By unlocking the hidden spiritual truths of fairy tales, we gain understanding of the deep mystical meaning, hidden in the depths of such stories, and how these insights can be applied to the lives of modern day truth seekers. Through study, we realize the journey itself and the great battles we must fight to overcome the demons and dragons deep within us.
In The Witch as Teacher in Fairy Tales, Sufi leader Nuria Daly explores the inner realms of the creative imagination and our common crucial purpose of finding and integrating the Creative Feminine. This book introduces many worthy themes for reflection as a wonderful eye-opener to reading the symbolic psychological dimension of popular stories.
Great stuff. I love it! … a beautiful telling of the inner spiritual journey from the outer realm of dualism via the union of opposites, through growth in wholeness, towards oneness with the divine. Can be read time and again, and as the lessons are learnt and practiced, one’s subsequent understanding and self-realization are deepened. This is the essence of wisdom literature indeed.
—Dr Nicholas Coleman, Director of School of Spiritual Studies
The book springs from decades of teaching Sufi wisdom. The voice is not a narrative voice but a meditative one, providing a renewal or indeed a reimagining of the wisdom voice of Sufism. The text is an allegory of the teaching process. It teaches about teaching.
– -Dr William M. Johnston, Emeritus Professor of History (University of Massachusetts) and Editor, The Encyclopedia of Monasticism.
‘The Witch as Teacher in Fairy Tales’ is a Jungian interpretation of five ancient tales, from a Sufi perspective.
It consists of several parts which can be read separately.
- The Weaving
- Gold Chisel and the Stone Ram
- The Little Humpbacked Horse
- The Fairy of the Dawn
- The Frog Princess
- Cenerentola (Cinderella)
- Ponderings on the ‘Unstruck’ sound.
This is a weaving of the various strands of insights, found in the five Fairy Tales explored and contextualised into the life of a modern day seeker. In this journey of discovery we learn to recognise the role of the witch as an instance of our encounter with an outer teacher, and the horse as a vehicle for the inner teacher. We consider the creation of our Ideal of the Divine, as in the chiselling of the stone ram and the internalising of the teacher as symbolised by the steed which advises and carries us on our inner journey. We reflect on the tools and practices which are used along the way, and realise that there is a common thread in each of these great epics. There is a deep and mystical meaning in each of the tales. We see what happens when all that is left of an old tradition is the form and structure, with no living connection to the Divine. Each fairy tale shows us different aspects of the quest – the goal of finding the water of life and of the feminine principal Sophia; the search for a spiritual life in traditions where the structure and form remain but where the teachings were no longer alive and did not provide a living connection to the Divine. When there is a great need, a teacher will come. We learn that although a teacher is necessary as a guide on our path, enlightenment can sometimes arise from within an old tradition, without any outer teacher being available. These stories are about our own journey and so these insights have been woven through life as we experience it. We explore what it means when the feminine has been so repressed and denigrated over the ages that she now wears a frog skin and the consequences when this frog skin is burned by her Beloved, who sees her for the first time without it. We look at the mystical effect of sound and music in these tales and most importantly we understand that the Imaginal Creative realm of Alam al Mithal is real – more real than our outer life which is only an illusion fashioned by our culture, beliefs and attitudes. These beliefs and attitudes have to be mastered and overcome in the great and long battles described in all these stories. But the things that we gain from these battles are like the wreaths woven from the flowers picked along the path, and the wonderful ‘horses’ which guide us and become our helpers along the way. In my own journey – from a childhood story about a witch who steals a little princess’s heart and replaces it with an icicle, to its resolution when my heart finally melted, I was finally able to feel love and realise the power and wisdom in fairy tales.
Each of the stories below can be read separately and reflect different aspects of the inner journey and wisdom. Each story has illustrations reflecting aspects of the story, as you can see in The Frog Princess.
- Gold Chisel and the Stone Ram.
In this ancient Chinese fairy tale there once was a village where there was no fresh water i.e. there was no living spiritual teaching or religion in the community. However there was a tradition that fresh water would one day spring from the lips of a stone ram. This story follows the journey of a young stone mason, Gold Chisel who eventually fulfils this prophecy by chiselling a stone ram which comes alive for him, bringing fresh water to the village each night. However the jealous god of the Yellow river wounds the ram and as a consequence Gold Chisel must ‘mend’ his ram and fight the god of the Yellow River, so that the water or wisdom teachings can flow to the village. This allegorical tale teaches much about mysticism or wisdom which can get lost in a culture and how this can be restored by the coming of a new Teacher.
- The Little Humpbacked Horse
This is a more modern tale, written as an epic poem in 1834 by Pyotr Yershov in Russia. It encompasses many symbols and themes from ancient Russian myths and fairy tales, but with a definite Sufi and spiritual theme hidden within. The Little Humpbacked Horse can be seen as representing a Sufi Teacher who might have ridden on a camel. The hero, Ivan, the youngest son of a Russian peasant, sets off to fight a demon who is destroying the golden corn in the Tsar’s fields and so wins the Little Humpbacked Horse, who becomes he steed, guide and teacher. The Tsar demands that Ivan brings him the fabled firebird and the Tsar-Maid, but Ivan then helps the Tsar-Maid become the Tsar in her own right, with Ivan as her consort.
3 The Fairy of the Dawn
This is an old Rumanian fairy Tale with a strong spiritual underpinning. The Emperor of a vast infinite realm is seen to have one eye which weeps and the other eye which laughs. It is his youngest son’s concern for his father’s ‘sight’ that leads to his great quest – his journey through the various inner realms (conditions) to the realm of the Fairy of the Dawn, so as to bring back the magical ‘Water’, to cure his father’s eyes and the whole kingdom.
4 The Frog Princess
The frog Princess is the first tale where the feminine, as represented by the princess, is not only the object of the quest but a participant in it. In this tale the King wants his three sons to find suitable wives by shooting arrows in the air. However the arrow of the youngest son is found in the mouth of a frog in a bog; this is the frog princess who was enchanted by her jealous father. We realise that the feminine is still covering her real self by wearing a frog skin even in these contemporary times and we discover what happens when the prince, burns his wife’s frog skin, after seeing her in all her glory at a ball. How he gets her back when she flies away and how the powerful witch Baba Yaga helps him find and rescue her from Kashchey the Deathless is the crux of the inner journey. This story may be seen as the jewel in the crown of all the tales.
This is the final story of the series, and one which demonstrates the journey of the Feminine towards wholeness and individuation. Cenerentola is an original version of the Cinderella tale which goes back to at least the 17th century and was one of those gathered from Crete and Venice going back to the ancient times of Goddess worship.
When the Princess Zezolla is relegated to the hearth and becomes Cenerentola, she has really rejected and been rejected by her ‘step-mother’ and her ‘step-sisters’ who represent the outer worldly dimensions of the unrefined and materialistic feminine. The hearth is the heart of the home, the community and the state and was central in the worship of the goddess Hestia in ancient times. Cenerentola’s ‘real’ or spiritual mother is the Dove-of-the-Fairies in Sardinia, and she can be seen as a teacher or guide of the Divine Sophia, or Hestia. Cenerentola is given tools or practices so that she can realise her inner wisdom and power and so transform herself into the Queen. It is a powerful teaching for recognising the wisdom and beauty of the Feminine and Divine Sophia in all of us.