The print above is of a drawing by Charles Allan Gilbert which was apparently exceedingly popular after publication in 1902 in Life magazine. It illustrates perfectly the matter of the mirror in Snow White's story, though symbolically we're always looking at mirroring from two levels; the surface behavior and the deeper level of self-inquiry, of self-discovery, of self-image, both of which are normally very closely tied into our perceptions of and experiences with "the world". Folks usually take the stepmother's envy at "face" level (haha), and that's fine. But there's a lot more lurking behind that simple assessment. In Gilbert's illustration, a woman seems to be concerned with her looks, which is normal human behavior; she sits at a vanity mirror. Yet Gilbert, through the graphic pun of the skull, lets us know that vanity has something to do with a much larger category, death or mortality itself.
Mortality is a huge category, for it includes all that comes and goes here on planet Earth! Though the stepmother has vanity issues ("She was...proud and overbearing...could not bear that anyone might be more beautiful than she was"), I will invite you in this interpretation to broaden this category of vanity to include many other associated human experiences. You may notice that, in Snow White, beauty's ephemeral quality very nicely pairs with the temporal nature of incarnate life itself. Just as Gilbert's picture illustrates, part of the magnetic quality of beauty is that its very dissolution lurks always, that which we fear behind that which attracts. The human developmental trajectory which always ends in death can be blockaded by the inability to let go. Fear of death seeps into the bones of our personal stories, and clinging to youthful beauty is an all too common behavior in human society, whether we seem to possess said beauty or not.
Mortality is, in our clinging behavior, our inability to relax into endings, theoretically and desperately avoided. We're not willing to sacrifice the old, we do not see the beauty of the red blood sacrificed to the snow, as the first queen did. We are not allowing for change and development. A common interpretation of the story is that the queen's losing her looks. The stepmother's envy is a desire to stay on top in a beauty contest, but I'm going to invite you to extend her resistance to what is to include a wealth contest or any other competition for worldly power and/or approbation. Include in this even the other sort of contests that Snow White seems to have won, the Goody Two-Shoes contests and the chastity contests and the hard worker contests and on and on. The stepmother's just competing, is all. And it's going to kill her in the end.
But from my perspective the sort of sacrifice depicted in Snow White is also something we all do when we enter competitive human society. There are always different levels going on in these tales, but for one thing, we sacrifice some ways of being in the world in order to create our personalities. In a myriad of ways, we choose; adventurous or timid, social or loner, angry or peacemaker, materialistic or economically unambitious, caretaker or ruler, self centered or self effacing, and on and on.
The stepmother's mirror sets up a simple dichotomy for our protagonist: win or lose. With the mirror, then, the story audience is clued into the theme of competition that the stepmother personifies in a dramatic sense. Her competitive qualities of pride and overbearing behavior (trying to be "over" others) represent for us competition itself, and the action of mirror-gazing then becomes a symbol for self-identification from a competitive perspective; am I winning, or am I losing right now? This is not the sort of gazing that Narcissus does in the deep pool. Much of our human experience can be reduced to those two basic experiences of win or lose. When we feel like a winner, we are secure, maybe happy, maybe confident, or cocky, feeling powerful. When we are not getting what we want, from ourselves (losing weight, getting a lover, making money, etc.) or "other", significant or not, our experience quickly shifts into "bad": insecure to anxious (like Snow White abandoned in the forest), depressed, controlling and manipulative, angry, envious...
On the child's level that we all know, a little girl of about 7 begins to see herself reflected by "the world" (the mirror), and begins to create a personality in reaction to that which she sees, or experiences. She splits herself into the stepmother and her desire for power and control, and Snow White, an "inner child", a psychic aspect that is immature but filled with innate love and beauty. We can view this sacrifice as being made either way, from the child's view or the stepmother's, and we all made it. The easiest is to see a woman, the stepmother who is "proud and overbearing", having sacrificed or left undeveloped or in shadow, a humble, reclusive, compliant, contemplative, soul centered aspect of self that has no vanity to speak of.
