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We Want Our Rites! Folk and Fairy Tales as Initiation

Bill Derry

Contents of Curriculum Unit 84.04.07:

To Guide Entry

Since time’s beginning the oral tradition—the great process of the transmission of knowledge—energy from one person to another—has found its expression in stories... What is vital is that what is written should indeed be an echo of lived truth, not only a description.1

Once upon a time, professional storytellers served as invaluable and essential educators. They ensured the individual’s proper development and successful assimilation into their culture; transmitting social, spiritual, moral, historical and psychological knowledge. In preliterate society it was not uncommon for storytellers to have memorized the fourteen thousand or so lines of the Iliad as one of their treasures for an audience. (This was mentioned and discussed in our seminar as possibly being, sadly, a lost and important element in education.) What is it about certain stories that makes people want to hear them over and over again? Certainly the art of the storyteller to embellish, paint pictures with words and draw attention to relevant details is one reason—but what else?

For answers to this question we must go to the core of the Oral Traditions Seminar led by Michael Cooke that I was part of. Upon entering the seminar I confused oral traditions with oral histories, and wondered how one could study oral traditions through the written word. After reading and discussing many books, including Homer’s Iliad, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Charles Chesnutt’s The Conjure Woman, James Baldwin’s Go Tell It On The Mountain and Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, I was confronted with a new awareness of the meaning of oral traditions. Oral traditions are “the echoes of lived truth” quoted earlier, which provide “workable” contexts or frameworks for individuals and groups of people to relate within. (Workable because they have been tried, tested and made efficient over a long period of time.) Oral traditions are passed as echoes at first, but each time they are told and heard, the individual and/or group is led closer to their source—until they themselves are initiating them. Oral traditions are a life force which can control and be manipulated. The books that we read all had echoes of oral tradition in them.

Homer wove several oral traditions into the Iliad to create one epic; a masterpiece for storytellers, who can tell it all or select stories from it. John, in James Baldwin’s Go Tell It On The Mountain, is led by religious oral traditions to a living experience of their effects on the church altar. Charles Chesnutt in The Conjure Woman makes use of the trickster figure common in oral traditions (Anansi the spider, for example). In the trickster role, he presents Uncle Julius, who on one level appears to be entertaining, another level to be manipulating pre-Civil War conjure tales to get what he wants, and on yet another, to be informing the reader of the atrocities of the system of slavery. Oral traditions work on many levels: they entertain, inform and, more importantly, pass on powerful patterns of human behavior. According to Bettelheim, these patterns of behavior can provide answers for people of all ages. The “deepest meaning will be different for each person, and different for the same person at various moments in his life.”2

This unit has been developed to work on all three of the levels oral traditions work on. Students will be entertained with stories told to them by the teacher, be informed of another level of meaning in the stories; led through a dramatization of the material and finally provided with questions to reflect on the relevance of the stories and the new interpretation to their own lives. The unit has been designed for Middle School students, and as an itinerant arts teacher in Drama I will be choosing a 7th or 8th grade classroom to teach the unit in.

The raw materials I have chosen to accomplish the above are folk and fairy tales. They present oral traditions in a “raw” form, and therefore contain “timeless” patterns of behavior. Most of these tales have been passed down over hundreds of years. (“Cinderella”, for example, is at least one thousand years old!3) The tales I have chosen to include are: a Seneca Indian folktale, “The Storytelling Stone”, two of Roger Abrahams’ African folktales, “The Devil Comes Between Them” and “The Quality of Friendship”, and two Grimm’s fairy tales, “Little Red-Cap” and “Faithful John”. Students will not need copies of the five stories, as the teacher will tell them to the group. Drama has been chosen as the primary tool that will be used to wield these raw materials, not only because it is a medium I am familiar with, but more importantly, because it is the only medium in education that I know of which ensures internalization of information—by fusing feeling and thinking, activity and passivity.

Students will need to be informed on primitive initiation rituals, as the premise of this unit is that folk and fairy tales offer advice in that form, particularly for adolescents. Adolescents are searching for their identity and it will be explained how initiation rituals once served to quicken that process. Through storytelling, story dramatization, and initiation rituals it is hoped students will improve language arts skills, increase understanding of dramatic processes and become aware of folk and fairy tales as transmitters of information valuable for understanding themselves and others.

The objectives of the unit are:

I. To improve language arts skills by:
A Setting up a situation that requires listening for detail and sequence of events.
B.Encouraging dialogue.
C.Increasing vocabulary.
D.Improving abilities to decode symbolic language.
E.Producing a written work.
II.To use Drama to:
A.Add active experience and emotion to the learning act.
B.Develop a sense of community.
C.Allow ritual to occur.
D.Increase understanding of dramatic form.
E.Tear down the wall between work and play.
III. To provide an initiatory experience which:
A.Provides advice on how to overcome obstacles.
B.Improves self-concept and self-identity.
C.Improves the ability to cooperate with others.
D.Improves the ability to recognize initiation rituals in folk and fairy tales.
E. Connects the individual with the archetype of initiation.

Initiation Rituals

In a time before this one initiation rituals were used as vehicles to pass a novice from one stage of life to another. Initiation followed a prescribed set of rituals which separated the initiands from everyday life, instructed the neophytes with necessary, “secret” information and reincorporated the newly initiated persons into a “higher” position in the community.4 Initiation transformed a child into an adult.

Today, because our society is divided into many “communities”, each adhering to a different set of values, attitudes and beliefs, there appears to be no universal set of “secret” information that can be used as instruction for initiation. Initiation on a communal level exists, but in a weak and nearly non-effective form. Separation takes place at five years of age or younger when children are placed in schools. (Schools all too soon lose symbolic significance.) Instruction lasts at least twelve years and is limited primarily to indoctrination of factual information with no immediate relevance. (Little effort, if any, is used to pass on the mysteries and meanings of the content taught.) Reincorporation occurs after receiving a diploma during a commencement exercise. (But so much time has passed since the process began that it is not actually REincorporating—but incorporation for the first time!)

