Snow White and the Path of Awakening
Fairy tales are the mythology of the individual soul.
We are not simply who/what we think we are, within each of us is a whole cast of characters and we are both the hero/ine of the story as well as having every protagonist within us. More than that, we are the listener and the teller. These stories speak truth to the Dreaming Self, that non-linear, non-logical aspect of ourselves that lies dreaming within our everyday life yet steers so many of our actions and reactions. Sounding Bowls work deep into the Dreaming Self, touching and releasing trauma, creating connections between our linear head-thinking and our spirit-child – heart-awareness. You can see this fact in the way that new-born babies respond, in the way that the heart and breath monitors show changes when Sounding Bowls are played in intensive care units. You can see this fact in the way that so many people respond to Sounding Bowls in situation where other instruments do not touch them. The fairy tale, ‘Snow White’ is a good place to start discovering what is happening in our Dreaming Self.
The brothers Grimm were deep spiritual seekers with their own awakening, and leading members of the secret society of the Rosy Cross as it was then formed. Their stories were so powerful in their time that a whole new concept of being German was born through this work as well as through their clarification of German as a language, in which they were incredibly thorough. They stood up for fair rule and were punished for resisting unfair laws passed the king. It was largely their influence that focussed a movement through which Germany became united into one nation. Such is the power of culture.
When Walt Disney picked up this story in the 1960s, he too was aware of its powerful status as a creation myth of individual awareness. Walt had his own agenda, in accord with the hidden societies of which he also was a member. Retitling it ‘Snow White and the seven Dwarves’ he focussed on the twee, and over dramatized the step mother, such that we are distracted from the core message of personal awakening. In following this story you may wish to remove from your mind images of his parody and read the original Grimm’s tale.
Tobias Also expands on this story from a Social Media perspective in this video, expanding particularly on the mirror the queen used to bolster her ego and what that reflects in todays culture.
If we look more deeply into the Way of Truth and Love as practised by the Rosicrucians we see that images are used as a way to understand truths that cannot be pinned down in the scientific sense. Ultimately our ability to function well in the world is self generated and the way we see, the way we understand is equally important with empirical facts. Thus understanding this story through the images it offers in the context of the Rosicrucian/Alchemical world view of the brothers Grimm offers insights into the way of awakening.
The story begins with snow falling like feathers from heaven. This can be seen as a reference to the spirit self approaching a new incarnation, our intentionality/desire drifting lightly towards the earth. Colour is very important here with the black window frame outlining our picture of white snow and then red blood as the pregnant queen pricks her finger. Black is, in Alchemy, the background, the starting place, Father Spirit of all things. The black window frame outlines here the pure white of spiritual attainment, the goal of all things. The red blood falling on the snow is the third colour in this image, completing the set that defines Alchemy. Red within the black and the white holds out the offer of transformation, reminds us that our passionate nature must be experienced if we are to engage with the full picture of our lives. Cooling our passions is also important which might be why we see blood on snow here.
The queen dies in childbirth; new born little Snow White is left alone. The king marries again. The stepmother enters the picture. In the fairy tale context, the birth mother is an image of Nature, our true mother and ‘The Step Mother’ is an image of Society, the norms that cruelly bend us into something other than our true selves. Once we are born we begin to lose contact with nature and to enter the world of socialisation. It is a step on the path, part of the blackness of life. A journey that strengthens the focus on ourselves, our ability to realise our potential, become who we truly are.
The stepmother, new to queen-ship has a deep insecurity. She fears she is not good enough and turns continually to her mirror for re-assurance. This mirror tells her she is the most beautiful woman in the land. Who amongst us does not have an inner voice that re-assures us we are special, the best, unique in our own skills? This voice of the lower ego comes from our distorted self-reflection. Based on fear it panders to our arrogance, creating more fear. If we listen to this voice, if we become ruled by it we too risk turning into a despot. In as much as any part of us listens to this voice that part of us will play a despotic role in our inner life, the fairy tale that is ‘me,’ my dreaming self. The false queen hates the inner child because of her innocent beauty. It can be bitter lesson to discover that our desire to appear significant in the world actually hates and wants to destroy the spirit child within. Our inner queen may speak sweet, even ‘spiritual’ words but she will kill to remain in control.
