has done nothing to prompt the young man to offer her a life with him. He does it of his own free will, in all sincerity. The young man proves himself true by pursuing her high and low long after the dance floor is cleared at the decorations packed away. He seeks her at every turn, finally taking to his sickbed because he truly cannot live without her. God does not get sick and weak without us, but He mourns when we pull away from Him. At every turn, He gives us the opportunity to come to Him. It’s up to us to make the next move. 

When Cap O’ Rushes learns that her young man is wasting away for love of her, she springs into action. She knows now that he spoke the truth, and that his love is steadfast and sincere, because he sought after her even when it seemed hopeless, as God seeks after us. Cap O’ Rushes insists on making gruel for him to help him get well, and secretly drops the ring into his bowl before the cook takes it up to him. Thousandfurs dropped a ring from her dowry into her future husband’s soup to drop hints to him about her identity. But that piece of jewelry came from her father. Cinderella led the prince through an obstacle course on her father’s land to reveal hers and warn him of her past. Cap O’ Rushes does not give her prospective fiancé anything of her father’s. Her past won’t help her secure her future. She can only give the one who loves her what already belongs to him as proof of her identity and acceptance of the new life he offers her. The same is true of our relationship with Christ. Every good and perfect thing comes from God (James 1:17). “Through [Jesus] all things were made, and without Him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:3). “…from Him and through Him and to Him are all things” (Romans 11:36). Everything belongs to Him. The best we can do is offer ourselves as holy, living sacrifices, set apart for Him, wisely accepting our true identities in Christ and the new life He died to give us. 

The young master discovers the ring in his gruel and knows that his love can’t be far away. Summoning the cook, he gently questions her about how the ring arrived in his gruel, and bids her to send in Cap O’ Rushes. When he asks her where she got the ring, she answers, “From him that gave it me.” When he asks who she is, she readily sheds her Cap O’ Rushes and stands before him as her true and complete self, ready to accept his proposal and begin anew. It’s interesting that even after she reveals herself to her fiancé, she never tells anyone her real name. Even the storyteller goes on calling her Cap O’ Rushes to the very end. But this was another wise choice on our heroine’s part. She does not use her old name because the old has passed away and the new has come. She also holds onto it in hopes of reconciling with her father, whom they are inviting to the wedding feast, and the way she means to do it requires secrecy. If her father sees the bride’s name on the invitation, he either won’t come, or he’ll be guarded, and she won’t be able to effectively enact her plan for restoration. Not revenge. Restoration. The way she does it is very creative, and smacks of God’s wit and resourcefulness. There are too many examples to count of God hemming someone in before and behind so that they recognize their errors and turn back to Him. Some are gentler than others, and sometimes, the kindest of these methods are the most heart-wrenching, life-changing, and transformational. They crack your heart open and leave lots of breathing room for God to restore you and reconcile you back to Himself. 

On her wedding day, Cap O’ Rushes slips into the kitchen to tell the cook to prepare the wedding feast without using any salt. The cook is reluctant to do it, but obeys her new mistress without complaint. Sure enough, throughout the murmurs of discontent rumbling throughout the bland wedding feast, the piercing sobs of Cap O’ Rushes’ father are heard. This object lesson has broken his pride, and caused him to understand at last that his youngest daughter loved him best. He confesses his error to the company, and is rewarded with a warm embrace of reconciliation from his daughter, who has won her father back through her unconventional wisdom. 

This is one of the rarest endings to a Cinderella story. Generally, there is no happy reunion between the heroine and her family, especially not the father, who is either killed off or fades into the background. Through her wisdom, our salty heroine is able to preserve and improve her relationship with her father, turning his heart back to her with her kind, yet unpalatable presentation of the truth. Jesus spent a lot of His ministry on earth doing exactly this, in fact, He still does it, and calls us to do the same. To be the salt of the earth, and operate in this world with a kingdom mentality that seeks the restoration of all things and offers the ministry of reconciliation with God to all who will accept it. 

Thanks for stopping by. Be sure to subscribe so you never miss an episode, share your favorite ones with friends, and rate the show on your favorite podcast platform. If you’d like to be part of what goes on in the fairy tale forest, click the support the show link in the notes, or follow me on Instagram. I’m Autumn Woods and I can’t wait to see you on the path next time you get Lost in the Woods.






Cap O' Rushes
Analysis Intro