The Symbolism of Fairy Tales

Morning Musume Cinderella

One of the places where we can find Universal Truth is in fairy tales.

Cinderella Before

Yes, fairy tales…the timeless stories we tell our children, such as Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Beauty and the Beast.  Fairy tales have been criticized in modern Western culture as being unrealistic or naïve and have been decried by feminists as for their portrayal of women as weak and helpless, needing  protection and saving from a man.  These criticisms really show how hard it is for the modern Western mind to get beyond literalistic thinking – reading fairy tales as if they were modern novels about individuals.

This literalism is actually quite insidious inoculation from being able to really understand the true meaning of fairy tales or to get any real good out of them.  So, the first step in being able to understand fairy tales and derive real metaphysical truth from these tales is to understand that they are not literal stories.  They speak to Truth (with a capital T), not to factual truths.  They are in the category of Mythology and Folklore, not stories of actual human beings.

So, we have just said fairy tales are not literal, factual truths, nor stories of actual human beings.  So, what are fairy tales then?

Fairy tales are timeless stories of the human condition, and our separation and reunion with the Divine.  As an Essentialist, one accepts as a given that all separation from the Divine and from each other is only a temporary state, and that the only permanent state is that of reunion and Unity.  Fairy tales all have common features.  While fairy tales can be enjoyed and are instructive without an understanding of the meaning of these features, an understanding is helpful to reverse the rationalist conditioning that many of us have been exposed to from earliest childhood.

Children’s Stories

One of the features of fairy tales is that they are told to children, and that they appeal to children in a magical way.  The appeal to children is so powerful, that even in our heavily rationalist, materialistic culture, they have survived.  While in response to Western rationalist, feminist thought, Disney has changed its telling of these timeless stories, particularly with respect to the roles and characteristics of the female characters, the older and more traditional movies, such as Cinderella and Snow White, are just as popular as they have ever been.  Little girls are entranced by Disney princesses so much that they are effective marketing tools.

The sad thing is that the appeal to children is seen as a way to compartmentalize these stories as not being serious or relevant to adults or the Modern World.  Yet, to the more traditional Essentialist mind, children are supposed to be told stories of Universal Truth.  In the sutra of The Way of Simplicity, it is written:

For the truth is such that a child may understand it, yet the sage, if she have not simplicity and love, may struggle with it for all of her life and have nothing.

What is your truth, if it cannot be shared with a child?

For in the eyes of Eternity, how little is the space between and infant and the wisest of the world?

These stories are not to be abandoned by adults.  Yes, one will and should understand these stories differently as one matures, and indeed maturity requires one to be able to see Truth in a deeper way.  On the other hand, as an Essentialist, one places special importance and value on stories that are told to children as those that speak to Universal Truth.

Once Upon A Time

Another feature of a true fairy tale is that the setting is “once upon a time.”  This is the marker that this is a story outside time and space.  This should also be the first clue that these stories are not to be read literally.  These speak to Truth that goes beyond time and space, and therefore beyond our literal human lives.

ImagePrincesses and Prince Charming

Commonly in fairy tales, Princesses and Princes are the main characters.  This is another marker that these stories deal with matters beyond materiality and are not to be taken literally.  These stories speak to ideals and to archetypes, symbolized by royalty.

These stories also speak to the interaction between the metaphysical passive (the Princess) and active (Prince Charming), in eastern terminology, yin and yang.  In Eastern and Traditional thought, the passive state is the highest state, and the active state serves the passive.  So, to an Essentialist, even thinking of these stories as any type of statement on the roles of actual gendered individuals is ridiculously literalistic.  The interaction between the Princess and Prince Charming shows the interplay between the passive and the active states of being, with the passive generally representing the higher state. “Earth moves but Heaven is still”.

Image

Curses/Witches/Evil Queens

Another common feature of fairy tales is the involvement of evil.  While as an Essentialist, on one level everything in existence is part of the Divine, on another level, inherent in manifestation is the struggle between good and evil.

This is a paradox, but one that is necessary to accept.  Evil is as much of a part of manifestation as good and always seeks to destroy good.  This is seen in that there is usually some form of “curse” that is placed on the protagonist.  Interestingly, the types of curses upon the Princesses and the Princes are quite different.  Princesses are trapped in drudgery and materiality (“Cinderella”) or completely asleep (“Sleeping Beauty” and “Snow White”).  Princes are turned into monsters or lower beings (“Beauty and the Beast” and “The Frog and the Princess”).

True Love and Transformation

In fairy tales, the curse is always lifted or the Princess is freed or rescued.  It is love that lifts the curse.  Love is seen to have a magical transforming power.  Indeed, it is only love that can defeat the evil antagonist.   This is the feature that is most criticized by modern society, as setting unrealistic expectations of marriage and being harmful to women.  Yet, to an Essentialist, this is the Ultimate Truth.  Love is transforming and healing.  This transforming love is not romantic human love, it is Divine, Godly Love, which is the only thing that can transform and heal.

Image

While Divine Love is not romantic human love, the interplay between the Transforming Love manifested by the Princes and that manifested by the Princesses is interesting in and of itself.  The Princes show their love through activity, i.e., fighting the Evil Queen, searching for the girl who fits the slipper.  The Princesses show their love through wisdom and awareness, i.e. seeing the beauty within the beast,  kissing the frog. The Princess is often the divine Spirit who recognizes the lost soul in its earthly disguise.

