Well if you've come this far on the Snow White/Stepmother journey, you don't think this story is lightweight, childish, or a simple matter of "someday my prince will come", I assume! I like Gag's little disguise corner in the picture. In truth our inner stepmother could have many faces, appear in our lives as many different people. That Stepmother is everywhere is what makes her character so compelling, what makes "evil", shadow stuff, compelling. She is a call to recognize this rejected one, the one who, if redeemed, leads to wholeness. Ditto for the evil queen, only it's her innocent SW she will redeem.
It's a lead-in to my magical motto: All Is Not As It Seems. And the matter of appearances is another theme in this story. It's mentioned in the beauty of the women, in the mirror, in "I don't want to lay eyes on her ever again", in Stepmother not seeing the nature of the lungs and liver she ate, in "Oh my child, what a sight you are", in SW's being "completely fooled" into not seeing the queen for who she really is, and of course in the big illusion, where SW rides the line between death and life and appears to be "just as if she were sleeping".
Problem-solving thought is one of the functions of air element, the other masculine element (I've gone into the masculine fire element a few posts back). It's the orientation that's got my society expecting to solve problems through "science". It's a good skill to have, but all things in balance. Snow White might have been less freaked out when she was lost in the woods if she had thought a bit, but her instinct, her 4th chakra heart, got her where she needed to go in the end.
So 6th chakra thinking is very useful, but its overuse is dangerous to the health of individuals, societies, and the planet. This is the mind's judgmental, comparative, qualitative function that's prized, even revered, in my society, though the mind has other functions. In my culture we endeavor to get children into this mind game as early as possible and stigmatize those whose gifts and proclivities lie elsewhere. The nature of intellectual judgment which always divides our realities into "good" and "bad", is also emphasized in the stepmother's's calling out to SW, "Pretty wares for a good price." The marketplace, of course, functions along the lines of comparison and judgment, where, for example, it's great to get something on the cheap, and good to sell something for a higher price, bad to be "cheated", bad to lose money. This describes the "goods" we're sold when we are socialized into adult society. We hope we're going to "get somewhere", "get something", get a "good deal", by playing this judgment/comparison game.
"Then he said to the dwarfs: 'Let me have the coffin. I will give you whatever you want for it.' The dwarfs replied: 'We wouldn't sell it for all the world."' He said: 'Make me a present of it, for I can't live without seeing my Snow White. I will honor and cherish her as if she were my beloved.'"
Though the mind deals in buying and selling because it can judge and compare, the honoring, cherishing heart deals only in gifts, for it does not quantify, only qualify.
Archetypally, Stepmother is aligned with the masculine principle through her use of air and fire elements; anger and aggression, and thinking and judgment. So we can imagine the prince as the stepmother, realizing the worth of her innocent self. This is redemption. This is a new balance between heart and mind, body and spirit.
The queen stains her face; that darkness symbolically tells us she is a shadow figure, in Jungian terms (for more on the shadow see the fairy tale page, here). She disguises herself as a humble peddler woman, the very opposite of a vain queen, and if alert we're clued into the nature of opposites. Neither Snow White nor Stepmother would imagine themselves as an old peddler woman. Here again is the magical truth that "all is not as it seems." This recognition of the ubiquitousness of opposites is a crucial paradigm on the journey of self inquiry, because we discover that we thought all sorts of things about self and other that are absolutely false.
So let's imagine we're Snow White doing some self inquiry. In this first visit from Stepmother with the laces, she discovers something of the origin of her anxious insecurity (imagining the vain stepmother is SW's vain inner rejected). This insecurity daily manifests as a clinging to her outer appearance, an obsession and identification with her looks. Upon realizing this, SW will naturally (if she's a good miner) realize, for example, that her clinging to her appearance is the same as clinging to appearances in general, clinging to the shallow, surface orientation of socialized, materialistic, ambitious, competitive, manipulative ways of being in the world.
