I rediscovered the magic of fairy tales when I began to read bedtime stories to my young son. In revisiting these stories as an adult, I also began to realize the tremendous impact they had had on my life. The depth psychologist Carl Jung held myths and fairy tales in high regard as important representations of the collective unconscious. Marie Louise Von Franz devoted a significant portion of her written work to unlocking the deep messages of these seemingly simple stories. Fairy tales are archetypal representations that teach people about life. They address common human experiences and grapple with injustice, irony and paradox. Reading fairy tales to children expands their potential for imagination and stirs their psyches. Fairy tales also convey cultural messages that weave into our understanding of how the world works, and our expectations about life and love.
I sometimes refer to fairy tales in my work with clients. We often like to think that we have outgrown these childhood stories, but they reverberate in our longings, disappointments, and our relationship wounds. The internalized messages from Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella appear with great frequency in the unconscious framing of women’s life scripts. Sleeping Beauty (Briar Rose in the original Grimm fairy tales) is the story of the girl who lived under the curse that on her 16th birthday, she would prick her finger on a spindle and fall asleep for one hundred years. Her father tried his best to protect her from this fate by banishing all the spinning wheels in the land. But, as will happen when a girl begins her sexual awakening, the 16-year-old began to explore forbidden territory. In a distant room of the castle she encountered a mysterious old woman who possessed the last spinning wheel in the kingdom. Fascinated, the girl reaches out to grasp the spindle, pricks her finger, and the entire kingdom goes unconscious. One hundred years pass and finally a handsome, impetuous prince scales the bramble covered walls of the castle to awaken her with a kiss.
Many women feel that life cannot be complete until they find the perfect partner who will scale the walls of their fears and defenses and love them in the way they have always longed for. Waiting, in a state of suspended animation, they feel that “real life” cannot begin until this happens. Many wonderful women long for some prince of a man (or woman) to finally see their true beauty, claim them, and transform them from ordinary “cinder girls” into desirable women. Women often feel anxious, awkward or waif-like, as if our flame could never be enough to light someone else’s fire. Poor Little Match Girls want someone else to come along and light their fire and to awaken them sexually. We have not been taught to find and cultivate our own inner flame.
Being wanted gives a woman a sense of value and power, but it is borrowed power, dependent on the approval and ideals of others. When a woman’s self-worth is based on being wanted, needed or desired, she is condemned to become a Dark Queen, as she ages. Anxiety, envy, jealousy and competition will be her constant companions as she asks the mirror on the wall if she is still fair enough, pleasing enough to hold onto to her hard won place in the world.
If we look at fairy tales through Jungian eyes, all characters in the tale are aspects of our own psyche. Then the story of Sleeping Beauty informs us that we need to kiss the inner prince. We don’t have to passively wait. We can activate that in us which is focused and impetuous, determined to scale the brambled walls of life, including our fears and dependencies on others. We can awaken ourselves and bring our dreams into waking reality.
When a woman begins to live by her own inner light, and establishes a taproot into the creative power of her archetypal depths, she becomes a Luminous Woman. A Luminous Woman possesses a quiet dynamism which emanates from the core of her being. As she listens to the voice of her soul, and tends her inner flame, she becomes aware of her particular passions, gifts and strengths. She begins to walk the path of actualizing her luminous potential. She begins to bypass the snarling Gatekeepers who say, “Who do you think you are?” or “That would be selfish!” or “How will you ever do that?” This is how a woman transcends the Dark Queen Complex. To the woman who is passionately engaged in her own fulfilling endeavors, comparing herself to others becomes ridiculous.
One of the great rewards of the Luminous journey is the capacity for profound relationships. While we are searching for a “magical other” we cannot value people for who they are. We also cannot see them for who they are, leading to a whole host of problems. When we stop expecting partners to fulfill us and come to relationships from a place of fullness we have entered into a whole new paradigm. Luminous women attract quality people into their lives, and choose friends and lovers with self-awareness, wisdom and presence. Passion does not go stale in this scenario, and the flame of love is regenerated as we bravely encounter each other, in our mutual evolution, each new day.
Luminous Women pour themselves out and give deeply, but we also make a practice of going to the well before our souls are withered and dry. The Luminous Woman Weekend is a time to replenish and to learn about our depths and the archetypes that “live us.” It is a time to listen each other into life and open to new worlds of possibility.
Chelsea Wakefield PhD-c, LCSW is a Jungian psychotherapist, creator of the Luminous Woman® Weekend, and author of Negotiating the Inner Peace Treaty: Becoming the Person You Were Born to Be.