The Goddess of Spring and the Origin of the Disney Maiden


Between 1929 and 1939, the Walt Disney Animation Studio rode high on the success of its animated short cartoons. While many animation studios suffered a downturn due to the Great Depression, Walt Disney enjoyed his very own Midas touch. Of particular significance during this period are the Silly Symphonies cartoons. These shorts, which include such classics as The Skeleton Dance (1929) and Flowers and Trees (1932), are visionary achievements specifically intended to give Walt’s animators the time and space necessary to push the industry forward. Over their ten-year run, the Silly Symphonies won seven Academy Awards for the studio and spawned several imitators, most notably Warner Bros.’ Merrie Melodies series. One might argue, however, that none of these imitators have the visionary quality and mythic grit that Disney’s Silly Symphonies possess.

By 1934, Walt Disney and his team were beginning to dream the possibility of a feature length animated film into being. Walt knew that he wanted his forthcoming feature film’s narrative to be drawn from the well of classical European myth and fairy tale—stories he expected to be largely in the public domain. These were the stories he was raised on and with which he knew his audience would be most familiar. Two of his favorite choices were the Brothers Grimm’s Snow White and the myth of Persephone’s abduction by Hades. For reasons unknown to those of us outside the archives, Walt chose to use the Persephone myth as the practice project for his animators. Disney’s version of the myth, titled The Goddess of Spring, was released on November 3, 1934.

The cartoon itself is charming. Like most cartoons of its time, it caricaturizes live action film, utilizing motifs that were common during the 1930s. Persephone, who is never called by name, resembles a young Mary Pickford—no surprise, since in the 1930s Mary Pickford was known as America’s Sweetheart. Pickford and Disney were friendly acquaintances, working together through the production company United Artists, of which Pickford was a partner and Walt Disney Productions a client.

Also in the Disney short, Hades is presented as the name of the underworld itself, rather than the name of Persephone’s paramour. Disney’s version of Hades borrows its imagery from medieval conceptions of Hell, and the god in charge, called by the Hellenized name Pluto, is presented as a cross between the Satan of medieval/renaissance European Christianity and Bella Lugosi’s Dracula. Like all the Silly Symphonies, it uses music as the narrative conduit for the story, is melodramatic and theatrical, and comes across very much as a piece created in the heritage of silent film.

For me, the two most notable details about this short are that Walt Disney intended it to be a forum through which his animators could work on the human form and that for this experimental work on the human form he chose this particular myth. This might suggest an understanding of the vitality of the Eleusinian Mysteries, but Walt Disney likely had no personal knowledge of them. What he did understand, however intuitively, is the mythic potency of Persephone’s journey.

Below is a link to the cartoon available on

Even at this early point in Disney history, the journey of the archetypal maiden was not new to the studio. Some of Walt’s earliest short cartoons, known as the Alice Comedies, feature a live action girl drawn into a cartoon world where she encounters all manner of cartoon craziness. Girlish inquisitive young women have been central characters in the Disney mythos since the beginning. The Goddess of Spring, however, paves the way for Disney’s version of one of humanity’s central archetypal experiences: the maiden coming into a mature knowledge of self through trials, trauma, tenacity, and resurrection.

I find it incredibly significant that as the Disney artists begin to explore a naturalistic style of the human figure, they choose to do so through a myth that speaks so profoundly to the natural cycles of death and resurrection, perhaps the most universal of all human experiences. One might even argue that this universality is what makes life cycles so difficult to access with vulnerability. We fear them, but we cannot escape them. And in choosing Persephone to be the first animated heroic humanoid maiden, Disney opens the audience’s imagination to what Jungians might call the anima complex, but what I would call a profound heart-based experience of the feminine divine.

Walt Disney often quipped that “It’s gotta have heart.” He always challenged the depth to which a cartoon could make his audience feel. And Disney’s genius is that in opening an avenue to emotion, he also offers safe passage for the trip—a sense that like Persephone the audience will always rise. Disney’s Princesses continue this lineage, living Persephone’s story as aspects of the ever-evolving face of the feminine divine.

Unfortunately, the Disney Princesses have been largely controversial in the last thirty years or so. They are often seen as anti-feminist, passive, weak, and over-interested in beauty and romance. I would submit that while some of these criticisms are valid and should be critiques of society at large, we often underappreciate that the strength of these characters comes from their kindness and goodness. They evolve into strong women through their unique stories of abduction into unexpected circumstances. And they rise, assisted by both their own strength of will and the transformative power of love. These mythic elements are fundamental to the Disney tradition.

So the next time you see a Disney Princess, perhaps you also will see an echo of Persephone’s story and remember that, in the animated world, at least, she is the first Disney Princess—the archetypal maiden, the lost daughter, the bringer of spring, the one who conquers mighty Hades, and its queen.

Thoughts? What about this surprises you? Do you have a particular reaction to any of Disney’s Maidens? Which of the Disney Princesses do you think have been the most popular with little girls? Why do you think they attract the audience they have? We’d love to hear about it. Comment below and Tweet to us @carolspearson/@mythscholar with #IAmPersephone.

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The Alchemy of Claire and Jamie: The Sacred Marriage in Outlander’s “The Reckoning”


Approximately ten years ago now, Bruce and I were sitting at dinner with our friends/neighbors and their friends from Australia. Our neighbors are way too much fun. Though they have lived in Santa Barbara for at least forty years, Kathleen was born in Australia and Eric was born in Scotland, which means that Bruce connects with them on the side of Celtic culture, and I am simply amused at being with them. On this particular occasion, I was gushing to our friend Kay about how obsessed I am with all things Scottish, Irish, and really just all things generally Gaelic. She looked at me with eyes wide and said: “Have you read Outlander?” “Outlander,” I replied, “I haven’t even heard of it. What is it?” She looked at me and said, “I’ll write it down for you. You just need to read it.” Thennnnnnnn, I went to grad school. I did a PhD. And I read nothing except Jung, Campbell, and Hillman for almost a decade. Imagine my joy when I heard that Starz had given the green light to a series! Finally, I would find an entrance into the lovely world of Diana Gabaldon’s mythic imagination.

Now, I am aware that I am beyond late jumping on this bandwagon, but I have recently become completely obsessed with this series. I’ve seen all the episodes at least 3 times, and I am currently in the middle of reading Drums of Autumn (book 4). There are so many rich things that I could explore about it, but one particular insight came to me as I was watching episode 9 (The Reckoning) a few days ago. I realized that Outlander gets done in about five minutes on the show and two chapters in the book what it took the 50 Shades series three books and a whole film to attempt to (largely unsuccessfully) address–that is the relationship between sexuality, ego destruction, psychological healing, and recreation. Being visually inclined as I am, I would like to examine the show. Let’s look at Jamie and Claire as archetypal energies themselves, and then we can examine the episode itself.

