Best of the best

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Sleeping Beauty

                           Artwork by Annie Leibovitz

Sleeping Beauty is a fairy-tale that has enchanted the hearts of children and adults since time immemorial. One reason for its longevity rests on the spiritual intent, which seems to be far greater than the literary content. The story is built on the universal theme of the psyche’s search for self-realization, or in other words, the soul’s path toward self–knowledge. The story has many connections to the concept of reincarnation. Another theme is how the shadow side of the psyche if it is too dominant, can cause a person to fear life.

Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm collected the folktales of Germany and published Grimm’s Fairy Tales in 1812. Their version of Sleeping Beauty called Briar Rose; that was closely based on the French author, Charles Perrault’s (1628-1703), Sleeping Beauty, that was written much earlier.

Other versions include The Petrified Mansion, which originated in India, that tells of a prince that enters a large mansion in which everyone, including the princess, cannot move or talk. There is an Italian version, called; Sun, Moon, and Talia, published the Pentamerone (1634).

Briar Rose

 In olden times there lived a King and Queen, who lamented day by day that they had no children, and yet never a one was born. One day, as the Queen was bathing and thinking of her wishes, a Frog skipped out of the water, and said to her, "Your wish shall be fulfilled, — before a year passes you shall have a daughter."

As the Frog had said, so it happened, and a little girl was born who was so beautiful that the King almost lost his senses, but he ordered a great feast to be held, and invited to it not only his relatives, friends, and acquaintances, but also all the wise women who are kind and affectionate to children. There happened to be thirteen in his dominions, but, since he had only twelve golden plates out of which they could eat, one had to stop at home. The fete was celebrated with all the magnificence possible, and, as soon as it was over, the wise women presented the infant with their wonderful gifts; one with virtue, another with beauty, a third with riches, and so on, so that the child had everything that is to be desired in the world. Just as eleven had given their gifts, the thirteenth old lady stepped in suddenly. She was in a tremendous passion because she had not been invited, and, without greeting or looking at anyone, she exclaimed loudly,"The Princess shall prick herself with a spindle on her fifteenth birthday and die!" and without a word further she turned her back and left the hall. All were terrified, but the twelfth fairy, who had not yet given her wish, then stepped up, but because she could not take away the evil wish, but only soften it, she said, "She shall not die, but shall fall into a sleep of a hundred years' duration." 

The King, who naturally wished to protect his child from this misfortune, issued a decree commanding that every spindle in the kingdom should be burnt. Meanwhile, all the gifts of the wise women were fulfilled, and the maiden became so beautiful, gentle, virtuous, and clever, that everyone who saw her fell in love with her. It happened on the day when she was just fifteen years old that the Queen and the King were not at home, and so she was left alone in the castle. The maiden looked about in every place, going through all the rooms and chambers just as she pleased until she came at last to an old tower. Up the narrow winding staircase, she tripped until she arrived at a door, in the lock of which was a rusty key. This she turned, and the door sprang open, and there in the little room sat an old woman with a spindle, spinning flax. "Good-day, my good old lady," said the Princess, "what are you doing here?" 

"I am spinning," said the old woman, nodding her head. 

"What thing is that which twists round so merrily?" inquired the maiden, and she took the spindle to try her hand at spinning. Scarcely had she done so when the prophecy was fulfilled, for she pricked her finger; and at the very same moment, she fell back upon a bed which stood near in a deep sleep. This sleep extended over the whole palace. The King and Queen, who had just come in, fell asleep in the hall, and all their courtiers with them — the horses in the stables, the doves upon the eaves, the flies upon the walls, and even the fire upon the hearth, all ceased to stir — the meat which was cooking ceased to frizzle, and the cook at the instant of pulling the hair of the kitchen-boy lost his hold and began to snore too. The wind also fell entirely, and not a leaf rustled on the trees around the castle. 

