fairy tale is the simplest and purest expression of the collective unconscious
and thus offers the clearest understanding of the basic patterns of the human
psyche” (von Franz, 1978)
Why Fairy Stories?
• Timeless stories revealing timeless virtues and vices
• Contain symbols and archetypes
• Symbols are in: stories, characters and objects
• Beautiful stories that embody timeless ideas that have a universal human appeal
• Provide a guide for navigating our way through life’s problems, values, and challenges
• Nourish the soul
in his Nobel Prize speech, said: “Some things lead into the realm beyond
words…it is like that small mirror in fairy tales – you glance in it and what
you see is not yourself; for an instant you glimpse the Inaccessible….and the
soul cries out for it.” (J.C. Cooper in “Fairy Tales: Allegories of the Inner
The value of fairy tales
• Definition of fairy tale: “A fairy tale is a story in which truth is cloaked in symbolism and metaphor. Extracting the essence and getting to the truth requires penetrating the meaning of the symbols and the dynamics of the story.” (Seth Isaiah, ‘Jung Journal: Culture & Psyche’)
• “The fairy tale reaches into a magical domain where opposites and contradictions can coexist, and characters and situations may not be what they appear to be.” (Seth Isaiah)
Archetypes and Symbols
What is the difference?
Archetype: a person, thing, action, or event which is recognizable by certain characteristics, features, forms, or structures
An archetype is a universally understood type or pattern of behaviour, a prototype upon which others are copied, patterned, or emulated.
Archetypes are often used in myths and storytelling across different cultures.
Symbol: an image that stands for or represents something else.
A symbol is a word or object that stands for an idea, concept or feeling.
Jungian Character Archetypes
What are the Jungian archetypes?
Carl Jung identified four main archetypes—
• the persona; enables an individual to interrelate to the surrounding environment by reflecting on the role in life they’re playing
• the shadow; the shadow exists as part of the unconscious mind that is made up of repressed ideas, weaknesses, desires, instincts, and shortcomings (it develops as a result of our attempts to adapt to cultural norms and expectations)
• the anima (feminine) or animus (masculine); the masculine and feminine parts of the soul
• the self; the unified unconsciousness and consciousness parts of a person
Jungian character archetypes are a result of collective, shared ancestral memories that may persist in art, literature and religion but aren't obvious to the eye.
Hero….. The hero comes from a humble beginning and can appear ordinary. But they possess a remarkable ability that sets them apart
Mentor. ... They often help the Hero in the beginning but leave them to finish the ‘hard part’ on their own
Herald. ...Ushers in a new message which the Hero cannot ignore
Trickster. ...Represents the chaotic, irrational and unpredictable side of human thought and behaviour
Shapeshifter. ...Changes role or personality in significant ways and is difficult to understand (often the Hero’s romantic interest)
Guardian. ...A watchman/body guard who blocks the way of the Hero in order to test their ability to overcome something
Shadow……..Part of the unconscious mind with its repressed ideas, weaknesses, instincts, and shortcomings
Jungian Character archetypes in Rumpelstiltskin:
The Miller’s daughter – Hero; the maiden in distress; powerless and at the mercy of the objectives of the miller, the king and Rumpelstiltskin; overcomes the challenges and the demands of others
The Miller – Guardian; a ‘banker’ in a medieval European village, who lives on the town’s outskirts
The King – Shadow; a figure of power, authority, and leadership, and hungry for power
Rumpelstiltskin – Trickster “points the way toward a deeper truth or reality”
“enables the maiden to complete her onerous task and achieve her goal” (Seth Isaiah Rubin
Symbols and their meanings in the story:
• A spinning wheel – a symbol for transformation; spinning is generally a woman’s work where fibres are transformed into thread; Rumpelstiltskin (a fairy godfather) transforms the straw into gold, the girl into a Queen, and the wife into a mother; but his motivation is not a good one as he wants the child and being a magical type of character he could potentially transform the child into something ‘evil’
• The number three – harmony, wisdom and understanding
• Straw – of little value or significance; worthless
• Gold – symbolizes wealth, riches, prosperity and status
• Ring – symbolizes connection
• Necklace – symbolizes feeling values
• Future Baby – symbolizes new life
• Tears – reveal human emotion in response to an impossible human task
• The process of naming – carries great power and significance
Seven Jungian Story Archetypes:
• Overcoming the Monster…..is a story arc that follows a protagonist who struggles to overcome an adversary/adversity
• Rags to Riches…..a poor and derelict hero who gains something they lack (money, power, love), loses it and then gains it back again
• The Quest….the hero must reach a certain location, attain a certain object, or fulfil a certain objective while facing many obstacles along the way
• Voyage and Return….the hero ventures into the unknown, which is at first fascinating and exciting. The hero then faces challenges but overcomes them.
• Comedy….light and humorous tone with a happy ending; there is also the triumph over adverse circumstances resulting in a happy ending
• Tragedy……involves a tragic hero and their downfall
• Rebirth…….a renewal of personality and transformation of a person within their own lifetime
Symbols and their meanings in the story from a Christian Mystic perspective:
• Rumpelstiltskin represents the ‘false self’ – he has selfish reasons for wanting the baby; he wants the child to control his destiny. (“Everyone one of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self.” Thomas Merton)
• The Miller’s daughter represents the ‘true self’ – she wants the baby to love; this can be compared to the union of love between the mystic and God. (“If I find Him I will find myself and if I find my true self I will find Him. The only One Who can teach me to find God is God, God Alone.” Thomas Merton)
• Tears – reveal the purgation of the soul to find the ‘true self’ (“So one of the nights or purification will be unspiritual…..The other night or purification is spiritual…..” St John of the Cross)
• The number three – represents the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit)
• Spinning straw into gold – spiritual transformation (St Teresa’s “The Interior Castle” describes the spiritual transformation of the soul and union with God in love, through the metaphor of entering and travelling through the many rooms within a castle)
• The greed of the King and the Miller – reveal Evagrius’s eight logisomoi - “First is that of gluttony, then impurity, avarice, sadness, anger, acedia, vainglory, and last of all, pride.” (Evagrius Ponticus)
• The marriage of the Miller’s daughter to the King – Expresses the divine marriage of the mystics (“Love causes the soul to become wholly assimilated to God…” St John of the Cross)
Spinning Straw into Gold: Deeper Meanings
• Can be transformed from a quest from material gain to deeper wisdom or knowledge
• Spinning is not a mindless task but requires focus so that the fibres don’t end up in a mess or broken
• It shows that you can produce something of value from something very basic
• Where Rumpelstiltskin didn’t have good ulterior motives in helping the Miller’s daughter, good fortune came to her in the end. She was helped in a positive way by Rumpelstiltskin despite him
What is the ‘Rumpelstiltskin Effect’?
• In this tale, “Rumpelstiltskin the manikin enables the maiden to complete her onerous task and achieve her goal, but by threatening to take what is most important to her, he evokes her cleverness when she is able to name him.” (Seth Rubin)
• “But Joseph said to them, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Genesis 50:2b
• “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
• “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31b)
Activities and Questions:
• Share your ‘Spinning straw into gold stories’
• Share your creative responses to the fairy story “Rumpelstiltskin”
• What did you find most interesting about this fairy tale?
• What can you learn from it?
• Being an overcomer involves challenges that must be surmounted
• Being an overcomer involves overcoming challenging people in our lives, who don’t always have our best interests in mind
• Fairy Tales express many of our deepest human experiences
• Archetypes and symbols enlighten our understanding of the human condition and human experience
• “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
By Cecily Clark 2023