The Witch as Teacher in Fairy Tales: Discovering the Esoteric Truth Hidden in Ancient Fairy Tales

The Witch as Teacher in Fairy Tales: Discovering the Esoteric Truth Hidden in Ancient Fairy Tales

by Nuria Daly


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504306430
Publisher: Balboa Press Australia
Publication date: 02/17/2017
Pages: 254
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.58(d)

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The Story and the Dream

My first encounter with the 'witch' was when I was very little and my father read me fairy stories at bedtime. There was one that really frightened me and I didn't want him to read it, even though I suspect that he was fed up with returning to my favourite stories again and again. The tale that terrified me was about a little princess celebrating her fifth birthday. A huge party was planned in the palace for her but when all the guests arrived bearing gifts, the wicked witch appeared in a vicious mood, because she had not been invited to the party. Her gift to the princess was a hailstone for a heart. The princess was left with no heart save one of ice, making her unable to be loved or to love anyone. The effect was immediate. A once warmhearted princess became cruel. I don't remember what happened in the story after that, because a hailstone for a heart stopped me in my tracks and the memory of the sense of terror is still clear.

Since then myths, fairy tales and dreams have attracted my imagination. The inner life has always seemed more real and exciting to me than the humdrum of the everyday world. I suppose it is no surprise that I later discovered Jung and eventually undertook nearly seven years of Jungian analysis. I thought of this process as a training and hoped one day to become a Jungian analyst myself. This was not to be, as I never found the money or time, to undertake the extensive Jungian qualification but years later, working as a counselling psychologist I was able to integrate Jungian concepts and ideas into my practice.

Having been brought up in Northern Ireland, where the Christianity I experienced was not what I wanted or needed, I had always been on a search for Spiritual Truth. I had heard of Sufism over the years and was attracted to its poets and its focus on the qualities of the heart, but could not discover what it meant in a practical sense and I longed to find a Sufi group and a Sufi teacher. There seemed to be not such a great leap from the Jungian idea of the Collective Unconscious, as the shared depth of our collective being, to the Sufi concept that there is nothing but God, and that God alone exists. In other words, we are all part of the Divine Unity, and this Divine One is part of us. I read that one of the greatest Sufi mystics, Ibn 'Arabi held that there is a 'world of Idea-Images, of archetypal figures, of immaterial matter, which is between the universe that can be apprehended by pure intellectual perception and the universe which is perceptible to the senses. This world is as real and objective, as consistent and subsistent as the intelligible and the sensible worlds; it is an intermediate universe 'where the spiritual takes body and the body becomes spiritual, a world consisting of real matter and real extension. The organ of this universe is the Active Imagination; it is the place of theophanic visions, the scenes on which visionary events and symbolic histories appear in their true reality.'

This intermediary world or realm seems interchangeable with Jung's idea of the Collective Unconscious. It is the place of symbols and archetypes through which we can understand the hidden meaning of things. It is the transmutation of everything visible into symbols, the intuition of an essence or person in an Image which is not part of any universal logic nor of sense perception. Fairy tales are also allegories and are not related to any rational worldly operation. Corbin puts it beautifully when he says that 'The symbol announces a plane of consciousness distinct from that of rational evidence; it is the 'cipher' of a mystery, the only means of saying something that cannot be apprehended in any other way; a symbol is never 'explained once and for all', but must be deciphered over and over again, just as a musical score is never deciphered once and for all but calls for ever new execution.'

The Irish would say that we know when we are in Fairy Realm, which is this inner world or collective unconscious or Alam almithal of Ibn Arabi, when everything looks 'normal' except for one thing, perhaps a magical creature, a witch, or a fairy. These are the symbols that tell us we are in that hidden, mysterious world. In attempting to explain some of these symbols I am possibly doing them a disservice. It is really up to you, the reader, to find your own meaning in each tale. Remember, however, that at another time it may mean something completely different to you. It is the Active Imagination that directly perceives events, figures, and presences, unaided by the senses. This is not fantasy, or daydreaming! As a hypnotherapist, I have an understanding of what is called 'trance logic', which is really very literal and does not take the rationale of this world into account. For example, if I asked you to see someone sitting on a chair, while you were in trance, you might see the person on the chair, but also the chair through the person.

In saying earlier that Sufis believe, and come to know, that everything is God and that God is everything, we need to come to an understanding of this huge and all-encompassing statement. For me it began with a dawning realization of what Jung meant when he talked of the 'Collective Unconscious'. I saw us all as a great mountain range, with each mountain being one of us, and yet, as we go deeper down through the centre of our mountain, we come to a place which is shared by all mountains, the depth of the earth, so that as we go ever deeper we come to the core of all Being. The deep unseen part of the mountain range is the 'Collective Unconscious'. It is wonderful and magical, as, not only do we feed and inform this 'Collective Unconscious,' but it nourishes and informs us. This explains spiritual phenomena: telepathy, clairvoyance, clairaudience and so on. When we go deep enough, we have access to everything. We can communicate at this level without words. There is direct knowledge, insight! Our practices help us develop these abilities. Sufis also talk about the drop and the ocean, in that we are the drop and the ocean is the unity of which we are all part. The whole Universe is Divine. It is God and yet more than the sum of its parts. It is so immense that we cannot grasp it with our minds, only with our Heart, which is One Heart. When we experience this we feel 'Intelligence' and great Love.

