The Double Coniunctio Tales.
I. Interpreting fairy tales
The interpretation of fairy tales has been a part of the Jungian treasure box from Jung’s lifetime, most of all because in fairy tales, we have access to the possibility of using them to help foster the understanding and development of a symbolic attitude. Fairy tales describe psychological processes in a symbolic form. They can be used to understand life processes that have gone stale, and fairy tale patterns can be used as a way to renew them. Many modern Jungians have tried out their theoretical ideas by applying them to fairy tales in one way or another. In many Jungian training programs, the candidates are asked to write essays involving the interpretation of fairy tales, so it is important that we have a frame that can act as a guide when an interpretation is most needed. Traditionally, one would look to Marie Louise von Franz, who introduced the classical Jungian method for interpreting fairy tales. Von Franz (1995) recommended counting the number of persons and their gender in the beginning and in the end of the fairytale; to identify motifs and archetypal images and to pay attention to the meaning of all the symbols in their context. Finally, she found it important to compare one fairy tale with similar fairy tales.
II. Structuring fairy tales
I continue to find her framework very useful. However, I would like to offer you another way of structuring the fairy tales. While several Jungians have discussed other aspects of fairy tales, no one has discussed structure since Von Franz. She used Aristotle’s’ dramaturgic model for the Greek tragedy; that is a setting of the stage, one or more complications, a turning point and a lysis. I believe that fairy tales are more narrative than dramatic in their structure. This is because their origins are in an oral tradition, while the classical theatre has a literary tradition. I have been looking for a sequential, structural pattern in the narratives, and what I have found fits a large number of fairy tales. (Skogemann, 1998).
II. The Double Coniunctio Tales
The model has 2×4 sequences, both ending with a Coniunctio. The structuring is like the syntactic grammar of a sentence; the sequences appear in a definite order as sections of the narrative. Donald Kalsched (1996, p. 146ff) also speaks about two Coniunctio’s in fairy tales, but his intention is different from mine, as he is looking for specific examples of how a traumatized ego is healed, and not for a general structure pattern in fairy tales as such. Not all fairy tale-egos are traumatized, and not all of Kalsched’s examples involve two Coniunctio’s in the way I use the term. Just as we distinguish little dreams from big dreams, I think we also can distinguish “little” fairy tales from “big” fairy tales. Little fairy tales can have many facets; some are for children, some are just meant to be funny or frightening or even obscene, and then there is the large group of One Coniunctio tales with 4 sequences and Double Coniunctio tales with 8 sequences. The Double Coniunctio pattern exists as long back as Amor and Psyche and it appears in a great number of fairy tales. In my opinion, only this latter group should be thought of as big fairy tales, in that they describe an individuation pattern in the classical Jungian sense.
III. The 8-sequence model
This is usually about the parents of the hero(ine); indicating their problems, often also some information of the conception, the birth and childhood events. This background is what shapes the pattern of the hero(ine)’s life. The background sequence can be very long and detailed or very short, like a message just mentioning a stepmother.
2. Outward impulse
This is the impulse which initiates the development of the hero(ine). It is a longing that leads away from home, and more or less hidden in it is the longing for the unknown other. It happens to a young person, typically 15 years old, if an age is mentioned.
To this sequence belongs the journey out in the world. If the previous stage was determined by an impulse, a wish, a longing or a dream, we see in this sequence the doings of an active ego. This is the first detachment from the parental world.
4. First Coniunctio
What happens here is the erotic encounter with the other sex. Often it happens in an illegitimate way: maybe the parents don’t know about it, and even if a marriage takes place, the marriage will have to be repeated at the second Coniunctio at the end. The couple’s relationship is still shrouded in a cloud of projections.
The encounter of the couple, or their living together; sometimes they even have children together, is followed by some kind of regressive crisis. Maybe one of the couple is longing to see their home again; they visit the parents and receive advice which provokes a separation. Or another common motive: the mother-in-law or the stepmother interferes in various destructive ways, also resulting in a separation.