Jamie and Claire: The Warrior and The Healer

These characters are far too rich to boil down to one archetypal image each. The power of mythic images is that they resonate on a high vibration, offering kaleidoscopic facets that speak to each participant in the language and image that addresses what the participant needs to engage at that moment. This is certainly the case with Jamie and Claire. Their power as images lies in the archetypal wholeness they represent. And there are many different avenues that might be traversed in discussion about them. By way of introducing who they are, however, I’d like to look some conscious aspects of them, which happen to be the aspects of them that resonate personally with me.

Without a doubt, Jamie is an archetypal image of the warrior. Tall, broad, and strong–he symbolizes the best there is to offer in the image of the mythic protector. Furthermore, he represents a particularly American fantasy of the Scottish highlander, an image that has been fused in popular culture with what is often called the “Scottish” or “Celtic Warrior Poet,” that is the kind of warrior who fights because he feels and loves so much, an archetype that I am well acquainted with, being married to a man who deeply identifies with this image, and who has an uncle that embodies this energy in the family structure as well. Jamie embodies the kind of warrior that fights to protect that which they are passionate about. Whether he is fighting off English soldiers or receiving a whipping for a young woman just to help her avoid humiliation, Jamie embodies honor, duty, unbending strength, and the brave Scottish heart.  If you are curious what this archetypal image might look like in contemporary popular culture, check this out the iconic ending scene of Braveheart.

Claire is an archetypal healer, a nurse, a nurturer with the soul of a mother bear. Soft and loving though she often is, she is every bit as fierce as Jamie. She is as fiery, passionate, and brilliant as she is stubborn, a personality that makes her the perfect partner to our American fantasy of the Scottish highlander. Claire embodies a potentiality for a motherly kind of nurturing, but foremost, she represents the power of female sexuality In contrast to a great many stories presented in our time, Claire makes no apologies for her desires, be they sexual or any other, nor for her abilities, and her opinions. Images of this kind of female character are present all over popular culture currently, from Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser to Virginia Johnson of Masters of Sex.


Fans of this series love the connection between Jamie and Claire. In their interaction with each other, these characters create and inhabit the energetic space that the Greeks understood as the love affair between Ares and Aphrodite; war and beauty. In their most positive form, these archetypes inspire humanity to amazing feats of sacrifice for the protection of their beloved passion. Ares and Aphrodite are generally depicted as an intwined pair of lovers incapable of keeping their gaze and touch from one another. That kind of connection exists between Claire and Jamie. From the moment that they meet to their first kiss at their wedding, a heat begins to build between them that represents the passion between love, beauty, and the warrior. That heat becomes the centerpiece for the entire series (both in the books and the television series). An exploration of this passion continues for the next episode, an exercise in the way love evolves over time. It’s quite sweet, but if these characters did not delve into the realm of shadow, they would not offer a sense of wholeness to the mythic patron, and this is what Outlander does so well in contrast to other current stories that traverse similar territory…*cough, cough* 50 ShadesGame of Thrones

–As an aside, the actors on this show do a brilliant job of constellating this energy. Through the brilliance of Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan, Claire and Jamie’s passionate encounters dance across the television screen in a tender, yet simultaneously raw and un-sanitized depiction. It’s beautifully acted, shot, and adapted, really. The entire cast and crew should be commended, and if they don’t receive tons of Emmy nominations next year, there is no justice.–

As I see it, the alchemical relationship between Claire and Jamie as developed through The Reckoning begins to uncover the aspects of shadow necessary to truly unite Claire and Jamie. In depth psychological circles, much has been discussed of hermeneutical possibilities of this ancient science of alchemy through a metaphorical lens. This fusion of energies that are traditionally understood to be masculine and feminine create an alchemical process often known by Jungians as the coniunctio or the sacred marriage–an alchemical process of turning lead into gold, of fusing masculine and feminine…or metaphorically melding elements together to create something new, something precious, golden, and precious is present in this episode of Outlander. If, as I’ve previously suggested, Claire and Jamie represent archetypal interpretations of beauty, love, and war, a true connection between them must mingle these archetypal energies, which means that aspects of both of these archetypes already exist within them. In other words, as much as she is an image of love and beauty, Claire is also an image of the strong, Athenian warrior, and as much as Jamie fights like a lion, he also constellated the golden beauty of Aphrodite.

In The Reckoning, this becomes quite clear. During the fight they have after Jamie rescues Claire from Jack Randall, the two viciously and fiercely scream at each other, all the while laying out their hurt and vulnerability to each other. After calling her a foul mouth b***** and she to him a f****** bastard, Jamie opens to Claire, telling her of the his terror at the prospect of returning to Fort William, where he was flogged nearly to death by Jack Randall. He sinks to the ground with tears in his eyes telling her that she’s “tearing his guts out.” It is clear that he not only fears for his own life, but also the life of Claire, who (his actions prove) he loves more than his own life. She gazes at him with compassion as they both ask forgiveness of one another. A voice over from Jamie notes that he had already forgiven anything she had done or ever could do and that that was falling in love.

This scene flows into another where Jamie whips Claire with his belt, giving her “justice” for what her disobedience nearly costs the men. She fights him as she considers this injustice, as Jamie kindly tells her that “if it was only me that you hurt, I wouldna say more about it.” She kicks him in the face and calls him a sadist, begging him to listen to reason and not follow through with the sentence he believes she deserves, but she fails and he whips her. The scene is portrayed as comical as it is serious. It is clear that some part of our hero obviously enjoys releasing the frustration his fear has created, as he appreciates that she is a woman who will fight back against him when she believes him wrong.

This “punishment” creates a rift in the relationship between the two. Jamie begins to realize that he will need to find a new way forward with his wife. He MUST re-open the connection between them that was closed when he insisted on rigidly maintaining the old roles between husband and wife. Returning to their bed chamber, he tells Claire that he has watched his uncle begin to bend, that it was more important to him at that moment that he restore peace than to be correct, and that made him “mindful.” He then proceeds say that perhaps things need to be different between them. He kneels before her, offering fealty, and vows to take his own blade into his chest if he ever again raises a hand “in rebellion” against her. Asking if that is not enough, he looks at her entreatingly, asking if she wants to live apart, if she no longer wants him. She tells him that she should want to leave him, but she doesn’t.

