Copyright © 2002 by William Mistele. All rights reserved.
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An Interview Regarding Fairy Tales
The following questions were submitted to me by Ann Kubricky who wanted to interview me in regard to fairy tales. She is doing a year long research paper for her high school AP English class.
Refer also to my Introduction to Fairy Tales on my web site. In that essay, I explore more carefully some of the objections to the idea of genuine fairy tales as encounters with fairies. I review some of the dangers and also point out the particular literary device I am using in my selection of fairies.
1. What is your full name and educational history.
My name is William Russell Mistele. I attended Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. I majored in philosophy with a minor in economics and graduated in 1970. Shortly after college, I began studying esoteric oral traditions. My next course of formal education took place three years after college in 1973 at the University of Arizona. There I studied Hopi Indian language and culture since there was a Hopi Indian teaching in the anthropology department. I completed a MA in linguistics at U of A in 1975. Other than an occasional class in biochemistry or conflict resolution, I have not pursued academic studies.
In addition to formal education, I have studied for several years with a Taoist priest from one of the oldest monasteries in China that has an unbroken lineage going back 1,200 years. I have lived in a Nyingma Buddhist monastery which is the oldest sect of Tibetan Buddhism. I have studied with the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids in England which is the largest order of Druids. And I have been pursuing practices in the hermetic tradition of Franz Bardon for 23 years. Bardon hermetics requires, among other things, extensive first hand encounters with nature spirits which has lead me to write fairy tales to describe and share my experiences.
2. Why have fairy tales lasted for so many generations, and remained “timeless?”
A good story is irresistible. It does not matter where it originated. The people and places change but the themes remain the same.
In the Mahaharata, the great Hindu epic, Dharma, who is the law of the universe, demands answers before anyone may quench their thirst from the water of life he sets before them. “Answer my questions,” he demands--”What is your opposite? What is victory? What is happiness?” and so forth. These are perennial questions. They must be and will be asked by each generation as long as life exists. Fairy tales play a similar role.
Fairy tales deal with the numinous within nature. Something is numinous when it beyond our knowledge, highly charged with energy and power, and, at the same time, it has something for us--a demand, an invitation, or an offer. Fairy tales are often numinous. They speak to us of something we can find in ourselves or discover in life if we somehow follow the right path, if we are vigilant, alert, and ask the right questions about the situations and people we encounter.
Nature is an inexhaustible source of wonder and surprise. In the last hundred years, we have filled in the squares in the periodic table of elements. In the last fifty years, we have identified most of the subatomic particles and yet scientists do not know where ninety per cent of the matter in the universe is. They have called what is missing and unknown dark matter because, unlike everything else in the universe, it hides itself--it does not emit radiation from any part of the light spectrum.
We are in search of something unknown, whether dark matter, the relation of gravity to the other three fundamental forces in nature, how to cure cancer, make peace instead of war, love instead hate, etc. and these tasks are extremely challenging and full of wonder. Fairy tales remind us to be open-minded, to ask questions, and to retain our sense of awe as we look at the world around us.
Before going further, I would like to discuss briefly the definition of fairy tales. Obviously fairy tales can be approached from a wide variety of perspectives and defined according to the interests and assumptions of different individuals.
For example, there is a narrow definition of a fairy tale I sometimes use in my writing. In the narrow definition, fairy tales contain a reference or component relating to fairies, that is, nature spirits of some kind or another. In any case, there is at least a reference to the magic of nature. Following this idea, we have the spirits of nature pertaining to the ancient separation of nature into its four components--earth, water, air, and fire.
These spirits are, for example, sylphs and sprites who dwell in the air element. Dwarves and gnomes relate to the earth. Mermaids, mermen, and undines live in water. And salamanders and firedrakes, etc. dwell in fire. The names of such creatures relating to the four elements vary from culture to culture but there is a rough correspondence that can be traced along these lines.
Even in the examples I have cited there are other distinctions. Mermaids are often conceived as being half human and half fish but sometimes they resemble beautiful women. Such a mixture of creatures would seemingly include a centaur, a Pegasus, a harpy, and so forth.
There are stories with various kinds of animals which we could call animal stories. American Indians have many animal stories and often these animals talk. In these stories, the animals often portray various human traits and characteristics. The Bible has two animals that talk--the serpent in the Garden and Balaam’s donkey. The Bible also refers to unicorns. Unicorns, dragons, and other kinds of magical animals certainly are well-positioned for inclusion under the general category of fairy tales.
Werewolves, vampires, and golems seem to fall more under the rubric of magical, occult, or supernatural beings. Ghouls, zombies, and so forth perhaps belong more under the caterogy of horror fiction depending on your attitude toward them. Some of them are magically produced, some belong to nature, and some are the result of demonic actions.
On internet, a brother and sister in Ireland tell how they always thought they were a little different but their parents would never respond to their questions. One day their uncle explained to them that the family had werewolves as it totem spirit. In this case, the totem spirit seems to enhance their perceptions and their sense of being a warrior.
Related to magical animals and combinations such as half-human, half-animal are beings such as Silkies. Silkies are seals that can change into human beings after they take off their seal “skins.” (See A Field Guide to the Little People by Nancy Arrowsmith and George Moorse, Pocket Books, 1977, as an example of modern encyclopedias of fairies). The Sioux Indians tell about the Buffalo Woman who taught them some of their rituals. Magical animals or totem spirits in some legends change into human beings and vice versa. These kinds of stories, in my opinion, are naturally a part of fairy tales.
The elemental beings, for that matter from an occult point of view, can also incarnate or enter and live within the body of a human being under certain circumstances. Shapeshifting has a longstanding and honorable place in oral traditions. Psychologists might refer to such examples as forms of hallucination or psychosis. Traditional theologians might refer to it as possession. It all depends on your point of view and the specific circumstances and details of the case history.
There are also the whole gamut of stories involving spirit guides, ghosts, and those spirits who interact with those who are dying or dead such as Banshees. In the poem The Lady of Shalott by Alfred Lord Tennyson and put to music so beautifully by Lorenna McKennitt in The Visit, the woman uses a magic mirror to gaze upon the heroes of Camelot. Yet she is under a curse not to venture forth and meet them. I would consider this a fairy tale though not in the narrow definition. Mirrors in their reflective aspect often embody the magic of water.
In many cultures, ghosts are perfectly acceptable for inclusion in fairy tales. Again, a ghost shows up in the Bible when the witch of Endor calls the spirit of the departed Prophet Samuel to appear in response to the request of Saul, the king of Israel. And Christ calls the departed spirits of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to appear so that three of his disciples can speak with them.
“Sendings” occur when immediately after someone dies the departed individual appears to someone living. My mother experienced sendings of this kind. In my poem, An Elegy for Kathy, a friend suddenly died. The next day she appeared to me. She asked me to write a poem through which her husband could have the words to say good-bye to her since she had died so suddenly.
One nurse I know who runs a terminally ill clinic in a hospital points out that ninety-nine per cent of the patients see departed spirits who come to visit them and assist them in their transition to the other side. Ghosts and supernatural encounters of this nature are much more common than the academic world leads us to believe.
I know a woman whose child sees and talks to spirits similar to the child in the move, Sixth Sense. I told the mother not to allow him to see Sixth Sense without going with him but he managed to sneak out and see it with his friends. Unlike the child in that movie, he only sees “good spirits.” I also know a number of men and women who see ghosts and also their children see ghosts. Such reports raise a lot of questions regarding ethics, parental responsibility, and the best attitude toward parenting under these circumstances.
A very successful Hopi Indian medicineman I knew told me that when he was born a ritual was performed that linked him to another child who had just died. Later in life, the dead child became his spirit guide and enabled him to become a medicineman. In other cultures, contact with the departed is much more accepted and this contact has largely been overlooked by the modern world.
Encounters with ghosts belong perhaps more to the areas of superstition, religion, the psychology of death and dying, and parapsychology. They make great stories but they are probably not fairy tales except where an element of fairy comes into play. A nine year old once asked me, “If someone is dead after they die, what are they before they are born?” That is a great question.
The song says that to be in love is to see your unborn children in a woman’s eyes. Love leads us forward and creates for us a future. It enables us to embrace life and it grants us hope. Wisdom often requires a movement in the opposite direction. The Sufi master says that the student must recover the knowledge he had before he was born. The Zen master asks the koan, What was your face before your father was born?
Among the druids, Beltane, the time of love and joining is paired with Samhuinn or Halloween, the time of death and separation. Samhuinn is the time when the veils between the worlds grow thin and the departed are free to return and visit with us. The two form one circle of life. To be whole and to be fully alive is to embrace both light and dark without fear. Medicinemen around the world meditate in graveyards because you can not heal others unless you have encountered the fears and the demons that rob them of their health and peace.
Stories about ghosts often involve journeys into the unknown and all sorts of transformations. But nature is not so concerned about death and dying. It is a natural process. For this reason among others, some kinds of fairies are considered to be immortal or nearly immortal. When they die, there is no loss of soul for they return to their respective elements becoming as the foam on the waves.
When I write about fairy tales, I am usually following the narrow definition. I write about beings who belong to and inhabit nature. My “stories” take the form of journal entries--I say who I spoke with, under what circumstances the encounter took place, and detailed experiences that arose. Often the specific nature spirit will tell me one or more stories about its previous encounters with human beings down through the centuries. I often interview these beings. I ask them, for example, to share with me their innermost dreams and they do so. These stories told to me by nature spirits are, in my definition, genuine fairy tales according to my narrow definition.
Gods and goddesses often show up in fairy tales. Depending on the circumstances, they can represent not so much a religious or mythical presence as much as a more concentrated and defined aspect of the numinous in nature. In one of my stories, the goddess Dawn tells a warrior a story about a woman whose child the goddess blessed. The child acquired the gift of turning enemies into friends. To me, this story is a fairy tale although it is not within my narrow definition.
I am not concerned about convincing anyone about the “reality” of these beings. Steven King, who also writes fairy tales, says he seeks to convey terror or at least horror in his writing. If I recall accurately, Mr. King relates how when he was a child he was locked in a dark basement and told there was a monster with him. He says he left his fingernail marks on the door as he tried to escape.
Writing is perhaps how Steven King comes to grips with an experience that briefly shattered his personality in a way that the modern world has been unable to bring together again. Art gives us a way to manage reality without surrendering to or denying its harsh demands.
I am happy if my stories simply entertain the reader. Having said that, I know at least ten people who see fairies and some who have done so their entire lives. One woman can accurately tell which fairy I have been interacting with. She can see it and give me its name. For another woman, fairies have played an extremely dynamic role in guiding her to meet and succeed in her friendships as well as granting her healing abilities.
The fairies I interact with are among the twenty-eight elemental beings each described in a few paragraphs by the Western hermetic magician Franz Bardon. I simply take his descriptions and use twenty-three years of training in his system to interact with the personalities of these nature spirits. The Bardon system requires a basic first hand set of experiences with such beings.
In Bardon’s system, the elemental beings or nature spirits embody heightened states of awareness and abilities to work with nature energies that are essential to those who wish to take full responsibility for manifesting in the “real world” their spiritual ideals. For Bardon, a “spiritual” individual who lacks this training is like an anthropologist who has never done field work, a psychologist without clinical experience, or a chemist without lab experience.
On the other hand, I am well-acquainted with the hermeneutical methods of interoperation including depth and transpersonal psychology, methods in meditation and contemplation, introspective techniques and the psychology of imagery. In many of these practices, “belief” is not relevant. The issues are psychological growth, wholeness, developing a sense of wonder and well-being, or exploring one’s empathic contact with nature.
In other words, you can “find” the dwarf, undine, sylph, or salamander in yourself without having to believe anything. You can practice writing a journal as if you were a spirit who lives in a tree or an undine who oversees a running stream. You can gaze at an ocean, a mountain, or a stone getting a gut level feeling, a direct impression, or intuitive reaction of what that specific part of nature means to you individually. Artists--painters, sculptures, and poet--are already well-acquainted with this procedure.
This can also be taken further if you have the inclination. Through an act of creative imagination, you can imagine your specific feeling taking on the form of a living being and having a conversation with you. You can meet unicorns and fairies in dreams, in daydreaming, and in imaginative journeys and ask them anything you want. It is possible to get a response that is different from anything you can imagine.
This is a part of art, psychology, and contemplation. It does not need to have more “reality” than this in order to be enjoyable, entertaining, and to enrich. I think individuals can decide for themselves the best psychological, theological, or metaphysical interpretation to place on first hand accounts of encounters with fairies or fairy tales in general.
There is also a distinction between a fairy tale as a short story that stands by itself and mythology. The mythology provides an entire landscape and a kind of history. According to Joseph Campbell, genuine mythologies attempt to do four things: the first thing they do is offer a genuine encounter with awe, wonder, and mystery. In this sense, they enable us to embrace all the horror and suffering as well as the beauty and delight in being alive.
We can also call fairy tales written recently as modern fairy tales, retold tales, or fantasy. Are The Last Unicorn, The Hobbit, and the Harry Potter stories fantasy or fairy tales? They are clearly fiction and do not present themselves as being real. That is, they are presented as interesting stories but not as first hand accounts. The Blair Witch Project, by contrast, is a movie presented as if it is true as was the radio program, War of the Worlds, about the Martian invasion back in the early part of the century. It is understandable that given that kind of format some individuals would be mislead into thinking that what is being reported is based on fact.
