The Mythology of the Shoe

Shoes are transportive. They take us on trips. The God Hermes traveled between seen and unseen dimensions in his winged sandals. Cinderella’s glass slippers gave her access to an otherwise exclusive world. Dorothy’s ruby slippers took her on a journey of initiation.

They may also signify the erotic. The western stiletto or the lotus shoe of the bound foot of China connote the sado-ecstasy of another’s pain. After a wedding, there is the custom of tying a pair of shoes to the departing car of the betrothed to signify sexual union. Thigh-high boots mean sexual dominion over another.

They can represent agency, status or authority. If I were in your shoes; To fill someone’s shoes; to wait for a dead man’s shoes is to wait for entitlement achieved only by someone’s death. An expensive pair of shoes is a status symbol second only to the “it” bag.

Contrarily, shoes that are worn-out evoke pity. You’ve lost agency over your life and wealth. There’s the image of the tramp with his toes poking out-he is exposed to the elements and cruelty of fate.

In the German fairy tale, The Shoes That Were Danced to Pieces, twelve daughters of a king descend to an enchanted underground realm where they dance with imaginary suitors. They return home with their shoes destroyed, reminding us that we must have our feet on the ground.

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