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Friday, March 29, 2019

Little Red Riding Hood

French author Charles Perrault published Little Red Riding Hood (Le Petit Chaperon Rouge) in Mother Goose Tales (1697). This fantastic little story portrays a voracious Wolf that devoured    Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother, ending the story.

While the brothers Grimm version called, Little Red Cap included a passing huntsman that cuts open the wolf’s stomach and pulls Little Red Riding Hood and her Grandmother to safety.

One of the first versions originated back in the 10th century, to the folktale from Italy, called, The False Grandmother, by Italo Calvino–published in the Italian Folktales collection. The range of interpretations range from being a warning about talking to strangers to that of sexual restraint, however, I will interpret the story from a metaphysical point of view.

  In Grimm’s version, her mother asked Little Red Cap to stay strictly on the path through the woods to deliver food to her sickly grandmother (wine and cake depending on the translation). voracious Wolf wants to eat the girl. He secretly stalks her behind trees, bushes, shrubs. He approaches Little Red Riding Hood, who naively tells him where she is going. He suggests that the girl pick flowers as a present for her grandmother, which she does. In the meantime, he goes to the grandmother's house and gains entry by pretending to be the Little Red Cap. He swallows the grandmother whole (in some stories; he locks her in the closet) and waits for the girl, disguised as the grandma.

When the Little Red arrives, she notices that her grandmother looks very strange. The Wolf, seeing her come in, said to her, hiding under the bedclothes:—

"Put the custard and the little pot of butter upon the stool and come and lie down with me." Little Red Riding-hood undressed and went into bed, where she was much surprised to see how her grandmother looked in her night-clothes.

She said to her:—

 "Grandmamma, what great arms you have got!"

"That is the better to hug thee, my dear."

"Grandmamma, what great legs you have got!"

 "That is to run the better, my child."

"Grandmamma, what great ears you have got!"

"That is to hear the better, my child."

"Grandmamma, what great eyes you have got!"

"It is to see the better, my child."

"Grandmamma, what great teeth you have got!"

"That is to eat thee up."

And, saying these words, this wicked wolf fell upon Little Red Riding-hood and ate her all up.

 A Huntsman in the Brothers Grimm and traditional German versions, comes to the rescue with an ax, and cuts open the sleeping wolf. Little Red Cap and her grandmother emerge unharmed. Then they fill the wolf's body with heavy stones. The wolf awakens and attempts to flee, but the stones cause him to collapse and die. Sanitized versions of the story have the grandmother locked in the closet instead of being eaten and some have Little Red Riding Hood saved by the lumberjack as the wolf advances on her rather than after she gets eaten, where the woodcutter kills the wolf with his ax.(2)




The best method to analyze Little Red Riding Hood or Little Red Cap depends on decoding the iconography regarding the ancients’ metaphysical beliefs that rested on the principle of the human soul is immortal and incarnates into the earth plane to evolve.  

The child,  symbolizes the human psyche or soul that must take the “trodden path”, through the dark forest, (collective subconscious) and meet the big bad wolf - the antagonist symbolizing the world of the senses, chaos, and evil. The wolf swallows her up, just like the body encases by the soul, losing all contact to the divine. However, the Huntsman cuts open the wolf’s stomach, rescuing her from death. Therefore, Little Red Riding is born again and initiated into a new life.  

The story begins with her mother’s advice to follow the “trodden path.” This is a common expression, to “follow the path,” which in most instances refers to spiritual practices.

Religions advise service to others and to God as the best practice leading to salvation. Little Red Riding Hood received the same advice; help her grandmother, by delivering food and drink. 

The ancient Sages also advised their followers to find the middle path, between extremes of conduct, of self-indulgence and religiosity.

Here the Buddhist saying reiterates the concept:
“The Tathagata does not seek salvation
In austerities, but neither does he for that reason
indulge in worldly pleasures, nor live in abundance.
The Tathagata has found the middle path.”

