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“Once upon a time………..”. Does this take you back to your childhood and the anticipation of an exciting bedtime story? Perhaps you enjoyed hearing the stories of the legendary Greek hero Hercules, who lived with an uneasy conscience for doing evil and deliberately sought great challenges to come to terms with himself.

The persistence of fairy tales, myths and legends is testimony to our love of stories but perhaps our fascination with them goes deeper because their underlying themes originate in a common level of the human psyche. Thanks to modern psychology and in particular, Jung, we have begun to recognise that monsters such as dragons and good characters such as fairies, far from being simply primitive superstition, can be seen as vehicles for our unconscious, conveying our universal sensing of our own inner spiritual world. dragon

Remember Sleeping Beauty wandering alone through the palace until she opens a tiny door at the top of a tower to be confronted with an evil fairy in disguise? Do we sense that there might be a powerful message here about our own psychological doors we are not yet willing or able to open because they are hiding parts of our inner nature?

Many of us have recently enjoyed the film versions of Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”, a modern myth, in which we see enacted one of the great stories of good and evil doing battle. Does this resonate with us because at a deeper level we know that we have a darker, selfish side as well as a loving, caring side and our mission in life is to allow the positive side to triumph?

This allegorical aspect to stories is also present in the Bible. Since many of the stories are based on historical fact, many people have missed the real purpose of the Bible, getting stuck in the literal sense.

Just as fairy stories have evil characters such as the wicked queen in Snow White, so we find evil represented in the Bible by characters such as Herod and Delilah. Forces for good such as good fairies compare with the ‘all good’ characters in the Bible such as Daniel and Joseph. crown

In myths and fairy stories our spiritual lives are often represented quite simply as good and evil characters but in real life we know it is not as straight forward as this. People are not ‘all good’ or ‘all bad’! As we become more spiritually aware we begin to realise the complexity of our own inner natures and can see facets of ourselves represented in these characters. For example, our desire to manipulate others is like the step mother in Cinderella or our desire to forgive is like Joseph forgiving his brothers in the Bible.

Our spirituality is also represented by the environment in ancient stories. An influx of evil may result in storms or darkness, depicted by woods in Hansel and Gretel and Red Riding Hood. A heavenly influx on the other hand, reverses the trend causing bright, fresh gardens and streams to flourish such as the palace and gardens of the Beast in Beauty and the Beast. Special help from above (e.g. fairies, the gods) is given to the hero figure who has accepted the mission to enable them to defeat great monsters – representatives of selfish ambitions – which would be impossible for them to do on their own.

Emanuel Swedenborg comments on the source of myths in his work De Verbo (The Sacred Scripture) as follows:

pegasus“I have heard and perceived from heaven that the people meant in a spiritual sense by Adam and Eve in the first chapters of Genesis were so affiliated with angels of heaven that they could speak with them by means of things that correspond. These correspondences not only existed in many kingdoms in Asia, but were also further developed, especially in Egypt, Assyria and Babylonia, Syria, Mesopotamia, Arabia, and the land of Canaan. From there it was carried into Greece - though in Greece it was turned into fables … The rest of the stories composed by writers of the distant past in Greece, stories which are called myths, were of the same character”.

So the universal battle of the conscience is represented in story form in the various myths and legends that have been passed down from ancient times. Somewhere along the line, the significance of these representations was distorted into magic and superstition but with the greater spiritual awareness in this new age we can once again begin to be in touch with the meaning and purpose of our lives through these stories.

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