The very thought of buying and selling is anathema to our self worth, in fact. It stems from that same overweening comparison game we get "sold" when we move out of childhood. Rather than being in the world in childlike ways that are immersed in the sacred play of life, as a natural part of our developmental journeys we begin to judge some of it (the innocent experience of self) as unworthy. With that, we can judge ourselves in the same manner. The judging mind naturally questions: what is our worth? And upon whose judgment does it depend?
That this "personal appearances" bill of goods is sold to girls and women in particular is perhaps obvious in the matter of the "nice things, pretty things". Archetypally, women are associated with Venus, Aphrodite, with the embodiment of beauty, though our adult relationship with Beauty is partly determined by our conditioning. I could go on at some length on this particular matter, since Beauty is a big archetype. I will say that this tale challenges us to explore our relationship with Beauty itself, and it also asks us to reach deeper into the psyche to find the place where we still experience our unconditioned, authentic soul's beauty, to learn to ignore those judgmental voices in our head.
"Oh, my child, what a sight you are. Come, let me lace you up properly."
Seems like motherly concern, right? And it is, a mother's concern that her daughter fit into society's restrictions. Mothers do not usually want to raise misfits, even if they themselves are.
As is true with everything, there is a deeper level to this bit. Archetype and shadow and energetics often manifests on the social level, of course, and here we have the social manipulation of the female body, its history reaching back at least as far as medieval society, mostly for the fashionable, elite stratum of society. The very fact that you've got your guts roped in proves you don't have a real lot of physical labor to do, you're no peasant woman; it glorifies disembodiment itself. Though laced bodices don't need to be tight to be pretty, they are still emphasizing the feminine form, that hourglass ideal (how did the Gibson Girls above get their butts to jut out like that?). The ideal has changed in America today; the fashion is a boyish look the young anorexic above is probably striving for, less flesh, period. A perennial adolescence, or any number of other ways of looking at this preference.
In our search for wisdom we do well to remove ourselves from identification with the values of the marketplace and its constant comparison game, though it's important not to demonize money or the rich, etc. etc., or we are still in the game. The entrance onto the stage of this humble old peddler woman heralds Snow White/Stepmother's encounters with Wisdom itself, characterized in this crone. She will dramatically and metaphorically show our two sided protagonist the connection between her striving for physical beauty, and the anxiety, the burning envy, the self judgment, the life of hiding in fear. Though we identify her as the evil Stepmother from the surface narrative, we must also see her disguised as Wisdom now. Characters are created, in our psyches and in stage and drama, by the clothing or disguise, as well as behaviors. We are all shapeshifting beings of many sides, and even the most greedy and angry person has access to Wisdom within.
And her shield, which was used by Greek and Roman soldiers alike, is on the right front corner of the print. The shield is the Aegis, sometimes described as a bronze mirror, like the one in Snow White and the Huntsman. It's also depicted as above; holding the snaky-headed Medusa, her face in a scream, which is actually the face of fear. The Aegis or Gorgon/Medusa head was used on shields because the bearer of it was then on the "right side" (behind) of the power to frighten and destroy, the winning side of fear, the hunter rather than the hunted. The Medusa's face froze whoever looked upon it because it is indeed the face of fear itself. It's Medusa's countenance, captured in the frightful moment her head was being lopped off by Perseus. When we ally ourselves with the frightful power of the hunter, we can strike fear into the heart of the hunted.
"The old woman laced her up so quickly and tightly that Snow White's breath was cut off, and she fell down as if dead."
With just such swiftness does fear often grab hold of us, paralyzing us, like Medusa's snaky face. However, the essence of transformation is in this Medusa image, for though snakes are sometimes frightening, they are transformational animals, their skin-shedding an encouragement to rebirthing our consciousness. They are appropriate here also because the habituation/conditioning of fear is part of the reptilian brain.
I want to point out that the stays restrict the area of the 3rd chakra (refer to last post), the most challenging for many women to strengthen (along with the 5th, self expression). The laces or stays are described in terms of the chakras, perhaps, "silk lace woven of many colors". However, the easiest way to think of this strangling is that fear closes down the heart.
