Fairy tales can be understood in a variety of ways. They work on so many different levels, all at once. Bruno Bettelheim showed us how to understand them psychoanalytically, Angela Carter gave us a feminist reading, and a hundred years ago, Rudolph Steiner gave lectures on the spiritual interpretation of the tales.
For me, they work on all these levels, but the most important is this: Fairy tales tell the story of the soul’s evolution from darkness into light. That’s why I don’t fully buy into the feminist argument any more. The characters in fairy tales, whether masculine or feminine, are archetypal. They’re features of the soul/spirit that we all share – male and female – and are recognised as such at a soul level every time a story is told or heard.
A common narrative of fairy tales is the story of the soul’s journey from separation to reunion. Beginning with our separation from God, our Divine Father-Mother; adventuring through our exile into the darkness where we must learn to discover and express ourselves as individuals gifted with free will and blessed by a unique cornucopia of skills and talents; to accepting the rescue and redemption of the hero we need, by whom we are reunited into eternal joy and happiness.
The ‘happily-ever-after’ is characterised by union with the Beloved. United with the Beloved (Christ) we enter into perfect relationship with God for eternity: as beings who have returned by free will, fully autonomous, fully integrated, fully awake. Typically in these types of fairy tale, it’s the lowly, poor and humble of spirit who are exalted to inherit the kingdom by their marriage. In uniting with the ‘handsome prince’ all the riches of the kingdom are bestowed: the riches that were lost during the initial separation and exile.
It’s our fairy tale wedding, our loving relationship with Christ as our rescuer and redeemer, that makes the eternal happy ending possible.