Snow fell here in the far north covering our streets in its white tenderness. In winter, we find ourselves in a time of keeping warm, in the space within, contained for love, peace and clarity. The sun is rebellious, especially in snow it always wins. And then it stretches along the frozen waves, clears the pools and we match its heat. Winter calls us to remember to tend to ourselves, from the inside. Bared branches call us to absolute honesty, as we can’t hide from our eyes.
And I think of Snow White. The reason why the tale is set in the winter landscapes, I feel, is precisely because of these reasons. It’s a story of initiation, transformation, and ultimately towards a deeper caring. While in winter, all seems harsh and barren, underneath the souls of our feet, life still thrives like our beating heart, and natural beauty is preparing to surface in few months time, like the scent of wild roses. As if on a white blank canvas, new stories will be written, and will, inevitably, begin.
For most people today, the tale of Snow White evokes images of dwarfs whistling in the mountains and a yet-another princess dancing and singing, waiting for her prince to save her. But that’s not what this tale is about at all. To be honest, it wasn’t a favourite of mine as a child, and I actually found it very cruel and terrifying. In fact, my interest in it sparked only when I started delving into the lore and symbology of it; and the more I learned about it, and unveiled its many layers, the more I started to love it. That’s what happens in life: We can only love what we appreciate. Not love in a deep passionate way, but love in a way of appreciating something or someone for who they are, as they are, and seeing beauty in that.
In truth, no matter how much Disney may change Snow White and shape it into something childlike and naive, the original narrative is one of the darkest ones in fairy tales. It’s a chilling tale that as most other tales wasn’t initially written for children, and if you want to learn more on the history, and cultural and societal importance of fairytales, you can read my essay on it here at this link. Snow White is a tale about murderous rivalry; envy, rage and the imprisonment of our minds; poisoned gifts and witchcraft; adolescent sexual ripening; and well, ritualistic cannibalism. And yet, somewhere in between all of that, Snow White holds deep spiritual wisdom and real beauty. Let’s begin.
Popularized by Brothers Grimm, Snow White was originally titled “Snow Drop” and was published in Kinder–und Hausmarchen in 1812. As you perhaps already know, The Grimms published their folk tales which were retold from the oral folk traditions of other countries, and were also influenced by the literary fairy tales of writers like Basile and Perrault in Italy and France. While the legend is that they would roam the country from house to house and collect wisdoms from German peasants, the truth is that they acquired most of their stories from their middle class circle of friends. These friends were retelling stories learned from their maids, servants, governesses, and many of them were not German.
Elements from the story can be traced back to the oldest fairy tales, but the earliest known written version was published in Italy in 1634 by Giambattista Basile, called The Young Slave. This is then followed by a few more Italian versions, until we come across the Scottish version of the tale in which a queen has a magic mirror, and each day she looks at it asking, “Am I not the loveliest woman in the world?” And she is indeed. Until the day when her daughter comes of age and surpasses her in beauty. Full of envy and rage, the queen falls ill and demands of the king the death of their daughter.
Snow White by Trina Schart Hyman
In the first published version by Brothers Grimm in 1812, the narrative of Snow White and her birth mother remained, which certainly makes the tale more chilling. However, we have to remember that this wasn’t as strange as we might think. Lore, fairytales and myth, were all ways of reflecting the reality of society during these times using symbology and literary metaphors, and gently raising the concerns and challenges of the ordinary people; all these tales were, in a way, a rebellious act, and for this alone, I believe, they should be treasured. Like I talked about in What Rapunzel Knows, many of these fairytale authors suffered consequences because of their brave voices.
Seven years later, in 1819, Grimm republished the tale and introduced the evil step mother replacing the birth mother. Whether mother or step mother, this queen remains one of the most horrific and vivid villains in fairytale history. Grimm also introduced dwarfs in the story since this was something common in German folk traditions.
Snow White by Trina Schart Hyman
Snow White is a winter’s tale, beginning in the icy landscapes of a forest, where sitting by an open window with a wooden frame, a queen is sewing, while looking outside at the falling snow, longing for a child.
She pricks her finger.
Blood falls on the snow, and with newfound deep hope and belief, she whispers her true heart’s wish:
“Would I have a child, may it be with lips red as this blood, skin white as this snow, and hair black like the wood on the window frame.”
