what the symbolism of Snow White can teach us, and how looking for external recognition makes us fall into a creative coma
“The experience of jealousy signals the presence of inner beauty, sleeping in a glass coffin.”
Fairytales are an infinite source of inspiration – not the disneyfied versions, but the raw and sometimes cruel narratives, where the main character meets an apparently unjust destiny.
The young and beautiful princess is betrayed by an evil stepqueen; or a wicked witch puts a curse on the innocent and handsome prince. The spell can only be broken by finding true love.
These timeless stories are so popular because we can relate to them. We can identify with the innocent young princess who feels betrayed by a member of her own family, or the unfortunate prince who finds himself trapped in a hopeless situation, as if he had to live under a curse.
We tend to identify with the victim, and hope for our prince or princess to turn up and break the spell for us. But in real life this rarely happens. It’s not because the tellers of fairytales were notorious liars.
The reason why real life isn’t the fairytale we wish to experience, is that we don’t get the whole story. If we pick out the victim part and discard the rest, no wonder we end up playing that role.
The power of fairytales lies in their symbolism. The story of Snow White, for example, unfolds around the theme of beauty, self-worth and recognition.
The key symbol, the queen’s mirror, stands for vanity, self-reflection, and self-knowledge. In this context it also represents looking outside of ourselves for approval.
The mirror is the queen’s magic tool. She uses it to determine the measure of her own beauty, and the verdict of the mirror rules her life.
We like to identify with Snow White’s innocence and beauty, but the queen’s vanity and jealousy are very likely traits we can recognise in ourselves too. You can replace ‘beauty’ with any other desirable goal:
Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the most successful, popular, peaceful, patient, smartest, fastest, richest, ……………………… (fill in the blank) of all?
We all have the need to be appreciated and instinctively look for external approval from others. That’s the role of the queen in our inner world.
And what does this wicked woman do?
She dresses up as an old hag, she tracks Snow White down, and tries to kill her.
The first time she ties a belt around her waist and pulls it so tight, it takes her breath away, and the princess faints.
The second time the wicked witch sticks a poisoned comb into her hair, and the princess falls to the ground unconscious.
The third time she gives her a poisoned apple, Snow White takes a bite, and falls into a coma.
Our need for external approval has a threefold effect on us:
1st effect – Measuring ourselves by the judgment of others cuts us off from the breath of life, which can only be accessed within. It strangulates us and restrains our freedom.
2nd effect – Looking for external approval paralyses our sensitivity towards ourselves. It makes us unconscious towards our own inner beauty.
3rd effect – Relying on recognition from the outside chokes our self-expression and makes our creativity fall into a coma.
To some degree we are all vulnerable to the toxic properties of the black magic of the wicked queen who lives in our inner world. And the queen is caught up in her own drama too. She is a prisoner to a fixed definition of her self worth.
But all is not lost. There must also be an inner prince somewhere. (For some reason he always waits until the very end before he comes to the rescue…)
The experience of jealousy and other evil schemings of the inner queen signal the presence of inner beauty, sleeping in a glass coffin. It is an opportunity to take life into our own hands, awaken the inner beauty from her coma and live happily ever after.
© Veronika Bond, 2016
This article is complemented by an e-letter published on the same date.
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