The initiation ceremony was only one of many rites of passage performed in the lifetime of a “primitive”. Ritual acts performed or observed by the entire group also marked birth, marriage, death, victory and defeat in war, changing seasons and paying homage to gods. “Rituals provide an organizing set of principles, traditional ways of binding for the moment the opposing forces within the community and tying together the past with the present.”5

Rituals today, however, do not exercise the same power as they did over the conduct of primitive societies. The emphasis on the individual rather than the group probably accounts for this. Modern man relies on ritual to mark the same events, but in a passive rather than an active mode, most often alienated from the actual experience in front of the television set. There just is no connection with a collective origin myth (a psychic-war is going on at that level), and even those rituals such as watching a football game, graduation, getting a driver’s license, voting, decorating the Christmas tree, coloring Easter eggs, and going into the military, which attempt to meet the psychic needs of a large group, have lost existential meaning in our culture.

Ritual was the first form of Drama. In order for ritual to be effective, it must be performed. Raglan explains in his book, The Hero, A Study in Tradition, Myth and Drama, that there are two primary modes of ritual—one done for the individual, the other for the group. A medicine man chanting a spell over a tooth in his hut to ease the pain of a suffering patient, is performing ritual for the individual. When a ritual is performed in front of and for others, as is the coronation of a king, the entire group is affected. The group is led to an internal understanding of their oneness as a community by witnessing and sanctioning the ritual which endows one member of the group with the responsibility of representing all the people.6

Symbols, too, play a significant role in initiation rites. According to Jung, symbols connect with the psyche’s storehouse of collective images and act as transmitters of unconscious energy.7 “Symbols are only the vehicles of communication; they must not be mistaken for the final term, the tenor, of their reference.”8 Symbols also do not have the power they once had, and for the same reasons that ritual degenerated. Modern man has learned to survive “well” by separating thought from action; word from symbolic meaning; and in most cases symbols have become signs. Rational definitions have replaced irrational intuitive meaning, blocking individual access to the unconscious.

This unit is addressed to the readers’ intuition. There will be little information from your performance objectives books, or curriculum guides to let you see the path ahead. I believe that teachers should work as artists. Our palette is filled with colors made up of each curriculum area and, more importantly, areas not presently included in the curriculum. It is the job of the teacher to demonstrate to students how to “paint” with all of these colors. Of course it will be essential for students to go through a blue stage, a red stage, etc., but they should be learning how to put the areas together. (At present, it is demonstrated, by rigid scheduling of time slots for specific subject areas, that each curriculum is quite separate.) The reason that so much information is included in this unit on initiation rituals and the analysis of specific folk and fairy tales is to provide the reader with enough background to be able to go through an initiatory experience before, and then with, your students.

Folk and Fairy Tales As Initiation

Whatever side one may take in this controversy on the origin and meaning of folk and fairy tales, it is impossible to deny that the ordeals and adventures of their heroes and heroines are almost always translatable into initiatory terms.9

Before analyzing particular folk and fairy tales it will be necessary to provide a more thorough background of initiation rites and their connection with folk and fairy tales.

At first glance one would suppose folk and fairy tales were written solely for the purpose of entertaining and enchanting young children. Stereotyped characters, impossible situations, talking animals, and more often than not, sickeningly sweet happy-ever-after endings. (Nonsense and play?) A second glance might reveal a moral or several morals within the text, such as: don’t talk to strangers, follow directions, don’t be a miser, and love your parents.” A third glance, after reading The Uses of Enchantment, The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales by Bruno Bettelheim, could cause one to react in at least three ways (I have seen each!): 1.) Disbelief/disgust or “The shattered childhood memory reaction”—”What kind of a pervert could interpret my childhood stories in such a ludicrous manner?” 2.) No reaction or “That was an interesting fairy tale about fairy tales!” 3.) Enthusiasm or “I can’t believe I never saw that!” reaction—“I will now reread all my favorite tales from that point of view!” Bettelheim has caused us to reassess the value and purpose of fairy tales. He, at least for me, was the first to reveal the rich levels of meaning in a fairy tale. It was he who forced me to return to versions of fairy tales that were more “psychologically sound” even though they included more violence. Bettelheim says, “Fairy tales, unlike any form of literature, direct the child to discover his identity and calling, and they also suggest what experiences are needed to develop his character further.”10

C. G. Jung observed that the process he calls individuation, the growth of the self and ego towards wholeness which constitutes the goal of human life, is actually accomplished through a series of ordeals of initiatory types.11 I believe this to be true and that folk and fairy tales are but two forms of “secret doctrines” presenting initiation formulas that could assist in guiding individuals through life-crisis stages.

Adolescence, which in our culture has been prolonged (in many cases from age 12 or 13 till death), is when obvious physical changes occur. What is not as obvious is the fact that psychic changes of the same magnitude are occurring. The adolescent needs information to fill and decorate the many new “rooms” that have been opened in the psyche. And what happens? More of the same kind of information (only harder!) is fed the individual. This information does not fit into these rooms—they are for information which connects the individual to the group; for information not bound by space and time; for information which allows the individual the knowing (not just blind faith) of his uniqueness as an individual and his sameness and oneness with all that have ever and will ever live.

So the individual, if smart and clever, will digest the new information and will clutter up existing rooms, or, if truly clever, will build an addition and compensate for society’s overindulgence in the thinking function, by storing higher level thinking information in these rooms.

It is no wonder that adolescents rebel and that peer pressure is so great. They know on an intuitive level that they are supposed to be trained with the mysteries of life, but they have not learned how to ask for it. (How could they when it is not there!) So, adolescence is extended until the individual accepts the fact that she/he must take society’s substitute for meaning—namely, status based on the ability of the individual to package himself as a profit making product. With this goal in mind it is not surprising that in education, emphasis is on giving the outer form of information, not its inner meaning, i.e., the sign, not the symbol; the word not the ritual; the fact, not the concept—in fact all of those qualities which make up the individuals in T. S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men”.

This unit will deal with initiation in terms of cultural and psychological motifs found in folk and fairy tales, and will include little information on psycho-sexual development, found by Bettelheim and others. There are many reasons for this. First, the “hidden” story of sexual development is at a level in the folk and fairy tales which is deeper than the level of initiation rituals. It is a third stage of initiation, so to speak, that in our culture can best be left to the parent or the sex-education teacher. Second, if adolescents are remotivated to examine folk and fairy tales as maps of archetypal patterns of psychological growth, they will discover, because the time is right, information to guide their new awareness of sexual development. Only where it appears absolutely clear and necessary, will physical changes due to puberty and sexual symbolism be included in the unit. It depends on the teacher, the concern of parents, the questions of the students and “climate” of the classroom as to whether these issues will be a part of your unit.