6. Isolation and loss
The separation makes the abandoned lover conscious of her or his love and initiates a search for the lost love. Often there are long wanderings and severe trials and humiliations, but also helpful meetings and magical devices, before the seeker again comes close to the lover.
7. Achievement and victory
The difficulties are not over yet. Though the lover is found and is close, he/she is often about to marry another. The lover has to recognize their true partner and so see through any disguise. The lover has to show that he/she reciprocates this love and chooses the other. There is also often a final resolution of the negative parental complex.
8. The Second Coniunctio
The Couple marry or remarry, this happy ending is standard. The essential thing is that their union is on new and on mutual terms. It is a symbol of a successful individuation pattern. In his latest work (2013, p. 310), Donald Kalsched offers an interpretation of The Woman without Hands where our two approaches actually coincide: “The first marriage was a rescue from without – what alchemy describes as a lesser Coniunctio…The second marriage is a true wedding of equals on the common ground of each partner’s wholeness. The new union is what alchemy describes as the greater Coniunctio”.
IV. Defining the method for structuring the Double Coniunctio Tales
A: The two Coniunctio’s are the most important of the eight, and the first to look for, while a few of the others might be missing and the tale still belonging to this group. All such tales are rich tales, describing patterns of individuation. I should add that folklore research has proved that the primary audience of such tales was adults, not children (Skogemann, 1998, p. 15).
B: The main character is seen as an archetypal ego-model and is followed through the fairy tale as one would a person, whether it is male or female. The lover is the secondary main character.
C: The model allows for different ways to be feminine or masculine. Just as the male main character is seen as an archetypal ego, so is the female. Female agency is seen as natural in a woman’s psyche just as empathic qualities in a man are natural too. If one of the lovers, male or female, is the more active one, the other tends to be more passive. In any case, the one who initially is the active one is usually the passive one after the first Coniunctio.
D: When the process involving this structure is complete, interpretation can be carried through guided by the structure. For the interpretation it is important to evaluate the maturity of the ego versus the degree of initial traumatization.
E: Other Jungian approaches of interpretation can then be added, such as specific symbolic/archetypal themes (Jung, 1945), comparing with other variants (Von Franz, 1995) or/and specific clinical themes (Asper, 1987, Kast, 1993, Kalsched, 1996; 2013, Dieckmann, 1997). It is important to note that the structuring is not in itself a full interpretation.
V. An Example of a Danish Fairy Tale, published in 1881
The Prince’s plumage.
There was once a princess who was in love, but this her stepmother did not like. She said to the King that she was afraid that her boyfriend would seduce her. The King then decided to build a house for the princess on a small island in the sea, and they would make a pontoon bridge to go over to visit her. When it was taken ashore, neither her boyfriend nor anyone else could come over to her. She came out there just with a maid to serve her. The Queen’s own daughter, however, was to remain in the castle. But soon the princess’s sweetheart got wind of her whereabouts, and he had wings made, and then he flew out to her as often as they both liked.
Whenever the stepmother visited the princess, she was still happy and cheerful, and the stepmother suspected the reason for this. She sent the stepsister out on the island to spy on her. She soon heard how the princess’ sweetheart came flying and bashed against the windows.
Of course she told her mother, and they wanted to put an end to the visits. The stepsister was sent out again, this time with a knife. She was going to bruise the lover’s wings so that he would fall into the sea and drown. But the princess was alert, and when her lover came and her sister cut the wings with her knife, she took hold of him, so he did not fall. They tried to repair the wings, so he could get away. But the worst thing was that they could never speak a word together, without her sister hearing it.
Because the wings had been damaged, he was not sure he could make it back across the sea. But he would give the princess a sign: if he came over safely, the sea would be clear, but if he did not, it would be blood red.
He also gave her three rings, one for her waist, and one for her arm and the third for her finger. They were designed so that when he became betrothed to a new girlfriend, the ring around her waist would break. When he ate with her, the ring around her arm would break, and when he danced with the new girlfriend, the ring on her finger would break. The stepsister had heard the thing about the sea being blood red, and when she came home to her mother, they busied themselves slaughtering animals. They filled an entire tub with blood which they poured into the sea below the princess’s windows. The wanted her to believe that her lover had drowned.