As Snow White grows up her beauty matures. This tells us that our inner child, our spirit-self begins to be noticed, has an effect on the world. At this moment the queen’s mirror-ego warns her that her supremacy is at risk. Her fury is a turning point in the story. We know, viscerally that our inner control freak will stop at nothing, we know things no longer work as they are. The colours here are yellow and green, two colours important to Alchemy as catalysts in the transformation of the base-nature into the pure and beautiful. Yellow is jaundice to the queen, threatening her beauty through her own impurity. To the listener it is the confirmation that change is coming. It is a sun-coloured warming of the cold white, white may be perfection but it is not progress. Green is bile in the queen but it is also telling us that life itself (leaf-colour) is present and all will be well.
The queen sends the huntsman to take Snow White out into the woods and kill her. This is the beginning of the awakening. Red occurs here as the image of blood. The huntsman is our skill in doing what we are told, Snow White touches the huntsman’s heart and he turns aside from his task. He draws blood instead from a wild boar to convince the queen that he has killed Snow White.
Red, representing the beginning of transformation can express personal will, the warmth of determination to change our lives. Here it is the maelstrom of the moment, change itself. It speaks of how we may experience a shocking intervention in our lives, accident, illness or loss of a loved one. This life-shock causes us to discover that society, our false mother, is not caring for us/has no answers to the pain we are in. We are alone, running scared and having to make our own path. Though Snow White survives the death image, the red reminds us that we have to die to what we think we are if we are to awaken to our true beauty.
A little house in the woods represents shelter in nature. Inside everything is small, her size or even smaller. No matter how long your journey may take you the fleeing from that which almost killed you will eventually lead you to sanctuary, a place where things are out of proportion yet are filled with beauty and magic. Snow white, the spirit child, torn from the true Mother finds Nature again but now she is a capable girl with direction and purpose and enters in a new way. Back in touch with the source of being the fleeing soul is fed and rested.
While she is asleep the dwarves return and admire her beauty. Dropping the song and dance of Disney’s dwarves we turn to the seven secrets that weave within nature, they who are in with the beauty and truth in all things. Here the story alludes repeatedly to the number seven. Appearing when Snow White is asleep, they are the image of the dream-realities that form this world. Seven light-rays from seven planets give beauty and meaning to Nature, weaving her forms and all her hidden secrets. Each of these seven has its own character and together they have huge joy in the soul that arrives in their dwelling. An important note here is that we agree to serve them, to keep order in their nature-home and to make sustenance and goodness for them. Is that not what our earth asks of us? Also this is simply how love flourishes.
The dwarves are aware that the queen, our socialised egoic self, our fear of insufficiency, our desire to be the most beautiful in the world’s eyes will notice that our true self is not dead, that our emerging beauty and inner strength threaten her still. They, the tiny manifestations of cosmic truths within us, our deep-starry-nature, warn us that she will try again to kill us.
Three times the queen comes after the hidden beauty-truth that is growing within us:
Firstly she brings a thread of beauty and ties us up too tight to breathe. Our breathing, heart and lung area is our feeling nature. This image is of aspects of society such as ritual, worship etc. that appear to offer sustenance but get tied up in tradition and ultimately leave us for dead, once again socialised out of our individual awareness. The message here is instruction in how we must truly breathe deep in order to survive as spirit-individuals. Feeling terrible loss and pain and immense joy and happiness are integral parts of being spiritually alive. This does not mean we need to lose ourselves in them like we did as a child but it does mean we need to open ourselves to feel them like we open ourselves to a breath of fresh mountain air. Constricting our feelings, our sympathy for the flow of feeling in others, for the plight and the beauty of the manifest world is an important part of staying alive. It is the dwarves, those secret nature-related lights of awareness that we have served that are able to unbind us, bring back the deep, hidden, spiritual creativity within us which is our life.
