The Symbolism of Fairy Tales

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

Cinderella BeforeYes, 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 an 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.  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 actions, 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

What is Tradition?

Often in this blog, there is reference to the term Tradition.  This begs the question, what is meant by the word Tradition?  What tradition are we speaking of?  Are not there many different traditions all over the world?

To answer this, we must differentiate between Tradition and traditions.  There is only one Tradition.  Tradition is what has been passed down to us from the One Source through our foremothers from the beginning of time.  All earthly traditions are imperfect reflections of the One Tradition.  Tradition is where we learn about Universal Truth.  Our modern day religions, folk tradition, fairy tales, and stories we tell our children, like the ones about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, are examples of traditions.  These stories have changed over time and many of the deep meanings have been lost, but one can still learn about Universal Truth from these stories and traditions.

One such a tradition is the Swedish tradition surrounding St. Lucia Day.  On St. Lucia Day, the oldest daughter is supposed to lead her siblings in a parade wearing a white robe with a crimson sash and a wreath of candles on her head.  She serves their parents coffee and pastries.  There is a traditional pastry served on that day called Lussekatter.  Below is a picture of these pastries:

Image

If one researches this tradition, one will learn of the story of St. Lucia, a Christian martyr, who is stated to have brought prisoners food in the catacombs.  Her sainthood was evidenced by the miracle of food appearing during a famine in Sweden.  Yet, the symbols of this tradition speak to much older stories.  It is celebrated on December 13, which was the date of the Winter Solstice under the older Julian calendar.  The tradition is filled with symbols related to mid-Winter celebrations from long before the Christian or any other current tradition.  The oldest daughter with light on her head coincides with Light from Heaven coming to us from the Northern Gate, bring sustenance, Light and warmth.  As an aside, this is also why Santa Claus comes from the North Pole.  Even the pastries are symbols of Light!

One could ask, well, which tradition is True…the Christian story of St. Lucia or the older symbolism of Light and the Winter Solstice?  While questions like this are common in modern Western thinking, this really represents a false dichotomy.  One can honor the tradition and learn from the tradition whether one sees it as a celebration of the Christian saint or the Winter Solstice.  Both teach us about God’s sustenance and Light being brought to us during the darkest time.  The Christian story of the saint does not supplant the older story; it puts it in a new context.  The story is the same.

Another question one can ask is whether it is worthwhile to continue a tradition if the story is forgotten and all that is left is the form.  Many modern thinkers say that these traditions should be discarded as if they no longer have meaning.  Some will even discard traditions just *because* they are old, and of course, we know better than to have these superstitions in modern times.  To a traditional thinker, this is hubris and arrogance.  Modern minds are less wise and are further from an understanding of Truth than the minds of our ancestresses.  This is axiomatic in Traditional thought throughout the world.  We should assume that the traditions that have been passed to us are good and true.  If we discard the tradition, we lose that which has been passed down to us, and this is sadder and more destructive than the loss of written records from the past.  Even if we do not understand the tradition, the remnants of the tradition can still lead us (or our descendants  to have access to Truth, even in a fragmented form.  If the tradition is gone, there is nothing to learn from.

Does that mean that we should not examine these traditions?  Of course we should examine our traditions.  For one thing, learning the reason for the traditions can teach us much of metaphysical truth.  Are there times that we will find that some of our traditions are based on false teachings or error?  Yes, of course.  On the other hand, we should start with the presumption a tradition is correct, and it is the burden of proof, so to speak, upon the one discarding the tradition rather than on the one arguing to keep the tradition.  Do people sometimes use tradition in ways that are harmful, misguided, or just plain wrong?  Yes, of course, just as they can use science or anything else in such ways.  Does that mean the tradition should be discarded?  Absolutely not.  Erroneous application of tradition does not invalidate a tradition, although the error can and should be corrected, if possible.