This simple action re-opens the energetic connection between them–Jamie tells her how much he wants her, asks if she will have him. When she acquiesces, they have the kind of mad, passionate, encounter that rips open the boundaries between two people, during which Claire takes a dagger and holds it to his throat telling him that if he ever raises a hand to her again, she will “cut out his heart and have it for breakfast.” Again Cait and Sam play this so well together, because through their talent and interpersonal connection, the viewer can actually witness the archetypal energies between them melding into each other as they volley domination and submission passion and love back and forth at each other.

Claire becomes the archetypal feminine devouring the masculine, and Jamie becomes the archetypal masculine in ecstasy at this experience of being consumed. And immediately after, Jamie takes command over Claire, covers her, and tells her that he “means to make her call him master.” Afterward, Jamie kisses Claire sweetly and recites one of the most iconic lines from the book: “I am your master, and you are mine. It seems I canna possess your soul without losing my own.” At that moment, what this entire scene has been building up to is obvious: they have fused into each other.  They have faced their own darkness, each other’s darkness, and they have brought the aspects into consciousness necessary the bond. They are aware that they have the power to destroy each other, a destructive impulse that Dr. Sabina Spielrein, a notable elder of psychoanalysis, observes is a necessary part of sexuality as it precipitates the destruction of the ego and the recreation of a new identity. Through the process, they have consumed each other, and through this consumption, they have been made whole. They have taken the lead of these archetypes and turned then into gold. And in the landscape of Diana Gabaldon’s imagination, for Claire and Jamie, this bond is irrevocable.


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The Beginning in the End. The End in the Beginning: Mad Men Drops Out and Sells Out. Spoilers Ahead!!!

Readers: I just realized I never finished this blog….so here it is. Please forgive the lateness of the hour in posting this.

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Last night was Mad Men‘s series finale. It was a bittersweet ending to a show that revived the 1960s for viewers, many of whom didn’t live through it the first time around (myself included). Though admittedly I didn’t watch the first few years, last summer I got hooked on the drama and binged watched my way through the whole series in less than a month.

Full disclosure: As a Gen Xer who was born in the year of the Star Wars IV (seven years after the show ends), I don’t have actual experience of this era. I am fully aware that from this position of hindsight any analysis I do of Mad Men is colored the fact that I can not look at this era without also linking the 20 year period that would come after. In other words, I can’t talk about the 60s without thinking about the 70s and 80s.

From my little mythie/depth psychological perspective, I’ve always understood Mad Men as a metaphor rather than simple history. The fact that it taps into the metaphorical realm of archetypes accounts for its great popularity. As with all other great epics, it speaks both to the story itself and its larger contemporary culture. Mad Men provides us with one of the great American “everyman” anti-heros, Don Draper, who I’ve previously written about as a metaphor for American ambition.

Through his relentless search for meaning, Don becomes an metaphor for what Jungians call the ego–ego being the psychological structure that forms one’s identity. The ego is what allows the psyche to have a sense of self. It holds the identity together, and interestingly enough, it is often both fragile and unshakably strong.

So what happens to Don’s ego to ambition and utopianism in end of Mad Men? Though earnest in his search for enlightenment, the enlightenment itself becomes a commodity. What happens to Don at the end of one of America’s most poignant, world-shaking, and prolific decades? He goes on pilgrimage to Esalen Institute. He breaks open. He sees his truth through another’s. He cries. He practices transcendental meditation.  And then he has a epiphany. The series leaves us with an image of him meditating as it then crosses over into a Coca Cola commercial, perhaps THE most iconic one ever.

“It’s the real thing. What the world wants today. It’s the real thing…”

Many have questioned whether the creators of the show mean to suggest that Don created this iconic advertisement after returning from his time at Esalen. In the end, however, it really doesn’t matter whether they suggest that or not. What they are getting at is that there is the paradox that lies inextricably within American mythology; within the American experience/experiment. It’s the paradox inherent in the metaphor–that just as the American ego achieves a small moment of epiphany, an enlightenment, it channels that moment into selling something. In this case, that something  happens to be a carcinogenic, sugary addictive substance.

I’m just gonna leave that thought there for you all to drink in. Until next time readers!

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Off to the Highlands: Pixar’s Brave and the Allure of Scotland to the American Imagination

Hello dear readers!

Recently, I’ve begun reading the Outlander series (and watching it on TV–its epic…just go read/watch it). This has gotten my thoughts up again about notions of Scottish-ness in the American mythic imagination. The following are some musings that I gave as a paper at a Film and Myth conference in Milwaukee, Wi. back in 2012. It’s a long post. More of an essay than a blog proper. Enjoy!


Pixar continues to dazzle fans. They are experts in the ability to fuse technology with powerful story. This makes their presence in The Walt Disney Company key to this generation’s renewal of Disney myths. From the animation of America’s favorite toys, to our love affair with cars, Pixar reinterprets American identity from a point of view that is aware of both history and myth. Disney is, arguably, America’s most powerful and influential private sector myth-making enterprise. In the years since their 2006 merger with Disney, Pixar has become the most powerful purveyor of the mythic voice in The Walt Disney Company’s ethos.

Their films reveal—as all myths do—the complexes and collective archetypal base of a culture’s psyche. They craft identity, as folklorist Alan Dundes suggests, they tell stories of how things come to be. They are also specific. They equate a sense of belonging. They are the stories that people tell to say—these are the stories that belong to us. To me, one of the most fascinating aspects of the American mythopoetic process—played out in Disney/Pixar’s animated films—is an insistence that because of the diverse social and ethnic background of Americans, the world’s myths ARE America’s myths.

Typically, Pixar has shied away from an appropriation of myths and fairy tales from other cultures, preferring to keep their storytelling safely situated within a specifically American context. With few notable exceptions (Finding Nemo and Ratatouille for example), their fantasies are American fantasies—toys from American toy companies, uniquely American superheroes, a road trip down America’s “Main Street Highway,” and little girls chasing a place that is “like America, but south.” This stands in contrast to the films of The Walt Disney Animation Studio that has generally chosen to reinterpret myths, legends and, most notably, fairy tales from abroad. Pixar’s latest film Brave breaks this pattern. It traverses the fertile ground of Disney fairy tale with an original story, which I’d argue is loosely inspired by Robert San Souci’s Brave Margaret tale. It is set in medieval Scotland, a time a couple of centuries before the legendary and mythic era of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce. As an animated film, Brave, is a caricature of myth. It is, however, also a fairy tale.

