The Myth of Sleeping Beauty and Taking the Unknown Path to Divorce — Part 2
Welcome to the conclusion of this personal mythological telling of Sleeping Beauty as a parable about falling into unconsciousness and then waking to yourself, with a particular nod to women who are in the midst of considering divorce. If you’ve missed the first instalment in the last issue, you’ve arrived here just in time for the big action – spindle pricking, mass narcolepsy and the all-important kiss.
Just to recap on the perspective from which this story is being presented: fairy tales and myths are peculiar and beautiful medicines. Their narratives bring up storylines that are otherworldly and yet recognizable in our own personal experience. Using the allegory of a tale in a therapeutic setting allows us to dance with possibilities, villains, wickedness and magic – elements of our own lives which we struggle to own or fear to battle in the ‘real world’. They connect us to millennia of humanity telling each other stories to soothe, reassure, warn, and ignite both imagination and courage.
We will now continue by returning to the tale…
The Prick of a Spindle
As Princess Aurora grew, so did her abilities to read and listen. The library had to be sieved to make sure no books containing even a mention of spinning wheels remained.
One day in her sixteenth year, the princess’s parents were away and she took the opportunity to explore new areas of the castle. In one remote turret she found an old woman, tapping on the foot pedal of an odd device. The woman offered to give Aurora a turn. “Here now, my sweet,” motioned the old woman, “feel how the wool is getting tighter as the spindle turns.”
Aurora held out her hand to touch the spinning fibers, but found her finger drawn to the tip of the slender spindle. Prick! She was about to laugh and proclaim, “How silly of me!” but instead she fell backward onto the stone floor.
Upon their arrival home, the king and queen searched everywhere for Aurora. Finally, in that remote turret, they found her lying in a heap at the foot of a spinning wheel, a blossom of red blood staining her skirt where her limp hand had fallen. Her breath was shallow, but still there.
The king ordered the spindle to be burned and had carpenters build a bed in the turret. There Aurora lay, undiminished in her sleep.
When the good fairy heard that the terrible prophecy had come to pass, she returned to the castle immediately and sent everyone else in the kingdom into a deep sleep of their own.
She fluttered outside to speak in green language to the hedge, which she bade grow into a protective shield. The hedge grew into the strongest and thorniest fortress; one that would keep everyone away for one hundred years.
After one hundred years had passed, a king’s son rode his horse along the outskirts of the eerie briars. As he made camp, an old, wizened man happened by and asked if he could share the prince’s fire. Long into the night, the old man told the prince stories, including the legend of Sleeping Beauty, who was rumored to slumber within the impenetrable tangle of vines they were camping next to. Though the young prince laughed, there was something inside him that woke up upon hearing the story. That night he dreamt of a beautiful woman lying still and quiet in a bedchamber blooming with roses that matched the color of her cheeks.
He put on his armor and sharpened his sword, readying for a struggle that would test his fortitude and valor.
Magically, however, as he approached them, the vines parted and allowed him and his horse a narrow entryway. After some time, the brambles opened up to reveal a town street and well-dressed, but very dusty, townsfolk sleeping here and there. The prince tied up his horse and ran into the palace searching for the girl in his dream.
Through the castle he searched until he, too, found the furthest turret where Princess Aurora lay, surrounded by the roses and vines that had grown in through the windows.
He leaned down to kiss her mouth, just as he had in the dream. Sleeping Beauty opened her eyes and sat up, very much awake.
Aurora and the prince were married a month later. They were the most joyous couple that had ever lived – and they live on happily there in the story, even now.
Why Enchantments Are So Hard to Break
Our enchantments make us feel safe, so it’s not surprising that leaving their confines makes us feel uncomfortably exposed and vulnerable.
As Aurora grows up, no one warns her about the curse. All around her things are covered up, and she’s kept in a haze of all that is good and sweet. Continuous adjustments have to be made so that her naïveté is preserved.