The princess saw the blood, but she was not sure that he had in fact drowned. It could well be treason, she thought. She spoke with her maid about it, and they planned to give a feast for her parents and half-sister. And so they did. The guests came and the princess gave them a lot to drink and eat, and she acted in a most charming and cheerful way, while the maid packed their belongings. When the princess saw that the guests had become somewhat merry, she and the maid sneaked out onto the floating bridge and over it. And then they took it ashore, and let the others remain on the island. Maybe they are still sitting there.
Now they changed clothes and put on men’s clothes, and then they went to the castle, where her lover came from, and they pretended to be marksmen. It turned out that her lover was betrothed and soon to be wed. For the feast they needed much game and had good use for marksmen. The princess and her maid were hired and went out hunting. They always had good luck, and some said that they must be female marksmen, since they had such luck. This should be tested. They would sprinkle peas on the stairs up to the chamber where the marksmen were sleeping. When they stepped on them and stumbled, they would flinch and scream if they were women, but if they were men, they would just run on. A little boy heard what was agreed, and he went and told them that people thought they were female marksmen. “But you can always take your slippers in your hand and run barefoot” he said. “Then you will not stumble.” They thanked the boy and did as he had said. So they were not found out
When the day of the wedding came, the ring that the princess had around her waist broke. As they sat down to eat, the ring on her arm broke and fell into the bridegroom’s plate. He grabbed it and said, “This is mine”. When they began to dance, the ring on her finger broke. This one she wanted to keep, but it broke just at the moment when the princess, still in a marksman’s clothes, danced his girlfriend over to him, and then he recognized her. He told everyone that the princess was his former betrothed. He said goodbye to the other woman, and then he married the princess and they lived gloriously and well.
VI. Structuring and a short interpretation.
As my main interest here is to demonstrate the method of structuring and its implications, I will not go deeply into the symbolic interpretations. Along the way I will compare this tale with Cinderella, a fairy tale so well known that I assume you will be able to follow even without a resume. You will then see how the same structure can be applied to very different tales.
In this fairy tale there is no background story explicitly told, other than the fact that there is a stepmother and a stepsister. From this it can be inferred that the princess’ mother is dead. – The background section can be very long and often is.
In Cinderella we are told in detail how the mother became ill and made Cinderella promise always to be good and tender, and how the father married again, and how the two stepsisters mobbed Cinderella. We are also told, how the father went to market and offered to bring presents home for the girls, and how Cinderella asked for a hazel branch and planted it on her mother’s grave, watered it with her tears until it grew high and a white bird sat in the branches, so when she uttered a wish for something, it would drop it down to her.
2. Outward impulse
Falling in love is a mighty outward impulse. This is the actual beginning of this narrative. The stepmother does not like it, and probably wants to prevent the prince proposing to the princess, because she wants her own daughter to be the object of his desire. In Cinderella the outward impulse appears with her wish to go to the Ball at the castle, with the purpose of winning the prince. This is denied by the stepmother who appears quite sadistic when she promises Cinderella she may go if she solves this and that impossible task – but when she does complete them, she is still scornfully denied her wish to go.
The princess is send away to live by herself on the island with only a maid. The stepmother thinks she controls the access to the princess. But in reality, the princess wins much more freedom than she would have had remaining in her father’s home. Cinderella gets the fantastic dresses from the bird in her magical hazel tree and goes to the ball and returns home in secret.
4. First Coniunctio
The prince soon comes to her in a bird’s disguise. Using a bird’s plumage as a mean of transport is frequent in Scandinavian Mythology and folk lore. Freya, the Love Goddess, was known to use one, and she could lend it to other gods. Clearly, the love affair is now realized, but in an illegitimate way.
In Cinderella, this sequence is covered by the three balls, where the prince only dances with her and claims her to be “my lady”.