The other perspective is that a girl grows up as Snow White does; busy with the care of others, innocent of her competitive side, which will set her up to be victimized by such folks as her overbearing, competitive stepmother. The stepmother is what she left behind, the boar whose lungs and liver the stepmother eats. When the lungs and liver are eaten, they are, after all, thenceforth hidden inside. As audience, one story character we identify as not-bad, the other as not-good, since we all have gone through this developmental process. Interestingly, the images of Snow White that are prevalent in our culture are either strongly sexualized, or a downtrodden but cheerful Goody Two-Shoes. Her childlike nature leaves her future open to speculation, for one thing.
I am pretty passionate about these interps because the most popular way of fairy tale interpretation is arrested at the psychological level. The uber-famous Maria Tatar, for example, says "The tale turns on the (sexual) rivalry between stepmother and daughter...'Snow White' has been read as a story that plots the trajectory of 'normal' female maturation (in symbolic terms) and maps a case study of maternal jealousy in its most pathological form." Sounds very official, what with the word "pathological" and all. But the story is from a time before the current Euro-Western obsession with psychology. This interpretation avoids the matter of ultimate self-responsibility and serves to perpetrate tyrant-victim-savior games.
In truth, we are all the evil queen, if we are playing at competitive games- and we all do. And in learning our society's games, we leave the frightened child we cannot afford to be, behind, in the secluded forest of the psyche that so many fairy tales describe. She will, however, appear in moments of insecurity, of not-winning, of losing face, of powerlessness, of loss of control. The mirror of the world and/or our inner mirror says to us, "You're not good enough" and then we desperately scramble to get back the feeling of winning, as the stepmother does. Unless, or until, we realize, as the first mother did, that this form of suffering can be transformed.
*(note from the archetypal zone: As I finished typing this last sentence, a knock on the door. A couple Jehovah's Witness ladies. The talker said she wanted to leave me The Watchtower, their rag, and said, "Look at this interesting article.." pointing to the title: Why So Much Suffering? When Will it End? printed over a photo of two women in a war zone. I read it out loud with her, and laughed. She thinks I'm nuts probably...)
Notice she is looking for proof. This is not a heart-centered attitude. It is a competitive desire. We look for proof to make ourselves right. While we may be able to ascertain something as true in the moment, that is very different from wanting proof. Proof does not allow for changes, for one thing; it is the "final word" on something, an attitude that has our science-obsessed culture pretty screwed up. Proof does not allow for our mortality and the need for old identifications to die. The things that matter in the realms of soul and spirit, magic and mystery, are beyond proof.
The mirror, which always tells the "truth", is also a form of desiring proof. The mirror and the seeking after proof plays on the matter of this story being very much about truth-seeking, though the stepmother does it in the wrong way, the ego centered way of competitive society. The surface, ego-based truth is that as long as the world reflects what we want to see, we rest easy. Otherwise, in at least some underlying manner, "by day or by night", we "never know a moment's peace", the tale's description of Stepmother's reaction to knowing she is no longer winning. Perhaps it is the desire for peace from this human unrest, a peace represented in the stillness of winter and sleep and death, that strikes the first queen's heart with longing. Maybe, like many folks of a certain age (we can view the stepmother as one who's perhaps losing her beauty), she's realized that the competitive way of being results in this cold, exhausting, gut-wrenching need for almost constant reassurance, this obsession with others and what they are doing or not doing in comparison with ourselves.
This is all natural stuff we all go through, remember; it is all part of our transformational journeys. It's interesting that Snow White is made into a woman in our contemporary psyches, though she's 7 years old in the tale, isn't it? Seven is of course a number that is about to be repeated in the tale, as the number of dwarves. In tarot, VII is The Chariot, a number of movement, of the ability to connect and then let go when necessary, the wisdom of change and movement. Chariot helps you to remove yourself from stuck places so that you can get on with your developmental journey.