Aurora makes her way through life secure in the knowledge that people are kind and that she is well loved wherever she goes. She’s the fairy-tale version of Siddhartha, enclosed and sheltered, shown only the elements that reassure her of the dependability of all that is decreed by the general populace to be good and well.
Let’s not be too quick to judge the people around her, for they weave that paradigm out of concern and a wish to give love and comfort, as well as to strengthen their own sense of stability – and it is comfortable. Cultural paradigms give us a shorthand for how to behave and how to recognize when others (or we) are doing something wrong. They reward adherence with feelings of acceptance and belonging. They give us a clear road to success and fist-bumps of positive feedback along the way. “This is what’s expected.” “There! You achieved that expectation so well!”
To choose another path, one that leads out of the world that has kept you safe, is naturally going to feel like the opposite of that acceptance and belonging, because you’re heading into, and choosing, the unknown. Descriptions of this feeling include: free-falling; having no support; being cut off; walking in sand; living with no safety net; losing normally counted-upon forms of comfort and consolation; loss and rootlessness.
So why would you choose to leave a comfortable, sure place and enter uncharted territory? Despite all the good fairy’s gifts and all the communal conditioning, there comes a day when the shadow – either our own shadow or someone else’s – makes a stand that is impossible not to see, a stand that breaks through the enchantment and forces us to see beyond the constructs and acknowledge the darkness in our life, and to notice that much of what we’ve believed is actually untrue.
*** One day, the princess – the symbol of the emerging feminine – decides to explore. She’s leaving the confines of the parts of the kingdom she’s already explored. When she gets to the top of the turret, not only does she find a broader view, she also finds the spindle.
The prick of the spindle could be seen as the popping of a closed system; the breaking of a seemingly perfectly formed – yet incomplete – view of the world as being predictable and making perfect sense. That pricking of the skin is the moment we see something for what it really is. We see a different, clearer vision, one that not only opens up new possibilities, but also breaks the old system of beliefs we had unquestioningly put our faith in.
We could say that moment for Aurora was the breaking of one enchantment, and the fugue that followed was her coming to terms with what the terrible crashing down of her beliefs would mean.
*** What was it that penetrated and cracked open your world? What was the moment when you saw the games being played? How long has it been since that moment, and how many attempts have you made to justify or somehow climb back into that world of safety and assurances? The penetration of that spindle point hurts (understatement) because it brings shattered assumptions and lost innocence. Aurora sees the smile of the old, dark fairy as she slips into unconsciousness. In that moment, she cannot kid herself that this situation was brought about by accident or misunderstanding.
We almost never leave a paradigm that feels good and safe.
Why would we? But once the mental constructs that kept that castle in place are shattered, we are living in a hollow place.
And so the dark, unknown path opens to us. Chances are, we’ll spend much time refusing the call of that path. But the shadow refuses to shut up.
What need is not being met inside you? Did you make a bargain at some point that you would give up something that you thought was unimportant or too embarrassing to insist on, only to find that what was given to you in its stead could never fill the hole it left inside you?
The Innocent Princess
Upon being pierced by this spindle, the princess falls into a deep sleep. Her beliefs about how the world works – her expectations about how safe and cared for she is – have been damaged. When fundamental assumptions die, there is a ripple effect that begins crumbling the whole system. What is happening in her head as she falls into this stasis? Shock, inertia and dissociation, we might suggest.
People who have gone through a shock in their marriage need space to process their feelings before they can make decisions or move on. They may be so far inside themselves that their minds are frozen in place.
Marriages touch all aspects of our lives. They are where we hope to find love and appreciation. Your future and your children’s futures are tightly wound up in the relationship you have with your partner, as is your financial stability and the home where you wake up each morning and tuck your children into bed each night. Marriages may, over the years, build you up with confidence and strength. But if they go the other way, that may become years of slow erosion that taint how you see yourself.
The princess in our story is an archetype of that innocent part of ourselves that sees the good in the world, unsullied by world-weary cynicism and suspicion. She is full of hope and able to dream of possibilities that those more jaded parts of ourselves cannot find.