Recurring Patterns in Initiation Rituals

The fact that initiation rituals found in different cultures in different times have much in common is not surprising. This is also true of myth and folk and fairy tales. It is just more evidence that all of these forms are manifestations of psychic and physical processes. The array of symbols and rituals found fill volumes of books on initiation and would be too overburdening to include in the body of this unit. I will present some examples but for a more elaborate compilation of recurring initiatory patterns see the table in the appendix.

The majority of initiation rituals are separated into boys’ rites of passage and girls’ rites of passage. Some, however, were simple in the extreme, initiating boys and girls together with no mutilation of the body. Instruction was confined to the understanding of a Supreme Being.12

Initiation rituals contain two distinct yet complementary processes. One, commonly termed the “Quest of the Hero” involves the use of one’s will to achieve ambitions through acts of courage and strength. The other involves the giving up of willful ambition; the sacrifice of the self and ego and a submission to the ordeal. Here the goal is not clearly known, and there is no hope by the novice that this will be a success.13

The elements of willful submission and sacrifice are particularly foreign to our style of thinking at this time. The idea of conquest or “You can get what you want if you fight for it!” is a prevalent one. For this reason, the submission and sacrificial elements will be stressed in this unit. The adolescent needs to understand that going through an experience of no-identity, or loss of identity, is a natural process in a human life—and it will demand periods of submission and sacrifice. Initiation rituals were designed to create an experience of these processes in order to give them credence and allow them to “live”.

The Stories

We will now observe patterns of initiation rites found in specific folk and fairy tales. Strategies for teaching these stories will be included in lesson plans after a synopsis and analysis is given for each of the five tales.

“The Storytelling Stone”14

Synopsis In another time before this one a boy stopped to rest from his hunting and sat on a large stone. The stone said, “Let me tell you a story.” The boy had never heard of stories and asked what they were. The stone explained that stories are traditions and told the boy he must give him presents if he wanted to hear some. The boy gave him one of the partridges he had caught, and heard the story of the “first people”. Soon the entire village listened each night to the stone’s stories for a period of four years, each time presenting the stone with freshly killed animals. The stone told the boy one night when he was the only one there, that he could be helped in his old age, if he would tell the stories, and make sure that he was given presents in return. The boy grew up and did as the stone suggested. He was given meat, pelts and tobacco for his stories. This is how stories came to be!

Analysis This story will provide the “anchor” for the teaching unit. Its importance is that it makes clear the connection between oral traditions and a living process. The saying, “You can’t get blood from a stone” becomes obsolete with this story. Stories are a result of the sacrifice of freshly killed game to a symbol of timelessness commonly found in folk and fairy tales—the stone. The sacrifice of blood, so common in initiation rituals, is directly linked with the origin and continuation of oral traditions. In modern times it translates into, “What am I willing to sacrifice or submit to in order to learn the unknown?” (Not the unknown in a mystical sense, necessarily, but in a literal, factual sense.) The boy submits to the experience of the stone, makes sacrifices or presents to it and only after many years, in old age, does he willfully act to pass on the stories. It is a story containing the two aspects of ritual mentioned previously, implying that submission is sometimes important as a prerequisite for “conquest”. Numbers are important symbols in folk and fairy tales. Four, a symbol of completion and wholeness, as the number of years it took for the stone to relate tales, implies that the task was completed well.

“Little Red-Cap”15

Synopsis Red-Cap is sent, by her mother, to her sick grandmother’s small house in the forest with some cake and wine. She encounters a wolf and is not at all startled or frightened. Red-Cap tells the wolf where she is going and the wolf directs her off the path to pick some flowers for her grandmother. The wolf arrives at the grandmother’s house first; devours her and takes her place in bed. When Red-Cap arrives she remarks on grandmother’s large ears, eyes, hands and mouth and is promptly swallowed by the wolf. A hunter comes along; recognizes what has happened; cuts open the wolf’s stomach with scissors and releases both Red-Cap and her grandmother. Red-Cap fills the “sleeping” wolf’s belly with stones and the wolf, upon awakening, collapses, dead. The grandmother, who was “scarcely able to breathe” is revived with cake and wine. Red-Cap thinks to herself, “As long as I live, I will never by myself leave the path, to run into the wood, when my mother has forbidden me to do so...and Red-Cap went joyously home, and no one ever did anything to harm her again.”16

Analysis This tale was chosen because of its universal appeal for both children and adults. It should serve as a speedy entrance into initiation, as the story will be known to all. A strategy has been included in the lesson plan for this tale which should reduce resistance to it as “just a little kid’s story”!

Initiation rituals begin with the individual’s separation from home and family, between the ages of ten and thirteen. In the Grimm’s version the mother does not warn Red-Cap against talking to strangers, as she does in the Perrault version, designed for moral instruction. Red-Cap is not upset when she meets the wolf because she “knows” her initiation ritual has begun. She must submit to each experience met. During initiation ceremonies it was common for initiators to dress as animals: using masks, skins, claws, feathers and paint. There is a universal quality of using the animal as a symbol of transcendence.

“The masters of initiation are divinities in animal form. The ritual belongs to an archaic hunting culture.”17 This fact is especially important in this tale, as it is the hunter, as hero, who eventually saves Red-Cap.

The tiny house in the woods is the timeless, sacred site of the initiation ceremony. “Once upon a time” was the first signal that this timeless place would be reached. Also, another clue: cake, or sweet bread, and wine—sacred symbols, are being delivered as a gift to this spot. (Many of the Grimm’s tales contain Christian symbols of transcendence.) The grandmother is symbolic of the Great Mother or Mother Earth as found in many origin myths. She is the nourishing and devouring one. The wolf never really eats her, but is the devouring side of the Great Mother. (This appeals to the child’s logic where two can not be one; separates the two aspects of nature and as our seminar leader, Michael Cooke, wrote, “Makes the entrance into the setting, rather than the setting (nature) itself, dangerous”.)

