When I set out to look more deeply into Slavic mythology to understand how it survived in fairy tales, such as was the case in the Western European paradigm, I discovered that the language barrier means that there is not a great deal of research on this topic available in English to the general public. So, I've been collecting the books that I can find, and wanted to give you a bit of information on what I've learned thus far and a rundown of a few of the best books that I've yet found for people who want to learn more about the Slavic folk tradition.
Researching European shamanism, and then delving into the fairy tale tradition and observing how indigenous European spirituality lingered on in the folk tradition, has opened new doors of reflection. Joseph Campbell was one of the first mythologists to discuss myths as deeply intuitive messages from our ancestors with important messages for our own personal growth. His "Hero's Journey" theory has been hugely influential on subsequent storytellers. But, there is another important journey that we see depicted by certain figures in myth and fairytales; the shaman.
The times in which we are living are more polarizing than ever in recent memory. Thus, people are separated by extremes, reactivity, and heated emotion. But, at the same time, a Great Awakening is under way, and it is important to highlight some important points, re-calibrate, and focus our directive moving forward.
*This article is an excerpt from "Aschenputtel: Animism and Ancestor Veneration in Grimms' Cinderella," European Fairy Tales Series Vol V.
Understanding our lost native beliefs can be difficult for modern minds to wrap their heads around. We are so cut off from our deep roots that, today, our own indigenous belief system feels foreign to those who are unfamiliar with it.
Furthermore, both Abrahamic religion and science based rationalism (which tends to be atheistic) view the world in a linear and literal way that is incompatible with the flexible and more free flow understandings of organic ethnic-spirituality (which was the native spirituality of all indigenous peoples in the world before adopting “revealed religions”).
Years pouring over the myths and tales passed down by our ancestors through centuries to millennia will lead to great personal revelation and insight to those who think deeply and contemplate what they've read. This is true for all cultures, and I firmly believe all people of all backgrounds have something very important to gain by delving deeply into the mythic tradition of their blood ancestors.
These stories have important insight to share with us if we move beyond the surface and look deeper. They provide guidance for our regular everyday lives. And, today, as I am processing a personal tragedy, I felt the urge to share how the rich lexicon of European folk belief helps me personally process bumps along the road and direct me upon my life's journey in the hope that this gift can be passed on to others.
Reading up on Cinderella, the history of the tale, variations of it, interpretations of it, and the commentary by scholars and writers of various backgrounds is such a mixed bag! I have spotted something very important in the tale that virtually nobody else is covering, but, there is much more to talk about regarding this tale that I won't be able to cover in the fairy tales series, so we'll explore some of it here.
Over several years of studying indigenous European belief (paganism, mythology), and then studying the folk tradition (folklore, folk customs, holiday traditions, witch trial records), I began to realize that the idea that paganism died out after conversion to Christianity was simply preposterous. Native European spirituality remained an incredibly powerful force in the consciousness of the European people well into the modern era.
The discipline of folklore was founded during an era that was grappling with many of the same issues we are facing today. Obviously the lore itself has roots much older. But, prior to the Romantic Era, scholars and "civilized society" simply weren't paying attention.
The Romantic Era started in Europe as a pushback against Industrialization. The prior Scientific Revolution had shifted Western thought toward a more "rational" worldview; one that rejected the "superstition" found among the countryfolk. There were clear benefits and advancements in the birth of science and medicine, but one downside was the dismissal of age-old tradition and belief.
There is an important side to fairy tales which is often overlooked. Although I work within the European paradigm, what I will explore here is relevant to ALL cultures, as fairy tales exist universally among all people worldwide.
True fairy tales, not stories written solely by one author, but rather stories that were developed collectively over generations among language groups and cultures, have encoded in them important keys to understanding our own psyches.
Fairy tales have been written off as simple stories for children. And, while children do become absorbed in the tales of the land of Faerie, these stories have layers of deep meaning that are applicable to people of all ages. We tend to think of "mythology" as somehow a higher status of literature than fairy tales. Maybe that's due to the conception of their antiquity, and the complex worlds with pantheons that represent a cast of characters whose exploits we can follow.
But, what we don't realize is that fairy tales exist within the lexicon of myth. Many fairy tales have origins that extend back into the murky haze of pre-history. Others build off of patterns and influences from those very ancient tales, and still others were formed during eras when indigenous spirituality was suppressed by the authorities, and so elements of the old religion were preserved in coded form.
By peeling back the layers, we can find deep spiritual insight and guidance in fairy tales that can give us comfort, direction, hope, and other psychological-emotional support.