But the question remains, Have we moved to where genuine encounters with the numinous in nature and the realms of fairy no longer occur? It appears so if you take the modern definitions and instruction as being the final authority:
Modern fantasy: p. 178, Children’s Literature, Discovery for a Lifetime by Barbara D. Stoodt-Hill and Linda B. Amspaugh-Corson (Prentice-Hall, 1996) the definition of fantasy runs “....fantasy always includes at least one element of the impossible, one element that goes against the laws of the physical universe, as we currently understand them; it concerns things that cannot really happen, people or creatures that do not really exist. Nevertheless, each story must have its own self-contained logic that creates its own reality.”
And on page 175, “Fairy tales are unbelievable stories featuring magic and the supernatural. Fairies, giants, witches, dwarves, good people, and bad people in fairy tales live in supernatural worlds with enchanted toadstools and crystal lakes. Heroes and heroines in these stories have supernatural assistance in solving problems.”
Obviously, a bean stalk that grows up through the clouds is pretty much unbelievable. Some fairy tales are clearly made up and even very young children understand this to be the case. The above definition is workable except that I suspect a great many individuals have supernatural assistance, magic, and mysterious encounters that occur in their lives. I find it rather humorous if not on some days unbelievable that astrophysicists do not know where ninety per cent of the matter in the universe is hiding. And as for “the laws of the physical universe,”--they are still full of surprises and so far refuse to submit to the best minds of our generation.
One only need read Psychic Warrior by David Morehouse to observe the strange interactions of science, technology, and modern life. Morehouse is a highly trained special forces officer who commanded Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, Hunter Army Airfield, Savannah, Georgia. He was subsequently recruited into a top secret psychic warfare unit operated by the CIA. With a training program developed by Stanford and the University of Pennsylvania, he was subjected to a hypnotic procedures designed to heighten his powers of remote viewing--to locate and describe military targets around the world.
David Morehouse writes at the end of his book, “This work is not a quest for faith in the unseen. It is not a plea for spiritual tokens or selfless offerings; it is a testimony to the reality of other worlds, of benevolent leaders, of creators--and, more important, of life beyond this physical existence and dimension.”
My point is that there is a lot going on all around us. There come times when we have make our own first hand observations and draw our own conclusions in order to negotiate the conflicts we encounter. This is especially true when we are dealing with assumptions that authority figures would like us to take for granted.
W.B. Yeats, in his introduction to Fairy and Folk Tales of Ireland, (Macmillan Publishing Company, New York, 1973), has an interesting comment on his philosophical stance toward fairy tales. In reviewing the various authors methodology in collecting and interpreting fairy tales, Yeats says that in his collection of tales he has “Tried to make it representative...of every kind of Irish folk-faith” while avoiding any kind of rational interpretation.
Yeats goes on to quote a response Socrates made in the Phadrus when asked about the tale in which “Boreas is said to have carried off Orithyia from the banks of the Ilissus....I beseech you to tell me, Socrates, do you believe this tale?”
In response, Socrates reviews the various legends regarding this tale and the various interpretations. He points out that for those who believe this allegory there is the further problem of having to continue on to “rehabilitate....numberless other inconceivable and portentous monsters.” And if one is skeptical and tries to “reduce them one after another to the rules of probability, this sort of crude philosophy will take up all of his time.”
Socrates then says, “Now, I have certainly not time for such inquiries. Shall I tell you why? I must first know myself, as the Delphian inscription says; to be curious about that which is not my business, while I am still in ignorance of my own self, would be ridiculous....I want to know not about this, but about myself.”
Yeats, like the Brothers Grimm, remained academically detached from his subject matter so he would not be accused of promoting superstition or being enamored with occult mysticism. Carl Jung, similarly, did not reveal his mystical experiences because it would have interfered with his promoting analytic psychology.
Yeats, however, as also William Blake, was a registered member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids. I suspect that you do not associate with Druids and attend their ceremonies without having some sort of appreciation for the magic within nature. I think when Yeats quotes Socrates on fairies, Yeats is disguising his actual connection to the realms of fairy.
And as for Socrates, I think he was asking the wrong question. If you seek to know yourself, at least in the way he asked it, you end up having to leap over another question, “How do you know anything?” Rational Greek philosophy almost inevitably leads to Descartes’ statement, “I think, therefore I am.” Statements like that tell us absolutely nothing when it comes to knowing ourselves.
The only way to know the self is through encounters with others and with the world around us. For me, a better question is, “What is it to be fully alive?” Socrates never sat in the forest and became the rock, the tree, the steam, the wolf, and the deer in his mind. He never found these things within himself. Greek civilization was split between the rational and the sensual, between Apollo and Dionysus.
In the New Testament, Christ invited and intended Peter to encounter a direct and magical contact with the numinous aspect of nature. Standing upon the water amid a storm, Christ bid Peter to walk on water also. According to that account, Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on water. But then Peter’s faith failed him and he began to sink among the waves.
For two thousand years the Christian Church has been hostile to nature. It has failed to consider the divine invitation to explore its numinous qualities other than under the guise of rationalistic Greek philosophy or science. Perhaps it is time to reexamine our options and procedures.
3. How do fairy tales "mirror real life struggles"?
Individual have conflicts with other people, society, and circumstances and this occurs regardless of who you are, how old you are, or the society into which you are born.
Children have already met bullies, cruelty, blind aggression, danger, fear, horror, and abuse. This is true in my understanding of children. Fairy tales offer children a chance to learn the words and review these feelings and situations in imaginary settings that are often non-threatening. “Once upon a time,” or “In a kingdom....” are locations sufficiently removed from the child’s circumstances that the emotions and issues can be raised without directly threatening the child.
Fairy tales enable us to externalize. They teach how to see both sides of issues, offering perspective. They enable children to talk about things that they usually do not talk about. Stories organize reality. Telling a story helps make sense of reality. A story can read others’ minds and present both sides within a context and it can be resolved. It may not be real but it presents options. The stories review issues concerning love and nurturing, power and its abuse, friendship, trust, fear, and horror. They become an opportunity to rehearse and think about life’s difficulties.
When I was a teenager, I was invited to sit in on a board meeting of a Christian organization that invested large sums of money. Naive me, I was shocked to discover that the adults were as selfish, greedy, bullying, fearful, insecure, and blindly competitive as children I knew. And these were the leaders of their communities. Good fairy tales present human beings as being both positive and negative, as having strengths as well as weaknesses. That is something I might have considered more carefully before taking offense at what is simply human nature.
There is also a more theoretical outlook I have on fairy tales. For me, the nature spirits who are elemental beings mirror four basic components in the human psyche that are often in conflict. Let me review a few comments from my essay, An Introduction to Faery Tales. The salamanders who dwell in fire, the firedakes, (the genie from Aladin is a salamander) are fascinated with will power.
The salamanders seize each moment with zeal in order to dissolve the obstacles blocking their path to fulfillment. Such fiery will destroys all fear and apprehension. For the salamanders, each moment presents the opportunity to purify, strengthen, and expand the power of will. The salamanders are enchanted with the magic within fire to heal, to fuse, to refine, to integrate, to transform, and to electrify according to their individual inclinations.
At the other extreme is the element of water--something very easy to relate to as a human being. In water are love and sharing--the experience of life giving birth to life and of flowing in and through another. In water is the absolute destruction of loneliness, separation, and isolation. For the beings who dwell within water, the undines, each moment is a magnetic sea containing the dreams and the taste of ecstasy--each moment arises from and resonates with the love sustaining all life on earth.
In the air element is found clarity of mind and the attainment of freedom. The air element is so vast and expansive, so encompassing, those who are illuminated by its wisdom vanquish all confusion and overcome all attachment. The beings who reside in the sky, the sylphs, enter each moment seeking to attain and to abide in complete harmony.
In the earth element--through comprehending shape, weight, density, and the molecular vibration of minerals and elements--is the wisdom that banishes depression, sadness, and sorrow. The most powerful gnomes who dwell within the earth perceive time not only in terms of centuries, eons, and geologic ages. Their perception penetrates into the processes through which matter is formed and through which it dissolves.
For gnomes, rocks and mountains do not possess solid and firm edges. Rather, their boundaries and shapes are fluid and liquid. For gnomes, anything in physical existence is constantly transforming, solidifying and dissolving again--in each moment matter and emptiness are flowing through each other like water being poured into water.
And if you listen carefully with you heart, you can discover that each moment contains a wonderful silence and a stillness in which you can hear the stars singing. The elements of nature which we perceive as solid have been born in the furnaces of stars and have passed through the emptiness of space. When I write about these kind of nature spirits I am always discussing human nature--what elementals are, all their powers and modes of perception, exist within us as latent abilities which we can develop.
What I am suggesting, then, is that the conflicts between love and will and between mind and body often occur because we do not understand these things in their primal nature. Evil catches us off guard because we have failed to study will and power as they exist in nature and in the depths of ourselves. Our relationships fail because love, in the depths of its beauty and transforming power, has escaped our grasp. We worry and are anxious because we fail to discover the clarity of mind that is like the sky that is ever on the edge of everyone’s consciousness. And we feel without roots and have difficulty establishing our sense of home because our feet do not know how to reach down into the earth like the roots of trees or rest in peace like a stone.
4. Can you give an example of a fairy tale that does this? (Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Pied Piper, Snow White)
Of course, there are many obvious parallels between the circumstances of fairy tales and real life families and situations. The foster or step parent in a fairy tale may mirror the real life parent or step parent. Competition with siblings may resonate with the cruel sisters in Cinderella or the jealous sisters in Eros and Psyche. A grandparent may play the role of guide and protector instead of the magic fairy in a fairy tale. In Hansel and Grettle, you may not find yourself as a child encountering a wicked witch but rather a relative who becomes your caretaker and who commits criminal acts against you.
When I talk to a tree, the tree serves as a mirror that reflects back to me the psychological process or conflict unfolding inside myself. I described an actually conversation I had with a Blue Spruce tree on Christmas Eve, 1971 on the front lawn of Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois. I wrote this conversation into a dialogue between a bard named Vittana and the tree in my book, Mystical Fables.
Vittana replies, “Once a long time ago when I was very sad I sat down in front of a Blue Spruce tree.
“After a while I asked the tree, ‘Are there things that make you sad? Do you worry when your cones drop from your branches without saying goodbye and then you never hear from them again?’
“I waited in silence hoping the tree would speak to me, for this was the first time I had beseeched a tree to answer my questions. I was not sure of the correct procedure and whether or not I was violating any unspoken rules. But the tree did not seem to mind at all. It spoke to me as if it were my parent and I was its child who asks the right questions at the right time and in the right season.”
“‘Yes,’ replied the tree. ‘Whenever part of myself is lost, I experience unease and distress.
“‘In the late afternoon when the sun begins to set, when the earth shifts from day to night, time is suspended. In the moments of twilight, memories return to me from all periods of my life.
“‘And then on occasion I recall when I too was a pine cone on one of my mother's top most branches. I was so high I could see the tips of mountains that lay far beyond the horizon. The sun's first rays of light woke me in the morning. And I never missed the rising or setting of the moon.
“‘Then one day deep in winter when snow covered the ground, I was hit by a powerful, freezing gust of wind. My stem broke and my world came to an end.
“‘I fell to the earth below no longer attached to the tree. I lay upon the ground for days refusing to believe what had happened to me. There I was--lying upon the cold earth among stones. All around me was a feeling of separation and the loneliness of fallen snow.
“‘This dark vision persisted and would not go away. There was no water to drink; the surface of the earth was frozen. I could no longer see the moon. The stars were hidden from me. I was abandoned and then half buried as snow continued to fall.
“‘Finally one night when I could stand it no longer I cried out to my mother. When I heard her voice, I looked up and saw her immense beauty.
“‘She said, ‘My child, the Earth is now your mother. And though the icy hands of winter have torn you from me, listen with all your heart to the quiet stillness of the earth. Even in the dead silent cold of winter there throbs and sounds a pulse and a heartbeat.
“‘Listen for the Song the Earth sings even in the darkest night and in the loneliest place you may enter. You have begun a long journey, but do not be afraid. This is a time to abide in peace, to rest and to sleep within the sheltering protection of Silence. Goodbye my child.’
“And then my mother was silent. I never heard from her again.”
“But I accepted her words. I closed my senses to the outside world. I went and hid in the innermost chambers of my pine cone. And then I slept and I dreamed the Earth Herself came to visit me. She told me a long tale of winter and of night and of a Silence beyond all sight.
“I floated upon the sounds of her voice. I sailed upon her songs. Her dreams entered my heart and became my own. She held me to her breast through the winter was long and the darkness profound.”
“I do not remember how long I slept in her embrace. But the Earth did not call out to me to awaken and to rise up.
“Instead, I was awakened amid dazzling light and bathed in warmth and beauty. An infinite song of delight penetrated into my cone. I quickly stripped off my outer garments and stood naked beneath the rays of a radiant sun. And as that Greater Light took hold of me, I spouted as a young shoot and was surrounded by the merry songs of Spring.”