Although the debate over the primacy of myth over fairy tales is ongoing, I prefer to think of them as complimentary mediums that work in contrasting relationship to each other. In The Feminine in Fairy Tales, Jungian disciple Marie Louise von Franz suggests, “Fairy tales…migrate and cannot be linked up with a national collective consciousness. They rather contain a tremendous amount of compensatory material and usually contradict or compensate collective conscious ideas” (8). If myths are the stories that tell us who we are, fairy tales are the stories that tell us what in the unconscious unites humanity. Fairy tales are purely archetypal, which is why national identity is not central to the genre. Fairy tales are easily appropriated and re-told in any cultural milieu.

This might be why Americans are so quick to meld myth and fairy tale. American myths are often poly-cultural—a key feature of diasporic culture. This is also why it is difficult to define American mythology. This appropriation of fairy tale has created a style of storytelling that is comforting to Americans and mythically potent globally. Brave is an example of archetypal motifs explored through culturalized specificity. It is Scotland through American mythic fairy tale—a Scottish virgin goddess wrapped in an American princess story. The hows and whys of the American archetypal Scot is the focus of the following musings.

From Disney’s live action Rob Roy: The Highland Rogue to Randall Wallace’s screenplay for Braveheart, Scottish characters in American film often represent courage, dogged adherence to individual freedom, and the claim to one’s own fate or destiny. Scotland is a country from which many Americans claim heritage even if, perhaps, it is only an imagined or ideological heritage.

In America, myth-makers often develop their identity through a balance of ideology—land of the free and home of the Brave—and the creation of cultural/national inheritance rather than cultural/national history. Colonialists to the core, it is not simply land and power that we inhabit. Americans are also colonizers of stories. Ideologically speaking, American culture prizes the uniqueness of each perspective. It suggests that what unites us as Americans is our quest for liberty, and that liberty requires that the story of each “clans-member” be heard and respected. This notion of liberty requires Americans to adopt a certain amount of psychological malleability. It is an ideology that—in its best forms—opens the imagination to possibilities for every level of reinvention.

So why Scotland? Why the Scots? What has made this tiny country, which continues to be annexed by Britain and has landmass about the size of the state of Maine so integral to American identity? I would suggest that it is for two central reasons: first-a heritage of political ideology amenable to American myth, and the impact the thinkers of Scotland had on the American Revolution. Second is the cultural appropriation partnership between Scotland and America. The Scots seem to participate in the American appropriation of their mythic cultural heritage, and indeed they often relish the image of “Auld Scotland” and the rugged, indomitable Scot as inextricable from America’s mythic notions of autonomy, freedom, and heroism. It feeds into their sense of their own identity. These mythic images exist in a state of flux, and as well shall see, they provide a backdrop for the exploration of Disney/Pixar’s penultimate girl power princess—Merida, who may be understood as a reiteration of Disney/Pixar’s anima complex—an image of the divine feminine in a generally male dominated studio.

To begin with the historical roots of an American interpretation of the archetypal Scot, it would be safe to suggest that the Scottish people as an ethnic group are central to America’s ideological and political identity. In their book, The Scottish Invention of America: Democracy and Human Rights—The History of Liberty and Freedom from the Ancient Celts to the New Millenium, Alexander Leslie Klieforth and Robert John Munro note that the root of America’s political and ideological relationship with Scotland traces back to the Declaration of Arbroath Abby—signed in 1320—in which the leaders of Scotland issued their declaration of independence from England: “it is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honors that we are fighting, but for freedom—for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself” (5). This is ideological liberty and a genesis of civil rights in fourteenth century  over four hundred and fifty years before the American Declaration of Independence was conceived. Skip ahead about five hundred years, and the 18th century, saw many referring to Edinburgh as “the Athens of the North”. Scottish philosophy influenced thinkers such as John Locke and Thomas Paine, who in turn predicated the American Revolution.

In the American colonies, Scottish philosophy became so entwined with American patriotism that “King George allegedly called The American Revolution a ‘Presbyterian war’” (5), complicated though this relationship with the Scots happened to be.

The Scotch-Irish Intelligentsia: By the 19th century, the Scotch-Irish or Ulster-Scots represented an image of “Scottishness” which rose to such high prominence that in 1891 a speaker “declared that the synonym for the Scotch-Irish ‘race’ lay in the phrases ‘national freedom, general education, and sound scriptural faith’” (Scazs, 9). By April of 1954, The William and Mary Quarterly had an entire issue dedicated to the links between Scotland and America. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries the Scotch-Irish or Ulster-Scots remained a symbol American affluence.

So what is it that has allowed American filmmakers the narrative leeway to present medieval Scottish characters the way they are often presented today? How did America’s sense of Scottish identity turn from Scotch-Irish Presbyterians to Mel Gibson as William Wallace to Princess Merida and Queen Elinor? In contrast to history, myth allows for the presence of stories filled with sentiment, patriotism, nostalgia, and romance. American mythology in general and, Disney/Pixar storytelling in particular, tends to be deeply nostalgic—a term that is often used to argue against interpreting such stories as being mythic. The term “’nostalgia” comes from the Greek “nostos which means homecoming” and “algia which means severe pain, grief or distress.” Nostalgia as a homecoming of the mind is the crux of American myth. In his book simply titled Myth, Laurence Coupe suggests that it is our mythic expressions regarding home that carry the greatest potential for psychological healing. He writes, “Perhaps mythos, which has the power to release us from the limits of the given logos can restore us to oikos…” (214). In other words, stories have the power to release us from the limits of language and restore us to home.

To the extent that sentiment rules an unconscious drive for nostalgia, romance rules myth. This “romance” of Scottishness creates a longing for the re-creation of an archetypal Scotland of the mind. This romance begins in history, as it becomes a seminal aspect of the American myth of liberty. One might argue that this makes Hollywood—arguably the most potent maker of American myth—the natural choice for a continued dialectic between the mythic imagination and American cultural practices.

Enter what has been called “The Braveheart Effect.” In the last twenty years since Braveheart, practice has grown up around these notions of Scottishness. This includes American movements to reclaim clans-lands in Scotland, a revival of Highland Games/tartans, and perhaps the most powerful piece of the “Braveheart effect,” the image of the “warrior poet” This image has become a standard for masculinity among those engaged in contemporary Neo-Celtic culture.

In large part, it is because of these Hollywood images of that an interest in Neo-Pagan practice, a revival of a largely neglected tartan tradition, tattooing (common in ancient Celtic practice and forbidden for much of Christian history), an affection for the Thistle (Scotland’s national flower) and a revival of the tales of the “wee” folk, or the Scottish Will O’ The Wisps are all part of collective consciousness. The image of the highlander has eclipsed the image of the Scottish gentleman on the golf course, the seminarian, and perhaps even the rough and rugged Westward Ho pioneer.

