Essay On Questioning Self Evident Beliefs, and A Symbolic Reading of Sleeping Beauty
We walk through life absorbing ideas that, at first contact, seem to be self-evident. Beginning from childhood, we were all heavily influenced by the beliefs of authority figures and peers.
Children do not have the cognitive capacity and life experience to process and deliberate the ideologies and philosophies that they are subjected to. Children also need structure and guidance from the people around them because they cannot conceptualize a proper map of the world until they go through the process of becoming independent, autonomous individuals.
They live inside a safe and controlled world, passed onto them by their forefathers (society) and parents (embodiments of society and guides of how to live in accordance with the rules of society).
This is important for children to grow up with so that they are not exposed to the chaotic nature of the outside world. They are encouraged to engage with the unknown in little baby steps by their parents, who act as the embodiment of the hearth, the fireplace, the warm embrace of the protective arms of the mother. They can run out to the playground, play with kids or climb on the jungle gym, and return to the safety of their parents when they encounter pain or confusion.
In this process of the child jumping back between order (what is known and safe) and chaos (what is unknown and potentially dangerous), they learn how to act as autonomous individuals and come to realize that they are separate entities from their parents.
Well-socialized children come to understand that they must learn to regulate emotions and actions in the social world in order to live in harmony with other children. They also realize that they can learn many things from their peers and authority figures, and expand their map of the world through their interactions with them.
Throughout their lives, however, they encounter individuals or information that opposes certain axiomatic beliefs they’ve held as self-evident throughout their lives.
Think about the child who comes from a fundamentalist religious family entering elementary school, where they are taught a completely different story about the creation of the world. Or a child from a Buddhist family who is enrolled in Catholic school (to some families it is considered a cheaper private school).
They may be confused and may even dare to question the teachings of the school. For what they knew initially was the objective truth, the fundamental cornerstone on which the order of their universe was built upon.
Who is telling the truth? The parents or the educator? Who is the ultimate authority? Why would one lie to the child?
How is the child to come to terms with the opposing ideas in their psyche? This conflict throws them into emotional turmoil, for the opposing ideas desire a reconciliation.
This experience threatens to open up the world of the unconscious, the unknown, to the child. This experience is equivalent to the Fall of Man in heavenly bliss in the Garden of Eden, mythologically speaking.
Every time you encounter knowledge that shatters the dreamlike state of consciousness you were encapsulated in, you experience what Adam and Eve went through.
You are cast out of “paradise” (unconscious state) where everything made sense, where you did not have to be a conscious individual, where you were subject to the order that your parents and society ensconced you in.
Some parents do their best to keep people in this paradisal, unconscious state. They make sure that their children do not venture too far out of their bubbles, and protect them from the outside world that threatens to make them conscious.
Symbolic Meaning Of Sleeping Beauty
This is what the movie Sleeping Beauty tries to communicate — the King and Queen try to protect their daughter from encountering Maleficent (chaos, unconscious, evil, the “real” world), only to have Maleficent curse the daughter to a deep slumber for her parents’ impudence and naivety. The princess can only be rescued from her eternal sleep by “true love’s” first kiss.
It is often seen as a “classic masculine fantasy” trope where the damsel in distress must be rescued by the prince.
It’s unfortunate that we interpret it with such a critical lens, and refuse to dig deeper for the true message of the story, which is actually a grander and more encouraging message for women.
The prince awakening the princess can be interpreted in the aforementioned level of analysis, or we can try to see the symbolism in the actions and characters of the story.
The kiss between the prince and princess is symbolic of a necessary union between the masculine (Animus) and feminine (Anima) within the woman’s psyche.
In another symbolic way, this is the representation of the union of chaos and order. Two opposing forces that, if brought into communion, will bring about a third entity that bridges the gap between the two forces. Useful information will come from the union of opposition.
Aurora must understand that in order to embody the complete individual who is capable of encountering chaos and overcoming the suffering and tragedies of the world, she must come to terms with the masculine side of her psyche.
The prince is at one level of analysis a representation of her own animus, who is initially imprisoned by Maleficent, the dragon of chaos. Maleficent is the side of the archetypal feminine that is tyrannical, destructive, and dangerous. The fairies who accompany Aurora and help the prince are embodiments of the side of the archetypal feminine that is nurturing, caring, and uplifting.
He is freed by the fairies and given the Sword of Truth and Shield of Virtue. This is the fated encounter of the individual with the chaotic unknown.
The masculine side of her psyche (animus) must face the chaos of the world and can only overcome it with truth and virtue.
Only after encountering the unknown and defeating it will Aurora be able to wake up from her unconsciousness. Psychologically speaking, Aurora starts to integrate the masculine sides of her into the totality of her personality. She learns that masculine traits like assertiveness, which she had repressed or disliked, can be fused into her state of being to serve her in her journey through life.
The movie also HAS to create an embodiment of the masculine (prince) in order for us humans to understand, because without the physical embodiment of the animus we can only communicate the idea abstractly.
How else do we communicate the figure of animus to a broad audience of children and adults?
We must first watch the idea being acted out, and only then can we hope to articulate it.
And it is difficult for the woman to see and incorporate the masculine within her if she does not have a masculine partner to learn from. This is why the physical embodiment of the animus is important as well.
The prince is necessary because the princess desires the prince to some degree — perhaps for romantic love, for partnership and assistance in the union of her personal anima and animus, for the creation of her children.
To some degree, the landscape may be different from the times we live in now, but I do think this archetypal story is true for many people.
The flipside of this story is the animus needing to incorporate the anima within — stories like Beauty and the Beast and Tarzan come to mind.
These are stories that stay with us because there is a level of psychological truth that resonates with us deeply.
These are stories that, if taken seriously and analyzed at a symbolic level, can instruct us on how to live in this world as a psychologically integrated being.