This children’s story or fairy tale is about death and rebirth, something I imagine myself to have gone through. The tree was presenting me with a very difficult problem I had to solve--namely, I had to undergo a long journey, turning away from the modern world and venturing into what was for me the unknown. The journey was similar to a seed that falls to the earth knowing not the transformation it is to pass through. I consider the journey of an artist to find his inspiration and style to be sometimes this kind of real life struggle.
Another fairy tale I wrote was told to me by the sylph Capisi. It is called, The Poet Amir. In this story, Capisi tells how she produced a magical incarnation in which she took the form of a human woman because she had fallen in love with an Arab poet. In this fairy tale, a master in the poet’s religious tradition points out that the treasures of fairy are too enchanting and fascinating for the human race to deal with.
If Amir reveals these treasures of fairy to mankind, human history will be compromised. Responsibility and productivity are the priorities for human beings and not bliss and ecstasy. Perhaps this is because bliss and ecstasy invariably require an encounter with their opposites--pain and separation.
Amir did not know how to let die his dependency on others. He needed their beliefs to sustain his own. He was unable to proceed alone. Others point out that this is a crucial test that occurs in most spiritual journeys as for example when St. Columba says, “I lie down in the dust and my spirit dies within me.”
The story of Amir goes to the heart of the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions in which the fairy kingdoms are strictly prohibited, forbidden and off limits, except perhaps for a few saints or masters. These conflicts are conflicts between being receptive or productive, creative or responsible. To what extent do we explore pure perception and first hand experience and then balance this with the need to organize and get on with living our lives as useful members of society?
The child certainly encounters the dogma and need to adapt to the requirements of the adult world. The teenager similarly often has a huge conflict finding his or her own identity in the process of separating from the family and finding a place in society. And those who have raised their children once again must deal with the unfinished business from childhood and all the longings and dreams they have set aside in order to care for, nurture, and provide for their family. The fairy tale speaks to us during all phases of our lives.
In some of the children’s stories I write, the story line is made up by the child in combination with one or more adults. In the Dragon and the Knight, the little girl (who plays the maiden kidnapped by the dragon) interrupts the story line demanding that for once the knight and the dragon, (played by the father and the mother), put aside their differences and reach some sort of mutually acceptable solution. The dragon and knight manage to do just that. The story is a study in the part empathy and role reversal have to play in conflict resolution.
But this is not just a made up story, a retelling of stories about dragons and knights as is so typical in so much modern fantasy. The father who tells the story is a king who has an alliance with a cosmic dragon, a being possessing an unmitigated and uninhibited lust for power. This king is so clever he is able to use concepts such as freedom, democracy, empowering the individual, and capitalism to further his quest to dominate the earth. The king is under the protection of the dark side and can not overthown except by somone possessing a greater power of will. And the daughter understands intuitively how to play the same game.
When individuals or societies do not have a language or the imagery to describe the dynamics of the inner psyche, when there is no effective language of the soul, then everyone suffers. Of our soldiers who fought in Viet Nam, three times more have committed suicide than died in battle. We still have Viet Nam veterans who live by themselves out in the jungles here in Hawaii. They encountered something in Viet Nam that still has possession of their souls and it will not let go.
How do you assume a new identity when your old identity is destroyed? How do you undergo a spiritual journey when society and no one offers or is able to offer you any support? How do you find what you have lost or what your civilization has abandoned thousands of years ago?
I spoke with a unrostered agent of the CIA who had an extemely high rank. He ran all sorts of black ops and also played a significant role in major international diplomatic endeavors. He finally burnt out. So he got in a sailboat here in Hawaii and sailed off by himself without telling anyone. He spend a year he said lying on a beach just thinking about his life. And then he sailed back to Hawaii and invented for himself a job he loved and has been doing it for the last thirty years.
He encountered a dragon of despair. He overcame that dragon by allowing himself to “sleep in the earth” and let the earth awaken and stir within him new instincts that lead him back to life. Psyche does this in the story of Eros and Psyche. In the story of Iron John, Robert Bly says that the hero has to go down into the mud at the bottom of the pool in order to find renewal. In many fairy tales, there is an encounter with something dark and wild. It is often this element that brings new hope and new life.
5. Do fairy tales help or hinder a child’s growth and perspective on life?
Once again, fantasy in general enables us to dream and imagine. It is exciting and fun to imagine you are someone else. It becomes absorbing and offers vicarious experience. It helps us understand ourselves and others.
From p. 179, of Children’s Literature. “Fantasy stimulates students to look at life and the problems of life in new ways. In fantasy, children develop more open-minded attitudes that enable them to understand others’ points of view. Fantasy stretches the imagination and encourages dreams, stimulating creative thinking and problem-solving abilities.
And also, Children’s Literature, p. 171, (quoting Bettelheim, 1975, p. 76) “Nothing in the entire range of children’s literature--with rare exceptions--can be as enriching and satisfying to child and adult alike as the folk fairy tale....A child can learn more about the inner problems of man and about solutions to his own (and our) predicaments in any society, than he can from any other type of story within his comprehension.”
Those are very emphatic statements. I would suggest that we consider the context in which a fairy tale is told. A parent, for example, may read a fairy tale as a bedtime story to a child. What I would notice if I were observing this is the quality of voice, the love and interest as well as the empathy and attention to detail conveyed through the parent’s intonation and body language. You can tell a story with love so that even the bad wolf and the evil dragon are appreciated for the part they have to play.
In Little Red Riding Hood, with a slight shift in tone, the wolf can be portrayed as an idiot, as something scary, or even as a creature of no significance. The story teller has the power to color and slant a story according to the emotions he or she puts into it and the way it is told. The same can be done through the artist’s drawings in a picture book.
I used to turn off the sound on the TV and ask my kids to just look at the individual’s face on the screen. Or I would ask them to close their eyes and just listen to the voice. I would then ask, Is this person conveying love or fear? Friendship or hatred? Is there tension and confusion or confidence?
The first message, therefore, in a spoken fairy tale comes from the attitude of the story teller. I have heard “masters” from different traditions convey arrogance, self-righteousness, condescension, indifference, fear, and weariness as well as wonder, delight, joy, happiness, and peace as they told stories. On this level of spoken language and oral tradition, the content of the story is irrelevant. The story is an opportunity for the teller to convey his or her integrity, faith, trust, flexibility, courage, and appreciation. There is always a non-verbal component and, for me, this is the most interesting thing that occurs when a story is told.
I talk more about this under question 9 dealing with escape from reality. My father almost never told a story his whole life until recently. He was a man of secrets and also of power. My mother, on the other hand, was willing to talk about anything. She had wonderful stories to tell about people and her own life.
There is a massive amount of fairy tales and folk tales available, some of which is part of everyone’s family traditions. It turns out my father was a genius at breaking the rules in college and getting away with it. He never shared any of this with us. He knew that you can have fun and break the rules even when everyone is watching you and trying to catch you. Had I known this, I would have seen a much greater continuity between his generation and my own. I had to discover this capacity our family possesses on my own without any verbal assistance. Father was not always deadly serious. He possessed great humor.
I had to read Tolkein’s The Hobbit to start my mind thinking about what is possible. I had to read Shakespeare’s The Tempest in order to form an attitude about magic and all those powers that we possess that nonetheless are denied and not spoken about in conventional society. Someone just emailed me who is a member of two different native American tribes. He complains that the elders tell him to study only the old ways and to avoid other forms of spirituality. He calls the elders oppressive and narrow-minded.
I told him that perhaps all elders are oppressive and narrow-minded at times to those who are in the process of finding their own way in life. Good stories get us beyond these conflicts between the generations. Fairy tales certainly are of this variety. They speak to all ages of the world. They fill in for the wisdom, wonder, and imagination that the generations sometimes fail to communicate to each other.
6. Are there any real life adult situations when fairy tale motifs are reinforced? (Rewards of being beautiful, "living happily ever after")
I think fairy tales tell us you have to be ever alert, constantly vigilant, and ready for the unexpected. You have to keep asking questions. You have to know when to let go and flow and when to hold your ground and fight with all of your might. There is a time to be radiant and bright like the sun, to be the center of action and to unite everything with strong connections. There is also a time to be silent and hidden, more so than a cave at the center of a mountain at night.
Consider beauty. Some supermodels these days have taken charge of their careers. They have learned photography and shoot other models and run their own photography studios. They design and sell clothes and invent new perfumes. It would be hard to find a male who could manage their careers better than they are doing themselves. We are in a different age, an age that invites us to explore the mysteries of androgyny, of the masculine and feminine in union. They have transcended the idea that beauty makes you passive and stupid or that its only use is to gain the attention of and influence men.
In traditional stories, e.g., Snow White, beauty can get you into trouble. Some people understand beauty for the power it is and they would possess that power or else destroy it removing it disturbing presence from their lives. In Eros and Psyche, Psyche gets in trouble not with other people but with the goddess Aphrodite. Men stop worshiping at the temples of the goddess because they become enamored with Psyche. In the Japanese fairy tale, Kaguya Hime, the young woman is so beautiful the most powerful men in the kingdom vie for her hand in marriage yet she can not consent to marry any of them.
In my book, Mystical Fables, the head of the thieves guild, a dwarf disguised as a human being, says of beauty:
Beauty is a most remarkable thing. To taste it is to fly with divine wings. When its light fills you eyes, you see sights hidden from the wise. When it touches your skin, you are freed of all sin. And if it ever should anoint you, its cool, soothing tenderness flowing through you, then all that you have ever lost is again found and impossible hopes and dreams will soon come around.
In the same book, the bard Vittana says that his Muse is a bird of terrible beauty that flies between the stars. It offers to be a friend to those who have no friends. Yet the spirit also says, “But this geis I lay upon you, that you may not know my name nor may you even dream of the land from which I have come until that very moment in time when you cross that very threshold and enter that land--for it is a place unknown within your soul and I am forbidden by the laws of the universe from revealing it to you. You must discover it on your own.”
Beauty is that way--it can reach inside of us and discover our deepest secrets and satisfy our deepest needs. It has the power to unite all aspects of the self--the child and the adult, the body and the mind, passion and spirit, the past and the future. It harmonizes and it reconciles all opposites.
But to posses it, to contain it within yourself, to unite with it--this is one of the great mysteries of life. Beauty awakens within us powers and dreams we are not even aware that we have. But to form a union with beauty, you have to accept yourself exactly as you are and also be willing to pass through the unknown and to meet parts of yourself you have never encountered before. This makes beauty dangerous. It unites the different parts of ourselves and yet it changes us in ways we can not understand in advance.
The my fairy tale called The Wizard Hasan, the sylph Capisi tells me about how a wizard once tried to take possession of her. We have hundreds of thousands of cases of stalking that occur in the United States each year. In stalking, the stalker often concludes that the beauty and life the other possesses can not be found in him or herself. The stalker seems to say, “I will never find the life you have within me. Your beauty is something I can never touch unless you are with me.”
The Wizard Hasan is a stalker. He is possessive, greedy, and of course he has great magical power. He spies Capisi flying through the sky and imagines one day saying to himself,
“Ah, I have this beauty, the wind itself caught in my spell! This demonstrates my power and my will. As she submits to me, her femininity is naked and revealed. I taste her vitality. Her life flows through my veins. Oh, the satisfaction! The feelings unleashed as I devour her freedom, as I absorb her essence into my being!”
Capisi outwits the wizard by appealing to his greed. She uses the power of beauty to do this. She offers him a magical power that only the greatest magicians and the prophets of God possess. The trick is, he has to encounter an experience with infinite peace as one of the magical components to the spell she is teaching him.
As the wizard attempts to do this, he encounters the child within himself--his own childhood and all the longings, dreams, and needs he left behind and abandoned once he chose a path of acquiring magical power. But the child within him became awake again and was so strong that it completely destroyed his magical will. His magic was based on separation and control but the child possessed a greater power.
When you possess beauty and harmony to this degree, you can see the deepest secrets and the desires hidden in the depths of others’ hearts. You can speak to others from the core of their own being with their own voice and through their own deepest longings and dreams. This is in all the stories in which knowing another’s magical name gives power over them. This is in the Wizard of Earthsea and The Forgotten Beasts of Eld.
In drug and alcohol addictions, the process of recovery often involves therapies that reinforce focusing totally on the here and now. The individual concentrates on what he or she is feeling and thinking in the present moment. The choices one makes relate to the immediate situation you are in and who you are in this instant. This approach strengthens will and it is backed up by lots of support.
The inner journey for such individuals is often far too dangerous for anyone except the most gifted. In this case, part of self is best left unexplored, repressed, and lock away from the conscious self so that the individual can get on with coping with life. There is a time when you do not give things to those in need crying for your attention. You stay focused on your own journey crossing the river. To do otherwise is to become lost.
In The Last Unicorn by Peter Beagle, Schmendrick, an incompetent magician, manages to survive the attack of a harpy with the help of a unicorn. The unicorn says something that everyone undergoing great trauma or emotional conflicts might keep in mind if those traumas or conflicts have the power to destroy.
The unicorn says, (p.46) “You must never run from anything immortal. It attracts their attention.” Her voice was gentle, and without pity. “Never run,” she said. “Walk slowly, and pretend to be thinking of something else. Sing a song, say a poem, do your tricks, but walk slowly and she may not follow. Walk very slowly, magician.”
