Beauty For Ashes

Grimm’s original fairy tales are infamous for their gruesome details and harsh lessons. Baking witches, hungry wolves and homicidal violence that seems to belong in a Quentin Tarantino movie highlight the brother’s collection of German folktales. But it should be remembered that these tales were not originally transcribed so that little girls could fantasize about their happily ever after, or for little boys to imagine slaying a great dragon. These stories were really tales of warning for adults. These cautionary naratives against folly, adultery, and cruelty, set in a world of extremes paint images that make their advice plain. What is less obvious to the eye is the internal message that lies beyond the details on the surface. Using Emanuel Swedenborg’s science of correspondences, a spiritual lesson can be uncovered. Spiritual stories that work in their own way to offer more cautionary advice. These stories date back long before the brothers Grimm and the fact that their lessons (if not their details) still live on today speaks to their universal truths and meaningful morals both literal and spiritual.

One of the Brothers’ more famously graphic stories, Cinderella in it’s original form has only a small resemblance to the beloved Disney version. Still here too is a deeper meaning that can be drawn from the story of cruelty, kindness, deception, and honesty. In order to disentangle the true narration from the singing mice and fairy-godmother, here is a short summary of the initial tale:

A rich man’s wife dies leaving her only daughter with a message to stay “pious and good”. With her mother buried nearby, the daughter sees one winter pass before her father remarries a woman with two daughters. The three new additions are beautiful on the outside but ugly and cruel at heart and immediately force the daughter out of her fine clothes and into rags and wooden shoes to work in the kitchen as their servant. Because of her dirty clothes and nights by the fire and ash, they mockingly call her Cinderella. When the rich man goes to a fair, he brings to his daughters whatever they wish for: jewels and fine clothes for the stepdaughters and a hazel twig that touched his hat for Cinderella. Cinderella plants the twig on her mother’s grave and waters it with her tears until it grows into a fine tree. The cinder girl visits the tree three times a day to cry and pray and discovers that a white bird appears in it’s leaves each time, prepared to grant any wish that Cinderella asks of it.

Then there comes to the household an invitation to the King’s festival where the Prince will choose his bride. Cinderella wishes to go along with her stepsisters but is told that she must first collect all the beans spilled in the ashes by her stepmother. Calling upon the pigeons and turtle-doves, Cinderella asks them to help her separate the good seeds from the bad. But when she is finished the stepmother once again spills beans in the ashes and instructions Cinderella to collect them. With more help from the birds, Cinderella is once again successful but is still left behind. Running to her mother’s grave, Cinderella calls to the bird to throw down gold and silver which it does in the form of a beautiful gown and silk and silver slippers.

At the festival, Cinderella is unrecognizable and monopolized by the Prince to the point that he refuses to let any other dance with her, saying, “She is my partner.” At the end of the evening, when the Prince shows interest in seeing where Cinderella lives, she escapes into a bird house. Despite the Prince’s effort to break down the house with a pickaxe, Cinderella escapes back to her home where she returns the dress and shoes and is found once again in the ashes. This same routine is repeated the next night. Cinderella’s gown was more beautiful than before and the Prince chops down the pear tree through which his mystery princess escapes. On the third night of the festival, the bird throws to Cinderella a dress that glitters and shines, along with slippers made of pure gold. The guests are speechless at the sight of her and the Prince doesn’t let any part him from her. At the end of the evening, however, as Cinderella makes her escape, the Prince’s trap is made clear. He has covered the way with pitch but only one of the run away’s slippers is found in the stickiness.

The Prince takes this slipper to the house of the rich man the next day where he decrees that the maid who fits the slipper is his true bride. The stepsisters snatch the slipper and go to their room to try it on, accompanied by their mother. When the slipper doesn’t fit the first sister due to her large toe, she is given a knife by her mother and instructed to cut it off, being reassured that as queen she will have no need to walk.

Presented to the Prince has his bride, the stepsister is put on his horse to ride with him to the castle. As the two pass the hazel tree, however, a chorus of birds inform the Prince that the maid on his horse is not his true bride. Seeing blood spilling from the slipper, the Prince returns the first sister. When the second tries the shoe, her heel is cut off to allow for its small size. But again the chorus of birds warn the Prince before they get far on his horse.