Now around the palace, a thick hedge of briars began growing, which every year grew higher and higher, till the castle was quite hidden from view so that one could not even see the flag upon the tower. Then there went a legend through the land of the beautiful maiden Briar Rose, for so was the sleeping Princess named, and from time to time Princes came endeavoring to penetrate through the hedge to the castle; but it was not possible, for the thorns held them as if by hands, and the youths were unable to release themselves, and so perished miserably. 

After the lapse of many years, there came another King's son into the country, and heard an old man tell the legend of the hedge of briars; how that behind it stood a castle where slept a wonderfully beauteous Princess called Briar Rose, who had slumbered nearly a hundred years, and with her the Queen and King and all their court. The old man further related what he had heard from his grandfather, that many Princes had come and tried to penetrate the hedge, and had died a miserable death. But the youth was not to be daunted, and, however much the old man tried to dissuade him, he would not listen, but cried out, "I fear not, I will see this hedge of briars !

Just at that time came the last day of the hundred years when Briar Rose was to wake again. As the young Prince approached the hedge, the thorns turned to fine large flowers, which of their own accord made a way for him to pass through, and again closed up behind him. In the courtyard, he saw the horses and dogs lying fast asleep, and on the eaves were the doves with their heads beneath their wings. As soon as he went into the house, there were the flies asleep upon the wall, the cook still stood with his hands on the hair of the kitchen-boy, the maid at the board with the unplucked fowl in her hand. He went on, and in the hall he found the courtiers lying asleep, and above, by the throne, were the King and Queen. He went on further, and all was so quiet that he could hear himself breathe, and at last, he came to the tower and opened the door of the little room where slept, Briar Rose. There she lay, looking so beautiful that he could not turn away his eyes, and he bent over her and kissed her. Just as he did so she opened her eyes, awoke, and greeted him with smiles. Then they went down together, and immediately the King and Queen awoke, and the whole court and all stared at each other wondrously. Now the horses in the stable got up and shook themselves, — the dogs wagged their tails, — the doves upon the eaves drew their heads from under their wings, looked around, and flew away, — the flies upon the walls began to crawl, the fire to burn brightly and to cook the meat, — the meat began again to frizzle, — the cook gave his lad a box upon the ear which made him call out, — and the maid began to pluck the fowl furiously. The whole palace was once more in motion as if nothing had occurred, for the hundred years' sleep had made no change in anyone. 

By and by the wedding of the Prince with Briar Rose was celebrated with great splendor, and to the end of their lives they lived happily and contented. [1890]. Household Stories. From the collection of Grimm Brothers. Translated from the German by Lucy Crane. Chicago and New York: Rand, McNally, and Company, n.d.

The Interpretation

 Fate and the Fairies

 Considering (Briar Rose) - Sleeping Beauty personifies the human soul, we can infer her predicted death is symbolic of the end of a cycle related to reincarnating through the twelve signs of the zodiac. The number thirteen is unlucky because it infers a new octave of energy, as the passage from 12 to 13 is considered dangerous, one must enter a new reality.  this trope is why it was the thirteenth guest who cursed Sleeping Beauty.

Basically, we can say the central theme with the soul’s destiny, which the ancients thought must reincarnate through the twelve signs of the zodiac, before it enters a new and higher level of consciousness.

 The Three Fates that Spun Destiny

 In Greek mythology, the Moira (4) known in English as the "Fates" were the white-robed Demi-gods of destiny that held the power to limit the soul’s lifespan, which they determined at the moment of birth.

“Lachesis” – The "allotter" or drawer of lots measured the thread of life allotted to each person with her measuring rod, a staff with which she points to the horoscope on a globe.

“Clotho” – The "spinner" who spun the thread of life from her distaff onto her spindle (the book of Fate). 

 “Atropos”means inexorable or inevitable. She personified the cutter of the thread of life who chose the manner of each person's death; and when their time came, she cut their life-thread. She held a scroll, a wax tablet, a sundial, a pair of scales, or a cutting instrument. At the birth of each person, they appeared spinning, measuring, and cutting the thread of life. (2)

  The ancients associated spinning with the soul's destiny. Yarn must be wound on the spindle and spun into a net or loop. They deemed this process of 'spinning a net to catch the soul,' as a spiritual metaphor for fate. The unique characteristics of the Moira are analogous to the good fairies, found in many Indo-European sagas and Celtic folklore. who appeared beside the cradle of the newborn child with gifts, the twelve guests brought gifts to Sleeping Beauty.