Team DunBroch—In fact, while crafting Brave, Disney/Pixar participated so deeply in this romance of Scotland that it registered the tartans of the realm of DunBroch with the Scottish National Tartan Registry. By doing this, Brave speaks to the impact the “Braveheart effect” has on the concept of heritage building, creating a mirror image of Braveheart, which intentionally plays into the central Disney maxim for story: It’s gotta have heart.

On November 21, 2010, the Los Angeles Times posted an article suggesting that The Walt Disney Company was closing the book on fairy tales for the present (despite the widely popular Once Upon A Time television series—I’m not sure they are done). In other words, the big wigs at Disney are saying that they will leave Brave, and Merida as their last animated last word on the fairy tale princess until, as Ed Catmull, Pixar fellow and president of Disney Animation Studio suggests, the time comes to reinterpret them again. You may be thinking, yes, yes, this makes sense…but why another princess? And why the Scottish woman?

In August of 2011, I attended the Disney 23 Expo where Disney luminary, Don Hahn, gave a presentation on creativity and its psychological importance. In his presentation, he spoke about C.G. Jung’s concept of the archetypes as the genesis of what we create. He argued that Disney artists, like any artist, intuit and respond to changes in archetypal energies. Beyond any argument (true as it may be) that Disney/Pixar is riding the girl power/archer trend, it is also responding to a deeply felt shift in the feminine aspects of America’s collective psyche. The characters in Brave are part of this feminist shift within the studio, a shift in the anima complex.

The choice of Scotland and Scottish women as a zenith of Disney/Pixar’s animated word on fairy tale women makes sense in regards to a mythic fascination with the archetypal Celtic woman. “The Braveheart effect’s” intensely masculinized image of Scottishness casts the spirited Celtic woman in a supporting, albeit unforgettable role (think Jessica Lange in Rob Roy). This, however, is an unacceptable and inaccurate portrayal of the ancient Celtic woman. Klieforth and Munro remind us that most scholars of ancient Celtic culture agree that women had a remarkably egalitarian role in their society. They fought in battle, were equal to men, and maintained civil rights and property before, during, and after their marriages. Even Julius Caesar, (himself full of distain for the Celtic people) was impressed by the power of the Celtic woman. In contemporary American culture, the image of the Celtic woman often evokes the persona of a woman who refuses to sacrifice position, consequence, community, or heart. Merida and Elinor re-envision the archetypal Celtic woman: a feminine balance and a temper to the prevalence of “The Braveheart effect.” These images remind contemporary neo-Celtic culture devotees that the ancient world was a place where women were prevalent and goddesses were powerful.

Merida’s Brave Feminist Heart ALL stories in the canon of The Walt Disney Company ultimately speak to transformative nature of love and the importance of familial bonds, and Brave is no exception. Despite the gags and spectacular visual effects, Brave is fundamentally the story of a virgin princess who celebrates her own power and comes to learn to balance it. So, who IS Merida? She is an adolescent woman feeling the ennui of being oppressed by an insistence that she become the kind of princess her mother expects her to be. She shuns the idea of marriage, insisting that she has the power to shoot for her own hand as she desperately seeks to maintain her own identity.

The oppression she feels from her mother is made ever more acute by the ineffectual, good-natured barbarism of her father, and the stupidity of the men in power around her—again mirroring the world of Braveheart. She rebels, spouting rhetoric that could have come directly from William Wallace himself, and in her effort to change her mother; she unwittingly sets out on a quest to change herself and all those around her. However, in order to fulfill her desire, she must, like the virgin goddesses of the ancient world, withdraw to wildness of the forest.

This virgin archetype, as explored in Brave, evokes the presence of the Greek archer/bear goddess Artemis and the Celtic bear/warrior goddess Artio. Pixar conflate the two—a fact clearly indicated by the original name of Brenda Chapman’s screenplay for Brave, which was The Bear and the Bow. Toby D. Griffen, professor of German at Southern Illinois University, suggests that a connection between these two may be possible, as they share an etymological origin over 6000 years old, which is further suggests is the root of this names that later became Celtic Goddess Artio, Roman Goddess Diana and the Greek Goddess Artemis. Merida draws from this ancient well, in which the virgin goddess represents independence, ferocity and nature’s balance.


ArtemisAnother Brave

Greek myth heralds Artemis as an archer, the goddess of the hunt, and twin sister of the god Apollo. She is the daughter of the sky-god Zeus and a mortal woman, Leto. According to the myth, by the age of three Artemis had already asked her father to allow her to remain a virgin. Like Zeus, Merida’s father, King Fergus, takes pride in her skill as an archer. Also, like Artemis, Merida prizes her freedom and individuality among all else. In Pagan Meditations: The Worlds of Aphrodite, Artemis and Hestia, depth psychologist Ginette Paris suggest that one who wishes to honor Artemis must accept that they may “neither see nor possess her; there is a core in the mysteries of untouched nature and of femininity that must remain virgin…the girl, the virgin, the Amazon, the archer—untamable and undomesticable primitive femininity” (115).

In her retreat to the safety of the Artemesian wild, Merida entreats the help of an archetypal fairy tale witch, as she carelessly plots to change her mother—though unaware what that change will entail. Beyond her abilities as an archer, it is Merida’s “indomesticable” spirit—her ferocity and her fearlessness—that connect her to Artemis. But in a twist on the myths of Artemis, Merida’s transformation, her loyalty and protection for her mother even after she is responsible for transforming her into a bear teaches her that her actions effect more than herself. This is accomplished by use of a fairy tale embedded in the narrative.


artio Brave-Fan-art-brave-30035423-500-666

By contrast, the ancient Celtic goddess Artio is also depicted as being connected to the bear. She is a bear totem first and an archer second. There is nothing fiercer in nature than a mother bear protecting her cub. Furthermore, fewer animals hibernate in such an intensely unique way as the bear. The bear goddess protects nature’s balance. She offers a sense that this balance does not require the hand of humanity to sustain it. In Brave, queen Elinor becomes an unwitting image of the bear goddess. Her transformation awakens her primal need to protect her daughter—to give her the unfettered space she deserves. As a bear, she begins to understand Merida’s Artemisian nature, as the highly cultured Elinor begins to lose her human self in her animal self. Merida, the archer with the wild ginger hair is clearly influenced by Artemis, and her mother, queen Elinor, is a symbol of control and duty.