One of the great dangers to those who encounter unusually powerful emotions is that they will be possessed by those emotions. In some cases, if they feel connected to the emotion, they may end up feeling larger than life--certain beyond all doubt that they are right and everyone else is wrong. Or else they are depressed, because the strength of what is within them drains all the excitement and life from the world around them.
The advice is to stick to the present moment, tie your shoes, drink if you are thirsty, eat if you are hungry. Stay focused on who you are and simply ignore what is more powerful than you until it takes an interest in something else, something more suitable for its appetites, and goes away. At another point in time, there will be an opportunity when the balance of power is in your favor and you have the courage and knowledge required to overcome your obstacles.
7. How are fairy tales different for young girls and boys?
I can only speculate on the answer to this question. Certainly, on the surface, there are many stories in which the male is active and the female inactive such as Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella. In feudal societies or a society with rigid gender roles, these stories would indeed reflect the prevailing attitudes toward gender definition. The gender roles in the stories would serve to indoctrinate and reinforce societal attitudes.
In a post industrial, pluralistic, and democratic society such as our own, the stories can be taken in a completely different way. In one interpretation, the male represents the activity of consciousness and reason while the female is the activity of the intuition, instinct, and deeper feeling. These two components are active in each of us regardless of gender.
In this kind of interpretation, it becomes important to study the way in which the male and female interact. The male risks his life to beat through the wall of thorns in Sleeping Beauty to see if he can awaken the female. The male searches throughout the kingdom for a woman whose foot fits the shoe left behind and which for some reason did not dissolve. The female--the inner connection to life, the prize of great value, the possibility to genuine love, and the presence that stirs one’s heart on the deepest level--this comes from the subconscious part of ourselves.
Once upon a time men had to suffer isolation, pain, and undergo long spiritual journeys in order grow. Some women will way that this “hero’s quest” is a male thing. It is perhaps more appropriate in our age to say that the hero’s journey belongs to anyone, male or female, who wishes to develop the masculine part of themselves--to take responsibility for the world, to take charge and master the self, and to be dynamic in action so any obstacle is overcome. This side of consciousness has been emphasized and even overdeveloped in Western civilization.
It is the respect and appreciation for the power that belongs to the feminine that is not very developed in our Western history. Fairy tales are very good at filling in and giving hints of how this other mysterious power manifests. The feminine side may act through our deepest feelings and intuitions. It guards and nourishes our dreams and the longings of our hearts.
It may seem that such vague feelings, longings, and dreams have little to do with everyday life and reality. They are too inactive and without authority, recognition, and power. This idea raises some significant questions. Are little girls in fairy tales somehow less important than the little boys in fairy tales? Are the girls’ lives fulfilled through being inactive and passive? Do fairy tales suggest that there are consequences and serious disturbances when girls depart from these roles?
Individual boys and girls no doubt have a very wide range of responses to fairy tales. Perhaps some girls struggle with the passive role assigned to them by some fairy tales. A male, such as myself, might point out that in a large number of fairy tales it is the female that defines the spiritual landscape. The woman is the one who moves the male to action and she is the treasure that he must win by overcoming some obstacle that holds or possesses her. It is the life within the woman that determines what men see, what they quest for, and what they are able to find.
On the other hand, if there are adult women who are acutely aware of the inequity in society, that for example women still earn 10% less than their male counterparts and hold far fewer positions of authority than men, these fairy tales become the enemies of the feminist movement. Stories, esp. stories that may indoctrinate by depicting the roles of the genders in society, should be rewritten to reflect the goals and standards of modern society.
Take for example the stories of mermaids and mermen. Franz Bardon says of some of the mermaids he describes that their beauty is such that they possess the power to enchant even the most powerful of magicians. To women is attributed the power of beauty.
The mermen, by contrast, in Bardon as well as many legends (See A Field Guide to the Little People on mermen) control the winds and weather. The merman are active and willing to negotiate with sea captains so that the ships avoid storms. The mermaids, again, dance, sing, and offer the ecstasies of love beyond human imagination.
I would hesitate to place an gender based ideological interpretation on this set of tales. Some of the mermen are probably as attractive as Sting and David Bowie combined with magical powers thrown in. Beauty is a matter of perception. Perhaps the merman are as beautiful to women as the mermaids are to those males who perceive them.
Fire and air are often considered to be active. The mermen, using the magnetism in water, gain control over the winds and lightening. The mermaids, using the same magnetism, control empathy, clairvoyant visions, and the magic of tones. A human being is no so limited. He can learn both the active and passive abilities according to his or her inclinations. There are no inherent gender restrictions on education or spiritual perception.
8. Please explain how psychological battles take place within a fairy tale.
There are many battles that take place in fairy tales. Certainly, the entire spectrum of human desires and passions are enacted through the stories told around the world. If someone speaks of psychological battles, then he or she will probably be discussing the battle in terms of a preferred psychology. I suggest that no one escapes their historically and culturally conditioned bias when it comes to interpreting fairy tales. Put another way, we do best when we learn from each other. Interpretation is necessary. It is also a communal and intersubjective activity.
At the end of this section, I give an example of a psychological battle, a test, if you like, that I enacted with a nature spirit or salamander called Itumo. This particular “battle” was somewhat typical of the way I write. I get to know the nature spirit. The nature spirit gets to know me. There is give and take. Sometimes friendship and more occurs.
Interactions with nature spirits of this kind, however, always involve a contest of will and power. Nature spirits are in no way governed by human morality. Many of these beings have existed for countless eons before human beings much less human religions appeared upon the earth. They have their own rules and laws to which they adhere.
One of the rules for exploring the realms of fairy is that you have to confront the darkness in yourself. The nature spirits such as Itumo and others are quick to perceive any weakness within you. They are especially gifted at discerning anything that you are concealing from yourself or any unusual power that is active within you and of which you are as yet unaware. You have to stay very alert and very clear to interact with them successfully.
There is a kind of battle that nature spirits have relayed to me. It sometimes occurs when human magicians try to control them. It reduces to a simple formula in which the nature spirit says, “You want to control me? You can not control me until you know the essence of my being.” (Or the nature spirit’s magical name as many fairy tales like to put it). “You can not know the essence of my being unless you are one with me.” The trick is that this oneness can not be compelled through external means. This oneness is a power of love.
In my story about the salamander Pyrhum, the salamander meets his match when he encounters an ancient magician named He’adra. In this encounter, Pyrhum explains his attitude toward human beings.
Pyrhum said, "Less than a handful of mortals have ever walked by my side and survived. And only one or two were willing like you to enter the domain where I reign without having to disguise their fear and trembling. I oversee all fire on earth and I care not much for your race. I am not arrogant. I just have no respect for human beings because they have not sought to discover the power hidden in their hearts. They think power is external to the self, that it is found in the ability to bind matter or subject other living beings to their will.
"Those who sojourn into my domain are enamored with faith--they want something for nothing without offering anything in exchange. They attempt to enchant me by pronouncing fearsome and terrible names of gods, goddesses, and deities from various religions. What nonsense! Do they think they can badger me when I can command a sea of magma to stretch out its hand in a strand rising two thousand miles until it punctures the surface of the world and forms mountains three miles tall? These magicians can not even command their own body to pump blood to the part of their heart muscle which is suffocating because an artery is clogged.
"Do they expect me to get down on my knees and obey their command? They vainly imagine they are united with God as they babble on raising their voices higher in pitch till it breaks into a shriek. They think by speaking the words of God or by pronouncing His name that somehow their voice is magically transformed into His Voice or their authority into His own. Wizards are often more entertaining than jesters or clowns.
"If I close my eyes and concentrate, I can sense all the seas, lakes, and streams of magma which exist within the earth. Oh, I have tried to share my wonder and the inferno of my exuberance with those who dwell on the surface of the world. But it is useless. Their minds are too narrow. Their hearts are too closed.
"They see the stars at night. The feel the heat of the sun by day. They melt metal with their fires and cook meat on the hearth but they are afraid of the fire within the earth. It is too close, too fierce. They push it out of their minds. They do not allow their feet to reach down like the roots of trees into the silence and the depths lest they discover in the darkness beneath them a passion greater than they can imagine.
"The great bards will not speak of me in a song lest they risk being drowned in an abyss without entrance or exist. And so even at night when your race falls asleep I am unable to appear in your dreams. Even the tongues of flame with which dragons speak in your fairy tales and myths neither hint at nor reveal a trace of my existence. I dwell within a realm well-hidden beyond human reach or belief."
The contest in an interaction like this with a primordial power hinges on whether or not the mortal can find in himself the power or beauty of nature that is arrayed before him. In my fairy tale, He’adra at least seems to accomplish this. He was so open and clear that Pyrhum felt at home and like a friend in his presence. The test, in this case, is that you can not know the essence of a wonder until that wonder is fully alive within yourself.
I will discuss a similar kind of psychological battle with which I have at least some familiarity. There is an interesting psychological test that individuals sometimes undergo, especially those who have to deal with power. It is very simple actually and we can express it as a question: When you are helpless, vulnerable, and approaching complete despair, to what extent do you embrace the negative in order to retain your hope?
Now some individuals have their faith and beliefs and so they consider themselves to be free of this test. Their faith does not permit them to despair. But such individuals I have noticed still have not dealt with their fears and the threat they feel from the things they fear. Such individuals, from my perspective, fail the test by refusing to take it. By contrast, when Christ on the cross asked, “Why hast thou forsaken me?” without giving into despair or fear and without getting an answer, he demonstrated how to pass the test.
There are many who are oppressed, abused, and subjected to great injustice. Some of these individuals turn into a Gandhi, a Mandela, a Martin Luther King, or a George Washington. Others turn into bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, or Napoleon.
What is interesting is that the oppressed are not necessarily more just, righteous, or kind than their oppressors. Once those who were oppressed gain power, they can be much worse. There are those who do not wish to be healed or to be free of their suffering. They seek instead to drag others down into their pit of horror or else, once they gain power, to subject others to the suffering they have been through.
The liberal imagination can not comprehend this: there are some kinds of malice that not only have supernatural depth and power. They also have supernatural protection. They can not be rehabilitated or reformed. Their influence can only be displaced by incorporating in oneself a greater will and power. To deal with malice, love must walk hand in hand with justice.
There is a fairly easy rule of thumb that I suggest can be used to tell in advance if when the oppressed gain power, whether or not they will turn out to use their power in a just manner or whether they will continue the same kind of injustice to which they were subjected. This is done by asking when they are powerless, do they rage, complain, and blame? Or, do they speak of a better world in which everyone shares responsibility and in which they have a specific contribution to make--such as sharing their dream, embodying lawful change, or making one code of justice available to everyone?
One response to despair and helplessness is to grasp after and depend upon radical ideologies to justify what are otherwise fairly accurate descriptions of problems even if these problems have no apparent solutions. Ideologies are fake fairy tales. They imagine evil to be outside of us and solely concentrated in other people and institutions. Karl Marx did this. He had a fairly accurate description of the injustice that is inherent in capitalism. But he invented a communist utopia, a utopia that had no basis in history other than perhaps very briefly in the early Christian church. Karl Marx failed the test. The vision he presented grew out of hatred and rage.
There is a psychological aspect to this test. There is a “space” in which you have to become as nothing in order to survive. In a psychological method called focusing (See Eugene Gendlin’s Focusing), one of the steps involves opening to a listening space. After careful preparation, you ask a personal question and then you “open” to an answer. You let this answer come to you from your body and the realm of instinctual wisdom that is within you. (See the essay on my web site called Magic and Focusing.)
To open and to listen, however, require you to let go of your thinking. You have to put off to the side everything you expect and anticipate. For a brief or extended period of time, you have to become as nothing otherwise the impressions or intuitions that arise in response to your question can not appear.
The psychological price for opening in this way (for having the purity and depth of your vision tested) is not cheap. Recall that Napoleon complained that people wanted him to be like George Washington. They wanted him to succeed militarily and then peacefully turn over the reigns of power to a civilian government. This Napoleon refused to do. He had that character flaw of being possessed by his own visions of success. This is because he could not imagine a Europe that was not governed top down by the power of will. Liberty and equality were words that he used, but he could not imagine a world governed by anyone but the few.
By contrast, George Washington fought for eight years not surrendering even when it looked absolutely hopeless. He knew a secret and he had a brilliant military plan: all he needed to do was to keep his army alive long enough until England went bankrupt. In spite of a few military victories, Washington knew he was fighting a war of attrition. This requires not only wit and will, stamina and endurance but absolute faith in his cause. He has this faith. Do you want freedom, autonomy, and independence? You want to overturn injustice and right what is wrong? Then pay the price at least according to what Washington paid: absolute faith in your cause.
In May, 1782, Colonel Lewis Nicola on behalf of the army officers complained about the way Congress had been treating them. He asked Washington to become a monarch to make right these wrongs. Here was the same test in another form.
Washington refused. There was no doubt in Washington’s mind about the purpose he served and self-aggrandizement or instituting a monarchy which he had just spent eight long years fighting against was not what he was after. And unlike Caesar who had Alexander the Great as an ideal, Washington had the idea in his mind to be like a great Roman general. When the Roman Senate required a Roman general to exercise the powers of a military dictator in order to solve some problems, one general came out of retirement and succeeded with his armies. But then he lay down his power preferring to tend to his orchards rather than take advantage of his fame and fortune.
