The Frog Princess
You asked me what it was about “The Frog Princess” that captured my attention. You asked, in particular, about the frogskins.
The first thing that captured me was that the princess is transformed into a frog by a king who was jealous of her power. In some versions this is her father. To me this symbolises the fear that the patriarchy have of the power of women, but, more than that, it also shows how the feminine can be forced to assume another guise (disguise) to survive. Although the princess is transformed into a frog, she is far from powerless. This intrigues me. She catches the prince’s arrow in her mouth. We speak of the arrow of desire. But here we see how the desire for union manifests in both the princess and princess.
As you point out in your book, the princess frog is found in the marsh, and the marsh is a crossing place. Her frogskin enables her to move between both the active realm and the inner realm. She takes up her place in the outer realm, in court. Her inner feminine is filled with the deep knowing that you have spoken about in your talks at different times. This is what guides her hand when she makes the beautiful shirt for the tsar and bakes the bread. You have spoken about the rich symbolism of the embroidered shirt and the bread, so need for any further comment here from me.
Although the princess appears as a frog, she knows who she really is. At some deeper level, the prince hears her with his inner ear, because he accepts all that she says and does as she bids him to do. The princess is not perturbed in anyway by the malice of her sisters in law. She knows what it is right and fitting to do. She does not suffer from doubt, but is filled with confidence. Confidence means “with faith” and it seems to me that all that she does, when in this captured state has a certain sure footedness, because she is connected to the deep inner realm. Our own doubt and misgivings can come from accepting the guise of the frogskins, from taking on the guise that the patriarchy, directly or indirectly, makes us wear, as being who and what we are. The frog princess has no such misgivings. She never loses sight of who she is really is – no matter that others do not see this. She does not need the regard of others. She does not dignify the folly and malice of the sisters in law by responding to them by taking taking them seriously, but instead just responds calmly and with good humour.
When she appears at court as a beautiful queen, the white swans that appear symbolise divine harmony. The swan is a symbol of discrimination and union. Her gracefulness and discrimination at the ball – taking a sip of the ceremonial wine, putting the bones in her sleeve – these are the outer signs of her inner grace, of knowing what it is right and fitting.
When she appears arrayed as a queen, the imagery reminds us of Mary as the Queen of Heaven. I think this reminds us that all women have this connection to the wise and powerful feminine, whose beauty is the manifestation of grace.
The burning of the frogskins is a difficult aspect of the story. You mention that you felt a sort of horror. I felt a sense of shock, but unlike in many tales where some irrevocable action takes place – I am thinking of Orpheus looking back and losing Euryidce – in this story the burning of the frogskins is ambiguous. When would she would have been ready to leave her frogskins behind? Three days is a long time in a fairy tale.
First the princess is transformed into a frog by the patriarchy, which can be seen to represent all the harmful aspects of power, the denial and oppression of the other, which in this case is the inner feminine.
The second time, the princess transforms herself into a swan (I think everything in the tale points to her transformation into a swan, rather than a cuckoo). Here, it is as if the next stage in her transformation must be via the outer masculine, the force of acting in the world. So, it seems to me, that the feminine can be harmed by the patriarchy and must learn to deal with the world in a different guise, going about her work without attracting unwanted attention until the time is right. The ripeness is all, as Hamlet says.
When the prince burns her frogskins, but she is not ready, I think that this is just how life is. The masculine principle, by its nature acts in the world, with imperfect understanding, and makes mistakes, and yet it is by this mistake that the frog princess flies into the inner realm for the next stage in her evolution, separate from the masculine. It is by this seeming “mistake” that the prince commences his inner journey. It is the rightness of our desire that transforms our actions.
So, in this story, after I write this, I realise that what shines through is the desire of all of us as seekers, for love and for union with the divine. Whatever the harm that is done to us, as the princess is caught up in the spell of the jealous king, we have to discover our inner, deep knowing and trust in the process, as the frog princess trusts that her beautiful shirt and bread will be known as the work of a princess. Then, when, the prince burns her frogskins, this is like when we find ourselves thrust out without protection, without being prepared, and yet must see and recognise this as a time for reflection and inner growth, just as the frog princess does. Only then can both the masculine and the feminine be united in divine harmony.