The number twelve* has great significance in reference to astrology. Ancient sages believed the soul reincarnated through the twelve houses of the zodiac to gained specific traits associated with each house. “Lachesis” portrays the concept of destiny by holding a staff as she points to the horoscope on a globe, indicating a belief that the stars affect the destiny of the soul.

Each of the twelve guests brought wonderful gifts, one “bestowed virtue, one beauty, and a third riches”, which is a metaphor on the soul's qualities acquired in each astrological sign. For example, Taurus gives one a sense of beauty. Gemini teaches the soul to communicate. Cancer relates to the home, Leo expands the heart and friends. In Virgo, one develops a discriminating mind and so on through all twelve houses of the zodiac. So the whole affair of receiving gifts alludes to the evolution of consciousness, through the twelve astrological signs.

 Next, the thirteenth guest condemned Sleeping Beauty to death if she ever touched the spinning wheel. The thirteenth fairy is like the Greek Atropos, as she determines the length of Sleeping Beauty’s life. Number thirteen is unlucky because it denotes the end of the twelve cycles, and the beginning of a new cycle or next octave. Moving to a new cycle may be dangerous as one's psyche has no foundation on which to stand, it is like jumping between two cliffs with nothing underneath.

It is worth noting, biological and psychological changes occur at thirteen when puberty kicks in. In the human growth cycle, the thirteenth year denotes a transitional year and indicates a change in one’s body and mind. 

Therefore the year is transformative and denotes the time when a boy becomes a man and a girl becomes a woman. In that, the body can now reproduce.
In a psychological sense, it may be that the number thirteen is deemed unlucky because one has to pass through a death experience. And symbolically Christ being the thirteenth of a group of twelve apostles died and resurrected into a new cycle in the heavens.

  Though cursed to an early death, the twelfth fairy mitigates the outcome by gifting Sleeping Beauty with over a hundred years of sleep. It seems the twelfth guest has similar powers of “Lachesis,” who decides the length of each incarnation, and so could alter the length of Sleeping Beauties many life’s. 
Sleeping Beauty has the freedom to enter every room except the one which holds the spinning wheel, as the spinning wheel is symbolic of destiny and controlled by the “Clotho.” The Fate who spun the thread of life. She does just the opposite of warnings and enters the forbidden room. She pricks her finger, then blood appears; a clear symbol of death and sacrifice. Then She falls into a deep sleep as foretold by the thirteenth guest. 

 It may be her destiny to sleep for a hundred years. However, I see the sleep as an allegory on her own lack of consciousness. As she has to experience the real world, not waste away in her father’s luxurious kingdom.  And oddly, her hundred years of sleep denote a wasted life, in which nothing of value is experienced, except maybe dreams. If she stays away from the sorrows of life, she also stays away from its bliss. However, it is inevitable she cannot stay safe and comfortable forever. 

 In the Charles Perrault version, there were seven fairies that rendered gifts of gold while the eighth old Fairy, who was not expected to attend; cursed Sleeping Beauty. “The King, to avoid the misfortune as foretold by the old fairy, caused immediately a proclamation to be made, whereby everybody was forbidden, on pain of death, to spin with a distaff and spindle, or to have so much as any spindle in their houses.

So we can conclude the King was attempting to avoid any suffering for his daughter, yet no matter what how hard he tried, destiny intervened and his daughter entered the forbidden room. The forbidden room symbolizes the unconscious mind, where the archetype of the shadow exists, and all the psyche’s negative complexes reside. She is forbidden to enter because it will cause the death of her subconscious shadow.  