While I was pondering this mystical realm of Alam al-mithal, I had a dream which perhaps reflects how this mystical realm can function. In the dream I was on an old bus in a very alien place, that I thought might be Japan. It is a culture with which I have had no experience. I was going to meet up with old friends of my family, but did not know where they were or indeed, where I was. I seemed to be in another time and space with no recognisable landmarks. Someone was with me and trying to help me, but I couldn't see him. He offered to lend me his phone, but I knew I didn't have my friends' latest phone number. We came to an open square where the buildings were quaint and painted amber and dull gold, the colours of love and of the element earth. It was pretty and I was calm and interested rather than worried. In real life I would have panicked, as I hate being lost.

Then the scene changed and I was on top of a hill and could see all around me. I was on a very small island, but strangely the ocean came right up to the top of the mountain and I could look way down into the water, as if it was literally under my nose. There was nothing retaining this water, but it was simply there right before me, however I did not touch it. The water was very deep and green, there was abundant vegetation under the water that was a brilliant emerald colour. The water was still, transparently clear, unruffled and I knew that it was fresh water. It was like I was gazing at the source of all life. On my right, far below, I could also see the ocean. It looked quite normal and blue with a beach at its edge. There seemed to be a great wall of rock that 'held' the deep water up to my level from the scene below. It was magical and not rational but very real. My helper told me to be careful, but as he said this, a huge pale coloured creature emerged from the sea, elongating itself and flowing towards me. When its long head reached me, its rear end was still in the ocean, far away. It touched my hand with its paw; a touch so gentle and warm that I felt happy and full of wonder. Love flowed to me.

These are the symbols of that other realm, not to be interpreted, but explored poetically at many levels. One of the things that I experienced in this dream was a deep and tender love that could always reach me, from the depths of the ocean to the top of a mountain. I felt it in my deepest self and can recapture it at will. What we experience inwardly will surely affect our outer life. The dream also reminded me that dreams often use puns to get the message across and they are often funny. It seems 'God' has a sense of humour. In this dream the deep verdant water of life was 'right under my nose'. That was all I needed to know.

So, my journey through the realms continued with my longing to find Sufis and this longing did eventually manifest in a strange way. A comment I made to one of my clients that the Beloved he longed for and saw in his dream, could be an aspect of the Divine (as the Sufis believe it) set him on a search that led him to a book by Hazrat Inayat Khan. I shared in his enquiry and loved Hazrat's teachings but it was not enough for me to just read about the Sufi path, I knew I needed a teacher. Eventually, in that wonderful synchronistic way, I found a Sufi group who amazingly followed the teachings of Hazrat Inayat Khan, and so I eventually found my teacher – Murshid Nawab.

Nawab teaches in many ways, but mostly by example, showing how to be spiritual in a completely natural and authentic way. He tells Sufi stories of course and this completely engaged me. Nawab is also a writer of children's stories and TV programs, but I didn't know this at the time. One year, while leading a Sufi Summer School here in Australia, Murshid talked about a very ancient Han Chinese folk tale with a definite spiritual, even Sufi component. This story was 'Golden Chisel and the Stone Ram'. I was fascinated to find that the basic elements of the mystical path of Sufism were contained within this ancient Chinese story and in other folk stories I have worked with since. This was the beginning of a great journey for me, although I did not realise it at the time.

The universal Sufism of Hazrat Inayat Khan understands that the essence or base of all religions is mysticism and mysticism is Sufism. In our prayer, Salat, we say:

Thy Light is in all Forms, Thy Love in all beings In a loving mother in a kind father in an innocent child in a helpful friend in an inspiring teacher. Allow us to recognise Thee in all Thy holy names and forms as Rama, as Krishna as Shiva, as Buddha. Let us know Thee as Abraham, as Solomon as Zarathustra, as Moses as Jesus, as Mohammed and in many other names and forms Known and unknown to the world.

From a Jungian point of view, a myth or fairy tale can be seen as the journey of one person, the Hero who is our own self, either male or female, and who can be engaged with, much like a personal dream. These stories can also contain the 'dreaming' of a people, and can be explored for knowledge of the collective unconscious. I would say that most fairy tales are also teaching vehicles, much like Sufi stories. Many contain the vestiges of spiritual wisdom and knowledge that is very old, probably pre Christian, and perhaps carry a racial memory from the times of a matriarchal society. For example, scientists have identified that the Aboriginal dreamtime story of the appearance of a palm tree in an isolated valley in central Australia is indeed fact, and not fiction. Palm Valley lies within the Finke Gorge National Park in the Northern Territory (south west of Alice Springs). The Finke River is a very ancient, but now dry river bed, and is the only place in Central Australia where Red Cabbage Palms (Livistona mariae) survive. Aboriginal Legend recorded in 1894 described 'the gods from the north' bringing the seeds to Palm Valley. Scientists now conclude that humans up to 30,000 years ago carried the seeds to the central desert. Traditional stories often hold deep truths, although sometimes the meaning has become lost or obscured in the retelling.