Their relationship is a fascinating twist on the archetype of the Disney princess and on virgin goddess mythology. The early Disney princesses were almost passively communal—Snow White and the dwarves, Sleeping Beauty and the fairies, etc…Since Beauty and the Beast’s Belle, however, this archetypal image has changed dramatically. In preparing for this presentation, I read many reviews of this film. Several reviewers (even Ebert) suggest that Merida is too boyish for a Disney/Pixar princess. Some also suggest that she is, perhaps, a template for new lesbian princess. These critiques, while interesting, effortlessly miss the point of the archetypal images explored in Brave. In dwelling on cultural gender roles and Merida’s sexuality, one misses the archetypal power of Merida’s virginity—that is, a woman who belongs only to herself, and is not a pawn in the sexual games of men. That is, women in relationship to each other, and to the balance of the feminine and the masculine within them both. This film presents Merida as an antithesis to this traditional passivity. In choosing to transform Elinor into the bear, Disney/Pixar reinterprets the nurturing balance of nature as the companion of the virgin, rather than the virgin herself.

In order to break the spell that has turned her mother into a bear, Merida and Elinor must, “mend the bond torn by pride,” an epitaph given to them by the witch. MEND seems to be the focus of this piece. Julie Fowlis’ song, Into the Open Air gets at this message of mending. It plays while Merida and her mother are on their quest to break the spell. “I try to speak to you everyday but each word we spoke, the wind blew away. Could these walls come crumbling down? I want to feel my feet on the ground. And leave behind this prison we share. Step into the open air.” As they begin to listen to each other, they begin to break the spell.

This is consistent with Disney/Pixar’s overarching mythic message. As Douglas Brode suggests in his book, From Walt to Woodstock: How Disney Created Counterculture, “America, in Disney’s broad view, is not liberal or conservative, progressive or traditional, Democrat or Republican. The genius of the system resided in a symbiotic relationship of each complementary opposition–an ever-shifting balance between rugged individualism and commitment to community.” The women in Brave suggest that perhaps the American archetype of Scottishness has become TOO insistently individualistic, too obsessively masculinized. Perhaps Pixar is responding to a cultural need for community building as opposed to rugged-individualism or factionalism. Perhaps it responds to an American weariness with an individualism that precludes community. Either way, this film suggests that balance IS American, Feminist, and EMPOWERING. And perhaps Pixar, whose culture is notably cooperative, is uniquely suited to this type of narrative.

Ultimately, Brave is a love song to the wild, virgin goddess’s role in psychological balance. It advocates that she be respected. However, because it is a Disney/Pixar story, it also advocates for the importance of community and companionship. Brave suggests that dependence and independence are not mutually exclusive, and that weaving these together might require the touch of particularly clan-orientated archetypal women. This is why Scotland…why the Scot…why the Celtic woman. It is precisely because of the American associations with neo-Celticism and the archetypal freedom fighting Scot that this story is possible, and that it is effective.

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I Survived Fifty Shades of Grey


Greetings Readers!

Well, y’all, I finally bit the bullet and watched/read Fifty Shades. In fact, for you dear readers, I actually read the entire trilogy. Lest you think I’m the slowest reader on the round earth, I didn’t actually receive the books until after the 1st of April. Originally, I wanted to borrow them, not buy them, but alas that wasn’t meant to be. Now that I’m done, I’d like to share some of the thoughts I had while I read them. Expect an op ed piece below:

My Kingdom for a Better Editor!

For the love of Pete, could this poor woman have had a better editor? Please? Someone needed to tell her that it isn’t wise to write the exact same scene over and over across three books.  I feel that much of the well deserved technical criticism of these books could have been avoided if they had only had a better editor. There are some moments here that are actually well written…even some moments that are actually authentically arousing. If only…if only…


I stand by some of my original assessment of the story. There is a deep and dark presence of the imagery connected to Hades and Persephone in these books. We know that this was Twilight fan fiction originally, which means that Hades and Persephone were always destined to be there. Note* if you don’t remember Hades and Persephone, google or read my other blog about Fifty Shades.

The images are everywhere: Seattle as a place–the rain, the grey…so much of the time. The solitude of Christian’s apartment. The lack of color in the decor. The way Christian whisks her away there without really telling her what is going on. The thresholding of the entrance to his apartment in the depths of his garage. His broody-ness. His despair. His loneliness. His self-loathing. His unexpected outbursts. His attempt to control his environment. The fact that he, in essence, takes Anastasia (thought I’ll not argue she is raped in the traditional sense…although one could argue whether or not our contemporary definition of rape is really what the myth points to either). Anastasia is an archetypal image of innocence, virginity, and purity who willingly steps deep into the dark. What Anastasia is NOT, however is Bella Swan. She is NOT the archetype of submission. That is the point of the entire story. Every. Single. Time. Christian tries to drag her down to his underworld of pain. And Every. Single. Time. she remerges. Christian loves her for that. He is drawn to her for it. And frankly, she is just as drawn to him. She chooses to work through his pain with him. That’s Hades and Persephone. The dark descent into the underworld–transformation–and the reemergence into the renewal of spring.

Now, where I was WRONG in my original assessment is where I suggested that this is ONLY a Hades and Persephone story. I actually began to doubt my thoughts on that score almost immediately sitting in the movie theater. Now having seen and read it I must admit that there is plenty of the authentically erotic in it. Archetypes of love (Aphrodite/Eros) and the soul (Psyche) run rampant over the entire series. Despite the darkness in this story, there is much of color, lightness, sweetness, and joy. Keep in mind though, that a lot of it is what Jungians call shadow aspects of these things. So much of this series is about the pain of becoming. Everything in this series is about beginning to learn about the unknown and the kind of mess that comes from that. It’s about the healing that comes through delving into the ickiness. Yeah, it ain’t pretty, but life ain’t always pretty. No relationship is pretty all the time–which leads into my next point.

Christian Grey: Millennial Man


After chewing and chewing on this for a long time, it finally occurred to me that the archetypal energy behind the piece…that archetype that has so many people riled up, is of the masculine, not the feminine. Anastasia may be girlish, kind of naive, and insecure, but she knows who she is. She is strong and stubborn, as well as loving and determined. Christian, on the other hand, is broken. And he has been broken by a system that preys on the disenfranchised–sexually, financially, and socially. As the child of a drug addicted prostitute with no father figure in his early life other than his mother’s violent pimps and as a teen who is sexually abused by his mother’s friend, he is essentially a traumatized man-child. He IS the archetypal masculine that has been damaged by the patriarchy. He represents the messiness that happens when a man–a character seen as a tool of the patriarchy–who has been victimized tries to balance compensatory measures against the need for love without shame or guilt.