Though both father and stepmother deny her existence, the Prince demands to see Cinderella who washes her face and hands before presenting herself. With the shoe a perfect fit, the Prince recognizes his love and places her on his horse to the great approval of the bird chorus. Cinderella and the Prince are married and the stepsisters are made blind for their cruelty.

Now to the good stuff. This is a long story with lots of details that may or may not be significant in finding an internal meaning. I have done my best to pick and choose those that make a cohesive spiritual story.

First we start with the death of a mother. Mothers often correspond to the church and Cinderella as her daughter corresponds to love of truth (True Christian Religion 306)(Arcana Coelestia 3081). The death of the church leaves behind a small group who still have affection for truth and wish to live by the teachings that the church has taught them. A change in season corresponds of a change in spiritual state (Arcana Coelestia 37). As time passes and distances the father from his wife’s death, the people of the world move on from the death of the church to make way for another church. This new wife and her daughters are a false church and affection for falsities respectively. With their powerful false teachings the people of the false church drive those who still wish to follow the dead church, into servitude where they have no power and no voice. Rags which correspond to truths that have become polluted by falsity, and wooden shoes which mean the most external evil are also forced onto the people of the old church (Arcana Coelestia 5954)(Arcana Coelestia 8932)(Arcana Coelestia 1748). Ashes correspond to the mourning of the death of good and truth of the church which is why the cinders are so important (Arcana Coelestia 637). This story is all about the daughter of the church mourning its loss which is all that the false church sees and so calls her “the girl that is mourning all the time”.

A grave corresponds to a place of protection for the charitable until after the last judgement (Apocalypse Explained 899). The resting place of the dead church serves as a refuge for her living followers to mourn and pray. When given the chance to receive whatever they wish, the followers of the false church simply want external decoration to hide their falsity, while the followers of the dead church wish for a twig which corresponds to the beginnings of a new church (Arcana Coelestia 4231). Tending to the beginnings of this new church with her grief at the lack of understanding of truth in the world (tears), the followers of the old church become the founders of the new church (Apocalypse Explained 484). Three times a day signifies a complete period of a church, meaning that the new church has completed its time of mourning the old and has found new power and justice of thought and reason in the form of the white bird (Arcana Coelestia 4495)(Arcana Coelestia 4007)(Apocalypse Explained 388).

A King represents divine good and divine truth that make up the Lord’s church (Apocalypse Explained 446). The Prince, therefore represents the truth of this church and is looking for a bride that represents the love to match his truth and complete their own divine church (Arcana Coelestia 2761)(Conjugial Love 122). The eligible young ladies represents all the various affections for the truth both false and true which includes the false church and the new true church who both wish to become part of the Lord’s church. However, the new church is hindered by the false church who accuses the new church of being false, ugly, and dirty. Demanding that the new church prove they can separate good truths from false truths represented by the seeds that are mixed in cursed falsity from a love of self which is another significance of ashes (Apocalypse Explained 401)(Arcana Coelestia 9723). Using a bird-like perspective and understanding that is from a spiritual point of view, the new church is easily able to finish the task (Arcana Coelestia 8764). The new church is forced to complete this chore twice by the false church to represent the separation of good truths from false ones in both the exterior and interior life of the church (Arcana Coelestia 5614). Still the false church leaves the new church behind.