The second time she brings the poisoned comb. In fairy tales combing the hair is an image of clear thinking, meditation almost. This second attack is on our ability to think truthfully, cleanly. False concepts are like this poisoned comb, blocks to true thinking that deaden us.
Our fearful ego-self, project it where we might, will offer us ease and order in our thinking. This may entail formal education, it may be that we subscribe to an established world view or whatever, in some way we give up ordering our own thinking. When we take on the mish-mash of popular science, political comment and gossip that fill our media we allow our hair/thinking to get frightfully tangled. When we study some discipline in which some examining body tells us what is right thinking and what is wrong we swallow a lot of concepts that may not be true for us. In this way we allow society to comb our hair for us. The message here is that our creative-spirit-child cannot live like without clear, clean individual thinking. This may be as meditation or in spiritual studies fed to our dreaming-self, but in some way we need to comb our own awakening thinking and not allow the worlds “truth” to kill our own individual understanding. The queen’s poisoned comb represents the manifold concepts that are not a rightful part of our own truth. They paralyse us once again.
Our miniature friends, giants in their love of us and their power to help now find the source of the problem, pull out the false concepts and set us free to live again. These deep, hidden, spiritual truths within us remind us that we need to think things through for ourselves and not accept the easy answers.
The third time the queen comes to us she holds out an apple, in European mythology the image of the world, asking us to taste its joy. This is a great secret, for the white side of the apple (in Disney the green side) is not poisoned but the red side is. Most of our desire to taste the world is only to taste the sweet aspects. Mostly we throw away the sour side of our experience deeming it not good, not realising that white-spirit-truth is held within those aspects that appear green-sour to our sensuous self.
Thus the magician in the queen catches us, fools us, by eating the green side herself and giving us the red, sweet side. This is a major way of how the world works. Advertising and most of the media shows us only the sweet side of life. Authority offers to take the sour side for us, dealing with things we don’t want like waste disposal, law and order etc. There is a great secret in this, for in taking our pain they also take our power.
The message in this is to wake up to the balancing truth that pain feeds to us. Not to love pain but to see how pain and joy are two sides of the same coin, each one offering us lessons and support equally needed. If we are fooled by society offering to carry our pain we allow the world to have authority over us. Facing our own pain puts us in charge of our lives again, even if the opposite feels true. There are manifold ways in which we allow, even expect others to carry small and larger pains for us. In the fairy tale this piece of the sweet-side of the apple sticks in her throat.
How is it when something sticks in your throat, metaphorically-speaking? You cannot quite swallow this experience/opinion that is almost thrust upon you, nor can you rightly express your own truth. Caught in the space between our breathing fails, we can no longer take in the sweet air of our own experience because we have attempted to swallow someone else’s distortions. We cannot breathe in, nor can we breathe out. Trance-like, Snow White falls into a state resembling death. Our soul is no longer active in the world.
Seeing us fall the queen claims victory. Claims that all the alchemy-magic of our life’s-purpose cannot help us now. She calls death on the black the red and the white, denies our power to transform. This time the dwarves cannot help, we have swallowed the poison, it is hidden in our very throat. This is a sign that we must be careful what we speak up for. If we speak for authority, (and we will, by word or by deed, if we do not carry our pain) we swallow the worlds poison and become again as good as dead. Society, even that of our friends would have us speak from/for authority and not from our own experience. Too often we do not recognise when we are being tricked and we accept the red-side, the sweet ease of life without loving the harder sorrow also. We accept the trade-offs, the unspoken, scientifically-non-proven losses in favour of riches or an easy life, acceptance and popularity. When we do that we become too weak to stand.
