by Stephen Flynn
Key Words: Myth, Self, anima, animus, synchrony, ego, shadow.
I argue that fairy tales have qualities that can be found in classical myth and should be taken more seriously. In both fairy tale and myth there is much to be discovered about ourselves. From this deduction I suggest the whole fairy tale be interpreted as part of an individuals psyche. Looked at in this way each figure within the story impacts on the whole, each turn of events has a cause and effect forming or conforming to patterns that unfold towards a workable unity as ‘‘the Self’’ seeks resolution (Jung 60:316). In the summary I suggest a chart or path our heroine Snow White took could also be used as a guide for therapists working clinically with people suffering from neurosis. However, Marie-Louise Von Franz reminds us that the figures in the fairy tale and in myth alike lack personality and cannot be compared directly with the human ego. (Von Franz 80:10). Taking these limitations into account I suggest, collectively these tales offer insight into human behavior, or if you like, they from a blue-print of the psyche. So we embark on a study of underlying traits or psychic patterns and not persona or social role per se.
A Jungian analysis of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.
The Opie’s tell us that the story of Snow White can be found with little variation all over the world `…from Ireland to Asia Minor and in several parts of North and West Africa.’ (Opie & Opie 1980:227). So we are dealing with a fairytale which has a lot of meaning for many people and like myth continues to fascinate. I feel quite humbled as I continue to realise such simple stories as Snow White still hold much for us that remains deeply buried within its simplicity. I am prepared to conclude that some fairy stories seem to verge on myth, in that, the more I read about the science of myth, the more I conclude that this tale has the key factors of classical mythology. If this is so, then we might give more weight to these simple tales. Perhaps it is `invented’ just to show us something of our selves and perhaps these simple stories are as C. G. Jung considers myth to be, the ‘..Unconscious expressions of ourselves…'(Jung and Kerényi 1989:162).
My difficulty with ‘classical myth’ is that it was once believed to be true, and was yesteryear religion. Whereas the fairy story was never believed to be so, but then again, in the eyes of a child such stories are considered `true.’ Was medieval man more ‘child like,’ primitive or less differentiated in his belief then modern man and did he give credibility to the fairytale as we now give to religion? I would like to believe society has moved on to distinguish a little better between the truth of ‘maybe’, and the fantasy of ‘what if...’. Whatever stance one takes either with religion, myth or fairy tale, they all share a common purpose of transmitting meaning. Both fairytale and myth have stood the test of time, both contain an underlying pattern that speaks to our present day condition. On this basis I suggest we take the fairytale seriously and try to discover what this pattern is. But no matter how extensive my rendering of the story, deeper meanings will always remain. As Jung put it, `…The archetypes are the imperishable elements of the unconscious, but they change their shape continually.’ (Ibid:98). This ‘imperishable element’ of the unconscious is a key, held in myth, to assist in our understanding of a pattern, the unconscious maps within us all. What if we can identify this map? It may be possible to ‘plan’ or ‘map out’ the stages of life in the analysand, and thereby aid psychological healing.
To start my analysis of Snow White, I will assume that the whole of the story to date describes a state of the immature feminine psyche. For instance, there are three women in this story, and the first, the caring mother soon dies leaving our heroine Snow White with no psychological mother. Thus all the images in the story can be seen or can become aspects of a feminine or the ‘‘Anima’’ irrespective of gender (Jung 1960:345). I will use all the people mentioned in this Fairy Story to represent autonomous complexes common to us all and yet still held in a single mind or to put it another way, I will take each character of the story to represent different aspects of ‘‘the Self’’. This story is essentially a story for little girls and so I may be in danger of running the sexist gauntlet, but I wish to make it clear that there is equally such immature imagery to be found in the psyche of men or in the masculine psyche ‘‘Animus’’ (ibid.), which can also be found in stories like Jack and the Bean Stalk. In fact, these stories tell us how to develop and integrate conflicting aspects of our selves as our personal unconscious map unfolds. At the start of the story Snow White, or the anima, is far from complete as she is both innocent and immature and lacks a caring mother figure within. I will continue to pursue this line of thought throughout the remainder of this paper as there is much to gain from so doing. I will use anima or animus to be interchangeable with either ‘‘boy, man’’ or ‘‘girl and woman’’.
