Sleeping Beauty, East of the Sun and West of the Moon, and the Soul’s Search for Spirit

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

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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.

Sleeping Beauty

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.

Sleeping Beauty curse

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.

Sleeping Beauty AwakenIn 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.”

Journey with Bear

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.

Mother's Bad AdviceWhen 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.

East of the Sun Happy Ending

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.

Sleeping Beauty and the Three Faces of Saturn

Like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty is an iconic fairy tale. In the Aarne-Thompson-Uther Classification of Folk Tales, Sleeping Beauty stories are given the classification number 410 and there are at least twenty-two of them throughout the world. I found the French version, which was collected by Charles Perrault, of particular interest.

Saturn, the One Not Invited

In the Perrault version of Sleeping Beauty, seven fairies were invited to the christening of a long awaited princess so that they could give her gifts. As an astrologer, whenever I see the number seven in a story, I immediately look for symbolism with respect to the seven traditional planetary powers. Each of these fairies were given place settings of pure gold, set with diamonds and rubies.

There was also one old fairy who was not invited. According to this version of the story, “She had not left her tower for fifty years, and people believed that she was dead or under a spell.” This description is a classic representation of the planetary power of Saturn. In the material realm, Saturn is the Greater Malefic, and represents the passage of time, as well as isolation, death, and difficulties or curses. Saturn is rarely invited, yet comes into our lives whether we want her or not. While the King made her a place at the table, he did not have a gold place setting for her, and she was insulted.

sleeping beauty christening

When it came time to give the little princess her gifts, one of the fairies held back, suspecting that the older fairy would attempt some mischief. The rest of the fairies gave their gifts.

The youngest gave her the gift that she would be the most beautiful person in the world, the second that she would have the mind like an angel, the third that all of her actions would be admirable, the fourth that she would dance perfectly, the fifth that she would sing like a nightingale, and the sixth, that she would play every musical instrument to perfection.

I believe that the traditional planetary powers are the seven main aspects of the Divine, and that as microcosms of the Divine, humans as Axial Beings have reflections of these powers within ourselves.  I also believe that humans have Free Will, and thus, we can express these powers in an ordinary material fashion, and in their highest and lowest forms. I also believe that each human has a True and a False Self, and that we can manifest True and False versions of all of the planetary powers.

The gifts of the six fairies represent the highest or True versions of their respective planetary powers. Some of the gifts are quite clear. The “mind like an angel” is the gift from Mercury, the ability to “play every musical instrument to perfection” is the gift from Jupiter, and certainty “that all of her actions would be admirable” is the gift from Mars. The other three are a little less clear, however, I would say that the ability to “sing like a nightingale” is the gift from Venus, the ability to “dance perfectly” is the gift from the Moon, and that “she would be the most beautiful person in the world” is the gift from the Sun.

sleeping beauty spindle

Then it was the old fairy’s turn, and she “declared that the Princess would prick her hand on a spindle and die.” After that the fairy in hiding said,

Do not worry, King and Queen, that your daughter shall die: it is true that I do not have enough power to undo entirely what my elder has done. The Princess will prick her hand on a spindle; but instead of dying, she shall only fall into a deep sleep that will last one hundred years. In the end, a king’s son will awaken her.

This is the Saturn principle at its highest. In the material world, Saturn is indeed a malefic. Because we are mortal, in a sense, every life is a tragedy. Suffering and death are always with us. Yet, I believe that there is a higher reality, and True Saturn is the gift of transcendence and Enlightenment. Rather than dying, the princess will sleep and be awakened into a new and better reality.

The Ogress

In the next part of the story, the princess does succumb to the curse and sleeps for a hundred years, and a king’s son does undertake a bold adventure to find her. This represents the Soul’s search for the Spirit, and I may write about this at a later date. In the Perrault version, however, the waking of the princess is not the end of the story. There is a second part.

sleeping-beauty_ogressIn the second part of this version, the prince and the princess must marry in secret, because the prince’s mother was “descended from ogres” and seemed to have an appetite for children. They live together in secret for more than two years and have two children together, a daughter named Aurora, meaning “Dawn,” and a son named Jour, meaning “Day.”

After two years, the prince’s father dies, and he becomes the king. At this point, he discloses his marriage and his children. As the king, he is obliged to go to war, and he leaves his country and his family in the care of his mother.

His mother takes this opportunity to order that the children one by one and then the king’s wife be cooked and served to her with a mustard sauce. Rather than complying with this horrid order, the head waiter hides the children and the wife away and served the ogress other meat telling her that it was the children and the wife.  The ogress discovers the deception and attempts to kill them herself in a huge vat filled with toads, vipers, snakes, and serpents. The King returned just in time to see what was happening, and the ogress was so enraged that she threw herself in the vat and “was devoured in a moment by the loathsome creatures she had put there.” After that, the “King could not help but be grieved, since she was his mother, but it was not long until his beautiful wife and children brought him all the comfort he needed.

I think that the ogress mother in this part of the story signifies the third face of Saturn, or False Saturn. The old, uninvited fairy represented ordinary, material Saturn, or death, loss, and hardship. The ogress was intentionally cruel and vicious. In this version, after finding the princess, the prince turned king must fight one more battle before coming into his power and having a happy ending. This battle is against his False Self at its worst, False Saturn. Even though he knew about his mother’s potential for cruelty, he negligently leaves his family and his country in her care as he goes off to war. The False Self only has the power we give it. With the help of a kind soul in the form of the head waiter, his family is spared until he returns. False Saturn destroys herself when recognized for who she is, and they all live happily ever after.

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