I was listening to Insight Timer, one evening, several weeks ago and decided to have a story read to me so that I could go to sleep. Generally, I put the volume down, very low, and I drift off into slumber land. I choose the tales of young girls or older women whether old fables or new ones. On this particular evening, I saw the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I had not heard this story in a very long time and so I decided to listen. I also liked the name of the reader “Glenda Cedarleaf,” which sounded like a nice fairy tale name. Glenda is the good witch from the Wizard of Oz and leaves from a cedar tree sounded equally comforting to me. I did not turn the volume down though. Instead, I decided to turn it up and listen to the entire story. Within moments, I realized why. The story she had condensed and revised suddenly had me thinking of all the symbols and what they might mean. I knew immediately that this was a story about a narcissistic mother (queen) and her vulnerable little daughter who became her scapegoat (Snow White). I decided to contact Glenda for the story so that I could do an interpretation here for you. Thankfully, she was more than happy to allow me to do this and now I will present my thoughts here for you today.
We start out with this story where the queen is sitting by her window sewing. She mentions that the window is made of black ebony wood. Already, the authors (Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm) are foreshadowing in the first sentence that the queen will be a dark and hardened woman. She is then distracted by the snow or is she dissociating? Either way, she is triggered in some way by this cold weather and it causes her to prick her finger with the needle. Three drops of blood fall onto the ground. Three can signify the holy trinity but also the three phases of womanhood Persephone, Demeter and Hecate – also foreshadowing. This story is about a Persephone stage (Snow White) and Demeter (her mother the queen). Hecate will be the future for both of them at the end of the story; once they are transformed into what we can presume will be their final stages. Hecate is also represented when the queen shape shifts into an old witch to manipulate Snow White. More on that later. In numerology, the number three can represent creative expression or self-expression as the queen mother requests a little girl; she asks for this birth to occur. The story says that she “thought,” this but in essence, she is putting it out into the universe; what she would like to happen.
Blood is necessary for birth to happen. A woman must have her menstrual cycles in order to have children. When you look at the first paragraph of this story, you will see the Grimm brother’s are speaking metaphorically about these things but since the story is for children, they must be tactful and discreet in what they are saying. Three drops of blood [are self-expressed] onto the snow. Metaphorically she is having sex and requesting a girl child to be pro-created from this union. In Wicca, they would say this was sex magic.
She asks for a daughter who is white like the snow, red as blood and as black as the ebony wood. Snow White was the nickname she was given at birth. The phrase “Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it,” comes to mind. She is asking for a daughter who is pure (white) and healthy (red for menstruation) and strong with dark hair (black like her mother and strong like the wood). A different meaning than earlier because of the way it is presented.
On a daily basis, this queen summoned her mirror, much like Narcissus goes to the pond and looks in at his reflection. The queen is in need of self-soothing on a daily basis as she becomes older and more insecure as time goes on. We find that in seven years after Snow White’s birth (the number seven is here again). A transition has now occurred or a spiritual rebirth is about to occur as the queen learns that her daughter is much more beautiful than she. This is a test for the queen to conquer and like in most stories about kings and queens, power reigns. The queen becomes jealous and sets out to destroy her daughter.
In a narcissistic household, the mother sets a trap for her daughter at birth by robbing her of sense of self through subtle manipulation. The child learns early on that mother’s needs are of most importance. The child backs off and forgets her own needs and wants as she pays homage to her parent. The parent needs the child for her own self-importance because the child is symbolic of achievement. Mother has achieved something great by giving birth, she has accomplished what is necessary for this role. As the little child grows, she will learn to do the right thing for her mother: obey her instructions. The mother’s needs are satiated when her daughter follows her mother’s prompting. Once she rebels, mother will begin to turn away and be at war with her daughter.
The mirror signifies rebelliousness. The mirror is self-reflection. It is a test for the queen to realize her own awareness. But, as narcissists have no self-awareness, the queen externalizes this pain by pushing it away. Her jealousy toward Snow White is this externalization. Snow White’s beauty, more than her own mother, is an awareness that the queen does not wish to accept. Snow White is forced to go on the run.
As Snow White runs through the forest – or a maze of trees, an area that is foreign to her as she has never been here before. There are sharp stones and thorns that she steps on. These are obstacles that foreshadow the challenges she will now meet at the hands of her mother.