The Rasul – Giving Life to the Village

In the first tale in this book, Golden Chisel and the Stone Ram, there once was a village where there was no fresh water, so that the people did not know the true taste of tea and food. Also in the village there was a tradition that fresh water would one day burst forth as a spring from the mouth of a stone ram.

Golden Chisel was a talented young stone mason who searched long and hard for such a ram. After a night away on a high mountain perhaps meditating, he returns to see a light and digs at this place. This light is the Divine Light, which we see when we are attracted to the spiritual path. As he digs, he finds a bright stone in the rough shape of a ram. The ram in traditional Chinese astrology was understood to be the eighth animal to arrive in the world, and, of course eight, is a very lucky number for the Chinese. The ram is considered artistic and the most feminine of all the signs of the Zodiac. In shaping and sculpturing the ram, Golden Chisel finds the stone very hard and his tools are blunted; it takes a long time for the little stone ram to be completed, and in that moment of completion it comes to life. This ram becomes Golden Chisel's Ideal, his Teacher and also his steed. In Sufi understanding, we too have to forge our Ideal of the Divine, of God, and this is a slow and difficult process. Just as when the sculptor is making his masterpiece, we need to see in our mind's eye the features we want to immortalise, and we can then chisel away what we do not need. With the last stroke on the fore-hoof, the ram came to life. Filled with gratitude, the ram offered Golden Chisel gold and silver, but he only wanted fresh water for his village.

This is real Service. Rather than accepting riches for himself, Golden Chisel chose to have the sacred water, which his community desperately needed. Although this was more difficult, the ram agreed, but made Golden Chisel promise never to divulge their secret to a soul. If a stranger should spot him and 'tell the world', then that would be the end of the magic. So here we first come across the mystical idea of the 'great secret'. In fact, the word mysticism means 'to conceal'- it is a mystery and mystics see their experience as part of their own journey of transformation. We must never speak of our experiences because they really cannot be communicated – they belong in that other realm – of Alam Al Mithal, and each person's experience is so different. We each build our own Divine Ideal or Ideal of God, but to explain this to another is not only impossible, but when we do so, we ourselves loose the power and magic of the Ideal. People who have not had a mystical experience will not understand what has been said, and worse still, will misinterpret what they think they hear. A friend once told me of his professor in Cambridge, who was the author of many books and papers on spirituality and mysticism. Late in life he had his own powerful mystical experience in, of all places a staircase, and he never spoke of it or wrote of spirituality and mysticism again.

This story of Golden Chisel is in three parts, as are all the others in this collection. In the middle section of the process, the little ram helps and advises Golden Chisel so that the villagers have water from the Yellow River that the little stone ram brings to the village every night. The villagers are happy to have fresh water for their tea and food. So it is that with the efforts of one person, quietly and secretly, the spiritual life of a community can be restored.

The journey of spiritual evolution in Sufism is also depicted in three stages. These are Fana Fi-Shaikh, Fana Fi-Rasul and Fana Fi-Allah. Fana is generally translated as annihilation and at first it means merging into the Teacher, then into the Prophet and finally into Allah. I think of fana as a dissolution or dissolving of the small self or ego, into the Teacher, then the Messenger or Prophet and eventually into Allah. My understanding of this is from my own experience with my Murshid. In the beginning I would often ask him what I should do in a certain situation, or how I should behave. A true teacher will seldom tell you what to do, but will guide you on the right path, sometimes in unusual ways. There is a certain magic about it, but it is done with such love, friendliness and support that the small self or ego does not feel threatened but can accept everything calmly. We are not 'killing' the ego but gaining mastery over it. Then there came a time when I did not have to ask my Murshid any more questions, probably much to his relief. I just knew what he would say and I could be like him without even thinking. This is Fana, perhaps you could say an integration of the teacher into my own being.


Excerpted from "The Witch as Teacher in Fairy Tales"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Nuria Daly.
Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
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Table of Contents

Preface, xv,
The Weaving, 1,
The Story and the Dream, 1,
The Rasul – Giving Life to the Village, 8,
The Little Horse – Vehicle and Teacher, 16,
Ancient Venus as Witch / Teacher, 30,
The Frog Skin and the Witch, 52,
Cinderella and the Sacred Hearth, 62,
Resolution and Understanding, 68,
My Story – Woven In., 81,
Cenerentola or Cinderella, 84,
The Frog Princess, 107,
The Fairy of the Dawn, 141,
The Little Humpbacked Horse, 169,
Part One, 169,
Part Two, 183,
Part Three, 197,
Golden Chisel and the Stone Ram, 209,
Appendix, 221,
Ponderings on the 'Unstruck Sound', 221,
Acknowledgements, 231,
Bibliography, 233,

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