Another element of initiation is symbolic death. Often the initiation hut is shaped like a lizard or snake, and the novices climb in through the mouth. Self-identity is lost by returning to the womb. Red-Cap is symbolically dead when she is inside the wolf’s stomach.

Red-Cap should have immediately recognized the wolf if it were not her grandmother. She did recognize the enlarged sensory perceptions of her “new” grandmother. Symbolically, she was recognizing the godlike qualities of this initiatory figure.

Red-Cap is reborn and immediately recognizes she must get rid of the evil part of the Great Mother. She demonstrates her new status as an adult by making her first decisive and courageous act. She fills the wolf’s belly with “great stones”. Once again the stone serves a life giving function. Red-Cap learns that life-less-ness (the stone) can be used to rid her life of evil. Here we see clearly the two elements of initiation submission/sacrifice and a courageous act. Red-Cap has submitted to the symbolic death experience and experienced the “darker” side of (her) nature. She has learned how to use what she gained through submission to get rid of life-threatening obstacles.

Red-Cap’s mother had said, “Do not run off the path or you may fall and break the bottle.”18 Of course, on a sexual level the mother has warned Red-Cap to stay on a righteous path and protect her virginity, but on another level the mother has forewarned and informed Red-Cap of a plan that will allow her to “enlarge her knowledge, i.e., gain new ground without going astray.”19 The mother knows that Red-Cap is about to undergo an initiatory ritual that will provide an inner understanding of the mores of her culture. Red-Cap understands that there is a prescribed cultural path to follow if she submits to the instruction of her teachers. She loses her naiveté and learns what to do with a “wolf” the next time she encounters one—as she and her grandmother work together to scald the next one they see.

“The Devil Comes Between Them”20

Synopsis A youth and a maiden love each other and go off into the bush with a sleeping mat. Iblis, the devil, comes and kills the boy, then cuts off his head. The girl can do nothing but sit and lament. Both sets of parents are guides by an old woman to the dead boy and crying girl. Iblis comes up again. He makes three rivers; one of fire, one of water, and one of black-hooded cobras with a land monitor in it. Iblis tells the dead boy’s mother she must go through each river and bring back the land monitor. She refuses and Iblis will not revive her son. The maiden, however, courageously takes on and accomplishes the task of retrieving the land monitor. The boy is brought back to life. Then Iblis says, “Now if this land monitor is slaughtered, the boy’s mother will die, but if it isn’t slaughtered, the girl’s mother will die.”21 The reader is left to ponder which choice will be made.

Analysis This folk tale was chosen as an example of a boy and girl going through initiation together. “Schmidt considers this collective initiation of the two sexes to be one of the most ancient of existing forms.”22 There are many tales with this initiation pattern, including Grimm’s “Hansel and Gretel”23 and Abrahams’ “Demane and Demazana”.24 It also concludes with a question, as many of the African folktales collected by Abrahams’ do, that will stimulate discussion and deepen awareness of the initiatory nature of folk and fairy tales.

The fact that the two young people were referred to as youth and maiden, rather than young man and young woman, and that they just sit and talk on the sleeping mat, indicates that this is most likely their first relationship. They are both at the age of puberty. The “crossing of the threshold”25 has occurred. Going off into the bush symbolizes the beginning of the initiation process.

“Ritual decapitation arose from the discovery in prehistoric times that the head is the receptacle of the spirit.”26 It is a ritual found in many folk and fairy tales and is a symbol for the sacrifice(s) that must be made by an individual in order to progress to the next stage of growth. In this case the maiden has sacrificed her loved one.

An actual initiation rarely includes the real parents, and if it does they use paint or masks to become a spirit of a dead ancestor. The Great Mother, as guide (in the guise of the old woman), has furnished symbolic, ancestral parents for both children in order to “play out” the ritual.

Initiation frees the boy from his dependence on the mother, and the girl from her dependence on the father. Both issues are dealt with in this tale. The devil (or evil side of the Great Father) sets up tasks for the boy’s mother. She must refuse if dependency is to be broken. The tasks set before the maiden are common in initiation rituals. First there is the river of fire. “...Access to sacrality is manifested, among other things, by a prodigious increase in heat...among some tribes, the initiation also includes the novice’s being ‘roasted’ in or at a fire.”27 Fire purges and prepares the individual for further tasks. Then there is the river of water. “Submersion in water is of course a common initiation ceremony; in our own culture we have baptism.”28 And, finally there is the river of black-hooded cobras. Snakes are “symbolic of energy itself—of force pure and simple... Snakes (or serpents) are guardians of the springs of life and of immortality, and also of those superior riches of the spirit that are symbolized by hidden treasure.”29 The maiden accomplishes the task, and returns with the hidden treasure, the positive side of the Great Father.

It is obvious what must be done to properly conclude the initiation ritual. The boy must slaughter the land monitor. “Sacrifice of the serpent makes it possible to accept death gratefully and to soar up to higher regions.”30 Students will argue that the boy’s mother must die because she would not bring back the land monitor to save him. She must “die” not for that reason, but because it was the goal of the initiation rite—for him to gain his independence. The youth and the maiden have “graduated” to a higher level of being.

“Faithful John”31

Synopsis (This is the most elaborate of the tales to be chosen for this unit and includes a great number of initiatory motifs. The story is one that most students will not be familiar with, so it will be important to tell it with as much detail as possible. The brief synopsis will provide the reader with enough information to understand the analysis, but it will be essential to read the complete version in Grimm’s before telling.)

There was once upon a time an old king who, on his deathbed, requested his faithful servant, John, to raise his son. One thing Faithful John must not do is show his son the picture of the Princess of the Golden Dwelling, for if he sees it, he will fall “violently in love with her” and jeopardize his life for her. Faithful John agrees to do so, even if it means he must die.

The son becomes King and convinces Faithful John to let him in the room containing the picture, saying he will die from curiosity if he does not get in. The King faints upon seeing the picture of the princess.

The King sets out to claim the princess as his bride, commanding Faithful John to assist. Knowing gold to be the princess’ weakness, they mold all the gold into beautiful objects, and arrive by ship disguised as merchants at the Princess’ kingdom. She is lured on board ship to see the gold, and unknowingly taken away. When the Princess hears the truth, she is overcome with love and willingly consents to be the King’s wife.