Here is a brief reminder of the story:
A young queen sat sewing by a window in mid-winter, using an ebony embroidery frame. She pricked her finger and seeing the red blood, made a wish that the child within her should have skin as white as the snow, with cheeks as red as the blood and hair and eyes as black as the ebony frame. Subsequently a daughter was born with the gifts the Queen wished for, but she herself died at the birth. A year later the king married again. His new queen was very beautiful, but vain and proud. She relied on a magic mirror to assure her of her supremacy in beauty.
When Snow White was seven years old the magic mirror told the queen that her step-daughter had surpassed her in loveliness. The queen fell into a rage and sent a huntsman into the forest with Snow White to kill her. He could not bring himself to carry out her order, but left her in the forest. Eventually, she found the cottage of the seven dwarfs, where she was well received. In return for house keeping they undertook to look after her, having heard her story. Concerned for her safety, they told her she must not allow anyone into the house when they were away working, digging for precious metals in the nearby mountains.
All went well until the step-mother queen found out from her magic mirror that Snow White was still alive and still surpassing her in beauty. She made three visits to attempt to kill her (after trying to do so via the huntsman) and appeared to have succeeded in the fourth attempt when she handed her a poisoned apple through the window. The dwarfs came home to find Snow White’s lifeless body and placed her in a glass coffin as she remained as beautiful as ever. Sometime later a prince came by on a horse, fell in love with Snow White and persuaded the Dwarfs to give the body and the coffin to him. As he lifted her onto his horse, the piece of poisoned apple fell out of her mouth and she was brought back to life. The prince took Snow White back to his castle where they were married amidst great rejoicing. The step-mother queen danced herself to death in rage at the wedding.
In psychological terms, what is going for Snow White?
In Opies’ version, the alternative title of Snow Drop is used, and starts with Snow Drop’s mother a Queen who.. ‘Sat working at a window, the frame of which was made of fine black ebony: and as she was looking out upon the snow, she pricked her finger and three drops of blood fell upon it. Then she gazed thoughtfully upon the red drops which sprinkled the white snow,’ (Opie and Opie 1974:230).
It is interesting to compare Grimm’s story here. It is actually snowing in this version of the tale as Snow White’s mother, ‘.sat at a window knitting. her knitting needle was of black ebony, and as she worked, and the snow glittered, she pricked her finger, and three drops of blood fell into the snow The red spots looked so beautiful in the white snow that the queen thought to herself…’ (Grimm 1984:188)
This silent reflection by the Queen looking upon her freezing blood and the pattern it made in the snow activated a deep yearning for her expected child. This form of reflecting, Jung considers, is a masculine trait within the feminine. The (animus) often uses the silent image to illustrate meaning to the woman. He presents himself `…as a painter …or is a cinema-operator or owner of a picture gallery..’ (Jung 1960:171). This motif is a fine example of such an experience. Or as Jung would put it: ‘Image and meaning are identical, as the first takes shape so the latter becomes clear.’ (ibid: 204)
There are other archetypes (Jung1981:21) to be found in this story. The `Primordial Child and the earth mother.'(Jung and Kerenyi 1989:158) is aptly described in the opening paragraph whose colours of black and red are depicted in the beginning of the story. It is only later as the story unfolds does it become apparent the need to `..extend the feminine consciousness both upwards and downwards..’ (Ibid:162). In so doing the bud like quality of the maiden unfolds and maybe the roots go deeper. More significant perhaps is the symbol of transcendence of the above motif: A mosaic of some future promise which surpasses the life of the mother. Note how Snow White’s mother ‘gazed thoughtfully’ on the image and places her future offspring into its structure by visualising her future child’s attributes. Within one motif we can find a pure feminine act of imagination as well as Jung’s ‘masculine trait’ (ibid) of a mother imaging her daughter’s nature prior to birth.
