The fairy tale has been called “the land of the soul.” It’s a terrain we can enter. We can gaze into wells, wander through forests and castles, swim in lakes, and climb glass mountains. We can dive deeply with the mermaids or soar to the heavens on the back of the wind.
Within every story, there is a central place that is has more potency for each of us than any other place. It might be a hidden place. The hut in a forest. A remote room in a castle. At other times it’s a prominent place. A glass mountain. A cypress tree like the one in Madschun, where all the birds of the earth come to settle. The place of power could also be the most humble place in the story. The hearth in a kitchen. The corner of a stable.
If you think about a fairy tale that has stayed with you, and you consider the places in the story, what would you consider to be a place that holds potency for you? What does it look like? When I think about the question, I see a pink coral undersea castle in a Catalonian fairy tale called The Girl-Fish.
To understand how that place speaks to you, you can step into it. Stand in it for a little while and let the spirit of the place describe itself. Every place in a story has a voice. How would the place describe its features? Let it speak concretely at first, without revealing its name. If a tree says, “I am a tree,” we imagine everything we already know about a tree. But if a tree says, “I am deep-rooted,” we can begin to contact the living nature and energy of the tree.
Here’s where I went:
I am made of pink coral. I have round windows, rimmed in pearls.
I inhabit a deep valley in the emerald sea.
My shape is carved by the sea currents. I have no sharp edges.
Fish swim in and out through my windows.
A queen dwells in me, hidden to the surface dwellers:
Queen of Fishes, of every speaking fish,
and all who know themselves well enough
to live in many forms.
The surface dwellers have forgotten her,
but she will return.
I know because I hold her.
I hold her promise.
By staying with the physical features of the place, we’re likely to discover that we’re speaking of a place that is intimately familiar. I know the place where the queen lives because I have made a descent in my own life. The coral castle locates me. It attracts other associated images that shed light on the experience, and generates all sorts of new creativity and insight.
Every place in a fairy tale has universal features. A tower is always tall. It stands out. It can be seen from a long way away. It also has unique characteristics, according to the role it plays in the story. Sometimes it’s a watchtower. Sometimes it’s a lighthouse. Sometimes a tower is arrogant, dominating the landscape like the tower in the Grimms’ story, The Sea Hare. Whatever the nature of the tower, it is a symbol, and, as P.L. Travers once said in What the Bee Knows, “a symbol always has this multisidedness.” It speaks to the world, and it speaks to us in an absolutely personal way.
We go to the myths not so much for what they can mean as for our own meaning. Who am I? Why am I here? How can I live in accordance with reality? The myths never have a single meaning, once and for all finished. They have something greater; they have meaning itself. If you hang a crystal sphere in the window it will give off light from all parts of itself. That is how the myths are; they have meaning for me, for you and for everyone else. A true symbol always has this multisidedness. It has something to say to all who approach it.”