METAPHORS THROUGH FAIRY TALES AND MYTHS
by
Toby Heathcotte and Betty Joy

(excerpted from Seeds for Fertile Minds:  Eight Curriculum Integration Tools)
c. 2000, Mardel Books


Universal Outcome

 The student will gain a greater awareness of our common humanity, seeing his or  her own lives as heroic.

Outcomes

 Identify the use of metaphor and allegory in literature and film
 Analyze fairy tales and myths for symbolic elements
 Make class presentation
 Create a personal myth

Background Material

     Have you ever noticed that it’s a whole lot easier to see the differences among people than it is to see what people have in common?  We spend  a lot of time noting differences...differences in skin color, customs, language, dress, religion, ability, and so on.  It’s easy to see differences because that’s the main tool we’ve all used in order to understand the world around us.  We note the differences in shape, sizes, and colors in every thing that makes up this world of ours.  For some reason, it takes a more sophisticated type of thinking to see what people have in common.  We have to get past all the surface differences in order to discover what is similar beneath.
     If someone were to ask what you have in common with every other human being who ever walked the earth, how would you respond?  Would you say, "Well, I have two eyes, two legs, two arms, one nose, one brain, one heart; I need oxygen in order to breathe; I need food and protection from the weather"?              Would all the similarities end with a statement of certain physical characteristics and needs, or are there other aspects of human beings that are also similar?
     Early in this century, a psychiatrist by the name of Carl Gustav Jung reasoned that, if people had physical characteristics in common, it was possible that certain aspects of people’s inward life would also be the same.  Jung was very interested in dreams, his own dreamlife and that of his patients. He noticed that certain symbols, that he called "archetypes," seemed to occur over and over again in dreams.
     Archetypes are original pictures in the minds of all people.  These pictures are such things as dragons, snakes, gods, goddesses, blinding lights, altars, thrones, kings, and princesses.  The archetypes are symbols for  fears, hopes, events, and ideals that all human beings share at a fundamental level.  People also seemed to dream about different events at different stages of their lives.  These events were such things as dying and coming back to life, killing monsters, saving people, climbing, searching and finding things.
     Jung was interested in dreams because he knew that dreams come from that part of the mind that is not available to conscious thought, the subconscious mind.  He was convinced that all the subconscious fears and desires of each individual are shared by all humans in every culture on earth.  He developed the idea that the whole human race somehow shares a universal soul with the archetypes as its dream images.
     Jung, and others who came after him, began to look at myths and fairy tales from around the world in a new way.  Here, again, it was found that they contain the same common themes that individual dreams have.  Is it possible that, all people having dreamed the same dreams, have created similar fairy tales and myths?  If this is true, what sorts of themes, symbols, and life stories should we look for in both our own dreams and our fairy tales and myths.
     These themes and symbols are called metaphors in our literature and films.  A popular fairy tale of our time that uses such metaphors is The Wizard of Oz,  the story of a little girl from Kansas, Dorothy, who gets carried off into the land of Oz by a tornado.   Dorothy and her dog Toto try to find their way back home to Kansas.  They hear of a wizard who can show them the way.
     On their way to find the wizard, Dorothy and Toto meet a scarecrow, a lion, and a tinman who begin to travel with them.  The scarecrow wants the wizard to give him brains.  The lion wants courage.  The tinman wants a heart.  Dorothy and Toto want to go home to Kansas.  A wicked witch tries to prevent the 5 travelers from reaching the wizard in his castle, but eventually they do arrive.
     From all appearances this is a child’s story or fairy tale of the physical events which happen to Dorothy and her friends.  Beneath these physical events, when we look closely, we see the metaphors for the different aspects of an individual who is seeking to develop his or her own potential.  Following are the metaphors we encounter in the story:
     Dorothy is every person...the seeker.
     The scarecrow is the intellect or brain.
     The lion represents the physical body.
     The tinman represents emotions.
     The witch is our limiting beliefs that keep us from achieving our goals.
     The wizard is the mind creating metaphors.
     The castle is every person’s potential.
     Toto is  Dorothy’s grounding in reality and gives her the knowledge that she isn’t dreaming.
     The entire story is an allegory of each of us as we strive to be all that we can be.  In order to reach our potential, we have to get the body, emotions, and intellect to work together in a harmonious way, rising above our limiting belief.  The mind must convince the body, emotions, and intellect to cooperate to achieve our potential.  Fears are our own beliefs projected onto reality; they limit our ability to achieve our potential if we allow them to.