We are presented with a `symbol’ of the child through the element of `snow’ on the ground. Professor Kerényi defines it, `as an image presented by the world itself. In the image of the Primordial Child the world tells of its own childhood and of everything that sunrise and the birth of a child mean for the world.’ (Jung and Kerényi 1989:45). Later he refers again to the Primordial Child who, ‘… originally comprised both begetter and begotten. The same idea, seen as the woman’s fate, presented itself to the Greeks. The budlike quality of it is expressed in the name often given to its personification: kore, which is simply the goddess “Maiden” (Jung and Kerényi 1989:105).
Our simple story touches on deep imagery in its opening passage. Certainly what follows is the birth of a maiden of bud-like quality, and all that follows from this description by Jung and Kerényi of the science of myth is applicable to Snow White. These are ancient patterns indeed. Other observations on the above include the number three recurring: three drops of blood: the ‘‘black needle,’’ the ‘‘blood’’ and the ‘‘snow,’’ make three images: giving her daughter three attributes: Black hair and eyes, white skin and red cheeks, and the ‘three’ symbol of unity in ‘‘maid,’’ ‘‘mother’’ and ‘‘child’’ involving a cycle of death of the maid when she is in union with a man, giving birth and renewal of life again. Three seems to be a significant figure. It is when we reach the number four the process is complete. The mother, the daughter, the shadow (the wicked step-mother) and eventually the Prince, is one example of a quaternity. It is the fourth element that seems to enter from nowhere to complete the story. The masculine or ‘animus,’’ appears as her prince. However, before we leap to the end of the story, our heroine has to undergo her final stage of transformation. In terms of dramatic action, it is with the fourth attempt to kill her that the step-mother queen is supposedly successful. Maybe she is spent, complete, as it were, on her fourth attempt.
Examining the development of the masculine and feminine in the story:
There are ten men in the story of Snow White and nine represent weak or inadequate father figures within Snow White. These ten men can be broken down into four stages of development of the masculine within the development of the female in her striving to become a fully mature woman at the end of the story. However, prior to the Ego development, it doesn’t seem to matter what gender the child is, as Professor Kerényi pointed out, `..the role of the child was restricted neither to the male nor the female sex’ (Jung and Kerényi 1989:147). The psychic transcendence of unconscious forces in a child includes the boy transcending to a man or… ‘in this case ‘maid’ transcending to ‘mother’. The metamorphosis of `one unfolding of the bud like idea that envisaged the continuity of life in the unity of maiden, mother, and child, a being that dies, gives birth, and comes to life again.’ (Jung and Kerenyi 1989:148).
(The male in a similar state has to face his shadow side too. Non acceptance or non integration of the shadow, results in no growth. Peter Pan never grew up, but then, he never had a shadow. In clinical practice as a therapist, I ask the patient to explore their ‘attitude’ to the shadow within them. I am reminded of Jack, in Jack and the Bean Stalk. His shadow was the giant he had yet to meet.)
Uniformity starts to emerge when we read how the queen died at the birth of her child and after her death her husband, ‘…the king took another wife'(Grimm 1984:188). This is the only mention of Snow Whites’ father. He is an indolent father because he utterly fails to protect his child from the murderous hands of his new wife. This indolent father figure is also shared with ‘Cinderella’ and perhaps ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ who does not seem to have a father at all. Common to all these tales is the fact that the negative aspect of the masculine (indolent father) cannot be integrated and this can result in a denial of the masculine, ‘as. These maidens are always doomed to die, because their exclusive domination of the feminine psyche hinders the individuation process, that is, the maturation of personality'(Jung and Kerényi 1989:172).