During the voyage, Faithful John overhears three ravens speaking about the King not really having the Princess yet. One said that a horse would appear as they disembarked from the ship and that the King would mount it and be taken away forever. Only if someone were to mount it and shoot it, would the King be spared. If the person told why it was done, he would turn to stone from toes to knees. The second raven said even if that was accomplished, when the King arrived at the castle he would see a beautiful bridal garment, which when put on, would burn him to the bone. Only if someone wore gloves and threw it in the fire would the King be saved. If that person were to tell about it, he would become stone from knees to heart. The third raven said that even if this was done, the King would still not have his bride. Once wed, the Queen would fall down as if dead, and only if someone were to draw three drops of blood from her right breast and spit them out again would she come to life. If he told about it, he would turn to stone from head to foot.

Faithful John decides he must accomplish these tasks for the King. He kills the horse, burns the bridal garment, and draws the blood. The King accepts the first two, but can not accept the last. When Faithful John explains why he did each deed, he is immediately turned to stone.

Many regretful years go by and the Queen has twin boys. One day the statue of Faithful John tells the King he can be brought back to life by the blood of his two children. The King beheads his children and sprinkles their blood on the stone. Faithful John comes to life, and returns the children to life by placing their heads back on—rubbing the wounds with their blood.

The children and Faithful John are hidden and the King asks the Queen if she will sacrifice the children to bring Faithful John back to life. She consents, and the children and Faithful John come out of hiding. “Then they dwelt together in much happiness until their death.”32

Analysis Of course, we are taken by “Once upon a time” to the timeless space where initiation can happen, a space different from now which suggests that unordinary events may occur. Faithful John is given the responsibility of guiding the new King through an initiatory experience. The initiation begins when the father dies, as the son is separated from his father. Initiations begin with the symbolic death of the parents. (And of course, it is symbolic, as Faithful John carries on the role of the father.) The dead father sets up the journey of the hero by keeping the special room hidden from him, knowing that eventually and with heightened curiosity the son will go into the room. There the King crosses the first threshold and the journey begins. It is the journey of the making of a King.

His ego inflated, the King must leave home for the Princess of the Golden Dwelling. In Jungian psychology the Princess of the Golden Dwelling would represent the anima—”a personification of all feminine psychological tendencies in a man’s psyche, such as vague feelings and moods, prophetic hunches, receptiveness to the irrational, capacity for personal love, feeling for nature, and—last but not least—his relation to the unconscious.”33 In Man and His Symbols a description of a young man being initiated by an older shaman is described. After being buried under snow, the young man has a vision of a woman who emitted light. She instructs him and relates him to the powers beyond. According to Jung, these powers can be found in the unconscious.34 In “Faithful John” the King has witnessed a picture of this goddess and must have her in reality to sustain a connection with his unconscious, and gain the full powers of a King. “Gold is symbolic of supreme illuminations, of all that is superior, the glorified or ‘fourth stage’ after the first three stages of black (standing for sin and penitence), white (remission, purity and innocence) and red (sublimation and passion).”35 The King as hero, has begun his individuation process in search of the “fourth” or highest state the integration of all parts of his psyche. This explains why there are three obstacles and three tasks for Faithful John to achieve. Three, even without analyzing the color symbolism, is a recurring number in folk and fairy tales. Four is the number of completion—wholeness, and refers to the final outcome. Therefore, three symbolizes that which must be done in order to reach the stage of completion. I doubt it is a coincidence that the colors of the first three stages mentioned in the previous quote, match the acts that had to be accomplished. The first (black), the killing of the horse leads to Faithful John being accused of a sinful act by most of the observers. The second (white), the burning of the bridal garment, is symbolic of purification—of making white. The third (red), Faithful John drawing out blood from the Queen’s breast, was taken by the king as an act of passion. It is then that Faithful John turns to stone.

It has been too easy for the King! He has experienced only the heroic element of initiation and not the act of submission. Faithful John has removed three major obstacles from the King’s path. In order for the King to successfully get the gold (or hold onto the Princess of the Golden Dwelling) he will have to submit to an initiatory ordeal he must sacrifice that which he loves most. Again we are confronted with the symbolism of blood and stone, decapitation and rebirth. It is the willingness to sacrifice and the act of sacrifice which restores the children. The Queen, in order to complete an initiation herself, and balance with her “completed” husband, must be willing to sacrifice her children as well. When she does, all are healed and on a higher level of existence.

“The Quality of Friendship”36

Synopsis A young man named Kamo, from the East, knew of another young man named Kamo, from the West. The young man from the West went to one who told fortunes by cutting sand and asked what his luck would be if he went to visit his friend. The man who cut sand told Kamo of the West that if he went to the East to see his friend, he would not find him home, meet him on the path and when he arrived with his friend in the East, he should not go out at night or he would die. He is unhappy with this prediction and goes to another fortune teller who tells him the same thing. He decides he will handle any problem that arises and goes anyway, and after a three day walk, meets Kamo of the East. They walk one more day to Kamo of the East’s place. That night Kamo of the East is eaten by a snake. Kamo of the West goes out to save him, and with a knife, cuts open the snake’s mouth, freeing Kamo of the East. Blood from the snake blinds Kamo of the West. Kamo of the East goes to a fortune teller, who cuts sand and tells him to kill his only son and wash Kamo of the West’s face in his blood. After doing this, Kamo of the West could see. The story ends asking “who was the greater friend, Kamo of the East or Kamo of the West?”37

Analysis There is a clear demonstration of both the quest of the hero and the act of sacrifice in this folktale. What makes it difficult to analyze is the fact that it symbolizes an individual’s (not two “friends”) initiation process. The two Kamos are one person. This is clearer on looking at the symbolism of East and West. “Orientation plays its due part in rites and ceremonies all over the world, particularly in those to do with the founding of temples and cities...” (Romulus and Remus!) “to turn towards the East is to turn in spirit towards the spiritual focal point of light...to turn westwards is to prepare to die, because it is in the watery deeps of the west that the sun ends its journey.”38 Kamo of the West disregards the warning given him by the fortune tellers and heads East—death or the unconscious moves quickly towards life or consciousness. The symbolic death which begins initiation has been created.

