Traditional Fairy Tales are one of the few places in the Modern World where we still have access to Perennial Wisdom. The written versions of these stories are usually chronicles of much older oral folktales, and they are rich with symbolism. Often, the themes of these stories are universal, and there are different versions told in different cultures throughout the world. The tale of Sleeping Beauty is one of these stories. In a previous article, I discussed the symbolism of Saturn in the French version, which was collected by Charles Perrault. In this article, I would like to talk about the main theme of this story, which is the jouney of the Soul to find Spirit. I will also be talking about the same symbolism in the Norwegian version of this tale, East of the Sun and West of the Moon.
Spirit and Soul
The terms, Spirit and Soul, can be confusing to the modern reader. Many people, even experienced astrologers, confuse them. They are quite different, however.
In order to understand these concepts, it is important to realize that on a deep level we are all One. Everything and everyone in the Cosmos springs from the same Source, and on a very deep level, we never left that Source. In the Feminine Scripture, it is written,
If thou wouldst find union with Our Mother, know that thou hast never left Her.
If thou wouldst escape the veil of matter, know that there is no matter and is no veil.
Cry Marya 12-13, Gospel of Our Mother God
This may be what the monotheistic movement in the Abrahamic tradition was originally trying to convey. A better description can be found in the Vedic concept of Brahman and the Buddhist doctrine of “No Self.”
This is reflected on a lower level even in the manifest, material Universe. It is thought that everything in existence started with a single particle, smaller than an atom. It is also thought that all of the matter that makes up our physical bodies and the world around us comes from the explosion of stars at the end of their lives. Even Modern Scientists deeply entrenched in Rationalism would say that we are made out of stardust. Of course, none of these Modern Scientific Theories “prove” anything about Fundamental Truth, but all of this does seem rather magical!
The Spirit is the part of us that is still connected with the One. At its Highest Level, the Spirit is still United with the One, but at a lower level, it is the part of the One that lives inside each of us. This is true nature of the Solar Principle in its purest form.
At some point, each of us became separated from the One, or Spirit, and began to experience individuality. We became Souls. Our Souls came from Spirit and they reflect the Light of Spirit, but to a greater or lesser extent, they are also removed from pure Spirit. Most of us who have incarnated into a physical body on the manifest world are trapped on what is known in the Vedic and the Buddhist Traditions as the Wheel of Samsara. Our Souls can be seen in the Lunar Principle.
The story of Sleeping Beauty is the journey of the Soul searching for Spirit.
In Sleeping Beauty, a King and Queen are childless for a long time, but eventually they have a baby girl. Depending on the version, a certain number of fairies or wise women are invited to her christening. There is one, however, that does not get invited. She comes anyways, and out of anger and spite for not having been invited, she lays a curse on the Princess that she will prick her finger on a spindle on her sixteenth birthday and die.
One of the fairies/wise women cleverly waits to give her gift until the end. She is not able to completely counteract the curse, but she is able to soften it, so that the Princess will not die, but only sleep for one hundred years. The King outlaws all spindles and orders them destroyed.
The Princess grows up to be beautiful and perfect in every way. In turns out that there was a spindle still around even after the decree of the King. On her sixteenth birthday, the Princess does find the spindle, pricks her finger, and falls into a deep sleep.
The Princess in this story represents Spirit. She is pure and perfect in every way. Yet, she has fallen prey to a curse. In a sense, so has the Spirit inside of us, by entering the manifest world. Yet, even though the curse was supposed to be death, the Spirit cannot die, but instead falls into a deep sleep. In a sense, that is the condition we find ourselves in this life. In Greek mythology, there is the River of Lethe, or forgetfulness, which we must cross in between lives. The word for Truth in Greek is Aletheia, or Unforgetfulness.
In both the German and the French versions, thorns grow up around Sleeping Beauty. A Prince braves the thorns and finds her. In the Disney adaption of the German version, he must battle the evil queen Maleficent as a part of the journey. In the German version, the Prince kisses the Princess and she awakes. In the French version, she wakes up at the appointed time with the Prince present, and there is a second story line of danger afterwards, but ultimately, they are able to be together in peace.