"'So much for being the fairest of them all', the old woman said as she hurried away."
Indeed. The association between competition and the closing off of life's naturally sustaining energies is made, for our overly competitive ways of being in the world cut off the flow of cosmic energies.
I can witness to the truth that, for the beautiful or otherwise gifted, these words of Stepmother's will eventually ring in our heads, words from the wisdom of approaching death, as we age away from our youthful powers and hopefully strengthen in the powers that aging bestows. Yup, "So much for__"; just fill in the blank. Hot sex, smooth skin, black hair (or hair, period), earning power, running marathons (or running at all), your own teeth... This happens often in our youth, too, but the illusion that we have to keep on trying is strong, then, when we do not see that last door looming on the horizon. How many times, how many years, should we keep trying to win, to pump ourselves up in the ways that help us feel worthy in the eyes of others?
I went out to the hazelwood/Because a fire was in my head
Cut and peeled a hazel wand/And hooked a berry to a thread
And when white moths were on the wing/And moth-like stars were flickering out
I dropped the berry in a stream/And caught a little silver trout.
When I had laid it on the floor/And gone to blow the fire aflame
Something rustled on the floor/And someone called me by my name.
It had become a glimmering girl/With apple blossoms in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran/And vanished in the brightening air.
Though I am old with wandering/Through hollow lands and hilly lands
I will find out where she has gone/And kiss her lips and take her hand
And walk through long green dappled grass/And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon/The golden apples of the sun.
Judy Collins also famously sang this song, titled Golden Apples of the Sun, but I find Donovan's version more haunting.
As an aging women, I also have done reclamation work with this younger aspect of being, this "glimmering girl", just as Yeats and Stepmother must do. "Though I am old with wandering"... the young meeting Wisdom, the elder meeting Youth, such meetings as "golden apples of the sun", the mythic apples of the Hesperides, Idun's healing apples of immortality (refer to post on The Symbolic Apple, 9/16/13). The meeting between Snow White and Stepmother.
The "long green dappled grass" reminds me of the Elysian fields, another place of the soul's immortality.
Of course the "Silver apples of the moon/ The golden apples of the sun" refers to alchemical transformation, the meeting of prince (gold, sun) and princess (silver, moon) in this fairy tale (see fairy tale page for alchemy basics).
Here's a more contemporary song which I have found haunting for decades, and only very recently discovered why, as I drove home one day and it came on the radio:
However, I left my adolescence stinging with self criticism, smarting from abusive love relationships, anxious and floundering. Now that I am "old with wandering", and "so many people have come and gone", I am saddened by that long ago loss of the wild and crazy adolescent girl that got herself into all sorts of messes. Listening to this song I do see, or rather feel, "my Marianne" walking away, and I want to call her back... and it is certainly more than a feeling. I miss her. The guitar riff winging up , up, and away with the voices after the chorus says this is an important thing...It creates a space for us to feel this event. Is there a Marianne that you've left behind? Do you feel the stepmother in the words "When I'm tired and thinking cold"? Like Yeats' poetry inspiration (the fire in his head, the fishing with a berry), this Marianne/glimmering girl soul aspect is found in the soul's music (I hide in my music, forget the day), just like the Disney dwarves found it in their soup-music (last post). Music, poetry, beauty and soul are one and the same:
I looked out this morning and the sun was gone/Turned on some music to start my day
I lost myself in a familiar song/I closed my eyes and I slipped away
It's more than a feeling, when I hear that old song they used to play (more than a feeling)
I begin dreaming (more than a feeling)/'Till I see Marianne walk away
I see my Marianne walkin' away
So many people have come and gone/Their faces fade as the years go by
Yet I still recall as I wander on/As clear as the sun in the summer sky
When I'm tired and thinking cold/I hide in my music, forget the day
And dream of a girl I used to know/I closed my eyes and she slipped away
She slipped away
Yeats meets Boston!