The Glass Slipper of Cinderella
The fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm which we all know so well – Snow White, Cinderella, the Sleeping Beauty – were not invented by the two brothers but are ancient folk tales which they merely submitted to writing. These are stories which commonly also circulated in other parts of the world, sometimes in a somewhat different form, but with strikingly abundant similar symbolism. From this we may deduce that we are dealing with esoteric knowledge, which throughout all cultures and times has existed in an underground fashion, and which was passed on via folk tales.
I suspect that the Grimm brothers have not been aware that many of the fairy tales which made it into their books are about a kundalini-awakening; a term that hadn’t yet been introduced to the western world in the 19th century. Like Snow White, the story of Cinderella is about spiritual transformation with this mysterious energy source in the lead role.
The tree, the dove, the fire and the marriage
This story makes use of a number of universal symbols which are used time and again when the kundalini-process is expressed in images: the tree, the white dove, the fire and the marriage. The tree symbolizes the spinal column via which the divine energy (fire) flows from the pelvis to the crown. The dove symbolizes a completed process. The marriage represents the merger of the masculine and the feminine within a person into a unity, at the level of the sixth chakra, because of which the door to the divine opens.
We see these images – in a stylized form – also in the caduceus, the classic kundalini symbol of Greek mythology. The staff of the caduceus represents a person’s spinal column and the two wings the expansion of consciousness which is the result of a kundalini-awakening. The two serpents represent the two energy channels in our body, which connect us to the duality, including the masculine and the feminine (yin and yang in Taoism). The merger of these energy channels at the level of the forehead is called the sacred marriage.
Let’s have a look how all this plays out in the story of Cinderella. Just as in the story of Snow White, the mother of Cinderella dies and her father remarries a true wretch. In fairy tales the evil stepmother usually represents the “material world.” This interpretation is confirmed by the etymology (the origin of the word): the word “material” comes from the Latin word mater and means mother. We are born here on earth, but our true home is in the divine dimensions, is the underlying message of this story.
Sleeping near the hearth
The stepmother locks Cinderella in the kitchen where she is forced to perform heavy labor:
In the evening when she had worked herself weary, there was no bed for her. Instead she had to sleep by the hearth in the ashes. And because she always looked dusty and dirty, they called her Cinderella.
The literal meaning of her original German name Aschenputtel is “she who blows into the ash to reignite the fire.” It’s a beautiful and striking name that puts us on the right track to the deeper meaning of the story. The hearth is the smoldering kundalini fire in our pelvis.
The image of the incarcerated Cinderella, sleeping by the smoldering hearth, symbolizes the kundalini-energy which no longer flows freely through our spinal column but “sleeps” at the level of the sacrum, as a consequence of our incarnation on earth.
The mean stepsisters
Cinderella has two stepsisters. They represent the two energy channels (nadis) in our body, which are called ida-nadi and pingala-nadi in the Yoga tradition, and which let us experience the material world and its duality. “They were beautiful, with fair faces, but evil and dark hearts,” tells us the story. A life focused on material things may seem beautiful on the outside but is soulless and empty.
The branch and the hat
Daily Cinderella goes to the grave of her mother and weeps bitter tears because she is so unhappy.
One day it happened that the father was going to the fair, and he asked his two stepdaughters what he should bring back for them. “Beautiful dresses,” said the one. “Pearls and jewels,” said the other. “And you, Cinderella,” he said, “what do you want?” “Father, break off for me the first twig that brushes against your hat on your way home.” So he bought beautiful dresses, pearls, and jewels for his two stepdaughters. On his way home, as he was riding through a green thicket, a hazel twig brushed against him and knocked off his hat. Then he broke off the twig and took it with him. Arriving home, he gave his stepdaughters the things that they had asked for, and he gave Cinderella the twig from the hazel bush.
Cinderella thanked him, went to her mother’s grave, and planted the branch on it, and she wept so much that her tears fell upon it and watered it. It grew and became a beautiful tree. Cinderella went to this tree three times every day, and beneath it she wept and prayed. A white bird came to the tree every time, and whenever she expressed a wish, the bird would throw down to her what she had wished for.
Beautiful how the tree as metaphor for the kundalini process is worked into the story! Cinderella asks for a gift the branch that brushes against her father’s hat, a reference to the “kundalini-tree” which grows in our head. The hat which is knocked off represents the opening of the crown chakra.