This young girl is the seed of a new queen.
When her finger was pricked, her innocence was crushed. What is going on in Aurora’s head as she sleeps for one hundred years? Perhaps a new approach to life is knitting itself together; one that transcends her innocence and includes her experience of the shadow, of the realities of betrayal. Because we cannot step from a shock immediately into thought-out action, Aurora – and we – will need a cocooned space within which to come to terms with developments that have shown how completely different the world is from what we always understood it to be.
This experience of adjusting to a new paradigm is also necessary for Aurora’s destiny of becoming the queen in her own court. We cannot hold dominion without knowing the darkness as well as the light. She is transforming in her slumber from full, naïve innocence to being capable of intuiting and connecting in more expansive and wise ways. Sleeping Beauty is a symbol of our inner queen-to-be.
*** The kind fairy who was able to soften the curse returns and helps the entire castle and all the townsfolk slip into their own slumbers. The briars grow tall all around the castle, keeping out all intruders, and almost certainly some well-wishers, too. But this seclusion and space is necessary to provide protection while the one hundred years pass.
In our world, what might these briars represent? Once our original shock has receded, we are left with sharp pieces of a broken life littered all around our feet.
After a shock to the paradigm, the mind begins growing briars all around its gasping self. Whatever your psychological defenses have been in the past, they are in full force now.
What form do your defensive briars take? How do you cut yourself off to make more space for your true self? Do you numb out each evening with alcohol, online shopping, or both, just for good measure? Do you fall into martyrdom, depression, gale-force irritability? What do you do to keep the innocent part of yourself dreaming and alive, even if it’s in stasis?
It’s when you get to the point at which you surrender, when you know that there is no solution to this problem as you’ve been defining it or seeing it, that the part of your mind that decides what to filter into your awareness loosens up a little. That’s when the briars are willing to part.
The Arrival of the Prince
The king represents the mature, reigning masculine consciousness in our lives – the way we take action and intellectually make decisions – and the prince embodies an emerging new approach to action. Once we’ve let go of trying the same actions over and over with no success, we’re able to notice and to take new actions.
The prince can only arrive when the princess is ready. Our ability to take a different course of action can only take place once our mindset is able to perceive new ways of being.
When her one hundred years of slumber are up, Aurora is able to let new experiences and ideas in to influence her, and to use her more complete intuition, which now recognizes darkness and danger and has given up the naïveté of childhood. She has grown wiser, and is in the process of learning new ways to intuit, feel, and frame experiences. To change her life on the outside, she needs the prince and his masculine energy. We need a new approach to action in order to translate our changed mindset to the outside world. Together, the princess and the prince are the fairy-tale expression of spiritual evolution and renewal. They will soon become the king and queen. Together, they are the hope for the future.
The prick of the spindle was a penetration of Aurora’s world that let in darkness and shadow, which were both necessary and crippling. But the prince’s kiss is a different kind of intrusion – one that restores hope in the form of bringing the illumination of new worlds and new ways to live.
The prince is an analogy, not someone real who is outside of yourself and who will come to rescue you from your bad marriage. The prince is the emerging, active part of yourself. As your inner princess is sleeping, transcending her innocence, incorporating her evolving knowledge of shadow, and reorienting her understanding of the world, she will not be able to act in the world as she always has before when she awakens. She will need a prince who can do things differently – a foreign prince – a new masculine drive, ready to take different action.
The kiss and eventual consummation of Aurora’s and the prince’s union represent a rebalancing of the male and female sides of the psyche.
They are ready to rule their own kingdom.
Wendy Hammond is a psychotherapist, coach and speaker with an MA in Transpersonal Psychotherapy. She is the author of two books, Leaving the Castle: Finding the Confidence to Start Over and Claiming Your Kingdom: Breaking the Spell of Invisibility. She can be reached at [email protected], or her website www.wendy-hammond.com.