Yet, the new church finds in itself good and truth that is beautiful and true. Good and truth in the form of a gown and mediate heavenly good and truth in silk and silver slippers (Apocalypse Revealed 773). This external manifestation of the good and truth of the new church is seen by the divine truth of the Lord’s church and loved by it. However, the new church is not yet prepared for the divine truth to see her home or the false church that forces her into servitude. She has not reached her full regeneration and separated herself from the false church so she hides herself in spiritual thoughts and reasonings (Apocalypse Explained 388)(Arcana Coelestia 8764). In using the axe the Prince that is divine truth is using the Word to try and remove these thoughts and difficulties of the intellect to reach the new church but in vain (Jonathan Bayley). At the next time of gathering, the new church has grown closer to divine good and truth with a gown more beautiful than the first. Again the divine truth shows jealous love for the new church and wishes to make it one with the Lord’s church, but still the new church is not ready and so hides in her intelligence of usefulness which is removed by the divine truth again but not before the new church escapes all together (Arcana Coelestia 10178). The third gathering marks the completion of a time or period, in this case the time of the new church’s spiritual growth and preparation to join the Lord’s church. With divine love in her golden slippers and shining divine love and truth in her gown, the new church appears in her full potential to the divine truth (Arcana Coelestia 113). Yet, still she doesn’t feel prepared to join the Lord’s church and again tries to run away, but is caught in the true affection for the church (pitch) felt by the divine truth (Arcana Coelestia 638). Leaving behind only the natural goodness of love, the new church again makes her escape.

The divine truth decides that the only way to find the new church is using the natural love she has left behind and comes to the false church searching for the new church. The only way for the false church to join the Lord’s church is to claim the natural love as theirs. However the false church is built upon love of self and love of the world which contradicts the loves of the new church of charity and selflessness. A knife represents the truth of faith, however in this case it is the falsities of the faith of the false church. These falsities are used by the church to trick its followers into cutting off the lowest natural principles of their faith, represented by the heel, as well as the power of truth and intelligence of the church, represented by the big toe (Arcana Coelestia 2799)(Arcana Coelestia 4938)(Apocalypse Explained 298). These sacrifices leave the followers of the false church crippled and in a deeper state of falsity than before.

Though their efforts temporarily deceive the divine truth until, with the prompting of his thought and reason represented by the bird chorus, he sees the blood coming from the shoe which signifies divine truth that has been falsified (Apocalypse Revealed 332). When all the obvious affections for truth have proven false, the divine truth forces the false church to reveal the new church who washes herself in preparation to see the divine truth. Washing corresponds to a purification of evil (Divine Providence 151). With the new church free of its bonds from the false one, it easily claims its natural love as its own and recognized by the divine truth as divine love to match it. Together they become one in the Lord’s church while the false church is left in spiritual blindness and falsities.

A long a complicated spiritual tale to match its source material and of course this is just one interpretation. The great thing about a good narrative is the innumerable variations and translations that can be drawn from it and reused over and over again to shed light on a different detail and explore another angle. This spiritual story of the birth and growth of a new church can be put among them and any more that will come along in the future.

“DICTIONARY”. N.p., 2016. Web. 26 June 2016.
Dictionary Of Correspondences Representatives And Significatives. New York: Swedenborg Foundation inc., 1988. Print.
Grimm, Jacob et al. Grimm’s Fairy Tales. New York: Barnes & Noble Classics, 2003. Print.
Sechrist, Alice Spiers. A Dictionary Of Bible Imagery. New York: Swedenborg Foundation, 1973. Print.

About Tykah Echols

Tykah is the daughter of a New Church minister and has been learning about the church since infancy. She attended both the Bryn Athyn Elementary schools and the Academy of the New Church. She is now a student at Bryn Athyn college where she hopes to continue learning about the religion she was born into. She knows that there is much more for her to learn about the Lord, his teachings and herself.

2 thoughts on “Beauty For Ashes

  1. A fascinating piece, Tykah. It takes me back to my attendance at a story-telling and lecture given during a local literary festival a few years ago; it focussed on a few old fairytales and spoke of their value not only as stories but because of their inner significance and current relevance (moral values etc.). It wasn’t as spiritual as your interpretation of Cinderella, but the presenters didn’t have access to Swedenborg (as far as I can tell, though some of the things they said made me wonder…). Thank you for doing the research I didn’t bother to do after that session – I simply wondered and pondered. You would have made a good partner for that team!

  2. Hi again Tykah. As I said before, I love these pieces of yours! Great food for thought and fun to follow the thread you lay down through the original tale. Thanks for all the effort put in – I’m collecting your interpretations.

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