These three colours are significant as they represent the coming of age for Snow White and the entire narrative as well: red representing life, passion and sexual ripening; white representing innocence, purity and new birth; and black representing death, transformation and rebirth.
Three is also the number of manifestation: one makes a spark; two makes a connection and interchange; and three is what creates a circuit, which then ground the energy and makes it physical. Seven is another number often used in fairy tales and spiritual initiations because it is highly spiritual and relates to higher power. In astrology, it also connects aspects with Saturn and Uranus, which is why we have the seven-year itch, and why significant cycles are in the frame of seven years.
Like many other tales, Snow White has spiritual meaning and it includes spiritual initiations. An initiation is something that takes us to a new level of awareness, it is a deepening. It’s an invitation. And if we pass the challenge, we have the potential to evolve to a new level of consciousnes.
Initiation requires three phases: separation, challenge/descent, and returning. The separation phase is when we awaken to a reality beyond our known and following that new awareness, regardless of how subtle or grand, we make a conscious choice to walk away; we separate from the known and/accepted ideas, beliefs and conditions, to find out what’s true for us. Often times this means separating from the group and embracing our individuality. It can most often be started by something painful, whether a betrayal, an injustice, or an abuse of some kind. This is a hard phase because the choice to do it requires a lot of strength and courage, and the ability to be self-reliant.
Snow White by Trina Schart Hyman
Next is the phase of challenges, where we descend into the underworld. In this phase we will face on our lone wolf walk through the dark scary unknown woods, as we face the shadows of our own selves; of all the conditioned beliefs and self-limiting thought patterns; of the wounds and injustices incurred on us; of our anger and desire for revenge; of the sadness and grief we carry. We need to face and confront our deepest darkest aspects – with the intention of integrating them, lovingly and compassionately, reaching self-acceptance.
The final phase is the returning. It is the coming back to pure love and the core of who we are, or towards the thing we initially started our initiation for.
When we lose ourselves, deep in the forest, we need to remember that the remedy is always tenderness. In the old days the “evil eye” was known as a condition that caused dryness, and we too dry up when faced with challenges. And then we harden up and armour up. Protection is of course needed and we must always protect that innocence and tenderness; these precious gifts are not meant to be shared with anyone not respectful, appreciative or trustworthy. Yet we must also remember that we too need water. We need nourishing, nurturing, compassion, forgiveness and support, especially during our hard times, so that we stay soft-hearted and take one step, after another. Just like Snow White, along the way, things and people will come to remind us of our love and will care for us, support us and help us, but we must be open enough to recognize it and allow it.
Snow White by Yvonne Gilbert
For Snow White, this is an initiation towards the maturity of a woman’s psyche and sexual ripening. She also regained the purity of her soul and heart, by practicing grace, compassion and forgiveness, despite the challenges and hatred she faced.
This is also known as crossed conditions, which can be seen as an initiation. Spiritual practices focus on moving through life in an uncrossed state, i.e. freely like water. To cultivate this space and flow within us, we need peace of mind and emotional fulfillment. Anytime we are not in this balance, whether from within or without, we find ourselves in crossed conditions.
Crossed conditions are an unavoidable part of our human existence; they are the challenges that life presents to us along the way, and they are the reason why we grow. In the words of mythologist and theorist Joseph Campbell, “where we stumble and fall is where we’ll find gold.” By learning to humble ourselves, flow with life as water, and stay in our tenderness and emotional connection, we can see crossed conditions as opportunities, and we can become wiser, stronger and more whole.
Snow White by Trina Schart Hyman
The evil queen was faced with her own initiation. She, however, did not pass and eventually met her ill fate. Every time we are faced with situations of envy, rage, jealousy, betrayal, anger, injustice – it is a spiritual initiation of a kind about forgiveness, love and compassion – about not seeking revenge. This is a really hard thing to do of course. Especially if we’ve been wronged and harmed, it is natural to want to “do onto them as they’ve done onto us.” At that point we come to a crossroad with two choices: one is we exercises our power and control by revenge or dark magic; and the other is forgiveness and grace. In the former, the intention is to harm and it is never justified. The karmic price is very high, and any kind of spellwork or revenge seeking affects not just us, fracturing our soul, but also, up to seven generations after us. In the latter, the intention is to heal, and by practicing more love, we ascend to higher consciousness.