The ‘absent one’ in a persons’ life or the one least mentioned usually has an enormous contribution to make. Our heroine starts out with an almost non- existent father figure or ‘Animus’’ and at this stage the mother is dead. This state of the psyche is tragic. It lacks a caring mother image and a father who cannot stand up for her and ‘‘doing nothing’’ is the most expressive form of violence because the very act of non-doing prevents its own cure. He doesn’t offer any suggestions, guidance or even attempt to control the raging forces within her personified by the wicked step-mother. He does nothing against the raging opposite. The counter balance to the weak Animus is an inflated negative feminine ‘shadow‘ which ‘… is totally unconscious….and… seems to possess a peculiar wisdom of its own…'(Jung1981:233f)… in the form of the step mother. The whole story seems to be about Snow White eventually finding her prince, the tenth male figure, before she is able to face and tame the rage within.
The Ego although ‘…an immense accumulation of images of past processes.’ (Jung :1960:323:360) within Snow White is nevertheless infantile in development and immense! This initial state of a person contains all that is needed to develop into an adult but suffers from a failure of adaptation, compensated by ‘… an older…regressive reactivation of the parental imagos…’ (Jung1995:140). As we discover, there is growth of the primal female in the form of the wicked step-mother queen. So it is not surprising that this dominant ‘‘shadow’’ (ibid.: 208) tries to dislodge the Ego, especially when the shadow itself is married to such a weak Animus. Snow White is in a mess, we can conclude the inevitable ‘Partial suicide’’ is the shadow’s way of restricting the existence of Snow White, our heroine (Jung and Kerényi 1989:110). If she were a patient at this stage of development, she would appear hysterical, have a terror around freedom and at the same time be dependant on whoever was available. She may well describe her feelings likened to being in a small dark place and hiding away from responsibility and the danger of the wide outside. The ego began its own development when Snow White was seven years old, and it was then we find terror expressed by our Queenly step-mother. This terror can also accommodate jealousy, a lack of love for the child within, which then becomes hateful and murderous ‘…she would have been ready to tear her heart out of her body’ (Grimm 1984:189).
This involves the first glimmer of awareness on the part of Snow White. She is considered a threat by the shadow figure in her psyche, the wicked step-mother. So the first state of male awareness emerges too- the Woodman who will do no harm, but will not protect either. This is a transit stage for Snow White as she finds herself wandering in the wilderness of the wood abandoned by adults. The shadow within, our new usurper Queen is out to destroy Snow White and has hired the services of the Huntsman as the killer. Thus, enters the second male figure. He is not as violent as the first in that, he does do something and he refuses to harm her, but also fails to protect her, letting her go into unknown danger in the wood. At least he deceives the Shadow figure (the usurper queen) and takes back a heart of a deer as a pretense. The Ego at this stage is under the spell of unknown forces within and is restricted in freedom “…being alienated from normal life’’ (Jung1960: 311) where she continues ‘‘hiding in the woods.’’
All the masculine force of the father in Snow White was mesmerised by the attributes of beauty masking the evil content which harbored no warmth of feeling. We are told the shadow queen ‘..could not endure that anyone should surpass her in beauty’ (Grimm 1984:188). And of course, she had the magic mirror. It was magic because the reflection looked into the mirror and saw the real self looking back from within the mirror. This is indeed a symbol of one aspect of feminine beauty. Jung says of such a woman that they have ‘..artistry in illusion being a specifically feminine talent…’.
However, it seems if a woman remains ‘…content to be a femme a’ home, she has no feminine individuality. She is empty and merely glitters-a welcome vessel for masculine projection (Jung and Kerenyi 1989:172-3). The mirror told the queen she was no longer the best. The first emotion ‘…the queen was terrified’ (Grimm 1984:189). A rather interesting feeling, when we consider it is only competitive beauty that is at stake. Her beauty is also about control because if she ceases to mesmerise her man he would ‘see though her’ and all would be lost.
