Saturday, 15 February 2014

Fairytale Grimoire: Beauty and the Beast

For the season, this is a very interesting fairytale, about love developing between a young woman and a monstrously deformed man. The man is the Beast and is portrayed as part human and part animal. All books and films based on this loving story are true to the original version, "La Belle et la Bête" by an 18th Century author, Gabrielle Suzanne Bardot de Villeneuve.

The story begins when a merchant has to depart for overseas. He asks his three daughters what they would like so that he could bring them all presents on his return. The eldest daughter requested jewels. The middle daughter wanted pretty silk dresses. The youngest daughter, named Belle, asked for a rose. The merchant set off. The journey itself goes that he returned empty handed because the ship that he was on was attacked by pirates, in some stories it was destroyed by a sea storm. He loses the gifts for his daughters. He returns sadly but before he goes home, he finds rose bushes in a garden. He picks a rose, and is attacked by the Beast.

Out of fear, he does everything that the Beast asks him to do, and promises to bring his youngest to the Beast. The merchant is afraid for his life and his daughter's life. He reluctantly takes Belle to the house of the rose garden, to meet the frightening Beast. When the Beast appears, he offers them both food and drink and to sit by a warm fire. Then he offers Belle a comfortable and fine bedroom to sleep in. Clearly he wants to keep Belle and tells her father to leave. When the merchant departs in sadness, Belle spends her time there alone with the Beast.

She is scared of him at first. Food is brought to her. She's given clothes and treated like a princess. The Beast doesn't always appear because, as we find out, he's ashamed of his grotesque form. However, Belle feels more relaxed and she starts to befriend him.

One day she tells the Beast how much that she misses her father. It's been a long time since she last saw her dad and sisters. The Beast gives her a magic mirror and it reveals an image of her father in bed very sick. She wants to go and visit him, not wanting to break the Beasts' promise of staying in his house either. The Beast says that she can go and be with her father for a week and she must return to him. Belle promises to do that. She goes home and finds that her dad had been unwell with worry and grief. When he saw Belle, he started recovering. Belle stayed with her family and didn't notice that a week had passed, then another and another.        

She thought of the Beast one day and saw him through the magic mirror, on the grounds of his rose garden as if dead. She remembered the promise she made, and broke, and became extremely worried. She rushed off and set out to go to the Beast. She found him on the ground, dying. She was so overcome with sadness that she said "Please don't die my Beast, I love you".

With those magic words, the Beast changed. Instead of the man in a hideous animal form, was a handsome prince. Belle's love broke the spell that a witch cursed him with. He and Belle fell in love and went away to be married.

The end

The motif here was "magic mirror", "rose", "curse", "animal-man", "love" and "number three".

The magical number three includes the three daughters, who may be the symbol of the triple goddess, the Norns, the triquetra and phases of the moon. Although presented as mortals, these characters often feature in nearly every old fairytale. Whether Mme Gabrielle understood it or not, she was generating an ancient memory of magic, charms, wisdom and folklore embedded in the human psyche. She was a storyteller and picked up oral traditions and possibly read a lot of older literature and myths.

The theme of animal-man, werewolf, werebeast, half man half animal, ect is indeed a curse, an hereditary disposition that makes someone appear horrible and dangerous. Modern versions of Beauty and the Beast present the Beast and kindly and benign, but the earlier versions tell of the Beast having an aggressive nature (to empower the merchant and imprison Belle). What modern storytellers overlook is the fact the Beast is a symbol of men and how they seek to dominate and possess women. In the Disney version, Belle comes across as a cool chick willing to hang out in the Beasts' castle. How sugary. This condition is unreal. Mme Gabrielle's story of the cruel Beast and a frightened Belle is perfect at explaining actual human emotions of slave and master situation. Ruling by fear, not by love, imprisons someone against their will. But the Beast isn't really a monster though. He loves Belle.

In the news over the last couple of years or so, reports emerge of women having been imprisoned for many years by men, who had no contact with the outside world until they were found. While they didn't love their jailors, and the jailors didn't/couldn't have loved these poor victims, an initial use of power and brutality started the events. A slave and master is a completely opposite to genuine love and affection. While the Beast possesses Belle and keeps her there in his castle, love grows because above all, he treated her like a princess, and loved her since the beginning. What woman could he love unless it was someone who wanted a rose from his garden?

Roses are a symbol of love as well as the Goddesses of love and beauty. Roses are a powerful source of witchcraft. A rose represents all that is feminine and healthy. Roses appear often in folklore when it comes to maidens and princesses. The magic mirror, another frequent fairytale object, is a scrying tool that indicates the Black Arts. The darkness of Beauty and the Beast was the witches curse upon the prince.

The theme of Beauty and the Beast isn't new and goes back to ancient myths. Gods took the shapes of animals, sometimes half animals, to rape mortal women on Midgard (the earthly plane). The Prince who was the Beast is a god, who fell in love with a mortal woman and needed to reach her heart. He protected her and loved her, cherished her and became tragically ill when Belle didn't return to him.

Within some mortal men, there are beasts, and also princes. Who and where?     

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