….“There are two extremes, O Bhikkus,
which the man has given up the world ought not follow-
the habitual practice on the one hand, of self - indulgence,
which is unworthy, vain and fit only for the
worldly minded – the habitual practice, on the other hand,
of self-mortification, which is painful, useless and unprofitable.

…” A middle path, O Bhikkus avoiding the two extremes
Has been discovered by Tathagata–a path which opens the eyes
And bestows understanding, which leads
to peace of mind, to the higher wisdom,
To full enlightenment.

  Life flows easily when serving the establishment. Take one step out of the social constructs, religious or cultural, and all hell breaks loose. Ask Socrates or Christ who both died for their beliefs. So the resistance Little Red Riding Hood endures on the path is a universal process that all the great geniuses and initiates must overcome. 

However, the opposing forces of materialization are likewise part of all the divine, as light and darkness always arrive together, so one must integrate the subconscious shadow, within our own psyche. 

For example, Beauty fears the Beast but ends up marrying him, while in the Frog Prince the young maiden marries an ugly frog. The point being the shadow only looks ugly, as it wears the face of one’s sins - our hidden fears and psychological complexes. After living with these unpleasant parts of the self, they will disappear, like the night disappears when the sun rises.
Saying to ponder: 
Becoming enlightened rests on this eternal truth,
 Everything that exists is part of the Divine.


      Being the epitome of materialism, the wolf entices Little Red Riding Hood to pick flowers, by noting the beautiful colors and fragrances.  The wolf runs to grandmother’s house for a tasty appetizer, a preview of the main course, if Little Red Riding Hood continues to put pleasure before her duty to help others. This episode reflects on the character of the psyche/soul, which starts off na├»ve, inexperienced and unable to distinguish between good and evil. As she offers the wolf everything he hoped for: a direct route to dinner at Grandma’s house. (At least she didn’t give him the key to the house.)

Little Red Riding Hood must develop both the masculine and feminine aspects of her psyche as a precondition to becoming self-realized and enlightened. In psychological terms, she is searching to find a balance between the feminine and masculine, or subtle energies of the Ida and Pingala, or the archetypal gods of Shakti and Shiva. The goal is to integrate the individualized soul with the Divine, without giving up one's identity.

She already has a mother that loves her, which denotes a well-evolved feminine side positively oriented. However, her inner male needs work - she has just as a docile father in Cinderella denotes the same condition. Little Red Riding Hood starts on the spiritual path with no conscious knowledge of her male energy: a lack that attracts her to the worst type of man-wolf.


  There are other fairy tales and myths in which an animal swallows a man, who later returns to the world of the living. Pinocchio comes to mind, as does Jonah and the Whale. In Pinocchio, Monstro the whale swallowed his father Geppetto. When Pinocchio discovers his father, he jumps in the water to save him; thus washing away his curse and transforming him into a real boy. Here again, we have the motif of being swallowed by an animal, (symbolizing the materialization of spirit) and an allegorical rebirth when Pinocchio achieves boyhood.   

In another example, the scriptural Jonah refused to follow God’s orders to preach to the people of Nineveh, boards a ship to Tarshish which becomes battered by a storm. He orders the ship’s crew to cast him overboard, whereupon a giant whale swallows Jonah. While in the whale’s belly, he prays to God for help, and three days later, after Jonah agrees to travel to Nineveh, the fish vomits him out onto the shore. His refusal amounts to placing his own comfort before duty to God, (analogous to Little Red Riding Hood picking flowers), and like Little Red Riding Hood departs from the belly of the Beast uninjured.


 Proving the wolf symbolizes chaos, death and matter is a simple procedure of reviewing ancient mythology. We can start with the Greek myth of Chronos (Saturn in Roman mythology). 