Here is indeed more maturity within the feminine and masculine at this stage. This is where Snow White meets the common man, the vast majority of men- all seven of them! He (the dwarfs) works all day and expects everyone else to do so. So Snow White enters a tentative agreement based on mutual help: She does the house work for her keep and they needs-must work. The Shadow takes up a disguise at this stage too as the shadow is becoming aware of the budding Ego Snow White. But the Dwarfs are not grown-up enough, half man size as it were, and fail to protect their female charge and leave Snow White unguarded even after repeated homicide attempts. Likewise, the feminine is equally as stupid where she obeys the instructions ‘not to open the door’ but opens the window instead, because they never told her not to do that.
She meets the animus in the form of many which “….is undifferentiated and many” (Jung1981:16f)). ‘The animus also embodies helpful figures’… as the Dwarfs proved to be, and thus starts the Ego’s road back to recovery (Jung1960:347). In this state although obviously distressed, Snow White is unable to get in touch with her feelings. The split within herself eventually becomes evident. The discovery of the hatred expressed by her own negative mother within is actually witnessed. All this is painful to witness for people in real life too and our heroine is only just beginning to see it. The subdued Ego needs to find ‘herself’. In the meantime, there is a need for the Ego to ‘grow up’ by becoming more ‘differentiated,’ albeit this is a process which takes time.
If you think about it, the shadow (the wicked Queen) is not the legitimate heir to the Psyche. She is usurping the Ego, and by so doing, is prepared to commit partial suicide. The wicked queen’s modus operandi includes the notion that “…there is no actual loss of reality, only a falsification of it” (Jung 1995: 140). Notice how the feminine shadow includes the ‘glistening’ part of the libido. It allures the masculine with little concern for the more wholesome purpose which should include the need to form an intimate relationship or to reproduce. However, in our story the potential of the ego resorts to hiding, and thereby grows up slowly replacing the totally inept ”animus’ (the indolent father) with the un-differentiated but helpful dwarfs. (Perhaps the therapist plays the role of the dwarfs retrieving treasures from the unconscious, and the analysand is represented by the Ego ‘keeping house’ the temporary safe space.)
When working with women striving to integrate, the therapist’s task includes helping her to “…Keep everything neat and clean and orderly…” (Grimm1984:191) and helping her to see “…directly that all was not right…” (Opie and Opie 1974:232). This latter comment includes looking at the ‘sociology’ of our patients too.
The number of times in fairy stories where a girl has a father in ‘name only’ indicates uniformity. ‘The psychotherapist cannot fail to be impressed when he realizes how uniform the unconscious images are despite their surface richness.'(Jung 1995:175). (It was only later in Walt Disney’s ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ in 1938 did the dwarfs receive any personality traits whatsoever). For Snow White’s personal growth, her transcendence is dependant on the process of building up the inadequate masculine father through the help of the Dwarfs. “Thus the creative dwarfs toil away in secret; the phallus, also working in darkness, begets a living thing; the key unlocks the mysterious forbidden door behind which some wonderful thing awaits discovery.” (Jung 1995:124) They delve into the underground or unconscious to find precious stones and minerals. In the mean time the Shadow imposter, having failed the first time, makes three more attempts to destroy the Ego. The fourth succeeds, she thinks.
Snow White has been pursued, robbed of her rights, been misunderstood or failed in her understanding, and yet she has shown few emotions. She did thank the hunter who had been ordered to kill her ‘..so sweetly.. ‘(Grimm 1984:189) for sparing her life. Another rare expression of emotion was whilst she was in the forest where the story states she became “…dreadfully frightened, and knew not what to do. She ran on as long as she could until her feet were quite sore; and towards the evening she saw, to her great joy, a pretty little house.” (Grimm 1984:189)
This is the time, I suggest, when a person is suffering this kind of problem they feel they are at their lowest, abandoned by all and seeking help. How many times do we therapists marvel at what our patients have been through? I am often presented with dullness of feeling and at the same time ‘a toughness.’ This latter quality is the very thing that will take them through the analysand to reach integration. It is as though, the resilience, or ability to suffer, is equal to the task to be surmounted.