A number of fairy tales simply end with the first Coniunctio and marriage straight away. In those instances it usually makes good sense to see the core issue as relating to (one of) the parents and their background – not yet in the more mature relationship to a partner. One might also say that the first four sequences are about growing up, while the next four of the eight sequences involve the anima/animus and the withdrawal of projections and the maturation of the relationship to the Self and Other – that is individuation in the classical Jungian sense.
A well-known example of a one Coniunctio tale is Briar Rose. The background sequence takes up the first half of the tale, explaining the queen’s difficulties in conceiving; then the terrible anger of the 13th non-invited wise-woman casting a death-spell on the little girl that is only partly averted by the last wise-woman. The outward impulse makes the princess explore the whole castle when she is alone for the first time at the age of fifteen. Here, she meets the old woman, pricks her finger on the spindle and falls under the 100-year spell of sleep. When the 100 years are over, a prince walks right through the hedge, finds her and kisses her, and they marry.
Among feminists (for example Rowe, 1986), fairy tales have acquired quite a negative reputation, mainly because the most well-known fairy tale heroines such as Briar Rose, Little Red Riding Hood and Snow White are so childlike and passive. This is really not a fault of the fairy tales as such, but rather the selection and editing, especially by the Grimm Brothers.
The stepsister is so close that she can hear every word they say to each other, we are told. We could easily interpret the stepsister as a shadow part of the princess – meaning that a lover’s quarrel is separating the couple, so that he leaves, in pain from his damaged wing. If the relationship is to continue, some projections have to be taken back, and both partners must commit to each other on a deeper level. The regression that is always involved in this sequence must not be viewed from a causal point of view, but from a final point of view. According to Jung (CW 8, par. 43) with “the concept of finality causes are understood as means to an end.”
In Cinderella there is no separate crisis-sequence. The lovers are already separated – at the end of each Ball at the castle, Cinderella runs away and hide in the ashes in the kitchen.
6. Loss and Isolation
The stepmother and –sister try to make the princess believe that her sweetheart is dead. However, she does not believe it. Instead, she tricks the family into drinking too much and simply leaves them behind on the isolated island. This is a heroine who, unlike Cinderella, is not always good and tender.
Ashore, the princess and her maid take on a male disguise as marksmen. When in fairy tales, the heroine is about to do something out of her traditional gender role, she will often put on men’s clothes; this is not about identifying with the animus. When the two young women arrive at the prince’s castle, it is only to learn that he is about to marry another woman. This is a very common motif; in many instances, the prince is even under a spell, as in the Beauty and the Beast variants. So, the princess has to keep up the male disguise, shooting game and biding her time.
We see here an example of the point I made at the beginning of the paper – here the prince was the active one in the first part of the tale, and now the situation is reversed; the princess has shown strong self-agency by outwitting the stepmother and finding him.
In Cinderella, she was the – relatively – active one in the first part of the narrative using all her resources to meet the prince and win him. Now she has to wait in silence while he is looking for her, testing all the young ladies with her own lost shoe, even the stepsisters who cut their toe and heel to fit it.
The three magical rings that the prince has given her earlier, can only do their job in the last moment. At last when they dance – the princess still in male clothes – the finger ring breaks when she passes the fiancée on to the prince – and then he finally recognizes her. Magical rings can of course mean a lot of things, but in this case I think that they represent the feelings which the prince invested in the princess when they were together on the island. Now his feelings return to him, and he recognizes her as his true love.
Again, by comparison, in Cinderella, Cinderella’s prince recognizes her just after he sees that the shoe fits her.
8. Second Coniunctio
The prince explains to everybody that this was his original fiancée, and they marry. The false bride is sent home.
In Cinderella, the two stepsisters are severely punished after the wedding, and their eyes are picked out by the birds.
I hope I have demonstrated to you that my 8-sequence model works for very different fairy tales; one with a rather active and industrious heroine, and the other with a Cinderella as the ever good and tender heroine.
