Tuesday, April 17, 2018


Fairy tales are rarely about fairies and generally have an inner meaning. I have looked at several famous fairy tales in the past including Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs by the Brothers Grimm. Here’s another fairy tale—from Germany—involving a character called Snow White: ‘Snow-White and Rose-Red’.

The tale goes something like this. A poor widow lives in a small cottage by the woods with her two young children, Snow-White and Rose-Red, whom she adores. There is a garden in front of the cottage in which there are two rose bushes. One of the roses bears white roses, and the other red roses. The symbolism of that is revealing. The rose represents the individual's unfolding consciousness although, depending on the context, it has a myriad assortment of additional meanings associated with it, such as purity, passion, heavenly perfection, virginity, fertility, suffering and sacrifice, death and life. 

In the context of this fairy tale, the white and red roses represent the thinking and feeling aspects of our consciousness respectively. Now, the two young children, who play together and love each other dearly, are just like the above mentioned roses. Rose-Red is outspoken and cheerful and loves to play outside whereas her sister Snow-White is quiet and shy and prefers doing housework and reading. The two girls love to go out into the forest where they like to sleep. On one occasion, whilst sleeping unknowingly on the edge of a precipice, they are awakened by a figure in shining white apparel (apparently, a ‘guardian angel’, variously a symbol of power, guardianship, inner guidance and personal transformation).

One winter night, there is a knock at the door. Rose-Red opens the door to find a bear. At first, she is terrified, but the bear tells her not to be afraid. ‘I'm half frozen and I merely want to warm up a little at your place,’ he says. They let the bear in, and he lies down in front of the fire. The girls beat the snow off the bear, and they quickly become quite friendly with him. They play with the bear and roll him around playfully. They let the bear spend the night in front of the fire. In the morning the bear leaves, trotting out into the woods. The bear comes back every night for the rest of that winter and the family grows used to him.

When summer comes, the bear tells the family that he must go away for a while to guard his treasure from a wicked dwarf. On parting, the bear catches his fur on the door-hook, and it seems to Snow-White that she sees gold glittering underneath.

During the summer, when the girls are walking through the forest, they find a dwarf whose beard is stuck in a tree. The girls rescue him by cutting his beard free, but the dwarf is ungrateful and yells at them for cutting his beautiful beard. He seizes a bag of gold which lies behind him and hurries off angrily. The girls encounter the dwarf several times that summer, each time rescuing him from some peril each time, but the dwarf is always ungrateful. On the second occasion the dwarf runs off with a bag of pearls. On another occasion he hurries off with a bag of precious stones. Then, one day, they meet the dwarf once again and he is seen counting his treasures. This time, the bear rushes out of the forest and strikes the dwarf dead.

Instantly, the bear’s skin falls from him, revealing a handsome prince. You see, the dwarf had put a spell on the prince by stealing his precious stones and turning him into a bear, but the curse is broken with the death of the dwarf. Snow-White marries the prince, and Rose-Red marries his brother. And yes, as in all fairy tales, they all live happily ever after.

Have you ever noticed how many fairy tales involve a widow? A widow represents those who are cut off, so to speak, from their true being as a person among persons. They are people who have lost connection with their inner potentiality. In this tale, however, there is still some contact with the elemental world represented by the garden and the rose bushes.

Snow-White and Rose-Red represent two different aspects or sides of human experience. Snow-White (cf the white roses), who likes to stay indoors, represents the thinking part of us that is introspective, introverted contemplative and meditative. Rose-Red (cf the red roses), who likes being outdoors, symbolises the perceiving, more extroverted part of us that is more interested in the outer world of sense impressions. The fact that the two girls play together and love each other is highly symbolic. It means, among other things, that these two sides of our nature are equally important. Both are needed and belong together. In other words, they are complementary. Never forget that.

The bear is an out-picturing of us—body, mind and soul. There is the outer, physical part of us and the inner mental and spiritual ‘parts’ of us. The dwarf represents negative, evil forces, both within and outside of ourselves, that make for separation, division and strife. These forces or tendencies within us must be overcome if we are to grow into the persons we are capable of being and which, in truth, we really are. The gold, pearls, and precious stones referred to in the tale represent spiritual riches and wisdom—the non-physical things ‘not made with human handseternal in the heavens’ (cf 2 Cor 5:1). The dwarf is seen seizing, appropriating and running of with these gifts, not realizing that they are not yet his by right of consciousness. There are things that we must give up in order for these gifts to be rightfully ours. That is an important lesson we all must learn. Our false selves (the little ‘I’s’ and ‘me’s’), in the form of our various likes, dislikes, views, opinions, biases and prejudices, seek to appropriate these treasures even though they are not yet ours by right of consciousness.

Now, the bear is not what it appears to be. Inside of it is a prince, that is, a higher self—our true self. Here’s a famous Zen story on the point. A distraught man approaches a Zen master and says, ‘Please, Master, I feel lost, desperate. I don't know who I am. Please, show me my true self!’ The master just looks away without responding. The man begins to plead and beg, but still the master gives no reply. Finally giving up in frustration, the man turns to leave. At that moment the master calls out to him by name. ‘Yes!’ the man says as he turns around toward the master. ‘There it is!’ exclaims the master.

Our true self is the person that each one of us is. However, when we see and experience ourselves we do not ordinarily see and experience the person that in truth each one of us is. Instead, we tend to see and experience any one or more of a number of self-images (those ‘I’s’ and ‘me’s’ held in our mind). At one point in time we may see and experience the ‘little me’, or the ‘frightened me’, or the ‘inferior me’. At another point in time we may see and experience the ‘confident me’. 

These ‘I’s’ and ‘me’s’ are nothing more than self-images in our mind. They are images felt and experienced as real, that is, as the real person that we think we are. Jointly and severally, these ‘I’s’ and ‘me’s’ constitute in varying degrees our sense of who we think we are, and whichever image is most dominant in your mind at any point in time will constitute your sense of ‘me’—that is, what to you, in you, is you—at least at that particular point in time. There is a feeling component to these mental self-images, with the result that many of the images can be quite strong and persistent over time and their persistency over time only reinforces the mistaken belief that these images are really us. This also makes change seem very difficult indeed. However, none—I repeat none—of these felt self-images are real. They are not the real person that in truth you are.

Fulton J Sheen wrote, ‘Death to the lower self is the condition of resurrection to the higher self.’ That is what this fairy tale is all about. We must die to our false selves so that we might become the real person that we are. Some call that the ‘higher self’, but please don’t confuse that with those little, false selves of which I spoke. The ‘higher self’ is the real person that in truth you are. I am referring to a power and presence ‘not-oneself’. You see, we are much more than just those pesky false selves—all those waxing and waning ‘I’s’ and ‘me’s’—with which we tend to identify, in the mistaken belief that they constitute the ‘real me’.

Freedom from the bondage to self comes when we get real, that is, when we start to live from our true being as a person among persons. We come to know our higher or real self—symbolised in the fairy tale ‘Snow-White and Rose-Red’ by each of the marriages that take place—as a result of thinking (Snow-White), perceiving (Rose-Red), and overcoming the evil spirit of separateness (symbolised by the destruction of the dwarf by the bear).

When this happens, you become what the American psychologist Carl Rogers, pictured left, referred to as a ‘fully functioning person’. The mystics refer to this as coming to ‘know the Self as One’. Yes, we are one with all Life, even though few know or understand what that truly means.


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