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.
Myth and Psychology
Much has been written about the deep meaning of myth, and the link between mythology and psychology continues to be explored. Of course, the pioneer who launched this was the great Carl Jung. But, others have followed in his footsteps.
For example, Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes is a Jungian psychologist. Her book Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype explores myths about so called "wild women" from cultures worldwide.
In today's modern world, we can very easily be disconnected from the primal elements of life that had guided us throughout the entirety of human history until very recently. Dr. Estes' book is targeted toward women, and she uses world myth, legends, and tales to help women reconnect to their primal inner soul.
Her book has even been used by therapists guiding groups together through finding healing and wholeness.
Modern Disconnect from Culture and Spirituality
While organized religion is still relied upon by many for their spiritual fulfillment, more and more of us are looking for something more organic and intuitive, something that touches our souls and gives us a resonance to our cultural past.
For many who reject organized religion, they do not reject a spiritual worldview.
Many people crave spirituality but feel at a lost about where to find it.
Still many others feel lost due to the cultural and individual disconnect from ancestral heritage.
Being rootless has caused many to drift like tumbleweeds in the wind.
Delving into the world of cultural mythology, legend, and fairy tale can be a real way to find resonance with your own ancestral heritage as well as find deep spiritual insight.
Cinderella and My Fairy Tale Awakening
Last year I started really thinking more deeply about fairy tales.
Previously, I had been interested in mythology and folk belief, and beliefs about spirits indigenous to European culture, but the fairy tale thing hadn't yet clicked for me.
Then one day, it just did.
As I was reading, I started seeing elements from native European spiritual belief encoded in the fairy tales.
It was while reading the Brother's Grimm version of Cinderella, Aschenputtel in German, that gave me an "ah ha moment."
Don't forget that the Grimm version is not the "original" version of this story. All fairy tales have variations in different regions and by different storytellers.
The Grimms simply recorded what they were told by peasant storytellers, but all of the stories have many variants.
"The original Grimm" means the way the Grimms originally recorded it, NOT the original version of the stories, since we know that fairy tales predate the Grimms' recording of them by hundreds to thousands of years.
But, the "fairy godmother" archetype seen in the Disney version does jibe with the European fairy tale tradition, even if it differs from the Grimm's version.
Fairy godmothers do come up in other fairy tales, and I have even come across tales where it's a male character who is assisted by his fairy godmother.
Ancient Belief Lived on in Fairy Tales
If you know where to look...
Next, the concept of praying to her ancestor at the base of a tree is clearly a pagan act. Trees were especially important to the Teutons, the Celts, the Slavs, and the Balts.
In fact, we know that certain trees were singled out as holy and dedicated to the worship of certain gods.
Today, we STILL do "tree dedications" in memory of our loved ones who have passed away.
We've all heard of the concept of "planting a tree in memory" of a loved one. Again, this is our collective cultural unconscious shining through.
We WILL "remember" certain archetypes and symbols whether we're aware that we're remembering them or whether we know why we're doing it.
In fact, you would honor and pray to your own ancestors far more often than you would the gods. After all, the gods are busy and there's a lot of people vying for their attention. But, your own ancestors have a blood tie to YOU, and they have a vested interest in your well being, happiness, and success.
Male ancestors were guardian spirits also, but it had been believed that they were guardians of "place" where the females were guardians of their offspring.
In his very academically sound book, Elves, Wights, and Trolls, Kvedulf Gundarsson explains that the tradition of house elves has roots in male ancestor worship.
The ancestor who founded the homestead was said to linger on to guard it. This concept has overlapped with what we might call "poltergeist activity" when a guardian spirit of a home is discontent.
I had been contemplating all of this when I was researching an article called "The Divine Feminine in Fairy Tales." To be sure, fairy tales hold much regarding masculinity as well, and it's a goal of mine to explore that in future.
But, while mulling this over for that article, it dawned on me that the "Fairy God-Mother Archetype" is likely a memory of the Disir. A female ancestral spirit from the Teutonic tradition that has a vested interest in you.
It is never explained why fairy tale heroines (and heros, as we shall see in future!) have a fairy godmother in the first place.
Why does this magical figure watch over them and not the others?
Well, the answer, I think, is because in these stories, the main character is supposed to represent ALL OF US when we go through difficulties in life.
And, when we are going through these issues, we, too, have an ancestral spiritual maternal force watching out for us.
Fairy Tales Walked Me Through My Loss
My grandmother had cancer and never told anyone. Nobody knew until she fell very ill suddenly. Next thing we knew, she was in the hospital and given two weeks left to live. So, we all gathered around her hospital bed doing shifts watching over her.
When she was so sick and it was basically just a countdown waiting for her to pass, well, everyone expected that I would take it the hardest.
I was the first grandchild and we were very, very close. I spoke with her almost every single day for my entire life. She was more than a best friend, she was a true soul mate.
It certainly was not, and still is not, easy to be without her.
But, I found that my worldview acquired through studying myth, legend, and fairy tales had prepped me quite well for it.
I felt a calm and a peace about this stage in the life cycle. I knew for a fact that she was simply moving from one phase of existence to another.
And, I understood that she would still be here watching out for me.
Many others have said that reading Joseph Campbell's great insight into mythology has helped them through rough times. Campbell was certainly one of my earliest mentors in the discipline of mythology.
Anyone who feels lost in their grief, or lost in other ways, and needs help finding direction should definitely start reading Campbell.
Everything that was mentioned above about thirsting for our primal instinctual past can be found in Campbell's work.
He devoted his life to studying world myth, and prior to that, he holed himself up in a cabin in the woods just reading philosophy, history, and great literature for five years. He is an insightful man and a true teacher.
Having read Campbell in the past opened my eyes to the hidden treasures in fairy tales. He taught me how to see, as it were. And because I learned to see, I have been able to recognize messages when they've come, and I have felt her presence with me every moment.
This happens in the Grimm's Cinderella with the dove at the sacred tree. It happened for me and my grandmother, and I know that people reading this will have their own experiences of animal omens after a passing.
I found that I had a sense of peace that my Christian family members were not experiencing.
I received so many messages from her in the weeks and months after her passing, messages that were clear and overt and I know without a doubt they came from her.
Meanwhile, other family members were distraught that they had not.
These messages and insights are there for all of us. What I've found is that it's up to the individual to remove the blinders and allow themselves to see them.
And, with fairy tales, the insights, guidance, and deep truths about our own indigenous ethnic-European ancestral spiritual worldview have been there waiting to guide us all along. It's simply been that we weren't looking for them.
Journey with Me Through the Land of Faerie
So, with this goal in mind, I've started a new European Fairy Tales series where I will be doing just that one by one with a different fairy tale.
Each booklet will give you a forward with information about the mythic or cultural influences within the tale that a casual reader would most likely not pick up on, just as we have explored here.
The first book in the series is available for FREE download as a sample of what to expect from the series. Click the download link in the books section of my website.
This will also serve as research for the long term goal of writing books on the survival of our ancient mythic worldview into modern times through the vehicle of folk tradition.