Karma will take care of itself, we are not here to play God. And no matter how much we might be just in “paying them back the favour of injustice and harm” it is still up to us what we choose. There are always choices to be made. Rage, envy, revenge, taking what’s not ours, and abusing someone’s free will with the intention to harm them in any shape or form, are essentially just us cursing our own selves and perpetuating karma; the high cost of which we won’t escape. Grace trumps all. Grace trumps karma too.
We have to learn to transmute emotions rather than become slaves to them. It is incredibly difficult not to seek revenge, and this is why it is such an important initiation.
In Vedic astrology, the sign of Scorpio is associated with dark magic, the occult, and revenge. And one of the spiritual lessons for them in this life is of not seeking revenge. This lesson is important because the energy of Scorpio is required to heal their emotions alone without experiencing much support. This is why they are born experiencing such deep emotions – which is incredible because of the level of true love and intimacy and passion that they can find with another, and yet it can also be incredibly difficult as they feel everything in extremes, including anger, jealousy, and the need to control. And in its essence, revenge is about control too. A spiritual initiation triggered by some kind of betrayal or injustice gives us the opportunity not to seek revenge and rather transmute the emotions and heal the wounds. According to the philosophy, to seek revenge for what is perceived as an unfair condition and this is what will reincarnate someone as a Scorpio, so that they are given the initiation all over again. Regardless of our zodiac, there is wisdom to be found here for all of us.
There is something absolutely chilling and horrific about what the queen does. She not only wants the girl killed, as if that’s not psychopathic enough, but she wants her heart in her hands, and she eats it. This is dark ritual. It is the girl’s heart that makes her truly beautiful. And in these dark sacrificial rituals, which are still performed in places of our world today, a child or a virgin are sacrificed, killed, so that the ritualist receives higher power through the purity of the energy.
In the tale, the queen wants beauty and youth. In his book “Psycho-Cybernetics” world renowned cosmetic surgeon Dr. Maxwell Maltz makes interesting insights on the topic. By combining his work experiences as a surgeon with his profound knowledge of psychology, he came to the conclusion that our self-image was the cornerstone of our mental and emotional wellbeing. No matter how many surgeries his patients would have to make them beautiful and as closely to “perfect” as humanly possible, all they’d see in the mirror was the images that they had of themselves in their minds. For some, no matter the physical attractiveness, nothing ever changed the flaws they kept on seeing in their faces. And it is a well known fact, that the ugliness of our soul eventually starts showing in our physical features too, and is certainly visible in our aura.
Snow White by Trina Schart Hyman
The queen is imprisoned by her envy and inner ugliness. This is why she uses dark magic, spellwork and occult rituals, such as demanding the heart of Snow White. If she honestly had real power, which is the power of the pure heart and love within us, she wouldn’t need spellcasting. People who indulge in these practices are those who are weak. They want to gain access to the higher realms, to more power and control, whether psychic or otherwise to retreat higher knowledge or acquire something they don’t currently have. However, they don’t have the energy within them and can’t pave the path of this ascension. So, they need to sacrifice someone and through that casting they will be reach what they want.
But that’s not how it works. It would, only for a while. Then, it will slip through their fingers like sand, because they can’t sustain it in their life. Because it’s not theirs. Because their energy isn’t resonant with it.
To forge and initiate a new path for ourselves needs to be an inner process: an inner alchemy process to bring forth the new energy. For example, if we want to let go of a bad habit, we need to release patterns that no longer serve us. Essentially, it is an ego death on some level where we are letting go of something to pave way for something healthier and better. Something that once was, we need to transmute it to no longer be – not deny, not repress, transmute it. We need to release a shadow aspect of ourselves, to regain or reclaim a part of our soul. This is what Snow White does in the forest, and then in the crystal coffin before awakening.
However, when a person refuses to change internally, they choose to perform darker rituals in which they would sacrifice someone or something else, using its life force energy, and they are basically externalizing the alchemical process. Truly powerful people know how to transmute their own energy and life force rather than using someone else’s. Often times, generations are defined not by what they do, but by what they don’t do. People who engage in such darker doings are basically inverting true power and are manifesting weakness; they are taking something pure and inverting it for their own selfish reasons, while harming others, whether intentionally or unintentionally.