Happily Ever After

As fairy tales begin with “Once Upon a Time,” they end with the protagonist “living happily ever after.”  In a sense this is the resolution of the paradox of the curse and Evil Queen.  Good ultimately triumphs over evil.  While evil is inherent in manifestation, the only Truth is the Divine.

We can never be permanently separated from the Divine.  There is only one resolution.  The evil must be overcome, the curse must be lifted, the Prince and Princess must come together, and they must “live happily ever after.”  That is also the only resolution in the separation inherent in manifestation.  We must return to the timeless state of union with the Divine.
___

See also:

Mythology and Folklore

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9 thoughts on “The Symbolism of Fairy Tales

  1. Blanche Blacke says:

    Your Apple Seed has become so beautiful!

  2. Philemon says:

    Thank you for this lucid summary of the metaphysical interpretation of the most popular fairy tales.

    I think you’re being ironic when you write of “rationalist conditioning”, as this appears to be an oxymoron. Rationalism implies a process of argument from evidence to reach a conclusion. Conditioning implies a non-rational or instinctual process in which a response is developed through repetition of a stimulus. What is missing from the modern psychological model is intellect or the direct intuition of Truth. Fairy tales are intellectual in this sense.

    Perhaps “rationalist conditioning” can be understood as the recognition that reason is not self-sufficient, but rests on principles. For the modernist, however, the principles are not intuited truths, but are understood to be conditioned reflexes (see David Hume). As in the Clew of the Horse: “These two (desire and hatred, kama and krodha) must keep the wheel forever turning; the two blind oxen that drive it ever round.”

    • mhildotter says:

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments.

      Please forgive a rather brief and cursory reply to this comment, in that it is anticipated and intended that this topic is to be explored in much greater depth in a subsequent article.

      The term “rationalist conditioning” does sound like a bit of an oxymoron, doesn’t it? A more precise term may be “rationalist indoctrination,” which would not have the same connotations from modern psychological thought. On the other hand, I do not think, as an Essentialist, one denies that stimulus and response do have an effect on people. As you so accurately quoted from the Clew of the Horse, our lower selves are driven by the two oxen, seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. In all societies, traditional and modern, social approval and disapproval are intentionally used to modify earthly behavior.

      The rationalist error is actually quite deep in Western thought and has become dogma. The seeds of this error go as far back as Aristotle and can be found in Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblios. Later, in the Middle Ages, William of Ockham pioneered nominalism, which formed the basis for modern scientific thought.

      The “conditioning” and “indoctrination” referred to in this article come from earliest childhood education, Western media, and social approval and disapproval. We are taught that Essentialist thought is “crazy”, “childish”, and a part of “ancient superstition.” It is pretty well accepted that one who studies traditional sciences such as astrology or alchemy would never be taken seriously in academic circles, unless such study is in the context that these subjects are to be treated as rudimentary beliefs of primitive people who did not know any better.

    • bambinabird says:

      Wow this is really amazing. I enjoy your thoughts about fairytales and addressing the modern skepticism around them. I love it!

  3. I think we have a small confusion of terms here. Rationalism, at least in Feminine Essentialist usage, does not mean the same thing as “rationality” or “rational process”. As an “ism” it implies a doctrine, and specifically the doctrine that only the evidence of the senses plus the processes of the reason can be sources of valid information/conclusions. (There are other usages of rationalism in Telluria but all of them imply a “position” and not simply rationality).

    As Philemon-chei rightly states, reason is in fact based on principles which are themselves not products either of reason or of sensory observation, but have a higher source. To deny this is not rational, therefore rationalism is not actually a rational position.

    For more on this, please see this article:

    http://chelouranya.com/notesfromchelouranya/2013/03/28/rationalism/

  4. Teresa says:

    I admit to not having read all these comments before commenting myself. And, obviously, I am rather a Johnny-come-lately to boot. I found an article I had begun when movies and TV were prolific with fairy tale depictions a couple years ago and wanted to find somewhere someone had given some depth and credence to the idea of many of these elements being symbolic and needing to be told, hence the proliferation. I appreciate what you have shared here and that you don’t take them so literally as to mean little girls need rescuing. Sadly, that is how they are taken all too freely for the most part. I, myself, in my born-again Christian days, would only read them to my children with what you share in mind as a way of explanation to them. Funny to see it touted here as proper, since I was ridiculed for the practice. I would still love to discuss the separate elements, especially the recurring ones, and what they might be intended to reveal to us. Thank you for your frank article.

    • Thank you so much for your comment, honored Miss Teresa. I am so glad you wrote. Your experience of being ridiculed is one of the reasons for blogs such as this. I imagine that there are many in this post-modern world who would disagree with what I have written. The purpose of this blog is not to convince them, but to support those such as yourself who have held on to truth in their heart, despite the ridicule of modern society. It is hard to hold on to one’s innocence and sense of what is right and good in a cynical and materialistic world.

      Yes, the separate elements are important, and each fairy tale is telling a different important story. This article was a rather simplistic overview of fairy tales in general, but each individual fairy tale is worth exploration in its own right.

      Thank you again for your comment, and I am glad that you found this article helpful.

  5. Hannah says:

    Great article, interesting and helpful.

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