Friday, 28 March 2014

Fairytale Grimoire: The Sleeping Beauty

One of the best loved fairy tales is "The Sleeping Beauty". It's other titles have been "The Sleeping Princess", "Briar Rose" and "La Belle au bois dormant". The story has been written by many including the Brothers Grimm, Giambattista Basile and Charles Perrault. Everyone knows the Disney's animation of "Sleeping Beauty" based on the old fairy tale and the name of the princess is Aurora is one of the favourite heroines. The story itself is much older, borrowed from folklore, oral tradition and traces from mythology.

Basically the story is like this:

At the naming ceremony of the baby princess, twelve fairies are to give wonderful blessings. Each fairy gives the baby a gift, and just as the twelfth fairy was about to do so, suddenly there was a storm that interrupted. Within the storm arrived the uninvited thirteenth fairy, who was raging because she hadn't been invited to the naming ceremony. As a punishment to the king and queen, she gave the baby princess a terrible curse, which was that when the princess reaches eighteen years, she would prick her finger on a needle of a spinning wheel and die. That fairy was gone afterwards, leaving the royal couple distressed. The twelfth fairy, who hadn't yet given her gift, said that she couldn't change the curse itself but instead of death, the princess would sleep for eternity only to be woken up by a kiss.
The king ordered that every spinning wheel in the land should be destroyed. Spinning wheels were burned on a massive fire, and it became forbidden to have one.
Years passed. The princess grew up and on her eighteenth birthday, she played hide and seek with her friends in the palace gardens. She wandered away to hide, and wandered off until she found a tower. She entered, and climbed a winding staircase that reached to a room at the top. Inside was an old woman sat by a spinning wheel. The princess didn't know what was happening, she hadn't seen a spinning wheel before. She asked the old woman what she was doing. The old woman told the princess that she was spinning thread. The princess was curious and eager to have a go herself. The old woman showed the princess how it was done by coiling thread around the spindle/needle but the princess cut her finger.
She fell into a sudden deathlike sleep. Everyone in the entire palace, including the king and queen, servants, guards, cooks, even dogs and horses, fell asleep. The whole palace froze in time and remained in a stasis of sleep. One of the invited twelve fairies appeared to lay the princess down on a bed and dressed her in a blanket of silk. Years passed. Hundreds of years and centuries maybe went by. The palace was no longer visible except for a tower peeping up through trees. The palace and its grounds were enclosed by a huge wall of thorns and trees. Outside the bramble of thorns was a dragon, guarding the sleeping palace (most modern storybook versions don't feature a dragon).
Word got round that a dragon was guarding treasure behind the dense forest of thorns. Men, knights, warriors and princes tried bravely to pass the dragon and never succeeded. Many perished or gave up trying. Then someone came and he was different. A prince, and an outsider, who didn't know much about the dragon or the giant thorns. While he was riding through a village, he encountered an old man in a lane who told him about treasure guarded by a dragon near the thorns. He was determined to see this and killed the dragon, so that he could enter the wall of thorns. He used his sword to hack away the foliage and scratched himself doing this. Then a mysterious passage opened through the thorns, allowing him entry.
He walked through an overgrown palace full of sleeping people and sleeping animals. He wandered around the palace and reached a tower, where he discovered a beautiful princess asleep among a bed of roses.
He fell in love with her and kissed her lips, waking her up from an eternity of sleep. After she woke, she saw the man who rescued her and fell in love with him. The rest of the palace woke up, and the thorns fell. Both prince and princess went away to marry.

The End

There's a lot of parallels with this fairytale and another fairytale, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I'll mention what they are:
1. Needle pricking finger.
2. Gifts upon a baby princess.
3. Eternal deathlike sleep.
4. Woken by a kiss.
The spinning wheel needle, not so different from the threaded needle, symbolic of the Norns, weaving destiny. Pricking ones' finger either represents that destiny has caught up, or symbolically linked to sacrifice and the cutting in order to create magic. The Norns are the fairies of destiny, who choose the life path of the baby princess's future. The eternal sleep is similar to the transgression phase of a heroine is she either loses immortality or gains immortality. The Valkyrie Brunnhilde lost her immortality and fell in a long eternal slumber, surrounded by a ring of fire, only to be woken by a kiss. Snow White fell into an eternal sleep after eating a poisonous apple, who was woken by a kiss. Some say that this sleeping phase is like the divine Earth daughters leaving/sleeping during Winter, and their waking/return to the land brings Spring. 

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