The Prince in this story represents the Soul. Our own Souls are barred from Spirit, which is asleep behind a barrier of thorns. Through his bravery, he is able to reunite with Spirit, and they live happily ever after.
East of the Sun and West of the Moon
There is a Norwegian story with a similar motif as Sleeping Beauty called East of the Sun and West of the Moon. In this version, the genders of the characters are reversed. This gender reversal is of no matter, as Spirit and Soul, or the Solar and the Lunar, are beyond human gender.
The White Bear
In this story, there is a girl who was the youngest daughter of a poor husbandman. She was the most beautiful of all of the children. One day, a White Bear came to their door and asked her father if she could live with him. If she did, the White Bear would make them all as rich as they were then poor. The father said that he must ask his daughter first. At first the girl refused, but then she relented and said she would go for the sake of her family.
On the way to the home of the White Bear, he asked her, “Are you afraid?” Her answer was, “No.”
The White Bear lived in a beautiful home, and the girl had everything she could wish for. Every night, however, a man would come and lie down beside her. He would always be gone before daylight, so she never knew who he was.
The Mother’s Advice
After a time, she started to get homesick, and the White Bear said that she could visit her family. Before he did, he gave the girl a warning. He said that her mother would try to give her advice, but that she should not listen to it. If she followed her mother’s advice, it would bring misery on them both.
When she went home, the mother did indeed give her advice. She told her mother about the strange man who visited, and her mother told her that he was probably a troll. She said that the girl should hide a candle in her breast at night, and that she should light it when she was sure the man was asleep so she could see who he was.
When the girl returned to the White Bear, he asked if her mother had given her advice. The girl admitted that her mother had. The White Bear cautioned her again not to follow her mother’s advice.
When the girl went to bed, just as before, a man came in and lay down next to her. When she was sure that he was asleep, she lit the candle that she had hid in her breast according to her mother’s advice. When she did, she saw the most handsome man she had ever seen. She was so enamored by him that she could not help but kiss him. When she did three tallows from the candled dripped on him and he woke up.
At this time, the man told him that he was under a curse to live as a White Bear during the day and as a man at night for the space of a year. If he could live with a woman for a year without her finding out, he would be free of the curse. Because the girl found out, however, he would have to leave her to go to the land East of the Sun and West of the Moon, and marry an ugly Ogress Princess.
There is some overlap in this story with Beauty and the Beast, in which the Beast is Soul and the Beauty is Spirit; however, in this case, the White Bear does seem to represent Spirit. To begin with, Bears are magical animals with a deep history of being considered Sacred. Also, the girl’s recognition of the True Nature of the White Bear does not save him. Instead, her discovery before the appointed time cemented the curse. The mother’s advice can be seen as the wisdom of the world, which is often counter to the Wisdom of Spirit. The third clue that this is a Sleeping Beauty story is that the girl undertakes a Hero’s Journey to rescue her Prince.
The Hero’s Journey
When the White Bear leaves for the land East of the Sun, West of the Moon, the girl goes to find him, even after being told it was impossible. As in rise stories such as Cinderella, she receives magical help along the way. You can read the full journey here, but whenever she asks directions, she is asked in return, “Are you afraid?” When she replies that she is not, the helper says that maybe she was the one who should have married the Prince. The helper gives as much help as he/she/it can, and many of them also give her inexplicable gifts in case they can be of use.
Eventually, the girl does find the Prince, who is in the custody of the Ogress Princess. For three nights, the girl barters one of the gifts she received along the way for one night with the Prince. For the first two nights, he is asleep and does not waken. Before the third night, however, he is told about the girl, and he realizes that he has been drugged. He does not eat or drink anything given to him, so on the third night, he is awake when the girl comes.
The Prince assures the girl that he will work things out, and he devises a test that the Ogress Princess and her mother will fail, but that the girl will pass. When this happens, as in Sleeping Beauty, they marry and “live happily ever after.” The Soul has journeyed to find Spirit, which has led to Liberation and Enlightenment.