At first the dwarves want to return our child to the dark earth, back to black so to speak. But seeing that our beauty still shines they are not able to bury us. These dwarf-giant, seven creative forces within us know in their hearts that our spirit-child is not dead and they set up a vigil to watch over it. Deep love/gratitude for these guardians of our life and being can flow in us at this point in the story.
Animals come to see us. The natural world is fascinated with the emerging human spirit. This stage of stillness in the Alchemical process is understood to be other than death, even though for Snow White herself it is a hiatus. The three animals that visit can be seen as the red, the black and the white, passion, wisdom and acceptance through which our mourning for the loss of ourselves must pass before we eventually awaken. When loss or disaster destroys what we once relied on, and we struggle on alone, our spirit-child has to find its own way in the wilderness for the first time. Each attack purifies the direction we take and passion, wisdom and acceptance are the stages through which our deeper self must grow to awaken to its potential.
Then comes the prince, representing strength, inner nobility, the son-of-the-father. He emerges as the new aspect of truth the soul has been waiting for. But don’t think you can wait for him. In this fairy tale he is that inner strength, your higher self that has been activated. He is your truth, your determination that has been out hunting and discovered its own source of sustenance in the world. He is that which in truth stimulates the soul’s development, hoping for a wedding. At first in our lives these two may not know each other. Each has their own path of development, their own trials as various fairy tales make clear. When they do meet the recognition is real. In some tales we see that a false-bride figure may intervene, seek to falsify even the Celestial Wedding, but in this story the prince will not budge from the side of love where he meets it, and he remains true.
The soul may develop well, accepting her trials, doing her service but may still happen to be overcome, entranced, paralysed by the Queen of the World. Yet within us are also spirit powers. This tale focusses on the soul’s development, others look at the trials of the spirit. The message here is to use determination, inner uprightness, and investigative strength to come back to the spirit-child, even if you feel that she has died. This prince has made journeys, is already riding through the overgrown wastes of our inner life, seeking truth and beauty, when he comes across the snowy-frozen inner child, radiant with beauty, watched over by the lights-that-delve-for-truth&goodness. Immediately he recognises his other half, falls in love, begs to buy her even though she is dead.
The dwarves know that Snow White is beyond all price and refuse. The prince now realises there is no price and in a sense he begs, he has nothing to offer, he can only confess his love. Love goes where no exchange can follow. Love creates the world we want. Let your uprightness become vulnerable. Stand there, (or kneel) ask in the name of Love and the world answers.
When the queen hears that Life and Beauty itself is to marry with Truth and Goodness she recoils. Part of her is afraid her power is over, part of her is fascinated and drawn to attend this mystical wedding of soul and spirit, against all better judgement. On arrival she recognises Snow White, she knows that all her egoic plans have failed. She sees her end and becomes paralysed by her failure.
The black, the red and the white emerge anew here: Black iron shoes are placed in the fire of transformation till they are red hot and placed upon white feet. The old queen must dance till she drops. This is the fate of the ego that separates itself from spiritual truth, it must dance to the worlds tune in endless pain to the bitter end. In death there is the whiteness of oblivion. There is no resurrection as the everyday-ego has no true substance to be born again. Her child has grown and in failing to adopt her, in failing to love, she has lost her future. This will happen to all egoism. Unless we make the journey of Snow White, through loss, confusion, death and resurrection, becoming our beauty and marrying our true spirit we may be left as old queens with pain and death as our only destiny.
Snow white, our spirit child is still making this journey, every day, everywhere. All we need to do is go with her, follow our true calling, give up our desire for control, love and care for what we meet, retain our upright vulnerability and the Chemical Wedding awaits.
“Coming to Centre” is an in-person, on-the-ground, training and sharing of our journey happening in South Devon 2022 – 23. Three terms (9 weekends) of togetherness in wisdom and presence.