The numbers three and four are again important, as it takes him three days to meet Kamo of the West. It is on the fourth day that he submits to an ordeal (as Kamo of the West) and plays a hero (as Kamo of the East).

The snake, as mentioned earlier is a common initiatory motif. This tale, as in “Red-Cap”, demonstrates that first, submission to and then use of force are necessary for expanding consciousness.

The sacrifice of the son of Kamo of the East can best be explained by observing the fourth cycle, The Twin Cycle, in the evolution of hero myths as noted by Dr. Paul Radin. In this cycle the twins are really one person. Here “we see the theme of sacrifice or death of the hero as a necessary cure for hybris, the pride that has overreached itself.”39 Kamo of the West was guilty of thinking he could handle the warnings of the fortune teller. Kamo of the East’s son would also be Kamo of the West’s if they are one person. The child is a symbol of a product of the unconscious. “Jung argues, that in every case, the child symbolizes formative forces of the unconscious of a beneficent and protective kind.”40 Kamo of the West is actually taking a piece of the unconscious to heal it and reconnect it to consciousness. Kamo of the West has been “healed” by loosing a bit of itself. Out of “death”, submission and sacrifice, comes life.

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Lesson Plans

The lesson plans have been designed to simulate the initiation process—separation, instruction and reincorporation. Within these three categories are nine lessons.


Lesson 1:

Objectives  To introduce myself to the group. (Obviously not an objective for teachers already familiar with the group.) To create a sense of separation from the ordinary school setting. To produce a new set of names to be used throughout the nine lessons.

Materials  One very large stone and enough small stones (big enough to paint names on one side) for each member of the group +5 for the stories in the unit. (Note: Stones should be visible during each lesson.)
Procedure  Have students sit in a circle. Play a variation of the name game. Each person says his or her name, and chooses a second name that starts with the first letter of the first name. The new name must be found in nature. (It can deal with weather, be a plant, an animal, a mineral, etc.), but no two people can choose the same name. The teacher should go first and again at the end. Each person must introduce all preceding players saying, “Hello, I am (Bill) and my other name is (Bear or Black Boa, Brown Bull, etc.) and this is (real name of person) and their other name is(__________). It should be explained that the significance of these new names will become apparent in a later session, but for now they should keep the names secret. After the name game each person paints their “other name” on a stone.

Lesson 2:

Objective  To pass on the story, “The Storytelling Stone”. To introduce the concept of oral traditions.

Procedure  Tell the story, “The Storytelling Stone”. Discuss the significance of giving presents of freshly killed game to the stone. Ask students what stories they remember being told as a child? Ask students why they think that certain stories have been passed from one generation to another? Introduce the concept of Oral Traditions. Have students write down the one story they remember they liked the best when they were told it as a child. Tape this story to the stone that has their “other name” on it. (It can be painted on if there is room.) In pairs, students can choose one of their two stories. One person stands behind the other and places their arms under the other persons arms. The person in front then folds their arms behind their back. One person tells the story while the other person creates the hand and arm movements to go with the story. Several can be shared with the group.


Lesson 3:

Objectives  To introduce the concepts of rites of passage and initiation. To develop small group improvisations based on personal rites of passage.

Procedure  Place all desks around the edge of the room. Ask students to sit at the desks. Introduce the concepts of rites of passage and initiation rituals. Ask students what they have experienced that was (like) a rite of passage. (Entering school, joining the scouts, getting a passport or social security number, opening a savings account, moving schools, going to church, a church ceremony, first time in McDonald’s, etc.) After discussion ask students to break into three groups. Pick one person’s rite of passage in each group. That person acts as director and places each member of the group in the role of a person who was there. (The teacher should stress that a “production” is not being asked for. This is not the time to stress theater conventions such as face the front, speak up and keep your character!) Students should have no more than ten minutes to prepare the improvisation. View the three improvisations. Identify traits that they have in common.

Lesson 4:

Objectives  To introduce another way of interpreting a well known fairy tale. To gain commitment. To tell the story of “Little Red-Cap”.

Materials  Wolf mask, Grandmother mask, Red-Cap mask, Hunter mask. (Not essential, but useful for protecting beginners in Drama and in presenting the stereotyped characters presented in fairy tales.)

Procedure  Review the process of initiation rituals. Pick up the stone with the title “Little Red-Cap” on it. Explain that although the story of “Little Red-Cap” appears to be a child’s story, it has levels of meaning that are not visible to children. Today the “initiatory level” will be explored. Ask students to sign the affidavit on the back of the “Certificate of Initiation”,42 found in the Appendix, declaring they will keep this and future information a secret from students younger than themselves. Students should sign their secret name and real name. The concept of identity-loss, common in initiation, should be discussed to add relevance to the secret name. (This technique serves a triple purpose: to create an atmosphere of secrecy typical of initiatory rituals—by giving a “secret” that should be kept secret from those younger; to “upgrade” the idea of folk and fairy tales for those who might have “given them up”, and to give students an opportunity to see the certificate they will receive after completing the course of study. Tell the story of “Little Red-Cap”. Ask the students to listen for patterns of initiation ritual. Choose students to play each of the four roles. Choose one person to narrate the story. Place a chair on one side of the room for Red-Cap’s house and another chair on the other side of the room for Grandmother’s house. The path and forest are in between. The teacher says freeze at each point in the narration where the story can be translated into initiatory terms. The performers act out each section told by the story narrator, and are frozen during the initiatory narration. When the story is completed ask students if there is a cultural path prescribed for them? Who or what do we have in our culture that resembles the wolf leading us astray? Do they know of any other stories where its heroine or hero is swallowed and reborn?

Lesson 5:

Objectives  To continue instruction in discerning initiation rituals in folk and fairy tales. To tell the tale, “The Devil Comes Between Them”.

Procedure  Teacher picks up the stone from around the storytelling stone that says “The Devil Comes Between Them”. Explain that this story has elements of initiation ritual concealed within it. Ask students to listen for them. Tell the story. Ask students which mother should die? Discuss. Discuss the initiatory motifs present. Choose students to play Iblis, the boy, the girl, two sets of parents, the old woman and the land monitor. Select a student to narrate. Set the location of the characters. Continue as in previous lesson. Have the students make and carry out dramatically a decision on what to do with the land monitor. Ask what tasks are set before students that resemble those in initiation rituals? How is the devil like the wolf in the previous story? What would have happened if the boy’s mother rather than the maiden brought back the land monitor? What can the students do now, that they could not do when they were “children”, that indicates they are gaining independence from their family?