     Each of the characters in the story is a metaphor that the author used to create an elaborate allegory of the path of the individual "down the yellow brick road of life."  Dorothy is the heroine of her journey.  In the same way, each of us is on a hero or heroine’s journey....down the yellow brick road.
 Joseph Campbell, our most noted researcher of myths, says that the legendary hero or heroine plays the same role that each individual does in life.  The legendary hero or heroine must perform various deeds of both a physical and spiritual nature.  These deeds or trials are designed to see if the hero or heroine can come into their highest potential or if they will give way to fear.  Thus, the hero’s journey is the evolutionary path of both the individual and humanity to full realization.
     If the individual is ready for the pitfalls and adventures in the journey of life, he or she becomes the mythical hero or heroine.  If not, he or she meets the dragons and monsters and becomes "stuck" in a self-serving existence with no change to blossom into full potential.  The hero often has to leave his own world to sacrifice himself for his people or an idea  and to come back with a message that will enlighten the people in his world.  There are 7 identifiable stages in the hero’s journey, which represent both the mythological and the psychological journey.  Not all myths and legends incorporate all 7 stages; some are about only 2 or 3 of the stages.
      Stage One:  The hero or heroine begins his or her adventure by being born.  Often the hero is born under mysterious or unusual circumstances, which set up the mission that the hero is to accomplish in his life.
     Stage Two:  This is childhood, and the child is aware of forces much larger than himself, which he cannot comprehend.  The child lives in a world of giants, some friendly and some cruel.  In order to get through this stage, the child needs help and protection from some powerful being or beings because he can’t make it on his own.  The stage continues into adolescence, where the hero or heroine must go through initiation rites or rites of passage into adulthood.  The teen years are a time for testing the individual’s courage, strength, wit, and masculinity or femininity.  The goal is to discover whether or not the individual has the "right stuff" to become a hero or heroine.
     Stage Three:  The initiated hero withdraws into himself and struggles inwardly with desire and fear, often represented mythically as the devil or temptation.  The hero discovers his connection to a "higher self" or power and gains the strength of character or spiritual sustenance for the trials that will accompany completion of his mission.
     Stage Four:  At this stage, the hero sets out to accomplish the mission for which he was born.  He begins his life work...to find something his society needs, to teach his people, to save his people from some danger, etc.  Life often deals him crushing blows and hardships; however, he continues the mission even in the face of death.  The greater the pain or the threat, the greater is the stature of the hero or heroine.
     Stage Five:  The hero confronts physical death, sometimes in battle against monsters or human enemies or unseen forces.  Sometimes his own people turn on him.  Sometimes he does not die but is tortured, dismembered, or disfigured.  At this time he returns to the mother earth, the underworld, or some other place for the agonies of doubt and  self-evaluation. This is a crucial stage as the hero must explore both the dark side of himself and his people.  He becomes a new being, moving beyond his old ideas.  He gains new understandings of himself and mankind.
     Stage Six:  The hero goes from death to life, either physically or metaphorically.  He rejoins mankind and is reunited with the natural world.  He has faced and overcome death and brings the message of renewal to his people.
     Stage Seven:  At this stage, which few myths or legends actually reach,  the hero asks his god to take him out of the physical world.  He often loses his status as a local hero and becomes a god-like figure to his people.  Psychologically, the hero has achieved freedom from fear and from the limitations of time and space.  He may even be carried off to heaven.

Suggested Activities

· View films or read stories such as The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, The Sword and the Stone, Robin Hood, King Arthur, or Cuchulain
· Choose and interpret a fairy tale for metaphorical elements.
· Present the findings of analysis to the whole class.
· Choose a hero and track the journey through as many stages as possible
· Write an adventure story or play of a hero’s journey.  The hero could be an historical person, someone the student admires, or the student him or herself.
 
 
 

To order Seeds for Fertile Minds, contact:

Mardel Books, 6145 W. Echo Lane, Glendale, AZ, 85302

Click to read about Toby Heathcotte

Betty Joy is now retired.  She writes and paints in the Arizona high country.
 

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