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Found an interesting article years back on the Fairy Tales of the Golden ball symbolizing the process of individuation through a fairy tale:
Fairy Tale of the Golden Ball
As we experience our personal stories in terms of universal spiritual teachings, we connect more consciously with the greater transformative power within our experience.
Let me give you an example by telling you one of my favorite betrayal-to-trust stories. This is the story about the Frog Prince; but, unlike the popular Disney-like version, it is not a magical kiss that transforms the frog.
In the older, Grimm Brothers’1 version, the story opens with the king’s youngest and most beautiful daughter weeping and wailing, lamenting the loss of her golden ball that has tumbled down into the depths of a well so deep that its bottom cannot even be seen. A frog, who happens to be by the well, offers to retrieve the ball if, and only if, the princess will agree to take the frog as her companion, to love him, to play with him, to let him eat with her at her royal table, and to sleep with him in her royal bed.
“Anything!” the princess cries. “Anything you wish!” But once the princess gets her golden ball back, she realizes what a mistake she has made. Without even a word of thanks, she leaves the frog in the forest by the well. “After all,” she thinks to herself as she turns on her heels and heads toward the palace, “a frog is no companion for a princess.” It takes the frog till the next day to hop to the palace and gain admittance. The princess then tells her father, the king, the story about the golden ball, the well, and the promise. And the king declares, “That which is promised must be performed! Now you must share your plate with this frog and take him into your bedchambers with you just as you promised.”
When alone with the frog in her royal bedchamber, the princess shudders and shrieks at the thought of sleeping with that horrible frog in her nice, clean bed, let alone kissing those cold, wet, slimy, green frog lips. When the frog threatens to call the king in to make the princess keep her promise, she is beside herself with rage. She picks up the frog and hurls him against the wall! As he falls to the floor, all at once the frog turns into a naked knight, a noble prince with beautiful, kind eyes. Once he is returned to his original human form, the prince explains to the princess that he was turned into a cold-blooded frog by an evil witch, and only the princess could break the spell. At long last, the spell is broken and they can go to his father’s kingdom together.
The Frog Prince story continues beyond the transfiguration of a frog to a prince. The Grimm Brothers’ story ends with the prince’s servant, faithful Henry, arriving at the palace with a magnificent carriage drawn by eight majestic white horses. Henry has come to transport the bride and groom home. As they are traveling the prince hears a strange creaking noise, and, concerned that one of the wheels of the carriage is breaking, draws the sound to the attention of his faithful servant. However, Henry replies,
The wheel does not break,
’Tis the band around my heart
That, to lessen its ache,
When I grieved for your sake,
I bound round my heart.
With the prince restored, betrothed, and returning to his father’s kingdom, faithful Henry’s heart is so full of joy that it breaks all the bands clean away.
Fairy tales are like dreams. They are filled with archetypal symbols. Every symbol reveals a key to some part of the psyche. The seemingly absurd and grotesque image of a frog being smashed against the wall represents the secret power of betrayal to transform consciousness, from frog consciousness to nobility. Notice how one’s noble true Self, the prince, has beautiful, kind eyes. How is it that betrayal can generate beauty and kindness? This is indeed a mystery. The princess’s betrayal of her promise to the frog and her rebellion against her father’s command are somehow part of the magic that releases the power of the wicked witch’s spell over the Frog Prince. The stakes are great for both the princess and the frog. The princess could suffer her father’s condemnation, ever to remain a little girl; the frog may never come to know his true form as a man; and, unbeknownst to the prince, his faithful servant’s heart may never be free.
Each one of us has a frog, a princess, and a faithful Henry within us (though we may tend to play one of these roles more frequently). In fairy tales, wicked witches and evil queens are symbolic of betrayal wounds inflicted by the mother, just as kings, sorcerers, and wizards represent the father. Many of us are under the spell of a wicked witch or cruel king and feel overpowered by a giant or ghost from our past.
Today’s spells and curses are cast in a variety of ways. Suffering through physical and verbal abuse or neglect, sexual or emotional incest, or any of the wide range of dysfunctional family patterns associated with alcoholism and drug abuse all evoke the experience of parental betrayal within a child’s psyche. Uncontrollable events like a war or national disaster, a death in the family, divorce, illness, accidents, sudden changes in residence, and even seemingly innocuous events can also fuel the betrayal fires within one’s experience.
Yet adult reactions to childhood wounds and re-wounding by our intimates are only half the story. Faithful Henry’s role in the Frog Prince’s transformation reminds us also that there is a faithful companion who follows us through life, though we are unaware of him. As we unify with our true Self, this faithful companion becomes known to us and helps us “return to the father’s kingdom”-symbolizing the spiritual nature of this psychological journey from betrayal to trust. The rewards of psychospiritual transformation are well worth the price. Faithful Henry’s example shows us that our hearts can be truly free. Betrayal is a sacred event that has the power to transport us into a deeper spiritual truth that brings joy to the heart.
