Tuesday, August 22, 2017
THE SLEEPING BEAUTY—OR HOW TO ACHIEVE ENLIGHTENMENT
Fairy tales are a subgenre of the artistic and literary genre known as fantasy. A ‘fantasy’ ordinarily involves the following elements: first, a quest or journey of some kind, often involving tests, trials and tribulations, with a battle between good and evil; secondly, a fictitious or legendary place in which strange, seemingly unnatural events occur; thirdly, the presence of strange, seemingly unnatural, fanciful, even grotesque, characters and capricious forces; and fourthly, lessons in how to live, evolve, and relate to others and a power-not-oneself that is capable of freeing oneself from the bondage of self.
Fairy tales are not just about fantasy and most such tales are not even about 'fairies'. That grand master of modern fairy tales J R R Tolkien wrote that fairy tales have four main uses: escape, consolation, recovery, and fantasy. I have already spoken, albeit briefly, about fantasy. The ideas of escape and consolation are fairly straightforward, but the notion of recovery is a fascinating and most important one. Recovery is, yes, all about regaining what seemingly, and perhaps actually, has been ‘lost’, namely, our spiritual heritage.
Nearly all fairy tales are encoded spiritual and moral lessons (‘road maps’) of great importance---just like the parables of Jesus in the New Testament---and they almost invariably incorporate more than a few fragments (‘gems’) of ancient wisdom, with the spiritual ideas and themes being portrayed in a highly figurative and literary manner. Fairy tales graphically depict the involution and evolution of the soul, or, in the language of the great American mythographer Joseph Campbell, the 'hero's journey' of self-discovery through trial, tribulation and adversity. Here’s a clue. In fairy tales, as well as in most sacred literature, the soul is nearly always spoken of as a woman, and the human spirit a man.
If there is one theme or underlying message contained in the great religions of the world it is this---we come from God (Spirit, Life, the Source), we belong to God, we are never truly separate from God (even though we act as if we were), and we are all on our way back to God. Of course, not all the world’s religions use the word ‘God,’ or express this idea theistically, but that is largely immaterial. The idea is generally still there.
Now, the story of ‘The Sleeping Beauty’.
A king and a queen have been trying to have a child for years. Finally, a frog prophesies a birth. When the child finally arrives, they call her Aurora. A great holiday is proclaimed to celebrate Aurora’s birth. Visitors come from far and wide, including three good fairies. One of the most distinguished guests is another king from a neighboring kingdom, who brings along his son Prince Philip. (No, not that one. He’s not quite that old.) Both kings realize that their dream of a united kingdom can now come true.
Three good fairies begin bestowing their gifts upon Aurora. She receives the gift of beauty, and gift of song, but before the last gift is bestowed, a wicked fairy interrupts. This wicked fairy is upset that she wasn’t invited to the party, so she casts a spell on the day of Aurora’s 16th birthday, to the effect that Aurora will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die. The third good fairy hasn’t bestowed her gift yet, and she’s horrified at the spell the wicked fairy cast. The good fairy isn’t strong enough to undo the spell, but she is able to dilute it a bit, such that instead of death Aurora will instead fall asleep until her true love comes along to undo the spell with a kiss. As a precaution, all spinning wheels are removed from the kingdom, and Aurora lives in hiding as a peasant with the good fairies for protection.
Aurora grows up, meets Prince Philip, and falls in love with him. On the night of Aurora’s 16th birthday, Aurora, Prince Philip, and the good fairies all go back to the castle to live. But the evil fairy sneaks into the castle and pricks Aurora’s finger with a needle, causing her to fall asleep. With the help of the good fairies, Prince Philip, after a heroic, difficult, and dangerous journey, reaches Aurora, then kisses her, and she awakes---and, yes, they all live happily ever after.
Well, this is a story of ‘paradise regained’—a very familiar theme in fairy tales, indeed in almost all sacred (so-called ‘occult’) literature. We have the involution of the human soul, with its incarnation from the starry regions of space-time and the cosmos. Significantly, it is a ‘frog’ that heralds and prophesies the birth of Aurora, a frog being the ancient occult symbol of metamorphosis. The princess is called Aurora, which means ‘dawn’ or ‘enlightenment.’ If you are familiar with Roman mythology Aurora is the goddess of the Dawn. She renews herself each morning and flies across the sky, announcing the arrival of the sun. Much symbolism there!
There are ‘good fairies’ (successes, achievements, growth) and ‘bad fairies’ (setbacks, mistakes, failures) in life. We can learn from them all. The curse from the wicked fairy represents all those trials, setbacks and negative forces with which we have to grapple and which we have to overcome is we are to grow spiritually. Once again, we have the archetypal Path or Quest so frequently found in sacred and even secular literature. Then, there’s the staircase that Aurora ascends, being a symbol of the spiritual unfoldment of the soul. (In sacred or occult literature all ‘uprights’ such as stairs, ladders and trees represent the creative divine life within us; cf Jacob’s ladder.) The ‘spinning’ refers largely to intellectual development, that is, the ‘spinning’ of one’s thoughts.
Then we have the Prince, who must fight his way through overgrown thickets of tall trees and sharp brambles. At first, only the very tops of the castle’s towers could be seen, and then a fearsome dragon (or, in some versions of the story, ferocious dogs or other animals). Yes, the human spirit, represented by the Prince, must fight its way through evil and false beliefs (sin, separateness, selfishness, etc). Some commentators have written that we also have here an allusion to the spirit evolving and successively passing through the various kingdoms (plant, animal, etc) in its divine unfoldment. (That, however, is not how I see it.) Ultimately, there is the ‘kiss’---that is, the connection and conjunction between truth and love, the union of the human soul and the human spirit with the divine. Enlightenment is achieved. Oneness. Wholeness. Union. Communion.
Now, here’s something else—something very important. Aurora is not really a separate person from the Prince, for she is nothing other than the soul of the Prince that was sleeping—lying dormant—in the illusion of the material world or realm (the false self). Ultimately, the Prince is able to ‘spouse’ his enlightened soul—and live happily ever after! So can you.
So, what is enlightenment? Well, as I see it, it is waking up to the reality of one’s true self, one’s true be-ing-ness. It is casting off the false self/selves, that is, the belief in our separateness from other persons and things, and the life of selfishness and bondage to self. It is ceasing to identify with all those false selves (the ‘I’s’ and ‘me’s’, our likes and dislikes) that make up our personality but which are not the real person that each one of us is. It living as a person among persons.
Come alive! Awake the sleeping beauty within.