The fairy story of a young man’s personal development is similar, but he ‘‘goes forth’’ to meet his shadow, and the woman remains in the house and is visited by her shadow. Whereas Jack (in Jack and the Bean Stalk) disguised himself three times when approaching the ‘shadow complex’. “He had a dress prepared, which would disguise him, and with something to discolour his skin, he thought it impossible for any one to recollect him.” (Opie and Opie 1974:221), it is the opposite with the feminine, as the shadow, the step-mother queen disguises herself three times “…disguised herself as an old peddler,” (Opie and Opie 1974:232) and the second time the wicked queen “… dressed herself up again in disguise but very different from the one she wore before…” (ibid:234).
Snow White would have known by now one would think, but no! On her final and third visit we learn ‘.. she dressed herself up as a peasant’s wife’…(ibid:234). I am often astounded when working with some women that they do not realize that what is going on in their lives is ‘not right.’ They have come to accept the unacceptable. It seems there is a necessity to help the Ego recognise the wrong doing and ‘grow up’ and first to ‘‘accept’’ the shadow. Instigating a dialogue with the dark side is essential in this task of negotiating with the shadow. This work also involves examining the ‘‘attitude’’ held towards the shadow. I find the technique of Jung’s Transcendent function (Jung 1960:67-91) can be used here to great advantage.
The Prince comes into her world only when she is unconscious, before she can lay claim to her birth-right as a Princess. What luck she had, lying there as one dead when the Prince happened to come along, or as Jung would have it “… is there some other nervous substrate in us, apart from the cerebrum, that can think and perceive, or whether the psychic process that go in us during loss of consciousness are synchronistic phenomena…” (Ibid: 509). Another pattern common in the fairy story is the notion of hiding or comatose state of the heroine which amounts to a special kind of sleep, and even results (in our case) in the wicked Queen stopping scheming too. The Ego has now a chance to become redeemable, that is, ‘return to life’ and at the same time claim unity with the masculine (the arrival of the Prince). United in marriage, they return to put the usurper in her proper place.
The universal principles of Maidenhood:
There seem to be six major aspects in the universal principles of life found in the myth of the maiden (Jung and Kerényi 1989:137). How many of these principles can we find in the fairy tale? I offer a brief comparison between what the two professors deducted and what has come to light in our story:
The first principle is “… to be pursued…” (Jung and Kerényi 1989:137). Snow White was certainly pursued by the step-mother queen “…and went her way over the hills to the place where the dwarfs dwelt.” (Opie and Opie 1974:232). The second aspect is one of being “…robbed…” (Jung and Kerényi 1989:137). Snow White’s heritage was usurped. She was the Princess and rightful heir to the whole kingdom. The step mother robbed her of her rights and would have robbed her of her life too. The third aspect of the myth of the maiden concerns being “…raped, …” (Jung and Kerényi 1989:137). Such calamities cannot be allowed in children’s stories. However, Snow White was unquestionably physically abused when she was subjected to the wicked step-mother who placed a silk lace for her stays round her waist and “…pulled the lace so tight, that Snow-drop lost her breath, and fell down as if she were dead.” (Grimm 1984: 192)
Next, the child was subjected to a poisoned comb and she “…stood before the woman to have her hair dressed; but no sooner had the comb touched the roots of her hair than the poison took effect.” (Grimm 1984:193/4). Finally, having failed via wrapping the white skin tight and digging into the black ebony hair, she poisoned her with an apple placed between those rosy red lips. All of these together do not amount to rape, but certainly amount to serious abuse. The fourth quality according to Jung is for the maiden to “… fail to understand,…” (Jung and Kerényi 1989:137). Snow White did this on so many occasions it seems there was never a time she did understand. She was told “…on no account to open the door…” (Grimm 1984:194), which she technically did not, but instead shouted to the disguised farmer’s wife, “I dare not let you in; the seven dwarfs have forbidden me. But I am all right,’ said the farmer’s wife. Stay and I will show you my apples.”(ibid:194).