We won't worry about the huntsman much, except to say that he is not hard-hearted. In his presenting of the boar's lungs and liver, he does manage to cosmically reveal the stepmother's inner truth, for he is on the side of Snow White, the innocent, heart centered one. The truth is that, though Stepmother imagines she can shine beautifully in the world despite having banished the soul centered child, in fact she cannot, as mentioned above. Rather, upon consuming the boar's heart and liver, she has only taken on boarish qualities, for the guts she consumes are those of a boar, depicted in the black and white illustration above the Chariot image. The boar is a very competitive animal, a fierce fighter, as our stepmother seems to be. So we could say that this stepmother aspect has its beauties, as all things do. A highly successful, worldly powerful man or woman can embody the boar's power. The boar is a fearless pathmaker, a leader, a warrior, with much elemental earth magic at its disposal.
Anyway, here's the thing; the boar is awesome. However, all things in balance, and the stepmother is out of balance, for true earth power does not obsess in desperation about winning and losing. True earth element power is unfazed by others; it is as solid as the boar's powerful body. She needs to reclaim, reunite with, the child she left in the forest of the psyche. She needs to experience something new; she's identified too long with this voracious animal without dropping into its deeper wisdom. Voracious animals always symbolize some form of greed, and again, the stepmother's most obvious diagnosis is a competitive sort of greed that lacks the wisdom to know that life naturally involves both winning and losing. From the standpoint of Snow White and the good mother, the non-aggressive ones in the story, they have been suppressing this boar aspect, which appears in the story after they do. Through conditioning, it may have lain dormant too long, assessed long ago as too competitive, too greedy, selfish, vain, etc. etc.; that is the stuck position from their standpoint. It must be understood and embraced.
Just as the beauty of the soul is lost when we banish our child, so is the boar's ability to work earth element magic, to manifest, lost when we identify as not-that; not powerful, not a leader, not aggressive, not hungry. You can't get rid of the inner child and expect to keep some parts of it, as the queen expects she can just consume the lungs and liver, keep what she wants and trash the rest. You can't expect to suppress your desire and not also banish the ability to defend yourself (the boar's tremendous fighting ability). Quite often we banish even our sexuality, which is a part of Earth magic, when we delete any ability to aggression or boundary-making, to claiming our own path, our own way of being in the world. Then we're left with compliance, an eye always on what others want, maybe a surface kind of sexuality that conforms to the world's expectations, a very common experience in my society. Been there, done that. Alchemical stories always give us both sides of the coin, since it is in understanding the dualities we have set up for ourselves that understanding occurs, and the victim and tyrant and savior stories that are just the surface appearance, become wisdom and wholeness. Certainly my society at large believes this is a tale of victims (Snow White) and tyrants (stepmother) and saviors (the men). But that's the orientation that keeps us stuck, the wool that's been pulled over our eyes.
In the video, there are repeated reflections, several facets we could say, of Clarkson in her black gown. She takes her child self (about the age of 7 I would guess) by the hand to develop some understanding of how she got to this impasse. She watches the mother, who could also be her, in the act of domestic chores, Snow White's occupation in the forest. Did you see the falling snow or rain in the window? The mirror? I wonder how the songwriter intends to keep herself from "causing my heart so much misery"? The insinuation is that it's by shutting the heart down, Stepmother's job, the zombie game. Of course her heart was once whole to begin with, strictly speaking, when she arrived on the planet...
Good job! Yay for the bard, and for the filmmaker!
"Because Of You"
I will not make the same mistakes that you did
I will not let myself/Cause my heart so much misery
I will not break the way you did/You fell so hard
I've learned the hard way/To never let it get that far
Because of you/I never stray too far from the sidewalk
Because of you/I learned to play on the safe side so I don't get hurt
Because of you/I find it hard to trust not only me, but everyone around me
Because of you/I am afraid
I lose my way/And it's not too long before you point it out
I cannot cry/Because I know that's weakness in your eyes
I'm forced to fake/A smile, a laugh everyday of my life
My heart can't possibly break/When it wasn't even whole to start with
I watched you die/I heard you cry every night in your sleep
I was so young/You should have known better than to lean on me
You never thought of anyone else/You just saw your pain
And now I cry in the middle of the night/For the same damn thing
Because of you/I tried my hardest just to forget everything
Because of you/I don't know how to let anyone else in
Because of you/I'm ashamed of my life because it's empty
Because of you, I am afraid