By doing this, they are essentially dissolving their own life force energy in this life and they are reducing themselves. This is because a person cannot heal and align themselves externally; to advance spiritually, one must earn this and walk their own path by delving into their inner alchemical process, and then become aligned to higher values, principles and consciousness.
The heart is the initiatory pathway to higher consciousness, and only through its pure light we can enter these portals of evolving spiritually.
There are no short cuts in the spiritual realms. When rising of consciousness is artificially built, a person is only opening up to lower vibrational energies. In the short term, they will experience feelings of power, confidence and euphoria, and yet in the long run, they will be reducing and negating their own self. This is what is commonly known as “selling your soul”. When we externalize the spiritual process, in any shape or form, we will only be able to advance to the highest level of what was achieved in our past lives – not anything higher than that; and once this peak is reached, the soul will then begin to descend, ultimately becoming in a state of perpetual depletion of life force energy.
The only way to advance beyond our level of consciousness is through our heart connection and through inner work; only then we will be able to create and generate more energy within us, reaching higher states of consciousness; only then we’ll be able to access authentic creative information and essentially channel divine energy.
Snow White by Jennie Harbour
The evil queen is certainly a narcissist though that’s only one of the terms to describe her. The rage she then feels, which also has the undercurrent of deep fear, is because someone else will outshine her in beauty and attractiveness. While many people might think that narcissists have great egos – the truth is the opposite: they have no self-worth, no self-love, they are completely empty and insecure within, which is why they need “masks” to make themselves feel better. Her only power is her external beauty, and to make it important, she reduces the entire world to two people.
Deep inside her are the bottomless worlds of fear, emptiness, unrepairable loneliness and chronic disatisfaction. Her only power in life is derived from a face and a mirror. And what power is left to an aging woman with no real powers? Potions, poisons. Witchcraft. Self-preservation, no matter how twistedly misunderstood.
The enchanted mirror serves not only as a story narrative, but it is a symbolic representation of the queen’s insecurity, fears, and growing madness. Snow White, too, is a mirror. She is the reversed mirror of the queen. She reflects all she is not. Each day she becomes more loving, more kind, more generous of heart – and the queen becomes the opposite. As pure and young as Snow White is, she also reflects her ability to believe, to dream, to trust, and to hope with an open heart. And the queen remembers even more, of how much she’s lost within herself, or if how she failed to ever have it anyway, and this deeply pains her. And so, she wants to destroy it.
And this is the sad truth. There are people still in this world who are triggered by kindness, love and beauty. Instead of being inspired by it, they seek to destroy it.
The queen is a sad person. She lives in castle, with power and riches, and yet nothing satisfies her. In reality, all she has is a mirror in her hands, and even that becomes unfulfilling, because, of course, there’s emptiness inside of her, and we all know, nothing external can soothe our internal. It’s dangerous too. Because when there are such holes within, when we are blind to our shadow sides, and desperately needing attention in any shape or form, a lot of false light shows up to take space within us, and lead us astray. Devilish temptations promising us anything and everything.
It is so important to have something in our life that fulfills us, that makes us feel purposeful. It is so important to find our self-love and self-worth that are independent of the riches and crowns and instagram filters. And we also need to have a northern star, something of high value and integrity, that will guide us, in the times when we feel lost or tempted to fall into bad ways.
Driving the evil actions of the queen, is, I think, an even deeper fear: the fear of mortality. She wants her youth back, she wants to fool fate. And in today’s age, women are constantly pressured by unrealistic standards of beauty and eternal youth. Instagram filters, lip fillers, thread lifts – beautiful dolls on image screens. But where is the depth? Where is the heart? We’ve forgotten what truly matters, and what to truly value. And how is then anyone supposed to love themselves unfiltered in the mirror? Aging is a reality we all face, and one we must accept, as difficult as may be, if we want to come into deeper love, within and towards others. The way a woman feels about herself, she will inevitably project that onto her daughters as well.
Snow White avant garde recreation by Spanish fashion photographer Eugenio Recuenco
But was Snow White really naive to eat the apple even after all the other poisoned gifts? Perhaps it wasn’t naivety. Perhaps just like any young girl, she longed for her mother’s, or step mother’s, love. And the only way she’d get it was by abiding to her, by eating a poisoned apple, so that the queen is finally happy, and may even hold her, in an embrace, no matter for what reason, the way she once did, once upon a time, before all the internal fears and demons overtook her.
