I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately; seems this time of year I’m especially susceptible to it and when that happens I look back in my journals for clues to what’s kicking me and advice on how to deal with it. I record my more bizarre or interesting dreams in my journal, and that’s what I was looking for, but recent dreams don’t usually reveal much because of our human tendency to psychological myopia. So I normally I look back a year or two and read the dreams I had during this season in the recent past. But this time, I don’t know why, I decided to go way back to February of 2002, which is a whopping thirteen years. It’s amazing what we tell ourselves that we don’t even notice. I discovered a fairy tale.
Much has been written on the dreamlike qualities of fairy tales and much ink has been spilled on the psychoanalysis of folk literature. I have always been suspicious that most folk tales have their origins in dreams, and are only embellished later with appropriate cultural references to make them interesting to a particular audience. Now I was sure I was onto something.
A Mid-Winter’s Dream
This is the dream I wrote down:
My family was dead and I had left my home, travelling as a poor beggar to escape detection since someone was after me. I had been sleeping under the stairs at a lodging house. Daniel was at a table with friends and they jokingly egged him on to approach me, which he did, and against my better judgment I had a conversation with him that revealed who I really was. After that he was extremely interested in my cause and wanted to help me. I got a bath and fresh clothes from him and we went to dinner where he tried to talk me out of continuing my journey as a beggar and kept offering to protect me. We were eating this soup that had bits of costume jewelry in it (some kind of novelty soup.) When I wasn’t looking he put a real gem in it and asked me to take the last bite of the soup. I pulled out a beautiful pendant of sapphire, deep blue, surrounded by small diamonds.
Now this dream doesn’t just sound like a fairy tale – it is a fairy tale! The Brothers Grimm recorded it as “Cat-skin” but it also appears in English folk tales and other places. What astonishes me is that I don’t think I was familiar with this story thirteen years ago. If for any reason I had heard or read this story around that time I would surely have recognized it and noted it in my journal. On the other hand, if I had heard the story in childhood and forgotten it (possible), it is still remarkable that it should reappear fully intact in a dream decades later. What was it telling me then and what is it telling me now?
The Girl In Tattered Furs
Well, in the classic folktale Cat-Skin the girl leaves home due to family problems. She dresses in animal skins (hence her name Cat-skin) and has a sooty face, and so disguised works as a servant in a kitchen where she sleeps in a crawl space under the stairs. She has lost her humanity. But of course the king in the castle orders soup and the cook allows Cat-skin to prepare it. It’s better than anything the king has ever tasted, but besides that, Cat-skin puts one of her bits of costly jewelry in the soup. The king asks her about this but she denies knowing anything about it. This happens, as it always does in fairy tales, three times. The third time the king is able to uncover Cat-skin’s disguise and realizes she is a beautiful princess, and of course they marry.
Fairy tales aren’t about everyday life, of course. They speak to our inner lives. But it nonetheless provokes my thinking mind to ask, Why the heck did she keep giving her jewelry to the king when she was already a refugee and destitute, and then keep denying that she was doing it and lying to the king about it? What the heck is that all about?
Well, the Jungian interpretation of this story is simple: a young woman becomes a strong successful adult by learning to balance feminine and masculine qualities within herself. The prince or king in these stories is the Animus, the girl’s masculine aspect of her psyche. And she’s clearly the one wooing him in this story. As a nobody, she convinces him, however covertly and coyly, that she is a big somebody. But she is unconscious of her value, whereas he becomes very conscious of it and leads her to see it in herself by confronting her with this odd putting-jewelry-in-food behaviour. So this tale has something to do with how a young woman develops confidence in herself, learns to value herself.
In my dream version, the Animus quite rightly appears as Daniel, who is an imaginary boyfriend I invented when I was 14 and who still appears occasionally in dreams like this. But in my dream he’s the one who approaches me and I’m not sure I trust his motives.
Then I give him the soup only it has costume jewelry in it, not real gold and gem jewelry like in the folktale. I’m trying to rip him off I guess, and besides that, I don’t even realize that I’m the one who put in the soup. I claim it’s a sort of “novelty soup” by which I meant it’s like a King Cake or other ceremonial food where some ritual object is hidden in it. Whoever finds the object in the food becomes royalty for the day (That fits the fairy tale very well, actually, but strangely I fail to make the connection). Considering that I had this dream in February, the time of Candlemas parties and prepping for Mardi Gras, is probably also not a coincidence. The unconscious mind uses as many associations as possible when weaving a good story.
Lucky me, though, Daniel comes through and puts some real jewelry in the soup. Then we live happily ever after, I suppose. The gem he gives me is sapphire, long associated in world folklore with royalty and divine blessings and the higher powers.
So I think my dream was telling me I was weakened because I was a fake: my true, strong, noble self was hiding away while I presented a false and shaky self to the world. My Animus had to reach out and bring me back to authenticity and give me back my innate powers, but in real life that does take a lot of courage, at times.