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.
Most of us who have more than a cursory knowledge of folklore understand that the popular notion of a “fairy” today is completely different than in earlier eras, and that the fae were often considered very dangerous, and even as evil beings by Church authorities.
What many people don't know, however, was that communing with fairies was an act that could get you accused of witchcraft during the witch trial era.
Emma Wilby is the scholar of choice for this topic, and her work was cited in my article "When Witches Communed with Fairies." Research for that article urged me to delve deeper into the subject of "Popular Religion" to discover how old beliefs mingled with new, and how the beliefs and practices of the common folk differed from the beliefs sanctioned by the Church.
Folklore as a discipline is often misunderstood and undervalued by many with limited exposure to the field. The term folklore elicits the notion of fairytales and children’s stories, of fairy godmothers and talking animals. While this is certainly one component of folk and fairy tales, there is much, much more to be found both within the stories and the wider field.
Jung's Collective Unconscious
The Slavic people possess an ancient culture filled with beautiful clothing, traditional dances, ethnic cuisine, and their own tradition of mythology, folklore, and fairy tales. Despite their rich canon of myth, Slavic mythology gets much less attention than other European groups.
I have long felt that Celtic and Germanic myth has taken a backseat to the Greco-Roman pantheon in the Western consciousness. But those groups have seen resurgence in interest in recent years. Slavic mythology has also experienced growing interest, however much of it has been cut off from the English speaking world in a way that Celtic and Germanic myth has not.
So, I am thrilled to see Slavic cultural tradition finally making a splash in the modern pop culture scene which in turn makes the rounds in the English speaking media.
Myth & Culture Together Live on in Folk Custom
When people think of mythology, they tend to think of the great gods and epic heroes whose exploits passed on into myth and legend. However, scholars such as Jacqueline Simpson, renowned folklorist, have pointed out that ancient indigenous beliefs lingered on in folklore and traditions in Europe which often have roots connecting back to mythological figures and beliefs.
The phenomenon of indigenous beliefs lingering on with the common people after the population has been converted to a new religion is known as “folk religion.” We see it plainly today in Central and South America. The most well known custom that merges indigenous belief with Christianity is the Mexican Day of the Dead. There are other examples in other parts of the world where ancient animist and shamanic beliefs have carried on under the newer religions of Buddhism and Islam.