Many have suggested that Christian is an abuser. I don’t believe that it is helpful to classify him in that way. Abusers are generally narcissistic, often sociopathic characters. Christian is not. It is the depth of his empathy that causes him to shut down in the first place. He feels too much. And he has no way to process what he feels. Much like his archetypal precursors–Mr. Darcy, the Beast, Edward Lewis–his bad behavior is connected to childhood wounding, not to the essential nature of his character. I’m not excusing his bad behavior (believe me, I am exceedingly supportive of abuse victims. Not only are my mother and my sister survivors of abuse, but I myself have been in two relationships that stepped over the line of abuse. On the flip side, my brother-in-law was also the victim of horrific abuse from his first wife. I have dear friends that I love deeply who have been empowered to escape abusive situations. There is no excuse for it, nor should there be. Everyone has a right to freedom, love, and safety, and we must fight to support them all.), but what I am suggesting is my feminist friends-in-arms might consider for a second that our archetypal images of masculinity might just be that darn broken. What should we do with these broken images? Should we throw them all out? How are we to heal if we give up on them? How can we expect them to be something other than what they are, because these images speak to the reality of what we are truly feeling and experiencing.

We don’t need to tolerate crappy behavior, but if we truly love and accept others we should certainly seek to understand it. In my humble opinion, Anastasia shows us that our images of the maiden are doing just fine. Childlike though she is, this maiden has grit. She will grow to be a powerful woman. But the masculine…the hero…he is the one in peril. Beyond the fact that he doesn’t even know who he is and how blessed he is, he is so shut down emotionally so out of touch with his heart that he doesn’t even have the ability to access his pain, that is until Anastasia leaves him. It is at that point that he recognizes that if he should be lucky enough to get her back, he has to learn to open up to his hurt, even if he is terrified that the pain has the potential to unravel him.


Over and over again in the series, Christian steps forward to receive love from Ana. And each time he comes forward, eyes wide, head down awaiting the blow of rejection. I see this all around me; men who are starving for love, no sense of how to be and how to love. I am convinced that this makes Christian the archetypal millennial male. One of the most interesting things about him is that he senses his need for the healing that a union with the feminine can provide. He is driven to seek it out, and when he manages to find it, he is terrified by even the slightest possibility that he might have to let it go. So he does what men have done to compensate for lack of control in many myths over many years. He attempts to control everything. And as we are still in the messiness of the shadow of patriarchy, his wealth makes it seem that he pulls it off. But a close read reveals the opposite. Fear, trauma, and the belief that they are unlovable. That is what is unconscious in our archetypal masculine. Who is rebuilding positive images of men? Where do they go for healing? Where are the positive heroes? As singer Paula Cole once crooned, “where have all the cowboys gone?” Perhaps that is the point. Perhaps men are asking themselves a similar question. I’m not suggesting that we feminist women should step down and baby these broken men. What I am suggesting is that we stand up even higher and offer them a hand up with us, as only the divine feminine can–in compassion, kindness, and with a swift kick in the ass.

Oh, and one more thing: if you want to read an amazing dissertation on this topic, keep your eyes peeled for work by my friend Art Deilbert–Toward New Masculine Identities. His work analyzes Arthurian tradition, suggesting that men can find healing in the character of Perceval as what he calls a lunar hero (in contrast to the common solar hero)–a lunar hero being a man in touch with the messy, emotional underworld of nighttime consciousness. Just read it, if you can. It is genius…and he is so right.

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50 Shades of Shadow


Heads up, dear readers. I will soon write a commentary of 50 Shades of Grey. I’ve been resisting it forever. I’ve been told over and over not to read it…that it would kill my brain cells…so I have. HOWEVER, it’s been bothering me. The worldwide phenomena that this series has become has been bothering me…what it is saying about humanity has been bothering me, and (finally) yesterday I figured out what it is mythically that is going on and that bugs me so much. So, rather than make you wait for however long it takes me to finally read the books, research the topic, and write, I thought I’d pass along the epiphany I had.

What caught my mind yesterday as the torrent of Jezebel, MoviePilot, and The Christian Left articles entered my view from left and right on Facebook is that in many ways, 50 Shades is simply a new iteration of the Beauty and the Beast motif. Boiled down to its most basic archetypal ingredients, Beauty and the Beast is about the beautiful aspects of feminine humanity coming to love and nurture what is dark, ugly and in shadow, particularly, what is shadow in the animalistic nature of humanity.

Some of the earliest versions of the motifs of the myths relate this to the archetypes of love (eros) and the soul (psyche), a perfect example of which would be Apuleius’ The Golden Ass, in which he gives the story of Eros and Psyche itself…a tale of love’s affair with the soul that eventually elevates humanity into the realm of the immortals.

Here’s the short version: Psyche is married to Eros as a sacrifice because her the idolatrous worship of her beauty has become an affront of Aphrodite. Psyche has no knowledge of who/what she married (as he always visits her in the dark of night), but finds her husband loving, attentive, and well, hot in bed. In their disbelief and jealously, her sisters convince her that she must find out. So, she visits his chamber at night with a lamp. As she gazes over him, marveling at his beauty, she drips oil out of her lamp onto his shoulder and burns him and his wings. Eros wakes immediately and flies home to Aphrodite, who nurses her wounds. Psyche is heartbroken. How can she return to her god of a husband, as she is only a human being? Aphrodite steps in for the sake of her son (who is also heartbroken), devising a series of labors for psyche (one of which includes a trip to visit Persephone in the underworld-the queen of death). Psyche completes them all and is elevated to Olympus…to immortal status–THIS is the story that Beauty and the Beast grows from. Archetypally, we are talking about the interplay of two central archetypes: love and soul. It is a story about how the relationship between the two develops.


In contrast to this stands the story of Hades and Persephone, one of a young girl, still in the maidenhood of her development who, while picking a flower one day–a narcissus flower, which is definitely significant as far as self reflection and refusal to move out of maidenhood goes–is dragged down into the underworld and forced (essentially by her father) to marry the Lord of Death, (and her uncle, BAH) Hades. Now, much has been made of the importance of Persephone’s development out of maidenhood, so there is some value to that. The union with Hades forces Persephone to go deeper into the realms of what Jungians would call the unconscious than she ever would on her own, and in fact, some might suggest that without being snatched by Hades, she’s not likely to ever had made the trip at all. Furthermore, there are some details in the myth that support the idea that at least part of Persephone is pleased with the results of her union with Hades. Some might suggest that this is what is going on with 50 Shades…but this is “Western” culture. We are at complete odds with our shadow (the dark, unknown aspects of our soul). And the unconscious aspects of our sexual shadow, particularly female sexuality which has been relegated to the darkest realm of shadow, is millennia long. It seems to me that what is actually going on here is a manifestation of the Jungian shadow in a way that is particularly and insidiously dangerous and difficult to see.