What the apple did, however, was freeze the girl in time, like a talisman, away from the evil sight of the queen, so that she can be at peace for awhile. It essentially protected her until she was in loving arms.
The sleep is important in the tale, and in all tales, including Sleeping Beauty. This is not inaction – it is needed as we come into all parts of us that we thought we might have lost, and as we heal. Another aspect of the sleep state, or the isolation in a forest phase, often portrayed in fairytales is the need for solitude and self-knowledge before being able to sustain a true love relationship. In many traditions, before the marriage, the groom and bride must be separated from one another for a few days. During this time, they each pray and meditate, and only after they’re centered in their selves, they are able to synchronize their energies and walk the path of love together, while supporting each other’s unique soul’s paths.
Love is not to be found but to be felt in any circumstance. In our tale, Snow White comes across the being of love as she nurtures and contributes to the wellbeing and happiness for the dwarfs; she is able to express her love with her caring for them and their home, and through that, she also comes into her own ability to love and to give unconditionally. Because love is not just something to feel, it is to give of ourselves and contribute to one another’s life. And love has many different shapes and forms, and various speeds and movements; and when we have the hearts to see it, we will understand that we can experience love in many ways in our every day life.
Snow White by Yvonne Gilbert
In many modern versions including Disney, she wakes because of a kiss, but that’s not how the original was. In the Grimms’ version of the tale, the body of Snow White is placed into a crystal casket and given to be carried uphill to a prince passing by. However, one of his servants trips, the casket falls, and accidently the poisoned apple piece flies from her mouth.
The girl wakes and cries now knowing where she is, but the prince holds her hand and assures her,
“Dear Snow White, you are safe. You are with me.”
Like I’ve said it many times before: Women don’t want to be saved – they want to feel safe.
In Polly Peterson’s poem “The Prince to Snow White” the prince responds to her upon her awakening when she questions whether he loves her only for her beauty, “Did you think that I found you by chance, Maiden? Did you believe I was drawn to your crystal casket, like a hummingbird to its nectar, by the allure of ruby lips, the gaze of azure eyes? … You are beautiful, sublime, yet not so lovely as our daughter will be: your mother’s daughter’s child — her immortality.”
In his words we see an acceptance; we see that physical beauty fades, but true love and beauty always shine. What makes us beautiful is our hearts, and the thread of love that runs through us, that weaves in and of our soul. With the love we were born and raised, we’ll pass it forward. And despite the wrinkles and greys in our hair, beauty will still shine, for it is love, true love.
As for the prince, I too believe in love at first sight for I know it’s true: love is something felt deep within us and sometimes we just know. To see someone’s inner beauty is also, often, as if written on the gentleness of their face, the kindness of their movements. And we just know. The heart knows, always.
The world moves for love. It kneels before it in awe. Then, now, always.
Illustration by Trina Schart Hyman
And so it is. Warm blood against white snow. Life, and we, renew again. Spring always follows winter. The sun is rebellious, especially across the surfaces of ice. And we deepen into a drop containing all of our intimacies; water nourishes the soil of our soul, and we wake, anew, each time.
What Snow White knows is that our heart will lead us no matter the harshness of terrain. That truth and love are eternal, immortal. That we need grace, compassion and forgiveness. Again, and again, and again. That every day is a new opportunity to write our story on a blank canvas.
That beauty is not something that we are cursed with, but that there are people who may want to take away what’s ours. Not all people are good and that’s a reality to accept. They will want to ruin our heart, our love. But we shouldn’t fear, because no one can take away what’s truly ours. And no matter what, we shouldn’t harden up to those who truly love us – but we should certainly learn to discern and when to whom to put up our armours.
And perhaps more than anything, Snow White knows that we need to honour our heart’s tears, as well as our deep longing for a world where we truly feel a belonging.
More articles from the Story Threads series:
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Cover art by France Jodoin. Working with oil on linen, she captures shifting scenes, bringing to life the fleeting spaces between what we know and what we imagine. We recognize these worlds, and yet time and borders between land, sea and sky gently but powerfully dissolve away, architecture reveals and guards secrets, and people move gracefully, knowingly — without fear, threat or hesitation. You can see her paintings, here.