On one level could any person be so dim? Snow White is not so innocent though, she did play a role in all of this by her desire for the trinkets and goodies on offer. This showed naivety too, thus giving her full rites of passage to qualify for this maidenhood archetype found in mythology. When working with people suffering this internal split, I make great play on the qualities of the shadow’s ability to know, to be cute, and to have wisdom, as one of the reasons why it is necessary to accept the shadow. However, it seems Snow White is so innocent even at this stage that an approach of trying to introduce the shadow to her would be almost disastrous. She has to die, and thereby transform and become a woman first.
Having suffered so much pain and malice, our sweet heroine must at some time undergo the fifth quality ’…to rage ‘‘(Jung and Kerényi 1989:137). In our story there is no hint that Snow White herself actually becomes enraged or grieves, but the shadow does. This can only happen when the prince or the animus has established itself in the feminine psyche. For the first time, the wicked step-mother ‘is actually invited’ by the Ego, that is, she joins with what Snow White is doing. The shadow is recognised. This is the final process where the shadow is invited by the Ego to integrate with the Ego, (not the other way round.) In so doing, the Shadow is allowed to express the rage and grief.
The sixth principle is to “… grieve,” (ibid) which is the completion of transition: I’ll let the story take over here and tell its own tale. “Now it happened that the stepmother of Snow-white was invited, among other guests, to the wedding-feast. Before she left her house she stood in all her rich dress before the magic mirror to admire her own appearance but she could not help saying:
‘Mirror, Mirror on the wall
Am I most beautiful of all?’
Then to her surprise the mirror replied:
‘Fair queen thou art the fairest here,
But at the palace, now,
The bride will prove a thousand times
More beautiful that thou.’
Then the wicked woman uttered a curse, and was so dreadfully alarmed that she knew not what to do. At first she declared she would not go to this wedding at all, but she felt it impossible to rest until she had seen the bride, so she determined to go. But what was her astonishment and vexation when she recognised the young bride Snow-white herself, now grown a charming young woman, and richly dressed in royal robes! Her rage and terror were so great that she stood still and could not move for some minutes. At last she went into the ball-room, but the slippers she wore were to her as iron bands full of coals of fire, in which she was obliged to dance. And so in the red, glowing shoes she continued to dance till she fell dead on the floor, a sad example of envy and jealously.”(Grimm 1984:198).
Some reflections on the above:
The interpretation of the ‘complex’ actually dancing itself harmlessly to death from vexation and rage, constitutes the demise of the maiden (Jung 1960:98&369). This is another reason why the maiden had to die in the story, to indicate her innocence is no more. Significantly, her wedding is taking place at the same time, which indicates the unifying of the feminine and masculine. This is the symbol of the fourth element or fourth stage (re above), the completion. I have tried to show that the fairytale has a lot of the hallmarks normally reserved for classical myth. This being so, I suggest the fairy tale needs to be taken seriously as they represent authentic primitive unconscious patterns within the psyche.
Robert Graves suggests there are few references to ritual murder of women in European myth (Graves 1999:411). He cites the German folk-stories ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and ‘Snow White’ as exceptions. He stats their significance also includes the importance of the number 13, in the case of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ representing the thirteenth month as the death month whereby the uninvited thirteenth guest curses the Princess. In the ‘Snow White’ illustration Graves states Snow White was a goddess who was plainly immortal and that ‘These deaths are therefore mock-deaths only-.’ The emphasis is on the. “…annual drama…when his bride consents to open her half-closed eyes and smile…” (ibid: 412). So Graves has no problem elevating the fairy story to classical myth.
