The illegitimate twin of the Sleeping Beauty
The fairy tale of the Sleeping Beauty, or Little Brier-Rose, has undergone a remarkable transformation over the centuries. What started out as a story for adults, complete with a rape of the princess while she slept, has been cast into the feel-good variety of the Brothers Grimm, suitable for children. Let’s first have a look at the chastened interpretation of the Grimm Brothers. Then we’ll review the symbolism of the more obscure original.
The storyline is simple and the meaning not difficult to unravel. A young princess pricks herself on a spinning wheel and falls asleep. Everybody in the palace – the king, the queen and the entire entourage – also falls asleep. After a hundred years the Sleeping Beauty is woken with a kiss from a prince. The lovers marry and they live happily ever after.
The royal daughter
A king and his queen represent in fairy tales nearly always the divine: the Kingdom of God, the place where mankind came from and for which our soul ever yearns. We are all called to restore the broken connection with our true home during our life on earth. Fairy tales show us the process of spiritual growth which is required for this.
In our pelvis, at the level of the sacrum, is situated a source of energy of divine origin. Eastern traditions call her the kundalini-shakti, in Jewish mysticism she is called the Shekinah and Christianity speaks of the Holy Spirit. Many spiritual traditions see this energy as the feminine aspect of God. In myths and legends she is often a goddess, queen or princess.
As long as a person is focused on earthly pleasures and satisfying the senses the kundalini-energy will lead a “slumbering” existence. A desire for God and a pure lifestyle causes this energy to awaken, after which an intensive process of purification commences, which ultimately results in a merger of the inner masculine and feminine: the so-called sacred marriage. Then the doors of the Kingdom of God open and the person is reunited with his Maker.
In fairytales we meet the sleeping kundalini-shakti in the form of Snow White who is laying in coma and of Cinderella who is locked up in the kitchen by the smoldering fire. In this fairytale she is depicted as a sleeping princess: Little Brier-Rose.
The spinning wheel
One day the princess wanders about the palace:
She walked around from one place to the next, looking into rooms and chambers as her heart desired. Finally she came to an old tower. She climbed up the narrow, winding stairs and arrived at a small door. In the lock there was a rusty key, and when she turned it the door sprang open. There in a small room sat an old woman with a spindle busily spinning her flax. “Good day, old woman,” said the princess. “What are you doing there?” – “I am spinning,” said the old woman, nodding her head. “What is that thing that is so merrily bouncing about?” asked the girl, taking hold of the spindle, for she too wanted to spin. She had no sooner touched the spindle when the magic curse was fulfilled, and she pricked herself in the finger. The instant that she felt the prick she fell onto a bed that was standing there, and she lay there in a deep sleep.
The tower of the palace symbolizes a person’s spinal column. The winding stairs represent the spiraling motion which the kundalini-energy makes when it awakens and rises. Many traditions depict this as a winding serpent which climbs up the spinal column.
The old woman with the spinning wheel represents “mother time” who spins the “thread of life.” The prick from the spindle is a metaphor for the incarnation of a human being in the material world. The connection with the divine is at that moment severed: the divine princess falls asleep in our pelvis.
The 100 year sleep
When the kundalini sleeps the entire person exists in “sleep mode,” that is a state of spiritual unconsciousness. The story depicts this by having all people and all animals in the castle fall asleep as well. Even the fire in the hearth (i.e. the kundalini-fire) dozes off.
Round about the castle a thorn hedge began to grow, and every year it became higher, until it finally surrounded and covered the entire castle. Finally nothing at all could be seen of it, not even the flag on the roof.
The palace drops from sight: the divine exits the frame of reference. Many princes try to reach the sleeping princess but fail to break through the thorny hedge. This symbolizes that he divine is not easily reobtained. The kundalini awakens only when the time is right, when the spiritual seeker has performed the necessary labor. In the story we see that after precisely 100 years (the number 1 represents the divine), the final of many princes who made an attempt walks effortlessly through the hedge:
When the prince approached the thorn hedge, it was nothing but large, beautiful flowers that separated by themselves, allowing him to pass through without harm, but then behind him closed back into a hedge. In the courtyard he saw the horses and spotted hunting dogs lying there asleep, and on the roof the pigeons, perched with their little heads tucked under their wings. When he walked inside the flies were asleep on the wall, the cook in the kitchen was still holding up his hand as if he wanted to grab the boy, and the maid was sitting in front of the black chicken that was supposed to be plucked. He walked further and saw all the attendants lying asleep in the hall, and above them near the throne the king and the queen were lying. He walked on still further, and it was so quiet that he could hear his own breath. Finally he came to the tower and opened the door to the little room where Little Brier-Rose was sleeping. There she lay and was so beautiful that he could not take his eyes off her. He bent over and gave her a kiss. When he touched her with the kiss Little Brier-Rose opened her eyes, awoke, and looked at him kindly.
The kundalini-symbolism is obvious: high in the tower (the spinal column) the merger of the masculine and feminine (the kiss) takes place, after which the sacred marriage follows:
And then the prince’s marriage to Little Brier-Rose was celebrated with great splendor, and they lived happily until they died.
The X-rated version
The oldest written version of Little Brier-Rose stems from 1632 and was called Sun, Moon and Talia. In this story the father of princess Talia deposits the sleeping body of his daughter in the forest. It’s a rather curious course of events but symbolically it matches seamlessly the interpretation of the fairy tale. The dark forest represents “the world”; the spiritual darkness into which man incarnates.
During a hunt, a nobleman finds the princess and rapes her. Nine months hence she delivers twins, which are named Sun and Moon. This bizarre storyline recounts the energetic process in a person after his birth on earth. Sun and moon represent the two energy channels which are called ida-nadi and pingala-nadi in the Yoga tradition. These energy channels run along our spinal column and represent the duality within a person: the masculine and feminine, warm and cold, light and dark, and so on. The sun and the moon (the active and the passive) are two classical symbols which express this duality.
Forest fairies place the twins at Talia’s breasts. This image depicts how the kundalini-energy flows away via the ida- and pingala-nadi, instead of rising up through the spinal column, hence keeping the person captured within duality
But now too all ends well. When after a few months the nobleman returns to the forest to have his way with Talia once more, he finds her awake. Talia marries him (the sacred marriage) and they live long happily ever after, together with the twins. They are now one family, which symbolizes transcended duality./p>
When we get the hang of the symbolism in fairy tales we recognize the similarities in stories worldwide.
The fairy tale of Rapunzel, for instance, uses similar images as the story of the Sleeping Beauty. Rapunzel is locked in a tower by a witch. A desirous prince climbs up via the braids of the girl, which she hangs out the window – a graceful metaphor for the kundalini-energy which flows upward through the spinal column and results in a merger of the masculine and feminine at the level of the forehead (the sixth chakra).
When the witch finds out about this secret meeting, she cuts off Rapunzel’s braids (the kundalini withdraws into the pelvis) and exiles her to a wilderness – an image that, like the dark forest, symbolizes life on earth.
The witch awaits the prince in the tower and startles him, which causes him to fall into a brier and become blind. He roams the earth until he finds Rapunzel again. By that time she’s given birth to their twins.
The blindness of the prince depicts becoming blind to the enticements of the world, which is required for the sacred marriage to transpire. The twin that Rapunzel delivered has the same meaning as Talia’s twins.
This time too the story ends with a royal wedding and a long life happily ever after (with God).
The moral of these stories
Man is a sleepwalker who takes life on earth much too serious and fairy tales too little. It’s time for the reverse!
This article has been published in Paravisie magazine (May 2017)
Copyright Anne-Marie Wegh 2017