Still, the faith and conviction Washington exercised was not easy to attain. He was often discouraged with as many soldiers deserting as quickly as others joined. In 1776 he wrote, “Such is my situation that if I were to wish the bitterest curse to an enemy on this side of the grave, I should put him in my stead with my feelings...”
In this statement, Washington is touching on a special aspect of the nature of faith, of why faith at a time of complete despair is so incredibly powerful. To attain to it, to enter a divine presence or feel some source of inspiration that governs all power within yourself, you must enter and cross through an abyss. This inspiration has no limitations or reference points which define it in terms of space or time. There is nothing you can cling to or attach yourself to insure your security or identity.
You must be able to stand free of all desires and all the needs of your personal identity. Otherwise, you sense that your very self is being annihilated. Perhaps there are times when an individual’s identity is so radically altered it is the same as being destroyed. Nonetheless, Washington did not panic, blame, rage, or accuse. His heart did not turn brittle, cold, or dark. Washington passed the test.
Cornwallis and other British generals might have been a little more careful to ask themselves, “How do you defeat an army which constantly retreats so you can not destroy it but also attacks you when you least expect it? How do you defeat people who go on fighting without food or blankets and who are so short on shoes they leave trails of blood in the snow where they have walked?” But then again, Cornwallis was one of the greatest generals in the greatest army on earth. Being spiritually tested was not part of the equation under which he was operating.
The test, then, requires an individual to remain alert and open in the face of the unknown future that has yet to unfold. It forbids panic and fear. And it is essential to not try to make the anxiety or confusion dissolve before it has accomplished its task--to enable something completely new to be born. Those who complain, rage, and blame cling to the past. They are unable to let go enough and to penetrate the unknown to the extent that they and the world around them transform.
When I write about nature spirits, I often ask them to share with me their dreams. They often speak about wanting to become something that is impossible for them. But they do not despair. In their dreams, they attain to what they seek. They see, feel, taste, and embrace the reality of which they dream. They know that the beauty and magic in the elements of nature are reflections of something divine and without limitation.
The sylph Cargoste says that he dreams of becoming one with the breath of every living being. The undine Istiphul says that she wishes to become the essence of love. She also turned the question back on me and persisted until I shared with her also my deepest dream. The salamander Pyrhum says that he wishes to become cloaked in a fire and a light as bright and as radiant as the sun.
Itumo is another salamander who specializes in lightening. He has mastered it to a degree that human science can not yet conceive. I had a discussion with Itumo one time about how he acquired his abilities. Itumo seems to feel a special affinity for me. At one point, he also turned the conversation around and pointed the question back at me.
Itumo: "I can expand my aura to encompass a thunderstorm as easily as you can command your fingers to form a fist But you want to know, don't you, how I create lightning where no electricity flows, where there is no polarity or differential in potential charge? It is very easy. I just imagine what I want and then it comes to be."
"Yes, yes, but how did you learn that?" I ask. "After all, to develop a magical will you must already have been aware of the magic within you. Where did you start? What was your beginning?"
Itumo replies, "There was a time long ago when I was small and insignificant. Causing lightning to strike was beyond my ability. I was so weak I could not cause a spark to leap. Neither atoms nor molecules would listen when I spoke. The attraction they felt for each other was beyond my perception.
"Yet even then I was still what I am now--an intelligence with the will to master electricity. My commission was also the same as now: to forge paths where none exist between mind, matter, and spirit. I conceal the mystery of how to gather strength in silence until the power that is unleashed is great enough to cross every gulf so the desires of the heart can be fulfilled. The silence that cloaks my will is the same silence woven into the sky that holds the stars within a vast embrace of stillness."
"Then did you develop your power on your own?" I ask.
Itumo replies simply and to the point, "There are times when you must act alone for there are no guides provided."
Itumo and I just stare into each other's eyes measuring the depths and how we have explored silence in our separate ways. Itumo says, "Because something is simple it does not mean it is easy. I am saying you already know how to enter a place of silence where the only thing that exists is your vision and the power of your own imagination."
"Yes," I reply with a slow, questioning intonation, "but what is that precisely?"
Itumo says gazing into my memory, “For you, this occurred during the loneliest moment in your life. It was not derived from the cold numbness of despair or the sorrow of being an outcast. It occurred when you realized that the one you loved the most was gone forever from your life.”
Itumo gave me this poem as a statement regarding the power he has attained through having faith in his dreams.
Do you know what its like when lightning strikes?
In an instant the earth and the sky unite:
The tree, the flowing stream, the hilltop, the rock--
Their hearts burst so that the thirst of the cloud for the earth
Might be satisfied.
Do you know what it is like inside a thunderstorm?
A sea of rain, froth of mist, and vapors churning
Passions locked in a frenzy, intensifying,
Power exalting in strength and beauty
Uncoiling within itself
Until, unable to be contained,
Ecstasy takes flight upon the wings of freedom.
Do you know what it is like to explode
From the core of your being--
To be a flame of white light
Reaching down from the sky
And rising up from the earth
And to celebrate this art within your heart?
I will tell you:
It is bliss unafraid of emptiness
It is love unafraid of loss
It is desire burning so hot
It annihilates the shadows within the lover's heart.
Wherever there is an abyss, a chasm, or a gulf
Within nature, between one heart and another,
Or separating mankind from the divine--
My joy and delight will suffice
To pierce and shatter the darkness of any night
So you may find the path across.
In my mind, Itumo is one of those who have passed the test when it comes to moving from a place of being insignificant and without perception to a place where the power you possess is expressed with beauty and love.
9. Is it normal and okay to escape reality by use of fairy tales?
Quoting from Children’s Literature, page 170, “Children need fantasy in their lives: Even very young children who are protected from fairy tales and exposed only to informative literature invent their own fantasies, which include many of the same characteristics as traditional folktales.
“Ability to understand make-believe is linked to development, and children exhibit a wide range of individual differences in acquiring this ability. Five-year-olds generally are still developing concepts of fantasy and realism, while 7- and 9-year-olds ordinarily have acquired these concepts. Some children are still confused about fantasy and reality as late as age 6: Many 6-year-olds recognize that Cinderella is not real, though they tend to think that she once lived, and some 73% in one study were uncertain whether story characters and events were real.”
Imagination and fantasy are probably as necessary to a healthy personality as dreaming at night while asleep is required in order for the mind to function. In the Stolen Child by W. B. Yeats, the lines of the poem go,
Come away oh human child
To the waters and the wild
With a faery hand in hand
For the world’s more full of weeping
Than you can understand.
Yeats seems to be suggesting that within fairy is a chance to sleep and to forget. There is something within nature and within ourselves that bids us to depart from the world as we know it, to no longer participate in the struggle and the conflict.
In Carl Jung’s Symbols of Transformation, a woman in therapy recounts a series of dreamlike images. These images, dreams, and poetry are fantasy. But fantasy is not chaos. It has its own dynamics and logic. Upon such a journey, even into fantasy, if the individual remains alert, attentive, and questioning, consciousness develops. It extends itself and it transforms.
An old man once asked the Buddha if there was a shortcut to enlightenment. Since the man was old, he was unable to practice the austerities of monastic discipline. The Buddha replied, “Imagine that everything you experience is a dream.”
The Buddha is not telling the old man to consider everything as unreal and an illusion. He is saying instead to be detached; and be ever so curious so that you come to see the way in which things appear to be substantial, real, stable, and enduring and yet they are not. In other words, probe the fantasy (and assumptions about reality) and you will see through it and discover the truth.
Similarly, there is a story Carlos Castaneda tells in his series of books about the Yakui sorcerer Don Juan. In the story, a witch constructed a mosaic on a floor of a room that was designed to possess and to destroy Carlos. Upon entering the room, however, Carlos immediately noticed the mosaic and gave it his full, undivided attention. He got down on his knees and examined it. He was fascinated by every aspect of its intricate design and its mesmeric power. The destructive spell within the mosaic could only work by attacking Carlos on an unconscious level. But this it could not do since Carlos had become completely conscious of it in every aspect.
You take an obsession, a fascination, an addiction, or a craving and you study it in every facet. You add to this the knowledge and experience of others in this area. There is a point at which the individual becomes free or else perhaps wise.
It is not the escape from reality that is dangerous. It is the choice to no longer be conscious, to deny the conflict and to fail to explore the options.
When things are very difficult in daily life, fantasy offers a chance to gain some distance and renew oneself before entering again the arena of conflict. Obviously, it is possible to go too far in escaping. But the escape is often a mode of protection. The dream, the daydream, the illusion, the fantasy--these preserve a part of ourselves that we may wish to keep alive and which are threatened by the pressure and demands of our world.
There is a healthy balance in which entertainment, withdrawal from the world, and inner renewal have an important part to play. Each individual must find his or her own balance in regard to withdrawing from the world in order to unwind, to rest, relax, and to recuperate, and to become renewed.
In Tibetan Buddhism, which appeared about 1,200 years after the Buddha, the approach is for the individual to dress up the inner self in the imagery of kings, queens, gods and goddesses. The practitioner visualizes and imagines all sorts of wondrous beings and he or she becomes these beings. The practitioner gets a feel for what it is like to be a god, to be perfect, and to exist without limitation. It enables a brief and imaginary experience in which every craving is satiated. But it does not stop here at complete withdrawal from the world. The practitioner puts aside and dissolves all these imaginary images and gets on with life.
To be enlightened is to see the world as it is. But within one’s own body, soul, mind, and spirit, it is important to know what it feels like to be a king or queen, to have sovereignty over all your desires, drives, and passions so that you can give order and set priorities. Some people have a hard time setting aside the imagery that has helped to motivate them and bring order to their lives. They apply their beliefs to situations and the world around them without first having built in a truth function that overrides and keeps those belief in their proper place.
The escape from the world into fantasy is sometimes not just a conflict that takes place within the soul of the individual. It is sometimes a cultural conflict. In this case, the individual may have only a small part to play. His or her contributions may be minor or major but hardly ever complete. This conflict takes not a few years or a lifetime to unfold. It takes centuries if not millennia. I will indulge myself by citing a poem I wrote regarding the conflict between the realms of fairy and that of reality.
St. Patrick you recall was credited with driving all the snakes out of Ireland. He also took a harp away from a bard, you know, because music so beautiful can mislead the soul.
I read this poem to an adult and she did not understand it but the children who were listening understood every word.
St. Patrick and the Elves
St. Patrick met a bard one day
And hearing him play
St. Patrick exclaimed:
"The notes of your harp
Are the same as heaven's own art
Except for one thing--
They are a little too much elvin."
And so St. Patrick took the bard's harp away
And put it in the corner of his room.
But late that night when St. Patrick fell asleep and dreamed
The cold wind from the sea swept into his room
And when the wind touched the harp's strings
Little elfin men came out of the harp
And filled up his room.
Then St. Patrick woke with a start
And cried aloud: "I know not the bard's art
How to send you back home
To the fairy realms from which you come.
What am I to do with you?"
And they replied:
"Only a saint can see us.
To all others we are invisible.
Let us go free so we can play:
In your world by the light of day
The rainbow sparkles in delight
And by night the sounding sea
And the breeze in the tree
Sing as sweet as any bard's enchanting melody."
And St. Patrick, with so many elves cluttering up his room,
Said in reply:
"I would be willing to give it a try
If you will serve the church for me.
You see, we on earth are not idle or carefree
Instead, we do work for God's glory.
You there, yes you, with the pale hands and long fingers
What useful thing for the church will you do?"
And the little elf said:
"I can take a heart broke in two
And mend it again
So that it shines like the moon."
And St. Patrick said:
"And you there with the pointed red cap
How about you?"
"I can take a little boy
And show him how to fly a kite in the sky
With stands from a vine and leaves from a tree
Carefully entwined, for this is a toy I have designed.
And not only that, I can teach a child to tie his shoe
Or to find his way home again when he is lost in the wood;
All of this I will do for you."
And St. Patrick said:
"And you there standing behind my table with your eyes so shy?
Do you also make toys that fly?"
"No, but I can teach your scribes
To draw bright colored letters of red, gold, and blue
With dragons and unicorns dancing through
So that learning to read and write
Will be a pleasure and a delight."
"And you with your head leaning against my wall
What is your where with all?"
"I will show monks and men
To ferment hops and honey
So that beer and mead
Teach the tongue to let go of dark secrets--
Then the sadness in men's souls will be banished."
And St. Patrick, who could tell right from wrong,
Was also a practical man.
He knew as well as me or you
That some things you just have to do.
So he let the elves go
And the people in that land
Were more happy and holy.
But a month later when the moon was dark
The harp did spark
Its strings flared with fierce flames emerald and green
And in the room stepped a fairy queen
Elegant, radiant, and gorgeous.
Her eyes were full of starlight
And her hair was blazing red.
And when St. Patrick saw this sight
"You are so lovely the sky and the sea
Can not compete with your beauty.
Your face and grace outshine the sun and the moon.
But I can not let you go free.
You would haunt my people in their dreams.
They would return to worshiping trees in groves
And to pray among standing stones."
The elvin queen replied:
"St. Patrick, you know as well as I do,
You can not keep me here with you.
My beauty is too great
Even you would lose your faith
And no longer desire to see God's face.
Let me go free and I promise you
I will take from the shores of your land
All the snakes of Ireland.
You see, every creature of sea, wind, and land
Obeys my command.