Lesson 6:

Objectives  To continue instruction in discerning initiation rituals in folk and fairy tales. To tell the tale, “Faithful John”. To encourage dialogue. To introduce a written activity.

Procedure  Teacher picks up the stone from around the storytelling stone that says, “Faithful John”. Once again, ask students to listen for initiation rituals. Tell the story. Ask students what they have had to sacrifice to achieve certain tasks? (The entire class can be included in this story dramatization.) Choose students to play: The dying King, Faithful John, the King, the Princess, the twins, the three ravens, crew for the ship, servants for each castle, wedding guests. Students may need coaching from the teacher in the form of narration to keep the dramatization going. Go through the entire story. Discuss the initiation rituals present. Ask if there have been any occasions for students to pursue a goal in the way of the hero? Ask how/if the act of submission is a part of any students life? Ask what similarities there are between the stories, “The Storytelling Stone” and “Faithful John”? Inform students that in two more sessions we will improvise their own initiation rituals. Each student has two weeks to write a personal folk or fairy tale, with themselves as the central figure going through an initiation ritual. They should use their “secret” names in these stories.

Lesson 7:

Objectives  To continue instruction in discerning initiation rituals in folk and fairy tales. To tell the tale, “The Quality of Friendship”. To observe and assist with the writing process of personal tales including initiation rituals.

Procedure  Teacher picks up the stone from around the storytelling stone that says, “The Quality of Friendship”. Explain that this is the last story to be told—the others will be theirs. Tell the story. Ask students to individually write down all the initiatory patterns they heard. Discuss. Ask which friend was the best friend? Ask what initiation rituals and/or symbols have appeared in each story? Ask if they have ever had a friend prove their friendship? How? Written tales should be checked, and students having difficulty should be assisted. Dramatize the story as before.


Sessions 8 and 9

Objectives  To have students demonstrate their new understanding of initiation rituals. To tell and/or dramatize personal tales. To develop self-concept and self-identity. To present certificates of initiation.

Procedure  Have students write the titles of their personal tales on their storytelling stones. Students are now the storytellers. They can tell the story with or without dramatization, but they can not read it. The teacher will choose a stone to indicate which story comes next. After each presentation there will be a discussion of the initiatory motifs and of what the person learned going through it. Time should be left to present each student with a Certificate of Initiation presented in both of their names. Teacher should prepare a form for the presentation of the certificates. A formal presentation, with appropriate music, is recommended. (“Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1, and IV-Abridged” by Sir Edward Elgar on side 2 of the Warner Bros. production of the soundtrack to Stanley Rubrick’s A Clockwork Orange will work if the unit has been very successful.)

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(figure available in print form)

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1. D. M. Dooling, “Focus”, in Parabola (New York: Society for the study of Myth and Tradition, Vol. IV, Number 4, Nov., 1979), p.3.

2. Bruno Bettleheim, The Uses of Enchantment—The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1976), p.12.

3. Iona and Peter Opie, The Classic Fairy Tales. (London: Oxford University Press, 1974), p.12.

4. Arnold Van Gennep, in Victor Turner, ed., Celebration: Studies in Festivity and Ritual. (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Free Press, 1982), p.25.

5. Ibid., p.42.

6. Baron Fitsroy Richard Raglan, The Hero, A Study in Tradition, Myth and Drama. (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, Inc. 1975), p.275.

7. Carl Jung, ed., Man and His Symbols. (London: Aldus Books, Ltd., 1964), pp.21-22.

8. Joseph Campbell, The Hero With A Thousand Faces. (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1972), p.236.

9. Mircea Eliad, Rites and Symbols of Initiation, The Mysteries of Birth and Rebirth. (New York: Harper and Row, 1965), p. 126.

10. Op.Cit., Bettelheim, p.24.

11. Op. Cit., Eliade, p.135.

12. Op. Cit., Eliade, p.28

13. Op. Cit., Jung, p.135.

14. John Cech (retold by), “Storytelling Stone”, in Parabola (New York: Society for the Study of Myth and Traditions, Vol. IV, Number 4, Nov. 1979), pp.12-14.

15. Grimm’s Fairy Tales. (New York: Pantheon Books, 1982), pp.139-143.

16. Ibid., Grimm’s, pp.139-143.

17. Op .Cit., Eliade, p.23.

18. Op. Cit., Grimm’s, p.139.

19. Op. Cit., Jung, p.112.

20. Roger D. Abrahams, ed. African Folktales. (New York: Pantheon Books, 1983), pp.113-114.

21. Ibid., p.114.

22.Op. Cit., Eliade, p.28.

23. Op. Cit., Grimm’s, p.86-93.

24. Op. Cit., Abrahams, pp.35-36.

25. Op. Cit., Campbell, pp.77-89.

26. J. E. Cirlot, A Dictionary of Symbols. (New York: Philosophical Library, Inc., 1962), p.75.

27. Ibid., pp.86-89.

28. Bruno Bettelheim, Symbolic Wounds. (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1976), p.117.

29. Op. Cit., Cirlot, p.272.

30. Op. Cit., Cirlot, p.277.

31. Op. Cit., Grimm’s, pp.43-51.

32. Op. Cit., Grimm’s, p.51.

33. Op. Cit., Jung, p.177.

34. Op. Cit., Jung, p.177.

35. Op.Cit., Cirlot, p.114.

36. Op. Cit., Abrahams, p.114.

37. Op. Cit., Abrahams, p.115.

38. Op. Cit., Cirlot, p.233.

39. Op. Cit., Jung, pp.112-113.

40. Op. Cit., Cirlot, p.43.

41. This table, found in the appendix, is a composite of material found in the works of Bettelheim, Campbell, Eliade, Jung and Raglan that are cited in the bibliography.

42. Calligraphics. Copyright © 1984 Pamela LaRegina. Bill Derry Dixit/P. LaRegina Scripsit. Reprinted with permission of Pamela LaRegina. Permission also granted to reproduce for instructional use only.