When a young girl is going through puberty, this is when it is possible for a strong woman to begin to emerge. While a child in the early stage of growth (elementary school age) is in the “concrete operations” stage, according to Piaget’s stages of development, everything is black or white. They believe whatever their parent tells them. Thus, they are dependent on the mother, the narcissistic mother is grateful for this. In puberty, the child expands their consciousness in early adolescence and is in the hypothetico deductive reasoning process. Now, the world is not so concrete as the pubescent child is questioning life and looking at different sides of their reality.
Snow White is only seven though, as far as we know, and still very vulnerable and gullible. She believes her mother might harm her and runs away into the forest, which is presumably behind the castle. Just as the day is slipping away she is able to sight a home in the distance where seven little people (dwarfs) live. The little people, fairies, dwarfs, are often magical people with many stories about how they can take you into the underworld. Seven, as I mentioned earlier, is a spiritual number. She is in the Persephone stage of being a woman and is now about to enter another realm. Going down into a little world that is unknown to her even more so than the forest. Like with Alice in Wonderland, the child Snow White eats the food on the little plates and it causes her to feel tired and sleepy. She drifts off into a sleep. It takes her seven beds before she finds the right one. She is questioning herself and in the beginning of her transformation process, she is starting to examine her needs and wants. She is hungry, so she eats. In a castle, this would have been determined for her by her mother. She needs to survive now, as she is all alone. In this story, Snow White is showing us she is emotionally intelligent; she is quickly summoning self-awareness. In the past seven years or so, it would have been mother’s awareness. She is even able to consider which bed is the most comfortable for her. In the past she would have slept on what she was given. Independence is being asserted.
The dwarfs come home and begin to question the scene in front of them. Instinctively they know something is amiss and ask each other about this. The seventh dwarf signals the presence of Snow White, sleeping in his bed.
As an aside, I am realizing that it would be more appropriate for Snow White, a young girl, to be in a dwarf’s home rather than a home of men of normal size. It would be more acceptable for little people to house her than big tall men as we might fear for her safety as a reader. Imagine seven able bodied men finding a young girl in one of their beds. A little different picture there. Young girls could be married off but in a man’s bed would signify promiscuity and ruin her reputation such that she would never find a man. As she is a bigger girl than they, we don’t worry so much for her. They are smaller and handicapped so we would think their vulnerability and her own would match up in character. In other words, she is safe. “Birds of a feather.” She is like them rather then of a different sex.
The dwarfs accepted Snow White because they saw a mother in her. They were in need of someone to care for them because they had no one to do this while they were hard at work all day. They made her an assistant to them as they were still the boss. They were still aware that she was vulnerable, more so then they. They worried about her mother coming to get her still and warned her to stay inside. Here they are her protectors. Are they hidden there too? Why do they mine for gold? Is this a way out of their little hovel hidden in the woods? Perhaps they are peasants digging for their queen?
Meanwhile, the queen is realizing that her daughter is still alive, thanks to the mirror. The mirror now tells us that the seven dwarves live beyond seven mountains. Now the numbers 7, 7, 7 have come into play, in this story or triple seven which in a casino would make one very lucky. However, here, they come one at a time. Hecate comes into play when the queen devises a plan to dress like an old woman and manipulate her daughter.
The narcissist can take on different disguises. The mother might have mood swings, she might pout or cry. The mother will criticize and ridicule your every step. If you don’t do what she wants, you will get the silent treatment. She will give you mixed messages. The old woman says “You are not laced up properly,” but her face says something else or her behaviors might indicate another story. Snow White believes her however, as she is naive. Her statements are overshadowed by her actions. Ultimately, you must do as the narcissists bids or you will pay somehow.
The queen wants her daughter dead. She devises three separate plots, but the dwarves come to Snow White’s rescue each time. First, she ties her laces so tight, Snow White cannot breathe (sucks out her air – face would turn blue instead of being white). Then she uses a poisoned comb (a chemical substance reacting to her hair – black as the ebony wood hair). The third trick was the red blood apple that Snow White would bite into. Now we have come full circle. The queen asked for a little girl, at the beginning of the story, who would be white like the snow, black like the ebony wood in her window, and red like blood. She asked for this and now she sees what happens from this need and suddenly wants to get rid of it.
