I recently heard a comedian claiming all fairytales were male-centric stories or “damsel’s in distress” like Sleeping Beauty. So I wondered, are our stories one-sided? I’ve found that the matriarchy is strong and robust in lore, as is the Heroic Feminine archetype, counterpart of the Heroic Masculine archetype. Consider Beauty and the Beast (I’ll use the latest movie.) and the stunning patterns revealed about heroism, psychology, failure, community, and self.
Summary: The Heroic Feminine
In this story, the self-aware, heroic feminine wisely deciphers between masculine archetypes (modes of organization) and rejects the group’s incorrect basic assumption that power, wealth, attractiveness, and dominant masculinity are the most desirable traits in a partner leader. She chooses to instead seek new information, represented as adventure, in the darkest place, the place she least understands. She then identifies the heroic spirit of a cursed, suffering beast and frees both him from his curse and her father from prison, twice. She creates a new king and births new life and way of being for the community.
Enlightenment by the Benevolent Father
People were once mostly slaves and serfs. Yet thinkers of the enlightenment proposed a new idea, that all men and women were equal and possessed equal value. A man who believed such things had a daughter. This daughter cost him the love of his life but raising her was his salvation. He gave her the tools and license to save herself through the gift of knowledge, and taught her discipline, reading, and thinking. This made her mind sharp, her eyes open, and her posture confident.
Authoritarian Male, and Collective Subservience
Naturally, she attracted the most handsome, powerful, admired, and wealthy man in the village. Although he relentlessly pursued her, she refused him. She did not blindly accept the wisdom of her community which viewed power and status as and proof of competence and salvation. She knew that arrogance prevents the growth of the spirit and leads to authoritarian stultification. She saw his heart and his objectification of her as simply beautiful. If she married him, he would demand subservient worship, viewing her as an object to prop his ego. That was not love. She wanted more – to learn from the great wide world and the knowledge it had to offer. The hero – male or female – seeks knowledge of the unknown.
A Call to Action
When she got her wish for adventure, she did not run but used her wits and went looking for her father in the darkest, most unknown place. When she found him, she took his place in prison, planning to escape despite encountering a terrible beast. When the beast did not chain her, she remained wary, aware that he might chase her if she fled, and investigated her surroundings, learning from this darkest of places.
Engaging the Curse
Investigating the unknown paid off. The thing we most need to find is in the place we least want to look. She learned the beast had once been a loveless prince, now transformed into the beast in his heart – his shadow-self, to borrow from Jung. Metaphorically, this change required only the fate (fairy) of being dominated by passions and a lack of discipline, the opposite of Belle. Though his servants suffered too, they did not hate him but took responsibility because they failed to act to protect the boy when he was isolated and twisted by his father (much like the rise of communism and fascism through nihilism). Under this curse, the castle was crumbling and the kingdom was lost, and the beast, devoured by hopelessness and self-pity, was prone to rash actions, aggression, and despair.
Wisdom & True Sight
Belle applied her insight to her captor, seeing restraint, humility, openness, and benevolence hidden under dominance of his shadow’s shame and hostility and produced precisely because of humility found in suffering. That is, where wealth and license produced corruption, failure produced a good heart, brought forth by hope of being love. When Belle ran, he therefore made use of his shadow-self and fought for her when she was nearly torn apart by wolves in the unknown darkness – there is random danger in darkness and the shadow, the ability to assert and harm aggressors is required for safety. When duty called her elsewhere, he released and supported her, giving her a mirror as a gift, though he believed she would never return. Love is an open hand.
Interestingly, the mirror, rather than show one’s outward self, showed one’s inward self as the desire of what they wished to see. In Belle’s case this was the knowledge of the love which birthed her, indicating her continual heroic desire to look inward, to engage the unknown chaos in herself and those around her. The modern equivalent is someone who goes to therapy to encounter their past. The hero questions and gains true sight.
Rescue, Restoration, and Giving Life
Belle then defies the community and rescues her father, her ancestor, again. She sets out to rescue the kindhearted beast from the aggressive world, the mob – decayed order – which because of fear has installed the authoritarian, dominant, desired, attractive, powerful, competent but arrogant male. This male, this “Cain,” destroys himself in his pursuit to destroy the Prince. The prince is transformed as fully benevolent while in control of his shadow due to the unhindered love of Belle. (A surprisingly insightfully probable transformation of identity.)
The mob is defeated by those who failed to stand up previously, now strengthened through suffering and emboldened by the courage of the hero. Then sight is returned to the mob, who is integrated into the restored community by the actions of the hero. Those previously seen as objects are now seen as human. It’s mind-blowingly true – the hero gains new knowledge and brings it back to the community, waking everyone up!
In the chaos, Belle’s steadfast love, clarity of sight, and true intent reveals the benevolent man inside the beast and lifts his curse. By example, catalysis and externally-interested rebellion against the status quo she restores failed community members, awakens the blind mob, and gives birth to a kingdom of goodness and honor. It’s incredible what a fully awake and integrated individual can do.