Many moons ago, I had a class with Dr. Ginette Paris at PGI–seriously, if you don’t know her, google her and read her stuff. She’s faboo. I really can’t remember what class it was, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that she said something that stuck in my mind, and continues to make poignant suggestions to me from time to time. Ginette said (wait for it, and I’m paraphrasing…) that TRAGEDY IS A MISALIGNMENT OF ARCHETYPES AT AN INAPPROPRIATE TIME. For example, a story about motherhood can be tragic, if the woman giving birth is still in the maiden stage, completely uninterested in and unprepared for becoming a mother. Make sense?

Ok, so bear with me here. It occurred to me that this is exactly what is going on with 50 Shades. This story, in all of its badly written, mommy porn Twilight fan-fic-ness, is being presented to us as a story that taps the archetypes of love and the soul, when in reality, it is tapping (hehehe–sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun) the archetypes of maidenhood and death. Let me say that another way: 50 Shades of Grey sells itself to be a re-telling of the myth of Eros and Psyche, but what it is is the shadow aspects of the myth of Hades and Persephone. And that is what makes it so dangerous. It isn’t that the story itself is tragic on its own, but that the storyteller is giving us the wrong names for the archetypes, and in doing so, she evokes a different story than what the archetypes constellate. It’s not a love story people. There’s nothing authentic of the Aphroditic and Erotic here (Irish hottie Jamie Dornan notwithstanding). But it is sold as if there is. So there you go: my epiphany. Stay tuned readers. I’m on the case to prove this (and possibly write a journal article in the process). In the meantime, Happy Valentine’s Day y’all. Now go find some authentic erotic experience. It’s a good thing.

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The Disney Princesses: Women of Faith, Loving Kindness, and Community


“Where there is kindness, there is goodness. Where there is goodness, there is magic.” –Cinderella’s mother qtd in the forthcoming live action “Cinderella” film (2014)

Confession: I love fairy tales in general and Disney fairy tales in particular. My adoration of the Disney princesses is legendary within my social circle. My husband still claims that the fastest he has ever seen me run is after Belle in Fantasyland one night when I was searching for an autograph. I love them. And, I’m very protective of them.

There’s something that has been sticking in my craw for a while now–the general critique of the Disney princesses as antifeminist. It’s been bugging me for so long that I’ve spoken about it in public a couple of times. Some time back, I gave a talk about the Disney princesses and the Jungian anima complex at the Popular Culture’s Association. The thesis was/is that Disney princesses reflect for the Disney studio what Jung suggested was a male projection of femininity. And since the studio (not to mention the animators) has, like the rest of Hollywood, been largely male throughout its history…well, enough said.

Personally, I find Jung’s gendered language both limiting and obnoxious. I feel that in continuing to align these concepts with biological gender only, we in the depth psychological, mythological, literary, and film studies communities continue to reinforce the status quo of all kinds of gender inequality. I do however, agree with his concept of the anima–the idea that there is feminine archetypal energy in our psychological reality, as well as a myriad of feminine archetypal images, all neither entirely positive or negative. I just happen to think that biological gender assignment has nothing to do with how one experiences them per se.

In 2012, I gave a paper on Merida at a Film and Myth conference on Milwaukee. In it, I suggested that Brave was an American feminist response to the over-masculinized and over-militarized myths of American mythic Scotland. Again, the paper focused on the concept of the feminine as more than biological gender…the idea that there is something about inherently feminine qualities, feminine energy in relationship that is lacking and necessary in our culture.

Now, to the princesses in general. Much has been made of them in their presentation of body image, their insanely perfect hair, and their focus on romance and marriage. I’ve heard the princesses criticized as cogs in the marketing machines whose entire purpose is to create “bling girls” so distracted by stuff they want to acquire that they don’t think critically. While I agree that there is some truth in that, I’ll leave those discussions to friends who are inclined to have them. Instead, I’d like to talk about the kind of positive mytho-psychic impact the Disney princesses have. In order to do that, I suggest that we disentangle these archetypal images from gender, and see them as messages from the archetypal feminine.

Disney princesses are often criticized for being weak and without volition. How can that be true? In every Disney princess tale, the actions of the princesses bring healing to their community. Sometimes they bring it through fighting–Mulan and Merida–and sometimes they bring it through their ability to be a catalyst for change–Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora. Again, why would one interpret them as weak and without volition? Is it because we see the stories where the princess herself is a catalyst as a sign of weakness? Is this assertion of weakness perhaps because we’ve learned to equate gentleness and kindness with powerlessness? Maybe?

Disney princesses are not shallow, vapid, helpless women who spend all day singing in the forest and looking for a prince. They are brave and tenacious. And none of them act alone. Animals, dragons, trees, good fairies, brothers, people enchanted into household objects, the world–all of the communities that surround the princess are helpers that one might miss if one was not paying attention or did not have the sensitivity to see them. These stories are not about conquering. They are about finding love and meaning in the world.

Let’s look at a list:

Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora–they reconnect with humans and animals, offering their creature friends safety, a human who sees them as sentient beings rather than commodities to be harnessed.

Ariel, Belle, Pocahontas, Mulan, Merida–among other things are literal saviors who are willing to fight and even die if necessary for those they love.

Rapunzel and Tiana–refuse to give up on their dreams.

Each of these characters sacrifice aspects of their own autonomy because they love, whether it is their kingdom, their families, their animal friends, their dreams, or a man. Why do we fear vulnerability so much? Is it because we fear the pain of it being unreciprocated? Perhaps. Perhaps we fear losing own power. Perhaps we criticize these characters in the wake of a culture of misogyny. Perhaps we are simply rebel against a media onslaught of imagery that lacks texture. Perhaps we simply resent what we perceive to be a lack of options for female characters. These are all fair. But these characters only become problematic to the extent that they are presented as the only option for female characters. And doesn’t this lack of options also happen to male characters as well?

True vulnerability is powerful. It can be a strength. Only through being willing to give up some of our control can we know what it is to love and connect with ourselves and others around us. Rather than to simply dismiss the Disney princesses (and remember I’m not suggesting we be uncritical of them), why not seek to also present them as a soft facet of feminine archetypal imagery? Why not make it ok for human beings to be vulnerable–period. If we think in these terms, perhaps we will begin to understand why these types of images are essential to humanity’s ability to love and empathize. Because truly, do we really want to risk missing the gentle beauty of goodness, kindness, and magic?

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Filed under Myth, Depth Psychology, Fairy Tales, Disney/Pixar