Cinderella plants the branch on the grave of her mother. Many traditions view the kundalini-energy as feminine; as a goddess, or as “God the Mother.” Our pelvis is the grave in which this energy lies “buried.” Because of the tears of the mourning girl, the tree begins to grow. What is required to awaken the kundalini is a sincere longing for God; homesickness for the place from whence we came. Sorrow due to life on earth – however bitter this may seem – is nutrition for the kundalini-tree.
The white bird in the tree represents a completed process. Everything Cinderella asks for the bird throws down; we receive whatever our hearts desire when we persevere and accomplish the process of transformation until the complete end.
The king’s son
Also the story’s ultimate marriage to the prince is filled with beautiful symbolism. Cinderella wants to attend the ball which the king organizes in order to find a bride for his son. But she is only allowed to come along when she has extracted the lentils from the ashes that her stepmother has thrown in. Cinderella implores the birds to come to her aid:
The girl went through the back door into the garden, and called out, “You tame pigeons, you turtledoves, and all you birds beneath the sky, come and help me to gather: The good ones go into the pot, the bad ones go into your crop.” Two white pigeons came in through the kitchen window, and then the turtledoves, and finally all the birds beneath the sky came whirring and swarming in, and lit around the ashes. The pigeons nodded their heads and began to pick, pick, pick, pick. And the others also began to pick, pick, pick, pick. They gathered all the good lentils into the bowl.
Sorting out the “good lentils” refers to the inner purification that is required for the sacred marriage; a purification which is achieved by the kundalini-energy (the birds).
Then the stepmother says that she still can’t go to the ball, because she has no suitable clothes. Cinderella goes to her mother’s grave, where this time again the white bird helps her by throwing down a beautiful gold and silver dress with matching slippers. This dress represents the “garment of light” which is formed under the influence of the kundalini-process. By this imperishable body of light we attain immortality, the ultimate spiritual destination of human beings.
The charmed prince
The prince is rather charmed with Cinderella, but three times (the festival lasts three days) she eludes his attempts to take her home – the first time by climbing in a pigeon coop and the second time by climbing up a pear tree. Both the pigeon coop and the pear tree refer to the spinal column, with the kundalini-energy flowing within. The third time Cinderella escapes the prince she loses one her shoes:
The prince picked it up. It was small and dainty, and of pure gold. The next morning, he went with it to the man, and said to him, “No one shall be my wife except for the one whose foot fits this golden shoe.”
The shoe of Cinderella is supposed to tell us something about her ego: small and of gold. In another version of this tale, recorded by the French author Perrault, the shoe is made from glass. This refers to a “transparent” and purified ego (as does the glass coffin of Snow White).
Who fits the slipper?
The prince sets out in search of she who fits the shoe. The feet of the stepsisters of Cinderella appear to be much too large. One stepsister cuts off her toe and the other her heel to deceive the prince but they are betrayed by the white doves at the grave of Cinderella’s mother: Rook di goo, rook di goo! There’s blood in the shoe. The shoe is too tight, this bride is not right!
When it appears that Cinderella does fit the shoe, the delighted prince takes her along. At that moment two white birds fly toward her and settle on Cinderella’s shoulders: “one on the right, the other on the left, and remained sitting there.” The doves to the left and right of Cinderella’s head symbolize the two wings atop the caduceus: the kundalini-process is completed. The story ends as follows:
When the wedding with the prince was to be held, the two false sisters came, wanting to gain favor with Cinderella and to share her good fortune. When the bridal couple walked into the church, the older sister walked on their right side and the younger on their left side, and the pigeons pecked out one eye from each of them. Afterwards, as they came out of the church, the older one was on the left side, and the younger one on the right side, and then the pigeons pecked out the other eye from each of them. And thus, for their wickedness and falsehood, they were punished with blindness as long as they lived.
During the wedding ceremony the stepsisters position themselves to the left and right of Cinderella. That is supposed to invoke the image of the two energy channels – the ida-nadi and pingala-nadi – which run on both sides of the spinal column. The sisters are blinded by the white doves: the awakened person becomes “blind” for the earthly.
The moral of the story
When the stepmother and stepsisters in us remain in control, Cinderella remains locked in the kitchen. In other words: if we live our lives focused on material things and the desires of the ego, then the kundalini-energy remains asleep near our sacrum.