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Bibliography for Teachers

(Students will not be required to read for this unit. It is hoped that students will be motivated to read Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Abrahams’ African Folktales listed in the bibliography.)

Abrahams, Roger D. African Folktales. New York: Pantheon Books, 1983.

A collection of nearly one hundred African stories. The tales were collected while they were performed and are rich with African traditions.

Applebee, Arthur N. The Child’s Concept of Story—Ages Two to Seventeen. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, 1978.

Particularly appropriate for this unit is chapter seven. “The Response of the Adolescent” (pp.108-125). Applebee explains that adolescents are not only able to but also extremely interested in analyzing a story to find different levels of meaning.

Baker, Augusta and Greene, Ellen. Storytelling: Art and Technique. New York: R. R. Bouker Co., 1977.

A comprehensive, well-organized and simply written text that provides sound techniques to begin the art of storytelling.

Bettelheim, Bruno. Symbolic Wounds, Puberty Rites and the Envious Male. New York: Collier Books, 1971.

Psychology and anthropology combine to study initiation ceremonies of many tribes as attempts of males to solve their problem of envy of women.

Bettelheim, Bruno. Uses of Enchantment—The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1976.

A “must read” for anyone interested in the values of telling or reading folk-fairy tales. Bettelheim explains how fairy tales instruct, provide outlets for emotions and present archetypal patterns of behavior to nourish growing consciousness.

Campbell, Joseph. The Hero With A Thousand Faces. Princeton, N.J. Princeton University Press, 1973.

A brilliant study of the “life-cycle” of the archetypal hero in myth, Campbell relies on the readers ability to decipher symbolic language in order to connect with the hero’s struggle for identity.

Cirlot, J.E. A Dictionary of Symbols. New York: Philosophical Library, Inc., 1962.

An invaluable reference book for finding the possible meanings of symbols appearing in literature (or dreams, T.V.-M.T.V. in particular, and “unusual” occurrences in daily life). Includes a detailed introduction of the history and definition of symbology.

Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales, The. New York: Pantheon Books, 1982.

The Two hundred and ten tales of enchantment in this one collection—many that I’m sure you have not heard or read. There is an interesting “Folkloristic Commentary” by Joseph Campbell at the end of the book.

Dooling, D. M., ed. Parabola. New York: The Society for the Study of Myth and Tradition, Vol. IV, Number 4, Nov. 1979.

Published quarterly at five dollars and fifty cents a copy, it is beautifully produced and rich in content. A magazine devoted to the study of myth and tradition, each issue is dedicated to a particular theme. This particular issue focuses on “Storytelling and Education” and discusses storytelling as initiation on page 67.

Eliade, Mircea. Rites and Symbols of Initiation, The Mysteries of Birth and Rebirth. New York: Harper and Row, 1965.

A valuable source of information for this unit—Eliade presents structures of initiatory patterns from many primitive cultures. Whereas Bettelheim in his book Symbolic Wounds, mentioned previously, approaches initiation from a sexual point of view (Freudian), Eliade approaches initiation from a spiritual (i.e., gaining personal and or group meaning) point of view (Jungian).

Jung, Carl, ed. Man and His Symbols. London: Aldus Books Ltd., 1964.

Conceived, edited and produced with four of his colleagues, Carl Jung died before the completion of this book. He had a dream that he should present his work in psychology on a level that the average person could understand. This work is the answer to that dream. Particularly relevant to this unit is section 2 “Ancient Myths and Modern Man” which includes a lengthy discourse on the archetype of initiation.

McCaslin, Nellie. Creative Drama in the Classroom. New York: Longman, Inc. 1984.

Excellent text for understanding the values of creative drama and learning a variety of drama techniques. This book would be a valuable resource for a teacher unfamiliar with creative drama.

Opie, Iona and Peter. The Classic Fairy Tales. London: Oxford University Press, 1975.

This book defines fairy tales and gives a history of their development. Well known collectors of and authors of fairy tales are discussed biographically and in terms of their impacts in the field of literature, known as fairy tales. (Charles Perrault, The Grimm Brothers, and Hans Christian Anderson are included.) Twenty-four tales, each with historical background, are presented in a form the authors believe best retains the original, most meaningful, and most powerful story. Profusely illustrated.

Raglan, Fitsroy Richard Somerset, Baron. The Hero, A Study in Tradition, Myth and Drama. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, Inc., 1975.

The premise of this book is that dramatic rites and ritual drama are the basis of almost all traditional narratives. Raglan makes use of the traditions and literary works of many cultures and observes common patterns of behavior found in the lives of their heroes (both historical and fictional).

Sawyer, Ruth. The Way of the Storyteller. New York: Viking Press, Inc. 1966.

An excellent description of the background, experience and skills necessary for a master storyteller.

Siks, Geraldine Brian. Drama With Children. New York: Harper and Row, 1983.

A Drama text which provides lesson plans designed to meet specific educational objectives. Siks uses Piaget’s theories of personality development in children to provide a rationale for using various drama techniques with children of different ages.

Turner, Victor, ed. Celebration—Studies in Pestivity and Ritual. Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1982.

The meaning and importance of ritual is the theme of this book. Acts of celebration are viewed as rituals, designed, in part, to minimize or release conflict in a community.

Turner, Victor. From Ritual to Theatre—The Human Seriousness of Play. New York: Performing Arts Journal Publications, 1982.

Turner has applied his insight as an anthropologist to theater and the roles taken on by individuals in a culture. He stresses the transformative powers of ritual and their relationship to play, social dramas and theatre.

Wagner, Betty Jane. Dorothy Heathcote: Drama as a Learning Medium. Washington, D. C.: National Education Association, 1976.

This book is for those readers interested in using Drama as a tool in education. Wagner describes Heathcote’s techniques of distilling theater elements for the purpose of creating dynamic, dramatic situations in which learning, through experience, can take place.

Ward, Winifred. Playmaking With Children. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1957.

This book has material to use with children from kindergarten to high school. Chapter five, “Presenting the Story”, Chapter Six, “Story Dramatization” and Chapter Seven, “The Written Dramatization” are particularly appropriate for this unit.

Way, Brian. Development Through Drama. New York: Humanities, 1972.

A useful text providing rationales and specific activities for using drama to assist in the creation of a “whole human being”.

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