VII. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Applying my structure model to fairy tales that traditionally have been interpreted as individuation tales, will sometimes reveal that they are not. Snow White has had almost iconic status since Disney created the first animated film out of it in 1937. Helen M. Arnold submitted a Jungian interpretation with the subtitle A Symbolic Account of Human Development (1979). More recently, this view has been modified; Stephen Flynn published a paper on Snow White on The Jung Page (2005), in his opinion describing “the immature feminine psyche”. Jutta von Buchholtz, wrote a paper on www.jungatlanta.com (2007) entitled “She was quite a ninny, wasn’t she?” – A ninny being a very stupid person.
If we apply the model I have developed here, it can throw a new light on Snow White and the seven Dwarfs as it is told in the Grimm version. The heroine is a child, just seven years old in most of the story. It seems that she becomes a young woman while seeming to be dead in the glass coffin. The motive of the glass coffin in my opinion shows a seriously traumatized ego, not an introverted individuation phase. There is only one Coniunctio – a marriage with a stranger
It is true that many real princesses in the history of Europe suffered a similar fate – being treated as non-persons until they were ready to breed, and then traded off to a marriage with some foreign prince. But this is not what we usually think of as an individuation pattern. However, in comparison with other versions of Snow White, I suspect that the Grimm brothers must take responsibility for some serious editorial distortion in the narrative pattern. In other – Danish – versions I have read, Snow White is a young woman, and she does have a relationship with the prince before she is chased out in the forest. In a couple of instances, she is even pregnant. Walt Disney casted the heroine into a very traditional gender role as a sweet girl only longing for true love, but as a teenager, not a child, and she and the prince meet in the beginning and fall in love with each other. In the end, the prince deliberately searches for her after freeing himself from the prison of the evil queen. I think Disney may have made these changes intuitively to create a more satisfactory narrative structure. That is, changes that make the narrative fit into the Double Coniunctio group
I hope that I have succeeded in demonstrating the relevance and helpfulness of applying a narrative structure to fairy tales. I can compare the structure model with a loom set up for weaving, and the individual fairy tale with the web. All kind of motives, colors and patterns may emerge from the same kind of loom; but they are bound to appear in a certain sequence, and they have a direction towards an aim. The model is connected with process, finality and maturation of relationship, not with plot or symbolic content. The model has clinical relevance, too; especially if you are already comfortable with the use of fairy tale and fairy tale motives in your therapy style. My own clinical approach is similar to what Dieckmann describes in Fairy-tales in psychotherapy (1997) – taking notes of fairy tale motives in dreams and fantasies, asking patients about their favorite fairy tale or even suggesting a fairy tale to read. In most of Dieckmann’s examples, however, the initial phase of the therapy coincides with a motive from the beginning of a fairy tale, i.e. the Background sequence. He does not address the later stages. What my model can add is help keeping track of the progress of therapeutic process; when fairy tale motives emerge later in the therapy they typically belong to one of the later parts in the narrative structure. And a regressive crisis in therapy could very well mark the beginning of an individuation process, corresponding with the crisis sequence.
- Asper, K.: The abandoned child within: on losing and regaining self-worth. Fromm International Publishing Corporation, 1993.
- Dieckmann, H.: Fairy Tales in psychotherapy (1997). Journal of Analytical Psychology, 42:2, 253-268.
- Jung, C. G.: The Phenomenology of the Spirit in Fairy Tales (1945). CW 9i, 384-455.
- Jung, C. G.: On Psychic Energy (1948). CW 8, 23.
- Kalsched, D.: The Inner World of Trauma. London and New York, Routledge, 1996.
- Kalsched, D.: Trauma and the Soul. London and New York, Routledge, 2013.
- Kast, V.: Through Emotions to Maturity: Psychological Readings of Fairy Tales. Fromm International Publishing Corporation, 1993.
- Rowe, Karen E.: Feminism and Fairy Tales. Don’t Bet on the Prince. New York, Routledge, 1986.
- Skogemann, P.: En Karl var min mor, en fisk var min far. Copenhagen, L & R Fakta, 1998.
- VonFranz, M-L: The Interpretation of Fairy Tales. Boston, revised Version, Shambala, 1995.