I believe fairy tales are secret repositories of hidden information about how Medieval Europeans viewed and behaved toward their (hidden) goddesses. I believe fairy tales contain secret, hidden information about the nature of what I’ll call “goddess culture” as it existed in Medieval and early modern Europe. In other words, by studying fairy tales, I think we can glean clues about our European ancestors’ beliefs about, and behavior around female deity. Sometimes even scholars claiming no interest in thealogy or goddess history admit that this is so. For example, according to the folklorist Vladimir Propp, the Russian fairy tale “The Frog Princess” explains how a Great Goddess created the world.
In “The Frog Princess” a king asks his sons to shoot arrows and marry the women who return the arrows. Unfortunately, the youngest son’s arrow is returned by a frog (spoiler alert: she’s really an enchanted “princess”). While dancing at her wedding, the frog princess creates forests, lakes and birds with a wave of her hand. Later, by using magic she wins all the contests and competitions set by the King. But one night the princess sheds her amphibian skin, and meets her husband at a dance — where she is revealed as a startlingly gorgeous woman. When he stumbles onto the frog skin, the prince burns it – to prevent his gorgeous wife from morphing into a frog again. But the moment her skin disappears, the princess disappears too. Only by completing a punishing task involving a spindle, gold thread, a locked box and a key, does the prince manage to win back his bride. But at this point their troubles begin in earnest: a man from the princess’ past begins to hound and pursue them. In the end the prince and princess are saved by an old woman who gives them a magic carpet. On this “they took off and flew like birds” and soon “…began to live and prosper, for the glory of all the people” (Afanas’ev 1973: 123).
Propp thinks that originally this princess was a very old, pre-agricultural goddess who created the world via her dancing: “’She danced and danced, whirled and whirled, and everyone was amazed. She waved her right hand, and forests and lakes appeared; she waved her left hand, and all sorts of birds began to fly.” This very ancient, totemic princess-goddess belonged to people still following the old hunting-gathering way of life, says Propp. Although the frog princess is the giver of water, sometimes she’s also water itself. “And he noticed that wherever the princess went, wherever her horses stepped, springs appeared, and he followed her by the trail of springs she had left.” And even though it is the princess-goddess who chooses her husband – by returning his arrow – the chosen man nevertheless must pass a test before winning the right to marry her. In the end, as we saw above, both the goddess and her consort “prosper for the glory of all the people” (Propp 1984: 143). Modified excerpt from Breaking the Mother Goose Code: How a Fairy Tale Character Fooled the World for 300 Years, to be published this coming fall (2014).
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