The snakes will follow me home
To the Blessed Realms where I will go.
For only a saint as great as you is free to choose
To remain on earth to do God's will
And not fall under my enchantments.
But in another age men will find a way
To sing God's praise and capture Beauty in one song
And this they will do both to honor God's glory
And for the sake of Love."
Now St. Patrick was not only a practical man,
He was also wise and so he said:
"Go in peace my child.
Do this work for the sake of the church
And I will search my heart
To see if your prophecies are true or not."
And when St. Patrick awoke the next day
All the snakes from Ireland had gone away
But his heart informed him he had made a mistake
To let the maiden of Beauty depart.
Though he tried to call her back
St. Patrick knew not the bard's art.
And so the land of Erin still awaits the day
When men will come forth no longer ashamed or afraid
To join in one song God's praise
With the Blessed Realm's Beauty and Love.
10. Certain "childhood deadly sins" are overcome by use of fairy tales, please explain how a child is able to use a fairy tale to stage a secure battle scene?
I have some problems with this phrase, “childhood deadly sins.” If this refers to the seven deadly sins such as gluttony, sloth, envy, etc. I would consider these to be vices and not sins. They are not usually deadly and they definitely have very little to do with childhood. It is tempting to impose on any ambiguous material an ideological or even theological interpretation.
A more serious attempt at interpretation must draw the catergories used for describing the material from the material itself. When depth psychology refers to the shadow in fairy tales, the “shadow” is so obviously a term drawn from an external and foreign interpretative system that it is quite clear that the fairy tales are being used as examples to illustrate a point. There is no shadow in fairy tales just as there are no deadly sins in fairy tales.
Nonetheless, interpretation can not be escaped. Everyone reads a fairy tale according to their own experience, background, and conceptual bias. If someone wishes to reduce fairy tales to stories made up or misconstrued as a story is retold, then they can do so since this line of interpretation fits their naturalistic assumptions. And in specific cases they may be accurate.
On a hot day, I can imagine myself at the North Pole, that is, I visualize myself standing on an icy plane with a cold wind blowing and within two seconds my body will begin to involuntarily shiver in response to the imagery. If I imagine myself at the beach, within a half second I can feel the spray on my face and taste the salt in the air. If I want to see a unicorn, instantly the walls of the room I am in vanish and about forty feet away a unicorn is standing in a clearing.
I have experience with an trained imagination. My experience enables me to easily imagine other individuals meeting and interacting with fairies as well as “dreaming” imaginary setting in which I see stories unfolding. Though I do not need to believe in what I perceive, I am nonetheless aware of the power such images at times contain.
Some children see spirits. Some see auras. Some see ghosts. Some have imaginary friends. Some speak with angels who come to visit them. In growing up, by necessity, we must pass through a magical domain. Some individuals would act as quickly as possible to destroy this memory and level of perception by imposing upon it the demands and rigors of an adult’s responsibility to deal with the “real” world. Often the way a parents looks at a child when the child mentions some unusual experience is enough to convince the child never to speak of it again.
On the other hand, there are those who wish to sanitize fairy tales, to make them into sweet little stories designed to help children fall asleep. On the contrary, fairy tales often contain horrific experiences and terrifying situations. There are elements such as betrayal and abandonment, malice, hatred, revenge, deceit, and violence. The range and depth of fairty tales challenge and tax the interpretative power of any set of concepts.
11. Should fairy tales be classified as literature, psychology, anthropology, or children’s literature? Please explain.
Certainly fairy tales are traditionally a part of folk literature. You are doing a paper for AP English on fairy tales so obviously they relate to English.
Psychologists have been writing about fairy tales since Freud. They offer us many fascinating interpretations whether it is Freudian psychology, depth psychology, or something else. In transpersonal psychology, the therapist will often tell stories to the client.
The idea of a traditional story is that it illustrates to the client that his problem is not unique. Others have faced it and discussed it over the ages and it is usually also a problem the society has to face as much as the individual.
Anthropologists will quite commonly collect the traditional stories of the tribes or people they are studying. And since fairy tales are read to children they definitely qualify as children’s literature.
The main problem with psychologists is that they assume society is stable--the norms and standards of society are what the individual must come to accept and work within in order to function and succeed. Society is given. It is what the individual has to deal with.
Psychologists generally do not study the psychology of reformers and revolutionaries. Psychologists often do not understand that all institutions and societies are undergoing change. They do not understand the transformations that occur within individuals that are necessary for creativity.
There are no cabinet positions in any government on earth designated for a psychologist. There is no Congressional psychologist. Psychologists are not usually in positions of power except over the fate of their patients.
Fairy tales often have kings, queens, and individuals who are making decisions that change the world. Fairy tales often assist us in distinguishing between reality and fantasy by focusing on executive decision, on an act of will, and on the use of power. These are not areas of the personality and spirit that are particularly familiar to psychology.
Anthropologists are quite capable of recording stories and publishing them. There is a large amount of published material, for example, about the Hopi Indians that comes from early in the last century. The Indians allowed the anthropologists to enter their Kivas and observe and take notes on the rituals of the Hopi. What is astonishing to me is how utterly ignorant these anthropologists were about the meaning and symbolism in the rituals. In my mind, these anthropologists not only fail on any test given in regard to empathy, but they also fail on any test given in regard to imagination. They are slaves to their preconceptions.
Asking an anthropologist to teach fairy tales is like asking an mathematician to teach poetry. Though there are exceptions, the mind set is twisted. There was a discussion between a panel of anthropologists and Warm Spring Indian tribal leaders in Oregon. The anthropologists were asking questions like, “Why don’t you write your songs and legends down so that they are preserved for future generations?”
The elders responded with surprise as this question. Their response was that “if you want a song or a vision, if you want to renew and continue the tradition, then all you have to do is go out among these fields and woods and pray and meditate and what you seek will come to you. If you do not understand this, then you understand nothing.” For many people on earth, these “traditional folk tales” are still alive. They are told not as words and images with plots and themes that record the peculiarities of a particular culture. They are full of power and the life of a people flows through them.
The problem with “children’s literature” is that we in a modern society have no sense of initiation into the mysteries of life as was typical in so many ancient cultures from which fairy tales are descended. There was a joke in the Wall Street Journal about a child who approaches his father who is reading the newspaper. The caption at the bottom has the father saying in response to the child’s question, “No, I don’t have any esoteric, oral tradition to pass down to you.”
Compare this to the Hopi Indians who occupy the oldest, continually inhabited village in North America. The Hopi Indians have public dances in which Katchinas, or spirits, wear masks and perform the dances. During the Hopi initiations for those approaching teenage years, the Katchinas enter the Kiva and, for the first time, the children see the Katchinas taking off their masks. The children are confronted with the dancers not as spirits but men wearing masks.
But it does not stop there where we often stop--Santa is not real. The Hopi go on. Each dancer has a sacred mask and the dancer has the power to call a spirit into himself when he dances. The myth and the fairy tales are broken and then immediately put back together again on another level.
It would be as if at age seven or eight our children are told Santa Claus is not real. They are confronted with this. But then, if we were utilizing a traditional system of initiation, the children were told that Santa Claus is more real than fantasy. The child is then introduced to those institutions and organizations that embody the true spirit of giving to others such as the Red Cross, programs for homeless and assistance to mentally ill, sick, terminally ill, addicts, and those starving and needing medical attention around the world.
And not only this, but the child would be introduced to the essence of the motivation that is required to pursue such endeavors--not just caring and selfless service but the source of inspiration that empowers such actions. Now certainly, many ministers, priests, and rabbis will argue that this is precisely what they do in all of the traditional religions of the Western world. They offer not a contact with fairy realms but with God and with the sacred that has been carefully defined and established over the centuries if not for millennia.
The question is whether or not and to what extent our traditional religions contain a process of discovery. For centuries, the early church argued, fought, and battled over the idea and content of one creed, one doctrine, one belief. In this approach, the individual’s experience is at most secondary to the needs of the established church.
Compare this to the Sioux Indians whose children go on vision quests. They go by themselves and seek until they gain a vision. The encounter with the numinous is individual and unique. It is first hand experience. You come back from a vision quest as a different person because you have been introduced to and also immersed in the world of spirit.
This is perhaps a problem with one of the assumptions in children’s literature--that the child is meant to be assimilated into the world of adults and children’s stories help serve this purpose. They are missing that the child’s sense of wonder and the process of discover are meant to be with all of us forever. The words, “You must become as little children” does not mean that you should have faith in and be dependent on the church. The words mean what they say, that to enter the kingdom of heaven you have to regain the outlook of a child.
When the Hopi elders watch the katchina dance, they tell me they can “see” whether the spirit of the katchina is embodied within the specific dancer. In Hawaii, the teachers of Hula can often tell when the goddess of Hula has taken over the dancer so that the spirit is present and not just the art.
If you ask a Hawaiian priest, a Kahuna, if he has seen Pele, the goddess of the volcano, he will probably respond, “I have see Pele many times.” It is a living myth. Not only that. It spills over to others visiting the Islands. In one children’s literature seminar I attended, the instructor said that Caucasians should not write about Hawaiian myths. Her assumption was that the spirit of the islands are part of Hawaiian culture. It is theirs and it is not really alive. But I have first reports from Caucasians who have also met Pele.
The issue here is not about belief and religion. The issue is about meeting sources of inspiration that are so strong they shock and transform you if you allow them. This is what anthropologists and psychologists do not understand--actions and commitment that transform the world because they are backed up by genuine, timeless, ageless sources of inspiration.
We could also talk about the philosophy of fairy tales. There is philosophy of religion, philosophy of science, political philosophy, and so forth. There is a problem, however, with philosophy which is the study of wisdom. Aristotle, for example, is perhaps unmatched in his genius as a philosopher. He carefully considered all points of view and the problems those views sought to address. He then integrated the truth within each separate philosophical perspective and system into a new system that encompassed all that had gone before. The idea of a system of concepts that lays the foundation for all the is known was one of his contributions.
The problem with this approach, with the Western philosophical tradition, is that it deals with what is known. It is not an approach to the unknown. An approach to the unknown is perhaps better seen in those who are perpetually on the cutting of edge of knowledge and whose work is fundamentally involved with the process of discovery.
In 1969, for example, the phrase “black hole” was coined. It referred to a phenomenon predicted by Einstein’s theory of relativity but which had not yet been confirmed. Stephen Hawking bet another physicist a dollar that the theory would not be proved. When the evidence for the existence of black holes became overwhelming, Hawking broke into his colleagues office and quietly placed a dollar bill on top of the desk.
Hawking was able to admit he was wrong and was able to do so with a sense of humor. You do not get such flexibility and humor from philosophy. You do it get from fairy tales.
What are fairy tales in a nutshell for those who wish to classify them? They are the outer circle, the first taste of the Mysteries--they serve as an introduction to awe and wonder, to something more powerful than we are.
They are perennial--they deal with the great issues that will confront the human race as long as it exists in physical form: How is love balanced with power? What is it like to step into the unknown where you no longer know who you are? How do you go on when you have lost everything? How do you recreate your identity when the person you once knew is no more? Where is our home and what is it to finally come home? What light continues to shine, to guide, and to inspire in a place where darkness reigns, where injustice is king? What is the price of wisdom and the cost of freedom? What is the taste of ecstasy when it takes hold of every cell in your body?
These are the themes of “fairy” tales and it is in part why I study and write about fairies. The fairy realms are a place of feeling, dreams, and imagination through which we must journey if we are to answer these questions and drink in full measure of the waters of life.
12. Can you explain a woman’s role in a fairy tale? How does this affect a young girl’s views of herself?
This is a rather difficult question. It is like asking, Can you explain Margaret Thacher’s, Indira Ghandi’s, or Golda Meir’s role in politics? I can say they rose to power in part through their overwhelming capacities for leadership. It has nothing to do with them being women. They simply overcame the opposition and stood out among the other choices.
Did they have to sacrifice their femininity in order to be leaders or did they have a harder time getting to where they did because they were women? I am sure they did. But I also think you have to do very careful interviews with individual women before generalizing about women’s experience. Otherwise, there is the danger of falling into ideological cliches and activist agendas which are in effect out of touch with the movement of life.
What is a woman’s role in fairy tales? My first response is to put this into perspective. I am a man. You are getting a male’s response. You would get a very different response if you asked a female writer.
According to the works of Erich Neumann, The Origins and History of Consciousness, or Carl Jung’s, The Symbols of Transformation, (male writers again) historical consciousness was not the same as we know it today. Several thousand years ago, the feminine was the dominant influence upon civilization in terms of its archetypal presence.
This is to say that the forces governing the world were vague, undefined, and it was not possible to become conscious of them or to direct them. This is rather like an infant being held in the supportive and comforting arms of its mother. And yet the nature of the mother’s mind, her understanding and motives, are largely incomprehensible to the infant.
Then mankind began to put language in written form. It began to invent the idea of history and a chronological time sequence that exists in its own right independent of eternity. It began to develop technologies, economic, political, and judicial systems. This is like a child in elementary school. There is the drive to experiment with being independent of the mother’s support. But there is as yet no father present who says you can understand the world on its own terms and take charge of it and master it.
This fragile emergence of consciousness in which there remains a great dependence upon the vague, undefined, and mysterious forces of the unconscious or the spiritual worlds, the gods and goddesses, etc. exists completely independent of whether the specific society was totally dominated by men or not. Alexander the Great, the student of Aristotle, was blindly aggressive. He was a slave to unconscious forces. There was nothing self-reflective within him.
He was unaware of the concepts of justice, lawful order, and the ways to nurture and support a community much less a community of nations. He was simply an infant in a controlled and sustained state of rage who had inherited a brilliant and unequaled military intelligence.
In many of these ancient societies, the roles of men and women were carefully defined. To simplify, the men led and the women followed. The men ordered and the women obeyed. Men were active and women were passive. There were often deadly consequences for refusing to comply. Some would have us believe this was a pattern that men established being more aggressive and physically strong.
According to Jung and Neumann again, somewhere back about three thousand years ago, something happened. Some women began to feel that we need more masculine energy and not less. We need to be free of nature and to understand the mysterious forces controlling us. The mother whose arms embrace us all is not always sweet and nurturing. She is also Hecate and Kali. She devours her children as well.
Being immersed in a mystical, unconscious union with nature simply causes too much suffering because it is too blind and the negative is mixed together with the positive. In effect, there was a feminine support for the rise of masculine consciousness--a masculine consciousness which at the time, as I have suggested, was analogous to a young child’s dependence on its mother. As yet, it had no capacity to stand on its own.
Though women have no doubt suffered under the rise of male domination over the last three thousand years, the feminine itself was getting something it wanted. What could the feminine instincts and archetypes possibly of wanted that would have led it to persuade women to submit to men? It wanted neither an Alexander the Great with his blind aggression and desire to dominate. Nor did it want an Orpheus with his effeminate, poetic, and receptive capacities.
It wanted men to become friends and lovers instead of little boys dependent on the goddess of nature--nature who embraces all equally in her arms without any of her children becoming brilliant, radiant, and as inexhaustible in energy as the sun. The feminine wants a real lover equal to her in power but different so there can be a real union with the resulting creativity.
It is wonderful that as a society we are rapidly moving toward equality. Gender roles are no longer rigid and they are gaining the natural flexibility that they always possessed. But fairy tales never forgot the underlying purposes unfolding in history. In a fairy tale, it takes a combination of masculine and feminine to resolve a problem.
If you want creativity, the two genders (or the opposites of active and passive, light and dark) have to work together. It is almost irrelevant as to which gender is active and which is passive. Whichever way you arrange or define the genders, it takes both to get things done.
In that many fairy tales arose in societies in which women played a passive role, the women often represented the feminine component in the human psyche. Sleeping Beauty is asleep. She is way down there in the feminine unconscious, in dreamland, in fairy land, or moving among feelings and images outside of society and consciousness. But because she is there, over and over in the German version men would try to climb over the thorns to get to her side. It was a very dangerous endeavor for the men but someone finally made it.
You can read this story in so many different ways. But however you look at it she is the one who moved the men to action. You could set aside the gender issue and interpret this in terms of transpersonal psychology. In this case you could say, it is your deepest feelings at the core of yourself that determine the outcome of your life.
Whether male or female, if you are attuned to your feelings, you can often tell whether something is right or not for you. It does not require any thinking. It is an immediate gut response. You can save yourself years if not decades of wasted activities because you do the things that are the most important for you. You are not confused by others’ expectations and yet you are willing to work with others because you can sustain a connection regardless of the conflict that is occurring on a surface level.
In Hansel and Grettel, it is the girl who saves the boy. Nevertheless, if the girl is less active than the boy in most fairy tales, a young girl these days I suspect can easily say to herself, “I can do what the boy did.” At least, I hear a lot of women saying this in regard to their lives--I can do things just as well if not better than the men I know.
It would be interesting to tabulate the actions of the women in fairy tales in terms of determining the resolution of the plot. I have not done this. What I do know is that the powers of women are in no way less than the powers of men. I think fairy tales are very clear on this point.
13. A fairy tale is a psychological excursion, please explain this statement.
A simple answer is that fairy tales are a treasure chest of memories. I asked a few adults about what fairy tales they remember from childhood. They often would tell me about a fairy tale that is still very vivid in their minds. Their body language becomes animated as they speak and they relay the emotions they felt when they were children with the enthusiasm of a child.
I suspect that a fairy tale is like an emotional transformer. It takes the feelings of a child and enables those feelings to go on growing until the child becomes an adult. And then it enables the adult to return again and recall both the wonder and the horror of childhood. The fairy store memories and feelings of individuals and of cultures as well.
There is a kind of mental exercise that is used in various forms in many spiritual traditions around the world. A simple version goes like this: you imagine you are walking down a path in the country or in the woods. You imagine you are really there as much as you can. And then you are asked to imagine that you meet someone as you walk or that you come to a cave or a location of some kind.
You are asked, for example, to meet your totem animal, a god or goddess, a guide, or some one who will lead you into the past or into the future and who will offer you a gift or help you solve a problem. This pathworking has an element of control. There is a context and consistency in the imagery. And there is also a spontaneous element. Something happens on its own, something that you do not control.
Among other things, the imagery enables an encounter with the depth of one’s own feelings. You get to think about what has occurred and ask questions about the flow of images. Sometimes the imagery generates deep intuitions and new insights.
I think fairy tales operate in this manner as well. The imagery is strong enough that the individual is led to confront deep emotions and new insights into one’s own life may be generated. In this sense, there is a psychological excursion.
14. Why is there rarely an active father in fairy tales?
I assume that your question is well-formulated--that there are not a lot of active fathers in fairy tales. If this is the case, there are no doubt many explanations. One simple explanation, if I can go out on a limb here, is that fairy tales belong to the world of women (or at least the care takers of children regardless of gender). Children, to whom fairy tales are told most often, are under the power, influence, and authority of women in most cultures and in most cases.
The mother is accessible. There is a chance to connect to her and to understand her. The father is inaccessible. The world of the father--the world outside the home and the family, with its harsh reality and demands for survival--is not at all something the child is in any position to understand.
In this brief metaphor or model I am suggesting that applies to many fairy tales, the father energy or consciousness (in one aspect in any case) is the destruction of childhood and of fairy tales. Once you understand and connect well to the father, to reality of the world, then you neither consult with fairy nor are you dependent on the mother’s affection and attention in order to survive and flourish.
Instead, you now have a mission, a purpose, your work, and a task to accomplish. You have courage, independence, self-reliance, and a state of conviction in which your self-awareness is aligned with and in harmony with the greater order of the universe. There is no need for consultation with others, consensus, binding ties, a support group, or any kind of love that would compromise the mission you have chosen to fulfill. Some make a huge mistake to assume that this is the collective world created by men. The male figure in fairy tales who are often in conflict with the mother and sisters, represent independence per se and not an order of society, for men also strive to be independent of each other. Aligning with a male figure is a way of escaping from the jealousy, cruelty, and possessiveness of other female figures which there are a great many in fairy tales.
This is the father mode--a man does what he needs to do. There is no whining or complaining. To be angry, to rage and blame others, or to make others responsible for your limitations or situation is to automatically disqualify yourself from the real purpose you have to accomplish in life. There are some things life requires of us that take all of our will and all of the power within us and there is no way to get around it. Fathers know this and it is one of the reasons they are often so silent and unable to communicate themselves--if they try to talk about the conflicts they are struggling with inside of them, they have noticed that they often bring up pain that no one is willing or able to share or bear with them. It takes the genius that creates a movie like
For that matter, keeping silence about the deepest commitments within us is very definitely a form of spiritual power. There are very few with whom it is safe to talk with about the essence of your faith and conviction. If others are unable to understand your words or make fun of you, you risk losing part of your confidence and commitment. Anyone with power has secrets.
Consider some statements from a book on a fairy tale called Iron John, A Book About Men, by Robert Bly, (Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc. 1990.)
During the early 1980’s, the poetry Robert Bly mentions that in men’s gatherings he heard one statement over and over “phrased in a hundred different ways: ‘There is not enough father.’” These young men found they , and not just women, were suffering from a lack of a positive and strong male presence in their lives.
Bly goes on, (p.93-94): “During the long months the son spent in the mother’s body, his body got tuned to the female frequencies: it learned how a woman’s cells broadcast, who bows to whom in that resonate field, what animals run across the grassy clearing, what the body listens for at night, what the upper and lower fears are. How firmly the son’s body becomes, before birth and after, a good receive for the upper and lower frequencies of the mother’s voice. The son either tunes to that frequency or he dies.”
And then Bly goes on to talk about the father:
“... I think a physical exchange takes place, as if some substance was passing directly to the cells. The son’s body--not his mind--receives and the father gives this food at a level far below consciousness....His cells receive some knowledge of what an adult masculine body is. The younger body learns at what frequency the masculine body vibrates. It beings to grasp the song that the adult male cells sing, and how the charming, elegant, lonely, courageous, half-shamed male molecules dance.”
But in modern society according to Bly, the son does not see the father working and the traditional connection to uncles and other adult males are no longer present. Mothers, no matter how much they try, can not give this soul food to the son nor can he get it from a female friend.
p. 97: “A father’s remoteness may severely damage the daughter’s ability to participate good-heartedly in later relationship with men. Much of the rage that some women direct to the patriarch stems from a vast disappointment over this lack of teaching from their own fathers.”
In Iron John, according to Bly, p. 99. “The son finds out early on that his mother cannot redeem his father; moreover, in most cases, she doesn’t want to. The only one left to do it is the son.” And so we have the story of the fisher king and keeper of the Grail who waits for someone to offer to him a gesture of affection to heal his wounds.
Bly welcomes fairy tales as a healthy and productive source for trying to reestablish a connection to the father. p. 25. “Eventually a man needs to throw off all indoctrination and begin to discover for himself what the father is and what masculinity is. For that task, ancient stories are a good help, because they are free of modern psychological prejudices, because they have endured the scrutiny of generations of women and men, and because they give both the light and dark sides of manhood, the admirable and the dangerous. Their model is not a perfect man, nor an overly spiritual man.”
Robert Bly is a poet. Poets, with a few exceptions, live in the world of the feminine. They deal with metaphor, feelings, images, intuitions, and perceptions. The exceptions are when men of action are also poets, for example, a king like Solomon who wrote a thousand and five songs, a general, a CEO of a corporation, an Olympic athlete, etc. The world of the father is a world of action.
It is not the soft light of the moon at night where shadows bring forth memories and reflections on water remind us of desires and dreams. At night, the sharp edges of buildings and objects fade away and our feelings and sensations draw near to us and capture our attention. No, the father is the sun at its height during the day when everything is perfectly clear, defined, and there is work to accomplish and things to get done--to change, to transform, and make according to our plans and designs.
Again, with a strong father, there is little room for fairy--the young lovers are wise enough to figure out who, when, and how to love. The father intervenes, as in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, to advice and issue clear warnings. The lovers have assistance in overcoming the obstacles that stand in their way and there is no need for a fairy god mother to help with a magic wand. And a witch has no chance to destroy because magic does not work in a world where will can not be undermined or confused by desire, longing, need, or dream.
To summarize the above line of thought, I think it is very important not to underestimate the genuine conflict that exists between reality and fairy tales. Fairy tales are opposed by the masculine father principle (whatever that may be). The feminine world, by contrast, nurtures and supports children who are in the process of acquiring language and distinguishing between self and others.
This conflict continues without diminishing even if it is the mother who works and the father who stays home to raise the child. In such a case, it is very easy for the mother to switch roles and now to be the one who is inaccessible and unable to communicate herself to the child. I have seen this over and over. Perhaps in a few decades this will change. Still, the world as we know it is the accumulation of sixty thousand years of human history and it has the same requirements for survival and success no matter which gender sallies forth to try to conquer it.
One response in trying to recapture the father is that of Thomas Moore in his book, Care of the Soul, p. 37. “The world into which we are born “is unique and individual, always uncharted, teeming with its own dangers, pleasures, and opportunities. One becomes a father to one’s own life by becoming intimately acquainted with it and by daring to traverse its waters.”
For my part, again, I like Ursula LeGuinn’s statement: “We all have many men and women inside of us.” There is a great danger when the male becomes too masculine and out of contact with the feminine and vice versa when the feminine loses contact with the masculine. The genders then become twisted, inflexible, and destructive rather than healing and creative.
The remedy I see is to explore more fully the psychology of image and the practices related to training the imagination. By contrast, we live in an extremely extroverted world. Protestant Christianity, for example, is the only religion in the history of the human race to have no spiritual training system. With a few unproductive and non-influential exceptions, Protestants have no traditional practice in which they can sit still for a half hour or longer and study, develop, and explore their feelings, their minds, their soul, or their spirit on their own terms.
On the other hand, at one point, three per cent of the Protestants in England were responsible for producing fifty per cent of the nation’s production. It is not called the Protestant Ethic for nothing. Protestants have a very strong sense of the father and of reality.
Conservative Protestants, as is now occurring in some cases with the Harry Potter books, vehemently oppose fairy, magic, Halloween, and any references to the these images. Some good Fundamentalist Christians are currently burning the Harry Potter books while they stand around the fire singing Amazing Grace.
Their religion, again, is one of the sun in which everything is well-defined, clear, and dedicated to productivity. They are terribly afraid of the night and of the beauty and power within the feminine. One Christian minister even went to far as to say that when Harry Potter’s mother sacrificed herself for her son, the book was trying to replace a male God with a Goddess image. Such fear (and anger) blinds and distorts what it sees.