Like the prince who was turned into a frog and forced to leave his father’s kingdom, or the princess who is alone at the well, lamenting the loss of her golden ball, betrayal is attended by feelings of isolation, alienation, rejection, and loneliness. Some of the tests and trials in the Frog Prince story echo the challenges of betrayal that often we feel as well: the princess was required to live with a frog-eat with it, sleep with it, keep it as a companion. And the prince who lost his human form through no fault of his own, suffers rejection at the well and is flung against the wall for being a frog. However, as a result of knowing each other, both princess and frog change radically-into a bride in her full authority and a beautiful, naked knight. We were also transformed as we learn more about ourselves and each other. Understanding and integrating the mystery of betrayal is an essential part of the story.
Fairy tales like the Frog Prince story follow an archetypal pattern of growth and change found in ancient and indigenous cross-cultural rites of initiation. Initiatory rites of passage may show us how to find our way through the pain, separation, alienation, and shock of betrayal to feel fully alive again. We start by looking at the experience of betrayal as a sacred event in our lives that has the power to initiate a personal spiritual awakening. Like initiates through the ages, we can train ourselves to recognize and respond to five distinct stages of initiation: Separation, Purification, Symbolic Death, New Knowledge and Rebirth.
Betrayal always initiates experiences of separation, isolation, or rejection. Alone at the well, the princess meets her initiator and is transformed from the innocent, beautiful, youngest daughter of the king into a woman of royalty with the authority to make her own decisions. At first, the princess mourns the loss of her golden ball that has fallen into a well so deep that she cannot see the bottom. This well symbolizes the core of her being, while the golden ball represents her brilliance-that is, Self-awareness. Before she gets her ball back, the princess is still the innocent, beautiful youngest daughter. In her naiveté, she willingly promises to give the frog anything in return for retrieving her ball. After the ball surfaces from the depths of the sacred well, the princess is changed. She becomes Self-aware. She can now stand up to her father, the king, and take a prince for a companion instead of a frog.
Once our consciousness reaches these depths, we are transformed. When our golden ball of consciousness is returned to us-even if it is returned by a frog-we are irrevocably altered. The emotional ordeals of the betrayal-to-trust initiation reveal your true Self. Within your heart, at the very core of your being, is a truth you can trust. It was the princess’s coeurage (coeur is French for “heart”) that allowed her to defy her father and take on the role of divine initiator in her relationship to the Frog Prince. The violent shock of rejection delivered by the princess to the frog when she threw him against the wall was the initiatory ordeal that provoked the frog’s transformation into a prince.
Some of us get smashed against walls, and some of us touch what feel like bottomless depths. These are examples of the emotional ordeals that attend the rites of purification. Betrayer and betrayed serve a deeper mystery that purifies them both, just as the frog and the princess were intrinsic to each other’s transformation of consciousness.
Through the relationship between the initiator and initiated, the betrayer and betrayed, consciousness is purified, transfigured, and altered. This profound change in consciousness is represented by the death phase of initiation. Though the death is symbolic, its impact on consciousness is irrevocable and complete. The frog did not die when he hit the wall. Yet the impact of hitting the wall destroyed the frog form and revealed a prince with beautiful, kind eyes.
The delivery of a spiritual teaching that brings meaning to the test or ordeal characterizes the new-knowledge phase of initiation. The appearance of faithful Henry at the end of the tale indicates the presence of someone who can help the princess and prince integrate the spiritual teaching. In traditional societies, the elders help the initiate understand the meaning or purpose of the initiatory ordeals, and they explain the value and use of one’s newly found gifts. For example, menstruating girls are initiated into the blood mysteries and are taught the meaning of the life cycle by the older women in the clan. In advanced initiation rites, knowledge is primarily received intuitively from inner sources.
Faithful Henry, whose heart breaks free of its restricting bands, depicts the secret teaching that brings new knowledge, and illuminates the mystery of the betrayal-to-trust initiation. Heart knowledge is intuitive knowledge. The mystery that allows you to break through the defenses of your past requires that you recognize that those old ways of being, which you developed to cope with your earlier betrayal wounds, are like the constricting bands that kept Henry’s heart from breaking. Our defenses keep our hearts from breaking, but they restrict us and prevent our growth and expansion into the joy of Self-deliverance. Henry reminds us that we will be delivered, that we will return to the father’s kingdom. In this journey, the truth within our heart guides the way home to our Source.
Frequently, the death-rebirth cycle of initiation demands that the initiate demonstrate his or her newly found gifts and knowledge, or die.
After she regains her golden ball and returns to the palace, the princess demonstrates her own authority when she challenges her father.
She is no longer a child who must be told what to do. She takes a stand contrary to her father’s expectations, showing that death-rebirth transitions teach the initiate to release any past prohibitions or personal inhibitions that might block one from accessing and implementing one’s new talents.
Rebirth, the final phase of initiation, defines the process of return. Rebirth brings the individual back to life and back to one’s community to fulfill a new role within that community. In puberty rites, girls become women, and boys become men. In the Frog Prince story, the prince returns to his father’s kingdom, not as a prince or as a frog, but as a groom betrothed to a mature, self-confident woman. In traditional societies, not only does the individual gain personal fulfillment from their new, adult roles, but the whole community benefits from the added contributions of the individual. His or her life becomes a demonstration of the spiritual teaching received during initiation, and the community is strengthened by the individual’s new level of involvement in communal life.
There is no direct experience of reality without interpretation; and all interpretation is distorted by the cultural and personal prejudices or prejudgements of the interpreter.
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