Just to complete my analogy of the fairy story to myth before I draw together my conclusions, Jung then adds that the maiden will “…get everything back and be born again.” (ibid:137). She takes the place of the mother, able to reflect as she herself was imaged by her mother, and so on, stretching back and forward in time. We have seen that although the Anima is singular in the male, it has both positive and negative qualities. By contrast the animus in the female is multiple, represented by the ten men.
Note the progression:- The first was her father who did absolutely nothing. The second man would not hurt Snow White but did little to help her either and let her go in the woods. She did speak to him though by begging to be let free. The third type of man is Mr. Majority, the seven dwarfs who were much better: They took her in, offered her shelter and advice and they nursed her when she was attacked. However, she gave back, (Note this is the first act of communicating with the masculine by her). By looking after their house for them, she entered a contract, an agreement. But the dwarfs did not stay back to protect her when there was an attempted murder, rather they left her to her own devices. So the dwarfs care for their female charge was incomplete. There was not a ”full man’ between them. The last, the fourth, was the Prince. The tenth male figure represents the symbol of completion of unification with the masculine. After all, Snow White is essentially a story for girls, for the female, and it is about the development of the feminine psyche, but the whole story is as relevant to men as it is to women, as I hope I have shown.
I recall an account where C.G. Jung once concluded in a stubborn case, in desperation he advised a neurotic patient to just ‘shut up!’ I have made the connection that the piece of apple caught in Snow White’s throat effectively did just that; It ‘shut her up.’ Thus the Ego stopped the shadow-part of herself from creating further havoc. The negative aspect of the feminine has to be silenced before the Prince can arrive. What if the Prince met the wicked step-mother first? That would lead to a whole new tale, but through the ‘controlled silence’ the prince was actually given space to become enthralled with his bride to be and thus installed.
I have tried to establish underlying patterns of the psyche in the fairy tale by perusing a notion that the story could also be interpreted as an aspect of psychic development. I have attempted to plot the process through which our heroine had to travel in order to find completion, as an aid to our understanding.
Thus, at the beginning of our story where Snow White is almost comatose and un- differentiated. It could be said such people are in shock, chaos and in a state of not knowing where to turn and continuing to reside in a life style of aloneness and fear. When there is some degree of differentiation the shadow is threatened. A terror prevails around the prospect of taking what is rightfully their own; freedom to become, freedom to embrace their own opposite. Rather than contemplate this freedom, such an individual would rather create chaos and even wish to die. At this primitive stage the Ego lives to please others. Our heroine was unable to seek out what is useful from the unconscious, and had little idea of her own dark side.
From the above story we can see people in this state lack power. In the state of innocence a person will attribute to others all that happen to them and take no responsibility themselves. They are not willing to accept their own dark side. After several incidences brought about by their own destructive behaviour, they are still incapable of looking at the raging ‘‘other half’’ within, but choose to remain tucked away from life.
Statements like ’I can’t.’ form part of the power game being played out by the shadow which prevents them from seeing their own part in this destruction. At this point there is a long process of dialogue, psycho dramatically with the complex, and slowly our heroine (Ego) can begin to accept their own faults.
There are many dangers at this stage as the Ego gathers knowledge from the depths of the unconscious. This process continues until a final stage of conflict occurs where the Ego is in serious trouble. The awareness begins to prove intolerable: The choices are stark, either become more comatose or find a way to go more fully into life. To complete their integration, our heroine must invite her shadow to participate. A person has to learn to ‘‘shut up’’ the endless complaints made by the shadow and witness their own rage and discover a way of expressing it harmlessly, that is, to observe their rage ‘dance itself out harmlessly’ is preferable to becoming their own victim once again. Then a person can decide to stop the previous useless and harmful actions and take charge of their own life, or as in the story, rule their own kingdom.
Stephen Flynn qualified as a Psychodrama Psychotherapist in 1993, and was also trained on a one to one basis in Analytical Psychotherapy by Dr. J. McMahon in England.
He continues to practice as a clinical Psychotherapist within the HSE.
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