  The number seven is also special because it refers to the seven chakras or planes of consciousness. Each center has to be vilified before the crown chakra is opened, when this happens the old personality undergoes a radical transformation, whereas the ego dies as one enters cosmic consciousness. Both versions of the tale use numbers, twelve and seven that encode themes based on reincarnation (12 signs) and enlightenment
(7chakras). In essence, both versions reinforce the main theme of the evolution of consciousness through a particular cycle.  
 The twelfth fairy avoided the worst effects of the curse, and answered the Queen’s questions;

"When will my daughter waken?"
"I don't know," the fairy admitted sadly.
"In a year's time, ten years or twenty?" the Queen went on.
''Maybe in a hundred years' time. Who knows?" said the fairy.
"Love," replied the fairy. "If a man of pure heart was to fall in love with her that would bring her back to life!"

"How can a man fall in love with a sleeping girl?

   Yes, how can a man fall in love and marry a sleeping girl? But we are talking about the levels of consciousness. Her sleep metaphorically implies a refusal to become conscious, as the twelfth fairy cannot predict when she will “wake up.” Only Sleeping Beauty can decide whether she will follow the spiritual path or stagnate. She has yet to integrate her masculine characteristics, symbolized by the prince. We also know that the prince is attempting to find Sleeping Beauty, which suggests there is a desire within the psyche to achieve a balance between the anima and animus.

   The idea of a hundred years alludes to the many lifetimes it takes to wake up, that is, to bring up to consciousness every hidden aspect of her psyche. If one only identified with the physical senses and the material world it may take countless lives to awake. Her sleep is a prophetic warning signal to those who do not follow the spiritual path and miss their opportunity to evolve physically, mentally and psychologically in the 'now.'

 We find the good fairy worrying about Sleeping Beauty’s loneliness when she awakens from her 100 years of sleep, she says;

"I can never let that happen. It would be too painful for this unfortunate girl."

So the fairy uses her magic powers to put everyone associated with Sleeping Beauty, including the - soldiers, ministers, guards, servants, pages, cooks, maids, and knights into a deep sleep.

"Now," thought the fairy," when the Princess wakes up, they too will awaken, and life will go on from there."

 The fairy’s concern reveals a hidden detail about reincarnation. In that, the ancient's believed that familiar groups and families incarnate together, in the same location, to work out their karma. As then the soul could continue its relationships. This karmic arrangement allows for everyone in the castle to experience their life together ensuring a shared spiritual journey which explains why the whole castle is enchanted by the sleeping spell.   

 The prince symbolizes the archetypal masculine energy and is a counterbalance to the feminine. In “Snow White,” this same motive is symbolized by her death and placement in a glass box until the Prince came to awaken her with a Kiss. When the Prince finally reaches the castle, he struggles through the thorns and bushes; he finds Sleeping Beauty and gives her a kiss. She responds by saying:

"Oh, you have come at last! I was waiting for you in my dream. I've waited so long!" 

Yes, she was dreaming compared to being fully alive and conscious. The story resolves when the Sacred Marriage occurs….which is symbolic of the internal conjunction of sexual opposites (male and female), resulting in the birth of cosmic consciousness and union of the individual with the divine.

“Then the wedding of the Prince and Rosamond was held with all splendors, and they lived very happily together until their lives' end.”

Joseph Alexander  
Rewritten 6/5/2015 and 5/27/2018


1. The three Moirai are daughters of the primeval goddess Nyx (Night), and sisters of Keres (black Fates).


Grimm Brothers version, Briar Rose

Charles Perrault version, Sleeping Beauty in the wood



  1. Thank you - much appreciated.

  2. Thank you for this. Was reading today about how someone is trying to get this Fairy Tale banned from her child's school, because the Prince kissing Sleeping Beauty without her consent is tantamount to sexual abuse. I find it very sad, because fairy tales always have a deeper meaning, that is also absorbed by children but probably only made conscious as we get older. I hope you don't mind, but am going to publish this on my FB timeline, as a counterweight to the superficial interpretation of this story.

  3. amazing work, thank you


Popular Fairy Tales

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs