Cinderella stories are ubiquitous throughout history and throughout the world. Even in today’s day and age, one can find Cinderella stories in many different forms and in popular media everywhere.
An interesting example is found in Episode 39 in Smile Precure, one of my favorite anime series of all time. In this episode, the protagonist, Miyuki-chan (Cure Happy) finds herself in the book which contains the Primordial Cinderella. This is the Cinderella story from which all Cinderella stories are derived.
Cure Happy (and the other girls) had to preserve the essential elements of the story: the wicked stepmother and stepsisters, the ball, dancing with the Prince, leaving at midnight, the glass slipper, and the glass slipper fitting the foot of Cinderella. Other details of the story were changed due to interference by the Bad Enders and other mishaps. The fact that the non-essential details of the story were changed did not cause any difficulties so long as the essential elements were preserved.
As a Traditionalist and Essentialist, I would say that the Smile Precure episode is entirely correct in describing the existence of a primordial Cinderella, and like the primordial version of all fairy tales, the primordial Cinderella comes from beyond this world, as fairy tales are stories that teach us Universal Truth.
So what is the primordial Cinderella? In a story such as Cinderella, with so many different versions throughout history and throughout the world, one can look to the common threads in the story to uncover clues as to the primordial Cinderella and to determine its true meaning.
Cinderella is a very old story. There is a Persian version of the story, called Mah Pishani, or Moon Brow, that may go back as far as 7,000 years.
In the Aarne-Thompson-Uther Classification of Folk Tales, Cinderella stories are known as Persecuted Heroine stories, and they are given a classification number of 510A. Despite the Smile Precure version, the common threads to the various Cinderella stories are not, in actuality, the ball, the glass slipper, or even the prince, although many versions do have parallels to these story elements, including the Ancient Persian version, Mah Pishani.
In these stories, the heroine is usually a young girl who was born to kind and loving parents, and the mother dies. In some stories, including Mah-Pishani, the girl is complicit in the death of her mother, following the manipulation and advice of a false mother figure, who later marries the father.
In these stories, the father almost always marries the false mother. The false mother sometimes comes with her own daughters, and sometimes she and the father have a new daughter or daughters. In all cases, the false mother is cruel and vicious to the heroine and gives her hard and tedious tasks that are difficult or impossible to perform. The daughter or daughters of the false mother join in her cruelty and ridicule and mock the heroine. The father either dies or becomes so enamored by the false mother that he forgets about the heroine.
The heroine receives help from a magical source. In the modern Western renditions, the help comes in the form of a fairy godmother. Some other varieties of helpers are an aunt, a doll, a date tree, and in Mah Pishani, a cow that appears when her mother dies. These helpers provide advice and assistance to the heroine, often helping her complete the impossible tasks.
In some stories, including Mah Pishani, there is also a frightening, but not always malevolent, grandmother figure. In the Russian versions of the story, this figure is known as the Baba Yaga. In Mah Pishani, the grandmother figure is known as a Barzingi, who lived at the bottom of a well. In some stories the grandmother figure rewards the heroine and punishes the wicked sister(s). In Mah Pishani, the Barzingi gives Mah Pishani a Moon on her brow and a star on her chin as a reward, and imposes a donkey’s ear and tail on her wicked half-sister’s brow and chin as a punishment.
In every case, the heroine’s former position as a loved and cherished daughter is restored, and in many cases, she rises much higher in status by marrying a prince or a king, who recognizes her true beauty and value.
I think the reason that Cinderella stories are so ubiquitous is because of the deep spiritual symbolism they contain.
At the beginning of the story, the heroine’s loss of her real mother is symbolic of our own separation from our Heavenly Mother. The spiritual symbolism is even more profound in the stories in which the heroine succumbs to the influence of the false mother and is complicit in the death of her real mother. In many religions, including my own, Filianism, humans are seduced into turning from the Divine Creator God, or our Real Mother, who loves and cherishes us. In the Deanist/Filianist faith, when we turned, the Mother’s Light became “too bright for [our] eyes.”
After our separation from our Heavenly Mother, we become subject to the False Mother, in Deanic/Filianic Mythos, the Dark Queen, and perhaps her daughters as well. The heroine’s mother is no longer able to help her directly. In the Filianic Mythos of God the Mother, the Mother says, “what you have done may not be undone, for you have acted with My Spirit,…” In the first paragraph of the Mythos of God the Daughter, we learn that “a terrible abyss had opened to lie between the world and Her, and Her creatures could not look upon Her brightness.”
Yet, even then, our True Mother loves us and finds ways to help us. In the Filianic Mythos of God the Daughter, the Mother gives birth to a Daughter who is able to bridge the divide between us and our Mother. In the Cinderella stories, her mother cannot help her directly, but the helpers that explicitly or implicitly come from her mother can and do make her life easier. In the Russian story of Vasalisa, the doll given to her by her dying mother performs all of the tasks that her stepmother imposes upon her. The heroine must follow the instructions and advice of her helper in order to overcome the challenges in front of her and to rise above her current difficulties. Cinderella must follow the Fairy Godmother’s instructions and be home before midnight.
In some of the stories we meet a third feminine figure, the frightening grandmother. The Baba Yuga in the Russian stories and the Barzingi in Mah Pishani. This figure is sometimes hostile and sometimes the one who judges the heroine and finds her worthy. She is also the one who administers or is the catalyst for the punishment of the false mother and her daughter(s). This figure seems almost analogous to the Dark Mother in the Filianic Trilogy, who is said to be the Darkness beyond the Light, and the Light beyond the Darkness, and who is sometimes associated with Sai Rhavë or the planet Saturn.
Transformation and Happily Ever After
With the advice and assistance of her magical helpers, the heroine is transformed. She becomes her True Self. In many stories, her beauty and virtue are recognized by a prince or a king, who marries her and is the instrument of her rise from a life of hardship and drudgery to royalty. This can be seen in the form of our own eventual Liberation from the toils and troubles of this world to a form of Paradise. The False Mother and her daughters are punished in some way in all of the stories, and harmony is restored.