Cronos learned from Gaia and Uranus one of his own children would usurp his rule, just as he had overthrown his father. As a result, although he sired the Titan gods Demeter, Hestia, Hera, Hades and Poseidon by Rhea, he devoured them all as soon as they were born to prevent the prophecy. When the sixth child, Zeus, was born Rhea sought Gaia to devise a plan to save them and to get retribution on Cronos for his acts against his father and children….. In other versions of the tale, Metis gave Cronos an emetic to force him to disgorge the children. [4]

The myth follows the same pattern: a beast swallows a child, but it doesn’t die and returned to the world of the living.  Chronos represent the world of time and matter that embodies the spirit,

In addition, alchemical texts denote the wolf as the patron animal of the planet Saturn, the Roman equivalent of Cronus. According to alchemical philosophy, ores are formed inside the earth and transform from the most corrupted form of lead to the most purified form of gold. So the alchemical symbolism starts with (lead, Saturn, wolf, the most impure and corrupted form of metals) which will eventually transform into gold, symbolized by Little Red Riding Hood. 

Anubis is one of the many extraordinary animal deities in ancient Egyptian art and myth.   In the early dynastic period, the Egyptians portrayed him as a black wolf or Golden jackal. Associated with mummification, he protected their bodies from destruction. In the Osiris legend, Anubis weighed the heart of the deceased, against a feather, to judge the soul’s worthiness before he guided the soul to the afterlife. The death of Little Red Riding Hood and her subsequent return to life follows the Egyptian pattern in which a wolf was instrumental in the rebirth of a soul. Though Anubis doesn’t kill any Egyptian, he helps Osiris by guiding worthy souls to the hereafter

There are other references to a wolf in Norse myth, and the fairy tales such as “The Three Little Pigs” and “The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids. “And in each case, the wolf symbolizes chaos and death. Besides these examples, the clearest sign the wolf symbolizes such negative attributes of the material world, and animal desires derive from the different questions Little Red Riding Hood asks. 

Each question refers to one of the five senses. 

She notices the wolf’s ears - A sense of hearing. 

“What big eyes you have!” - A sense of vision. 

“What big hands you have.” - A sense of feel. 

 “Oh, what a horribly big mouth you have!” - A sense of taste. 
She derives each question from a growing awareness; it is her consciousness or soul, that sees, hears and feels. And that her senses have led her to a false perception of reality, as she now sees through the wolf’s disguise–a little too late—but she wakes up to the truth. 


 Bruno Bettelheim in his book, The Uses of Enchantment, explores Little Red Riding Hood from the perspective of Freudian psychoanalysis, and explains how fairy “tales educate, support, and liberate children’s emotions.  He views her decision to pick flowers in terms of an immature child that puts pleasure before responsibility.

The central theme deals with the problems of sexual maturity a young girl must face, particularly her loss of virginity.  

He further proposes Little Red Riding Hood too immature to acknowledge her oedipal complex. (The Oedipus complex refers to a child’s unconscious sexual desire for the same-sex parent and hatred for the opposite-sex parent.) - A rather dubious claim since no Father appears in the story. 

I believe Bruno’s interpretation misses the whole point that being swallowed up by the wolf is inevitable, as it denotes the incarnation of the soul into the material world. There are many sexual overtones in other versions of Hood Riding Hood that need further explanation including the portrayal of the wolfs’ sexual proclivity, 

Perrault gives evidence of this at the end of Little Red Riding Hood when he writes the moral of the story is:   

“From this story, one learns that children, especially young lasses, pretty, courteous and well-bred, do very wrong to listen to strangers and it is not an unheard thing if the Wolf is thereby provided with his dinner. I say, Wolf, for all wolves, are not of the same sort; there is one kind with an amenable disposition—neither noisy, nor hateful, nor angry, but tame, obliging and gentle, following the young maids in the streets, even into their homes. Alas! Who does not know that these gentle wolves are of all such creatures the most dangerous! 

 This warning assumes the wolf symbolizes the aggressive sexuality of the carnal man, thus re-imagining the story as a warning against sexual activity outside of marriage. 