Often, we are given tests in life that we do not like. We are always questioning these tests. Why me? It never occurs to us that this was what we asked for. Not unless we are able to transform from this test into a better person. If we take up the gauntlet and run with it. This is the difference between an emotionally intelligent or resilient person vs. a very challenged person mentally. The queen is very challenged mentally as a person with narcissistic personality disorder. It is often very difficult, as a psychotherapist, to work with any personality disorder because the issue is always someone else’s fault. They lack in self-awareness.
The religious leader will expect a novitiate to seek them out three times before they will believe them; that they are truly on a quest for enlightenment. The queen is being used by Snow White’s higher power, whatever her belief might be in this metaphorical world to test her, just as the queen is also being tested. On the third time, Snow White resists three times; the third time by allowing the transaction to take place through the window, rather than allowing the witch in. She eats this and then “dies.”
When Snow White eats the blood red apple piece, she falls to the ground. She had fallen to the ground every single time and the dwarves come home to find her there. The first two times they could rescue her, the third time is more of a challenge. The tests are becoming more difficult to pass. This time she really is “dead” and so the dwarves mourn her dutifully for three days. She is not put into the ground though. Instead, she is laid out in a glass coffin for them to continue viewing her.
Now, for the dwarves, this is a stage of denial in the grief process. They don’t want to believe she is dead and they pay homage to her. The seven dwarves do not want to have closure and are unable to let her go. To put her somewhere where they cannot see her.
Snow White is in a state of unconsciousness. She is dead or what she once was; no longer exists. She is on this resting place – the coffin, waiting to be transformed. In a cocoon, like a caterpillar, waiting to emerge into a butterfly.
A prince comes along, the “Knight in Shining Armor.” The yin and yang are brought together, the masculine and feminine merge. However, there is a delay in this process because the prince is not ready yet consciously, to take a wife – we can presume, otherwise Snow White would be available right now. Instead, he must undergo lessons before the two of them can be brought together. He couldn’t be without her. This obsession for her beauty took over him. He would not be able to eat without her presence. There was something about her that made him feel he needed her. Her beauty was merely a symbolic attraction. They were perhaps soul mates and thus, he needed to recognize his mate in this lifetime and so her beauty was that bait.
The servants of the prince take matters into their own hands because they don’t want to do the work that seems beneath them. Carrying this load is an extra burden. A lesson in labor that they do not wish to undertake. They pull Snow White from the coffin and take their anger out on her by beating her back. They can’t look her in the face themselves it seems. To their surprise, she comes to life as a result of this assault on her body. Once again, it is the handicapped people (this time the poor) who protect this princess. Like the dwarves, they have now brought her to life for the third time. From the depths of despair comes life or a renewed sense of being.
Like a phoenix from the ashes, they may defeat you, burn you, insult you, injure you, and abandon you. But they will not, shall not, and cannot destroy you, an anonymous saying. Or, as Nietzsche said, that which does not kill us, makes us stronger.
Snow White emerges from unconsciousness and sees the light again for the first time in who knows how long. The prince is overjoyed that she is now “awake,” and now he is ready to take her as a bride. Would he have wanted her if she was simply handed over to him? This test of love might have been what he needed; to want her even more. To not take her for granted.
The mirror now tells the queen that another new queen is the most beautiful of all and the queen is desperate to see who this person is. She realizes it is her own daughter. She is able to see Snow White as a person now. Snow White has conquered all the challenges, has stood the test of time and has stood up to her mother’s narcissism. Unfortunately, her mother’s ego is so great that she dies on the spot. She sheds her body on the floor. Death of the ego. The mother is no longer in control and only exists in spirit; as a memory. The child has detached herself from the mother and individuated. She has gone past the stage of being Persephone, the virgin, the naïve one and is in the role of Demeter, the mother and wife. She is her own mother. She is the wife of that man who protected her or the balance of the yin and yang. The union of two souls brought together.
Now Snow White has many reasons to be grateful for her protectors along the way. She will not take her husband for granted and will always remember his faith in her, his homage to her. She remembered the dwarves as well by honoring them for their gifts to her. She has achieved enlightenment. The marriage of the two souls, the anima/animus has opened into a state of harmony. There is no ego, only love and wisdom. Paradise on the other side of pain, conflict, and challenge.
**Thank you to Glenda Cedearleaf MSW and Clinical Hypnotherapist from North Carolina. She condensed and revised the story Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, written by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (1812) and taken from “Children’s and Household Tales.” Glenda reads this story on Insight Timer (an app you can download for meditation). I used her version to create this interpretation of symbols.