Emerging Archetypal Themes: Maleficent:
Reclaiming the 13th Fairy and Our Relationship to the Divine Feminine
I have to begin this essay about the film Maleficent with praise for Linda Woolverton's storytelling. Her script is a beautiful, imaginative and archetypal re-telling of the mythic sleeping beauty motif. Ms. Woolverton obviously has a deep knowledge of all the variants of this fairy tale and has come up with a splendid version that speaks to our times and is visually enchanting. But the real impact comes from Maleficent' s symbolic layers, which show us the truth about our patriarchal society's wounding and rejection of feminine spirit, the wounding that caused the original tale to be told.
In fairy tales, we find the most basic, archetypal story patterns that have shaped our human development through the ages. Archetypal patterns show us the shared instincts that make us all human. Just as a King represents a dominant collective belief, a Queen represents the feelings we have about that belief. New feelings and beliefs arise as self-awareness grows among the people, and fairy tales change to reflect the new awareness and how to achieve it. And it's a storyteller's prerogative to shape the story to her tribe's needs. Linda Woolverton has done just that. She tells a story of what was, what is and what might be if we learn to love the things we have been taught to fear.
Patriarchal religions have worked to suppress our relationship to the Earth and any knowledge of our true interconnection, because the ancients worshipped the Earth as a Goddess. Sleeping Beauty, Briar Rose, The Sleeping Beauty of the Woods are all tales about feminine values, Earth values, that are rejected and 'put to sleep' by a patriarchal society that does not value the Feminine Spirit of Life or our right-brain feminine consciousness that sees through the eyes of the imagination the magic and beauty of the Earth. And even worse, patriarchy creates a female villainess, turning our feeling, intuitive life into something harmful--something we should fear.
So this story of the Sleeping Beauty deals with what happens to our feminine feeling consciousness when it is repressed, ravaged and rejected by both our society and our own ego-consciousness. When we reject this feeling and imaginative aspect of life, it gets twisted and becomes the negative mother--the witch who wants to kill us or curse us. And we are left cursed with our masculine, left-brain thinking that cuts off our feminine wings and power, grounding us in a masculine reality that hates and fears the Divine Feminine's beauty, freedom and power.
But the negative mother doesn't just make our lives miserable: she pushes us to become more conscious. Her curse ultimately becomes a blessing, since it makes each of us face our fate and live our purpose. That's the purpose of archetypal stories--they show us a path to travel that will bring us to greater consciousness.
In the Grimm Brothers' story of Little Briar Rose, we find a King and Queen who long for a child. This kingdom needs new life. A frog hops out of the water and tells the Queen her wish is about to come true. Frogs were known to bring the rains, to bring fertility. So the fateful time is now. A baby daughter is born and called Briar Rose. This kingdom needs to be infused with new feelings. This princess symbolizes the feeling renewal of the possibilities of love as a healing agent. A briar rose has sharp thorns though, so she's not all sweetness and light, although those are the gifts the fairies give her.
Although in this tale, the fairies are called Wise Women and there are 13 of them. But the king only has 12 golden plate settings, and so he doesn't invite the 13th Wise Woman. This 13th fairy symbolizes the ancient Goddess of the Moon (whose power lay in the 13 Moon cycles of the year), the feminine wisdom of change and transformation. Patriarchy is a solar paradigm, and so 12 is the number of masculine completion. Patriarchy only wants Wisdom that serves its purpose.
In other tales, the number of fairies varies from 3 to 7 to 9, but this version makes perfect archetypal sense. Patriarchal thinking has a hard time with the energy of 13, the feminine Moon energy of mystery, reflection and change. We see remnants of this kind of patriarchal thinking in the US Congress today, where 'conservative' men are rejecting the truths we must face about our world.
Originally, the allotted time that this princess must sleep is 100 years. Then it is not just the prince's kiss that wakes Briar Rose--it is also the right time! When this tale was first told, something beautiful and new could not enter collective consciousness because they couldn't make room for the 13th Fairy. This is a fairy tale that also speaks to our times. Can women bring back the old Moon wisdom? Later versions of the tale made it a more individual task--rather than 100 years, the princess can only be awakened by 'true love's kiss'.
Love is now the key, even to Moon wisdom.
Maleficent by Disney
I have to admit I loved Maleficent the first time I saw the Disney movie back in 1959. I loved her even more when I took my daughter to see a Disney retrospective at Lincoln Center in New York City in the early 70s--before VHSs. My 3-year-old daughter decided she loved Maleficent, was going to dye her blond curls black and then went about terrorizing the other kids at the playground by jumping up and shouting, "I am Maleficent!"
As a mythologist and symbologist, I love seeing the symbolism of the 13th Wise Woman mesh with Maleficent, the spirit and protector of her land. As a young fairy, Maleficent is beautiful, kind, funny, courteous, strong, and powerful. She also has an open heart, developing a friendship with Stefan because of his own original kindness to her.