Professor Jack Zipes, the author of some sixty books on fairy tales, applies a deconstructionist perspective and interprets the main theme as originating from the French patriarchal rape culture, that attempted to socialize young women for marriage. In his book “The Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood ”, he states the “very act of eating Little Red Riding Hood is sexual, and must in some degree show the chaos inherent within nature. Zipes interpretation makes more sense when we take into consideration another French version of Little Red Riding Hood called “The Grandmother” 

In this version, a bzou (Werewolf), kills, quarters and eats the grandmother and places her blood and flesh in glass jars. When Little Red Riding Hood arrives, he tells her to drink and eat from the jars in the cupboard. 

 Finally, the bzou tells her to; 

 “Get undressed, my child,” and come to bed with me." 

“Where should I put my apron?” 

“Throw it into the fire. You won’t need it anymore.” 

And for all her clothes — her bodice, her dress, her petticoat, and her shoes and stockings — she asked where she should put them, and the wolf replied, “Throw them into the fire, my child. You won’t need them anymore.” 

There is no doubt; this bawdy scene emphasizes the sexuality of her encounter with the bzou. Zipes notes that the French culture viewed Little Red Riding Hood as the guilty party for talking to the wolf in the first place, based on the French bourgeois belief it was a natural tendency of women to be undisciplined and easily swayed by temptation. So, from his perspective of seventeenth-century France, it was Little Red Riding Hood’s fault for being swallowed and raped. Thus according to the cultural Marxist perspective, fairy tales became a tool in the socialization of French and German society and later all of Western society, that seeks to educate children so they could fit into male-dominated patriarchy. 


 There are three philosophies in this article used to interpret Little Red Riding Hood. The spiritual interpretation I have presented and the psychoanalytical approach, and cultural Marxist perspective. 

  The Freudian approach makes too many unprovable assumptions about the pre-teen psyche and then tries to apply Oedipus complex to the world’s great literature. No doubt there are sexual overtones to the story, as Zipes has proved. However, he proposes it is because of the West's dominant patriarchal culture. Now his viewpoint is valid only if we interpret the tale literally and not symbolically. 

The main theme could be, as many suggest, a warning to young women to be on guard against immoral sexuality. I could accept this as a limited truth but nested within the concept of a spiritual transformation that requires chastity, purity and a love of god, as the fairy tale depicts Little Red Riding Hood as following a spiritual path leading to rebirth.

Copyright Joseph Alexander 3/29/2019 11:11am


2. Spurgeon, Maureen (1990). Red Riding Hood. England: Brown Watson. ISBN 0709706928.
2.Zipes, Jack, The Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood.
   Published 1993 By Routledge Taylor & Francis Group
   270 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016

3.Bettelheim, Bruno, The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, Random House LLC

.Little Red Riding Hood, By Charles Perrault 

4. Images from Pixabay.


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  2. Thank you, I appreciate your comments and input.
    I have written a very comprehensive version of “Little Red Riding Hood”, in my upcoming book, “The Secrets of Symbolism in Fairy Tales,” in which I interpret many of the most well-known fairy tales, such as Cinderella, Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty from the ancients’ religious point of view. I have devoted many years researching and meditating on each fairy tale, before figuring out the hidden meaning. So, the little feedback I received from readers disappointed me, which is one reason I am keeping future articles under 2,500 words and decided to focus all my attention on completing the book.

  3. You made a mistake when you wrote "A woodcutter in the French version, but a hunter in the Brothers Grimm and traditional German versions, comes to the rescue with an ax, and cuts open the sleeping wolf."
    If by "French version" you mean Perrault, no one comes to the rescue in the French version. Red Riding Hood just dies, which makes the moral that much more important.

    1. Yes, I didn't make it clear that Perrault's version of Little Red Riding Hood ended after she was killed by the wolf. However, most all of the versions include her questions to the wolf, alluding to the human senses. Questions that indicate she has become finally become aware of the illusionary nature of the physical world. Also each of the many versions start with her Mother asking her to stay on the path (spiritual path)- by helping her Grandmother.


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