Many have suggested that Christianity has tried to destroy altogether the literature of fairy tales over the last two thousand years. This culminated in the death of millions during the Inquisition and events such as a Catholic Bishop ordering the complete destruction of the collective writings of the Mayans. All but three of the Mayan books were destroyed.
Shakespeare attempted to reconcile the opposites of the realm of magic with that of reality in his last play, The Tempest. The strong father figure, Prospero, utilizes forbidden magic to resolve political injustice. When the conflict is over, Prospero declares that it is time to put aside the magic and return to the duties of ordinary life. But injustice always remains. Shakespeare could only touch the surface of the theme of spiritual power being directed consciously for the sake of a good end.
J.R.R. Tolkein also presents a powerful, elder male figure in the wizard Gandalf. But even Gandalf knows full well the temptations of seeking and using absolute power. So he turns to the more innocent, child-like Hobbit, Frodo, to bare the weight of carrying the power that can control the world. But one picks up this power only to keep it from those who would abuse it. Like Shakespeare, it must be set aside and destroyed so that normal life can survive. In Tolkein, the influence of fairy must diminish so that the world of mankind might develop.
When I asked Robert Bly at a seminar at the University of Michigan in 1971 about the relation of magic to poetry, he denied that there was a connection. Magic, he said, relates to incantation. As I mentioned in my poet, St. Patrick and the Elves, we have a very long way to go before we have resolved the conflict between the necessities and duties of reality and those that the heart require us to accomplish.
For me, every mode of sensory perception is full of wonder, magic, and mystery. The politician, the theoretical physicist, the advertising executive, and the general as well as the poet all use reframing and imagery to accomplish their separate purposes. The five senses can turn inward or outward to reinforce and to amply the imagination. They can be used to create or they can be tools in the hands of the assassin. But there is no way to get around the power of imagination. Imagination is more than the magical wand in the Tempest and far more than Sauron’s ring in Tolkein. It is one of the tools used by the heart to reconcile all opposites.
For myself, I have written several fairy tales in which the father is very active (See The Dragon and the Knight and Wind Elves). The father figure facilities others use of their imagination. He guides them into the world of fairy and magical animals without compromising the reality principle or the need to grasp the world as it is.
I do not see a problem with the opposing principles of day and night, of masculine and feminine, and of reality and magic. There is only one world and it includes every aspect of fairy, dream, longing, desire, and ideal as well as every aspect of reality, science, technology, and industry. The themes of justice, fair play, problem solving, and caring for others remain constant no matter whether you explore the inner or the outer worlds.
Gradually, perhaps in the next few decades, we will meet something that has been very rare in the Western world--men of great power and knowledge who are also sensitive to and celebrate the rhythms and the images that animate the soul. Then fairy tales will no longer be so carelessly exploited by shallow psychology or ravenous ideologies that feel compelled to rewrite the classics to justify their angry agendas. Instead, fairy tales will be presented more along the lines of what they are (and what Socrates could not imagine)--gates that open a way for the individual to explore him or herself.
15. Can you give an example of power struggles between genders in fairy tales? How would this affect a child’s view?
I really do not know how a child’s view is affected by the power struggles between the genders in fairy tales. Hopefully, children acquire a sense of humor and appreciation for the honest give and take that is part of any relationship.
As I have mentioned earlier, in fairy tales the male can represent the principle of independence. Against this principle stand the sisters and the mother who may bitterly resent the male’s interference in the social/communal bond that women have forged through get sacrifice with each other. In Sleeping Beauty, again, it is the adult female figure and the sisters who seek to keep the young woman a slave in the house that they maintain.
In the Greek Mystery Religion, Demeter, the goddess of the earth, throws the world into perpetual winter because she is mourning the loss of her daughter, Persephone, to Pluto who has carried her off. Zeus sends Mercury to negotiate with her and he succeeds. Persephone will remain with Pluto three months of each year and during this time winter shall reign.
In another story, Zeus and Hera were arguing over who gets the better deal out of sex. They turned to a mortal, Homer, to resolve their conflict because Homer was the only person to have ever been both a man and a woman. When Homer said that women have the better deal, Hera in anger blinded him. But Zeus, as compensation, gave Homer the gift of inspiration. And so what does Homer write about? He writes about the Greek and Trojan war which originated because three goddesses were arguing with each other over who was the more beautiful.
There are countless conflicts between the genders in fairy tales. In the Fisherman’s Wife, the fisherman gains magical wishes which his wife uses for self-aggrandizement. In A Thousand Nights and One Night, the young woman must not only prove her love but somehow manage to survive the wrath of an insane husband. The man’s only wish is to kill any woman who he might love so that he never again has to suffer betrayal. But the woman knows a way to survive and restore his sanity. She plays upon his curiosity which is stronger than his pain and his wrath.
In the story, Sir Gewain and the Green Knight, Sir Gewain had to marry a very ugly women in order to save Arthur’s life and gain the answer to the riddle: What do women want from men? The answer is that they want a man who has the power to command them but who also continuously offers them freedom of choice.
In my poem, The Wizard and the Lady, the wizard is upfront and to the point. He tells the woman he needs her sensual beauty to perfect his magical art, for there is no greater power in all the world than a man and a woman joined in love. The woman replies that she already has gold and silver, diamonds and emeralds. There is nothing he can offer her.
And furthermore, she would not even respond if it were a god such Krishna or Orion (both renowned for their love of women) who was making the offer. She is already independent and complete and a masculine presence in any form would compromise her freedom. Still, there is one condition under which she might consider his offer--if he can overwhelm her heart then she just might reconsider. There is no father, sister, mother, witch, or dragon that serves as an obstacle to their love. The negotiation is direct and the magical demonstration must be completely overpowering.
In Tolkein’s version of Orpheus and Eurydice, Beren seeks the hand of Luthien in marriage. Here it is the girl’s father who must be placated by Beren acquiring a Silmaril from the crown of Morgoff. In the fairy tale, Kagu Hime, again, it is the girl’s father who the girl knows will accept nothing short of a miraculous and divine accomplishment to stop him from taking his daughter back to his lunar abode. If the male and female feel genuine love and want each other, then the gender conflict arises from an external source that, nonetheless, has some sort of claim upon them.
In the story of Eros and Psyche, Eros carries Psyche off to his palace. But her sisters resent this. They bait Psyche and demand she slay her lover claiming that he is a monster.
It is not only the sisters who conspire against the male to end this union. Aphrodite, the mother of Eros, wishes to kill Psyche because Psyche threatens to take away her only child. Psyche is getting it from both sides--her sisters and also a power female figure. The god Pan suggests to Psyche that she should declare her love for Eros directly to Aphrodite who is, after all, the goddess of love.
When Psyche does this, Aphrodite requires that Psyche pass four impossible tests. As I write, I can hear the feminists telling Psyche to forget it. Is any man worth the bother? But Psyche senses the god within the man and it is this god to whom she is bonded. She does not wish to say only, “I have a boyfriend,” or “a man in my life” who fulfills a social, emotional, and biological role.
Psyche has a higher vision of love than even Aphrodite. Aphrodite knows that relationships with men require sacrifice. And the relationships only go so far. A relationship in which the genders see each other for who they really are is not something Aphrodite could understand. The man takes the woman away from her family, her sisters and her mother and he isolates her. Children are the reward and the sacrifice of marrying the man is necessary. In the beginning, there is passion, but in the end the passion always brings suffering. Aphrodite will not give her son in marriage to a woman who can not match her understanding that passion and suffering are one taste.
Psyche passes the four tests and then passes a fifth of her own design and even Aphrodite is placated by Psyche’s accomplishments. The path of spiritual growth for a woman, according to this tale, involves making alliances with men as well as relying upon her feminine instincts. But in the end, she never forgets what she intends. Psyche understands well the words, “Except a seed fall to the earth and die, it can not bring forth new life.” She puts her life on the line for the sake of her love.
Zeus, who represents the order of the universe in Greek mythology, has himself had a number of unsuccessful love affairs. And so he recognizes when a woman has accomplished more than the gods and goddesses when it comes to love. Zeus raises Psyche up and turns her into a goddess so that she can marry Eros and take her place among those who determine fate. Psyche meets the test of the feminine and she learns from the men. But in the end, it is love she chooses to celebrate above all else. In doing this, she establishes a new order on earth, one that transforms both herself and her lover Eros along the way.
I kind of like this story. It is one of the very few that have come down to us that does not involve or emphasize the male’s hero’s quest. It is a feminine path of growth and it is loaded with suggestions and it also turns the world upside-down. Psyche goes further than Orpheus who failed in his quest upon entering the underworld because he looked back too soon to see if his lover, Eurydice, was following him. Orpheus did not have faith in the purpose he intended. Psyche did.
In one of my Mystical Fables, the Prophet A’ia asks Luna, a tavern dancer, the proverbial question, “What have you learned about men since you have begun dancing?” Luna answered, “The only reason a man is interested in a woman is to have sex or children.”
“Luna,” A’ia said, “What would men say about women that is on the same level as your description?”
Luna looked into A’ia’s eyes and saw the mirth and the playfulness and so she accepted the challenge. She replied, “Men would say about women pretty much the same thing, except that instead of sex, some women want money and some want children. Do I pass your test?”
A’ia said, “The first part. Now here is the more difficult question, “What do men want from women that is behind and underneath the desire for sex and children?” Without hesitating, Luna replied, “They want the beauty of women in their lives. They want the oneness sex implies. They want the tender love they see in children’s eyes. Does it surprise you that a dancer can match you word for word and phrase for phrase and then go on to ask the next question the conversation requires?”
“Don’t stop now. You are doing so well,” A’ia answered.
Luna went on, “And so I too have a test for you. Answer this: “What do women want from men that is underneath the desire for bread and the blind hunger in their wombs to bear children?”
A’ia replied, “They want the man’s strength and power to join with their own to make a home. And in that home they want love to flow without barriers or boundaries through body and soul.”
One of the great teachers in the area of conflict resolution was a man named Danaan Perry. Danaan said that one of the greatest strategies in conflict resolution is to go to your enemy and ask for help. Enter the enemies camp and point out how much you have in common and that you share things with each other that no one else can understand. Then ask for the other’s advice in how to fulfill your purposes.
The strategy is so open-hearted and inviting that it sometimes actually works. Danaan brought together groups of men and women such as the Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland or the veterans of the Viet Nam and Soviet-Afghanistan war. He often discovered that the opposing groups had deeper feelings about being wounded by the opposite gender than they did about fighting each other. The men could sympathize with the men and the women with the women even though the same gender groups contained traditional enemies.
As with Sir Gewain and the Green Knight, I think sometimes you just have to ask the opposite gender what he or she wants and give the other the choice as to how to proceed. At other times, as with Psyche, the resolution of conflict between the genders involves a long journey with many tests. Psyche certainly demonstrates that the genders have their separate wells from which to drink. But for Psyche, it is a journey undertaken for the sake of love. If children can learn things such as this from fairy tales, I think these stories will have accomplished a great deal.
16. Unconsciously children project parts of themselves onto fairy tale characters, please explain how they are able to do this.
Some children have a high degree of empathy and other children are very deficient in empathy. If someone nearby begins to cry, the child may cry too. On the other hand, if a child who is hurt is crying and another child is suddenly hurt, the first child may stop crying.
There is an immediate transference between individuals almost like, “Your pain is my pain,” or, “Oh, maybe this isn’t my pain but yours.” You can see adults do this as well all the time. If one person is happy and another is not, the unhappy person often feels “better” by saying something that deflates or removes the good cheer of the other. It is not just that misery loves company. It is that “I feel better now that you feel worse.” For some individuals, happiness is a comparable and competitive result.
We all project ourselves onto others or other things. A woman may be attracted to a man who is in charge of himself, confident, courageous, dynamic, and masterful. All of these qualities are within her as well. A man may be attracted to a woman who cheerful, vivacious, receptive, sensual, and loving. All of these qualities can equally be found within him.
You can partner with another who compliments you and fills in for what is missing in yourself. You can also seek to find these things within yourself. It may require only a change in attitude or, on the other hand, a life long quest.
Anything that is dormant and struggling to awaken within our consciousness is easily projected outside of ourselves. If some feeling is seeking to awaken in an individual and the individual considers this new feeling to be unacceptable and forbidden, the individual may repress or deny it. But it is still there and trying to enter the individual’s mind. What often happens is that the individual will then project this feeling on to others and consider its appearance in someone else to be bad or evil. If the new feeling is something desirable, then the individual may project that feeling also onto others and be attracted to the other person.
The “evil” often contains an element of truth--it requires us to be more responsible in some way. And the beautiful often comes with a great price--such things as sacrifice, death and rebirth, separation and reunion, a long, solitary journey, for beauty often awakens the feelings and powers within ourselves that are most hidden.
My point is that projection occurs at all stages of life. It is easy to see ourselves in others and to interpret others according to our own experience. This a normal and healthy process. To fail to develop empathy results in asocial behavior. To have too much empathy is to compromise one’s own identity and be confused about personal boundaries. By presenting a wide range of characters with complex motivations, fairy tales enable children to learn both empathy and discrimination.