Applied Psychoanalysis > Fairy Tales

Psychoanalysis and Fairy Tales

By J Jones

A definition of the fairy tale should include the idea of artistic creation and also the one of aspiration of the human soul. Therefore, a collective aspiration which found a way of expressing itself through what we call fairy-tale (a form of written and oral literature).

Of course, another characteristic feature of fairy tale is its fantastic structure. In fairy tales we find supernatural beings and experiences. That's why fairy tale had among its functions one related to the pleasure of following stories in which the borders of the sensitive world are overreached.

Although, beyond its fantastic character we find aspirations without anything fantastic, shared by people (or by collective soul).

In the fairy tale Youth without Aged and Life without Death we find collective and individual aspirations. The hero's birth in this fairy tale brings about the messianic expectations of the people: people hoped to have an intelligent/enlighten ruler as Emperor Solomon.. But the hero doesn't taste the public life and chooses the search of immortality as the ideal of his ego.

The fairy tale explains us that at birth the child was crying in his mother's belly and that's why, in order to calm him, he was promised eternal youth and immortality.

At the age of adolescence, he refuses any social temptation and asks his parents to keep their promise. Thus he goes in search of this ideal, helped by the supernatural horse and by many other magic instances.

At first sight, the analysis of this fairy tale doesn't raise any difficulties - it is not about unconscious wishes, but about clear ideals.

But psychoanalysis doesn't linger on the level of the ego's analysis. It pierces through the crust of appearance and deepens in the investigation of the unconscious processes. There, in the depth of the unconscious mind it finds the resorts of the conscious world, of the motives consciously stated.

In our case, the hero's wish must be understood differently as relating to his refuse to grow up. The title of the fairy-tale may be also translated as it follows: "Forever Young". But what does this mean?

A life fixed at the first years level, when the child lives in osmosis with his mother, who offers him protection and food without asking nothing in exchange. His whole libido has as object his own body as a source of pleasure with the occasions of satisfying the organic needs and of exciting the erotogenic zones. At this level, sexuality is not yet genital. We have, thus, the preeminence of partial instincts.

All psychoanalysts do not, of course, admit this interpretation. Carl Jung would certainly reject it, accusing it of reductionism, and proposing a totally different one, in which the characters and the conflicts of the fairy tale are symbols of our (spiritual) inner development.


Jung states explicitly that fairy tales as well as myths are collectively elaborated fragments of some inner experiences which are alike in all respects with what he called individuation process.

King and Wolf as prima materia
The wolf as prima materia devours
the dead King; in the background:
the sublimation of
prima materia
and king's rebirth (click
here to enlarge)
Thus, to give a single example, the emperor in the fairy tales is not a substitute for father (as at Freud), but a symbol of Jungian's Self. This symbolic figure describes or personifies an autonomous complex of archetypal nature, which comes from the depths of the collective soul to get control over the subject's ego.

The symbol of the emperor is often used in alchemist literature where it gets various meanings. There, for example, it represents an ego incarnation which changes during the individuation process - in symbolic terms it dies in order to born again, renewed.

There is a picture published in the Jung's book Psychology and Alchemy showing this process (see it above) and bearing the following text: The wolf as prima materia devours the dead King; in the background: the sublimation of prima materia and the king's rebirth.

The king's rebirth - under the shape of the king's young son (placed in the background of the picture) - represents the Ego's rebirth that was restructured through the infusion of a new spirit-ghost. It is the crowning of the individuation process, when the ego integrates the contents of the archetypal unconscious.

Alchemical studies and experience don't take into account the fate o the psychological ego, meaning the person and his/her features that made everybody an individual. Thus, the King of the alchemical resurrection doesn't symbolized the ego but God or the spirit of God (ruah) according to the Christian religion. Therefore the aim of alchemical proceedings is the resurrection of God himself and his power/grace. Unfortunately, this concept is missing in the modern Christianity.

Translation by Nicoleta Onisoru


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