Friday, May 27, 2016


Here are some wise words from Francis Bacon [pictured left]. Referring to the myths and tales of antiquity, Bacon remarked, ‘Under some of the ancient fictions, lay couched certain mysteries.’ How true that is!

The fairy story—which is rarely about fairies as such—is the ‘younger brother’, or ‘younger sister’, of the great myths. The fairy story is, in the words of Theosophist and Liberal Catholic priest G Nevin Drinkwater, ‘the mystery tradition of childhood’, who also wrote that, ‘It can be taken as axiomatic that no fairy story will live unless it has an esoteric significance, and this is probably true even of riddles and nursery rhymes.’ He went on to say: ‘A fairy story lives precisely because it contains hidden truths which the child’s ego recognizes and accepts, before, as so often happens, our modern methods of education stifle its intuition and imagination.’ J. Krishnamurti would call those ‘modern methods of education’ conditioning, and conditioning can be a very bad thing. We need to de-condition our minds if we are to come to know that which is of supreme importance.

I love fairy tales, and the tale of ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ is one of the best. Jack is a young lad living with his widowed mother. Their only means of income is a cow. When this cow stops giving milk one morning, Jack is sent to the market to sell it. On the way to the market he meets an old man who offers to give him ‘magic’ beans in exchange for the cow. Jack takes the beans but when he arrives home without any money, his mother becomes angry and throws the beans to the ground and sends Jack to bed without supper. As Jack sleeps, the beans grow into a gigantic beanstalk. Jack climbs the beanstalk and arrives in a land high up in the sky where he follows a road to a house, which is the home of a giant. He enters the house and asks the giant's wife for food. She gives him food, but the giant returns and senses that a human is nearby. However, Jack is hidden by the giant's wife and overhears the giant counting his money. Jack steals a bag of gold coins as he makes his escape down the beanstalk.

Jack repeats his journey up the beanstalk two more times, each time he is helped by the increasingly suspicious wife of the giant and narrowly escapes with one of the giant's treasures. The second time, he steals a hen that lays golden eggs and the third time a magical harp that plays by itself. This time, he is almost caught by the giant who follows him down the beanstalk. Jack calls his mother for an axe and chops the beanstalk down, killing the giant. The end of the story has Jack and his mother living happily ever after with their new riches.

When it comes to stories written in the sacred, secret, or mystery language, trees, ladders, staircases, and the like often symbolise a spiritual journey, as well as the soul’s evolution and progressive development and unfoldment. In other tales, these ‘uprights’ refer to the spinal cord, the life force, kundalini---the ‘serpent fire’ in us. In other words, creative divine life. (Note. When I use the word ‘divine’, I am referring to something that is of ultimate importance and worthy of our awe and reverence. The word ‘spiritual’ simply means non-material, that is, something that has no component parts--unlike, say, a table or chair--for example, love, compassion, kindness and courage.)

One other very important thing. In the mystery language, a woman represents the human soul, whereas a man represents the human spirit or the physical body (or both). Any marriage is a ‘mystical marriage’ or union of the human soul and the human spirit---and that is a very good thing. In the tale ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ Jack’s mother is a widow, thus symbolising a soul that is separated from the divine world. She has an wisdom---spiritual or ancient wisdom---to pass on to her son Jack. We have in the story a reference, once again, to a ‘stolen inheritance.’ Significantly, it is a guardian angel---an enlightened, spiritual thought---that conveys to Jack the news of the stolen inheritance. We are all seeking our stolen inheritance. It is nothing other than our spiritual destiny---our ultimate reward.

Jack must use both courage and intelligence to ascend the beanstalk, the latter coming into existence from, yes, the ‘magic beans,’ the latter symbolising the power of creative thought and imagination as well as our potential for spiritual growth and development. The creative imagination bridges the ‘gap’ between the conscious and unconscious minds (or worlds). We have here the archetypal journey---the path or quest---to recover one’s ‘lost’ or unrealised potential. The journey is not an easy one, and there are many dangers and threats, but we will ultimately triumph---no matter how long the journey takes—if we persevere to the end.

in the film Jack and the Beanstalk (WB, 1952)

The giant symbolically represents our ego-self, or false selves—that is, our likes, dislikes, attachments, aversions and prejudices which we mistakenly believe are our ‘real self’—that threaten our spiritual development. In a more mundane sense, the giant also represents all those difficulties and adversaries we are called upon to face, and conquer, in our daily life. In the story of Saint George and the Dragon, the giant takes the form of a dragon.

The tale of ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ is very much a coming-of-age story. It is the hero’s journey, in the language of the mythographer Joseph Campbell. Each one of us is Jack---and, yes, we are also the giant. Actually, just as there are hundreds and thousands of false selves in our mind, so there are hundreds and thousands of giants to be killed or dragons to be slain. Jack brings a spiritual treasure to earth---the hen which lays the golden egg. Obvious symbolism there. An ‘egg’ symbolises a new beginning, new life, resurrection, a new stage of evolution, and the like. ‘Gold,’ of course, represents spiritual wisdom and divine life. On his second visit Jack brings back bags of silver and gold---that is, even more spiritual wisdom. On his third visit Jack takes a harp, the latter symbolising the music of the spheres, or the knowledge of cosmic harmony.

Over time, the defeating forces in our own lives can be destroyed and overcome. Remember, our ‘enemies are those of our own household’ (cf Mt 10:36), that is, within our own psyche.

The ‘message’ of the fairy tale 'Jack and the Beanstalk' is simple, but not easy to put into practice. We, too, must ‘climb’ into the sky, metaphorically speaking, in order to achieve a ‘higher’, that is, a more fulfilling and uplifting, existence.





  1. Very good analysis. I agree that we should value fairy tales and myths a lot more, and as Drinkwater says, our modern (scientific, literal-minded) methods of education do stifle intuition and imagination.
    As with all myths, just about any interpretation can be put on the meaning. While you point out a good personal meaning, one I have also seen described as a 'coming of age' journey, my first reactions were more collective in nature. A prominent parallel for me is the modern European, emerging from the middle ages, abandoning God, and stealing the wisdom of the ancients (Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, the East etc). The mother, as you say, the soul, is widowed from the father - perhaps, God, the superego. The boy, the modern initiative, with a used up cow (matriarchal symbol) ends up with the magic beans - new found esoteric, exotic, spiritual (as you say) knowledge. The stealing adventures begin and wealth is obtained. The Giant, even more broadly, could be the mass of tradition, the past, which is frequently raided and claimed for ownership. The "fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of an Englishmen" does point the finger a little bit!

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