February 13, 2008

Evolving a Relationship to Fairy Tales (Part VI)

(Werner Zurfluh, Part II)

There are two ways in which Zurfluh's work relates to fairy tales.

Zurfluh claims that collections of traditional fairy tales contain numerous examples of slightly coded instructions regarding the virtues of maintaining awareness in the "realms of the night". And, indeed, if you examine the vast treasure of recorded fairy tales, you'll find that a great many of them hinge on things which occur around the time a character in the tale falls asleep. An inordinate amount – one might even say a suspicious amount – of sleeping goes on in fairy tales. But you never notice until your attention is drawn to this fact.

A case in point: last night I read my children "Habetrot and Scantlie Mab" (from More English Fairy Tales, ed. Joseph Jacobs, 1894). Wouldn't you know that the main character "falls asleep" by a knoll while despairing over how to perform a task her mother has set her? She "wakes up" to the voices of some people in a cave she can see through a hole in a rock. These people are performing the task for her. This motif -- a task being performed for someone while they sleep -- occurs again and again in traditional fairy tales.

Zurfluh argues that the tales teach the technique of maintaining awareness, and not going "unconscious," as one slips into "the realms of the night". He draws attention to the Grimm’s tale "The Worn-Out Dancing Shoes", in which a soldier takes on the challenge of finding out where seven princesses are slipping away to at night, despite being under lock and key. The princesses have foiled previous attempts by giving their chaperon a glass of drugged wine before bed. By means of a trick (a sponge tied under his chin) he only pretends to drink the wine and fall asleep, but stays awake, and fakes snoring. In this way he is able to follow the princesses into the fantastic world reached by a ladder under one of their beds. Zufluh says this is an admonishment to maintain continuity of ego while falling asleep. There are many more tales in which the characters achieve amazing feats when they fall asleep, or deliberately don't fall asleep.

Another thing he tells us to pay attention to is passages in tales in which the hero arrives at a gate, a wall, a border or any other symbolic threshold. This, he says, is the transition into the other world, at which one must maintain awareness, or risk falling into an ordinary, non-lucid dream state. The hero is usually armed with a magic word, a power object or some other means of passing through the barrier. On the day I read those remarks in Zurfluh, that evening I read my children "The Three Heads of the Well” (English Fairy Tales, Ed. Joseph Jacobs, 1890). In this story, after the heroine proves that she has a good heart by sharing her meager travel provisions with a hungry old man, the man tells her, "There is a thick thorny hedge before you, which you cannot get through, but take this wand in your hand, strike it three times, and say, 'Pray, hedge, let me come through,' and it will open immediately." (I suspect this could be adapted as a visualization for breaking through into the other world with awareness intact. I'll let you know if it works!)

These practices were known in ancient times because, he says, ancient societies always had a certain class of people, mostly known as shamans and priests, who were privy to this knowledge. It later became necessary to code this information because of the persecution of the church, which regarded such practices as witchcraft and sorcery. But once one knows what one is looking for, he says, the message in fairy tales about lucid dreaming is fairly obvious. And I agree.

The other connection between Zurfluh and fairy tales is his perspective on the source of fairy tale content. He is very much in agreement with Steiner that they are retellings of psychic experiences. In his essay "Über den Ursprung der Märchen" ("On the Origins of Fairy Tales"), Zurfluh says that it’s a mistake to look for the origins of fairy tales in historical or folkloristic terms. He regards all arguments over the comparisons of various versions of tales, most of which have only been committed to writing during the last few centuries, to be very academic. He asserts that fairy tales originate in the experiences of those individuals who manage, through hard effort and training (meditation, dream recording, cultivating proper sleep conditions) to penetrate into the realms of the night with their awareness intact, which consequently means they return from such experiences with memory of them intact.

In this essay, he presents a passage from his journal which records his experience of visiting the "Land of the Fauns." He is of the view that the beings he encountered were the actual fauns of classical myth, and that this land (this "plane") exists apart from the material plane. Anyone who develops the proper skills and discipline can visit this world, or any of the other worlds depicted in myths and tales, because they really exist.

And so I've brought you to the point I've reached at this point in my relationship with fairy tales. I'm very pleased that my youthful suspicions concerning their importance to spiritual growth have panned out. Since, besides the other three children who still live under my roof, I still have a 1 1/2-year-old boy, I look forward to reading fairy tales nightly for many years to come. And now that I have been given so many keys from the researches of others, I fully expect that relationship to continue growing and changing.

(Next: conclusions and finals words)

1 comment:

anthromama said...

I wonder about "Mother Holle"--the two daughters go into the threshold of the well while awake, but then lose consciousness until they come to the land of Mother Holle.