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‘If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.’ (Albert Einstein)
As children we listened spellbound to tales of wicked witches, talking animals and quests with treasure at the end of the road. Fairytales, however, were not originally intended for children – early versions often have violent and sexual overtones (rape occurred frequently). Clearly not designed for young ears! They were an oral tradition passed down through generations, long before the average person was literate. Eventually these tales were collected and transcribed by people such as Charles Perrault in France and the Brothers Grimm in Germany (Hans Christian Andersen is the exception, having written most of his stories from his own ideas). In times when literacy was reserved for the clergy, fairytales conveyed a far deeper significance than just entertainment. Hidden truths and esoteric teachings that could not be taught openly became entwined in these seemingly innocent tales of wicked witches and innocent princesses. THE SEVEN STAGES OF DEVELOPMENT If we focus on our integration, there is a recognised process that we follow (for example, Jacob’s ladder, the seven main chakras of the Eastern Chakra system, St Theresa of Avila’s seven mystical unfoldings, and the stages of understanding symbolised by the Seven Veils of Isis). So while our actual experience of the stages may differ, the ‘lessons’, if you like, remain constant. Most of the time we’re not aware of these stages; however, throughout history, wise men have been creating guides for us to help recognise the often difficult path. As in these mystical traditions, many fairytales have seven definite stages, together with their corresponding archetypes. (Not all fairytales have all seven stages, but most have the seven archetypes.) Stage one ‘If you do not express your own original ideas, if you do not listen to your own being, you will have betrayed yourself.’ (Rollo May) Archetype: Victim Experience: Separation and/or betrayal Requirement: Trust In the majority of fairytales the hero or heroine is alone, betrayed and cast out of the family. Usually they are poor (in spirit as well as financially), e.g. Hansel and Gretel are left in the wood to die having been betrayed by their parents, and Snow White is left alone in the forest after the huntsman chooses to allow her to live, rather than follow her stepmother’s orders and kill her. Here, we feel victims of circumstances we perceive are beyond our control – the archetypal Victim. Few of us are inspired to embark on deep spiritual searching without some painful change in our lives, such as loss, betrayal, illness, retrenchment, marrying out of our traditional religious group, re-locating or divorce. This is often the catalyst for a journey into our interior psyche, asking the questions: ‘Who am I?’, ‘What is my purpose?’, ‘What creates true meaning in my life?’ Stage two ‘A small word of encouragement can change another’s life. A small act of kindness can save another’s life.’ (Unknown) Archetype: Martyr/Servant Experience: Divine interception/help Requirement: Ability to change At this point in our journey Divine help occurs. Our hero/ine finds someone from the magical realms to guide them, often in the form of an animal, a bird (winged messenger from the gods), a dwarf or a fairy, e.g. Jack gets given the magic beans by a strange fellow he meets on the road. He doesn’t recognise the ‘seeds of potential’, but trusts his intuition and exchanges his precious cow for them. This sometimes occurs as a book we read, a helpful stranger, an inspirational talk or some occurrence that sets us on a path of self-discovery. This seemingly small event can dramatically alter our lives if we are open and prepared to change. Stage three ‘Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself within a forest dark, For the straightforward pathway had been lost.’ (Dante Alighieri) Archetype: Warrior Experience: Questing Requirement: Willpower/courage Our hero/ine is unsure of the road ahead – Hansel and Gretel’s attempt to leave crumbs to mark their way out of the forest has been foiled by birds that have eaten them, Red Riding Hood has strayed off the path and is lost, the prince in Sleeping Beauty has come across the impenetrable growth that surrounds the sleeping princess in her castle. Ever felt in unfamiliar territory? Not knowing the wood from the trees? Unsure of the road ahead? The beasts that are often encountered in fairytales represent our own shadow selves which must be faced if we are to emerge into the light. Every hero/ine embarks on this journey to self-discovery. This stage requires working on willpower, self-esteem, integrity and our relationship with ourselves, so that we can develop personal power. Your quest may lead you to a different part of the world, a retreat, an unfamiliar job – whatever pushes you out of your comfort zone. We get stuck when our courage to change fails us and we become afraid, self-recriminating and resentful/angry. Stage four ‘Because the greatest love of all is happening to me …’ (The Greatest Love of All by Michael Masser and Linda Creed) Archetype: Lover Experience: To unite with lost or hidden aspects of ourselves. To balance the inner male/female Requirement: Love and compassion Our hero/ine has overcome whatever obstacles were blocking their paths and found true love. Beauty and the Beast is a wonderful example of this union, where the ugly ‘beast’ aspect of ourselves unites with the beautiful princess (higher self). We experience unconditional love and compassion. Getting stuck here often results in depression/hopelessness. Forgiveness of ourselves and others is a way to move ahead. Stage five ‘No! I will have no regrets …’ (sung by Edith Piaff) Archetype: Magician/Alchemist Experience: Expression of our true nature and creativity Requirement: The Truth over ‘our truth’ The ‘evil’ (ego) represented by the dragon/wolf/witch/stepmother is slain. The Alchemist takes the base metal of lead and transforms it into gold, symbolic of our own transformational process from being ‘heavy’ to becoming enlightened. In fairytales, the hero/ine often finds gold. Stage five represents embracing truth and power as we awaken to the true nature of ourselves. We are living in the ‘now ‘and are not carrying guilt, grudges or regrets about the past. We are able to communicate directly from the heart. Stage Six ‘Little by little, through patience and repeated effort, the mind will become stilled in the Self.’ (Bhagavad Gita) Archetype: Sage Experience: Recognising patterns Requirement: Introspection, self-reflection, acceptance Often portrayed as crossing a bridge, awakening from a sleep or traversing a river, we move from the physical to the richness of consciousness and learn to surrender our will to Divine will. On an emotional level, at this stage of the journey we reach acceptance of all that has occurred in our lives and understand our karmic patterns. Stage seven Archetype: Master/King/Queen/Ruler Experience: Enlightenment, consciousness Requirement: Wisdom This is the ‘happily ever after’ part of the story. The hero/ine is crowned king/queen and rules in a ‘far-off land’. The ‘great work’ is completed. Our higher and lower selves are integrated, the ‘beast’ of the ego is conquered and we are enlightened. CONCLUSION This then, in broad brushstrokes, is just a brief glimpse of the rich spiritual wealth and awakening guidelines contained in fairytales. Dig deeper into the symbols they contain and you’ll find insights you may have overlooked. The great news is that with this understanding, reading them to your children or grandchildren becomes not only a rewarding experience for the child, but a deeply enriching experience for yourself.
She has authored several books, including The A-Z Guide to Common Habits, The Girl Who Bites Her Nails and the Man Who is Always Late, Finding Your Feet and Climbing the Beanstalk – the Hidden Messages Found in Best-Loved Fairytales. Ann has worked as a holistic practitioner, using Reiki and Footology. She teaches a number of workshops and is also an exhibiting artist. Ann has spent over 20 years studying the mind/body connection, with habits being her particular interest.
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