Go out in the woods, go out.
If you don’t go out in the woods nothing will ever happen.
And your life will never begin.
(from The wolf’s eyelash by Clarissa Pinkola Estés, 1970)
“Let’s start from here: fables were meant for adults, not for children. In fact, they were very rough, also ironic and, above all, moralistic, stories that adults told other adults to admonish them”.
“Just think about Tale of Tales by Matteo Garrone“. The Oscar nominated movie is inspired by a collection of 50 tales, recounted by 10 female tellers in 5 days, in which they struck the various human vices, from hypocrisy to gloom, representing them in a hyperbolic and grotesque style. They were written in neapolitan dialect between 1634 and 1636 by Giambattista Basile who, together with Charles Perrault (France) and the Grimm brothers (Germany), was one of the best fairy tale teller of the European tradition. But not as well-know as the others. Literatists, writers and linguists gathered traditional fairy tales or created new ones (by recreating the old style in a new way), at some point of the history, between 1500 and 1800.
“So another clarification: often considered as synonyms, fables and (fairy) tales are completely different. The fable is usually written by an author and eventually contains a moral, the intention to teach a behavior or condemn a human vice, in fact. The fairy tale, that’s the magical one, has the most ancient origin, dating back to prehistoric times, and has no moral. Moreover, “fairy tales are much more dreamlike”, while fables are based on realistic standards.
In any case both are universal things that exist around the world. They express “archetypes“, the “original model”, the primitive form of the human subconscious, present in all civilizations and cultures of our planet, regardless of latitude or historical period. Archetypes are expressed and represented by images. Images are shapes. Shapes are the essential elements that make up the symbol, which, along with other forms and symbols, form (again) what societies call myths. From myths we create tales. So they were born to pass on social, psychological and dreamlike archetypes through the use of symbolisms strongly linked to the emotional sphere. And perhaps even more: Walter Benjamin, the philosopher, said that the fairy tale is a “liberating magic” to help humanity against the “anguish” of the myth.
It can be said that men first came to tell tales, maybe around a fire, then women, a way of spending time, often carrying out repetitive works. Many century later authors collected and writing those tales, creating the first “happy ending” fables. So it was the time of children, that still continue today.
Apparently, it was just the happy end to diverting adults from fables and fairy tales: by now “they’re associated with an annoying Disney-sweetening, but it’s just an educational mechanism aimed at avoiding fear”, the useless or excessive one. Marking an important step for the development of children (and adults): when the “pedagogy of fear” became the “pedagogy of accomplishment“. The happy end doesn’t hide the crude reality, but remove the inescapable, infusing hope for the first time.
At the bottom of the fairy tales there was something similar yet: “often the initial scenario is far from being positive, but there’s always “something ” (a character, an object, an animal…) that will allow all heroes and heroines to find their way. A resemblance of sociality, help, reciprocity that’s the political aspect of the tales that a man like Antonio Gramsci understood”. Probably because of this, when he was imprisoned, he brought with him 24 Grimms fables, dedicating to their translation in italian.
“So we must think to tales as a projective screen, where we can see actions and reactions, helping us to find new awareness and solutions“.
Like in Little Red Riding Hood. The fable superficially speaks of a bad wolf that deceives a naive child. And so it would seem to say that it’s good not to trust the strangers and it’s important to never disobey moms. But the fairy tale is richer than that. And you can only understand it if you read it (the original one) from the beginning to the end. And also if we aren’t perfectly aware, our subconscious can easily read symbols.
“Every character in a fable should not be considered in itself, since it always represents a psychic part, inside the protagonist. “So that wolf actually represents many more things: the encounter with the unknown, the potential danger, but also the excitement, the male side everyone has (enterprise, energy, action), and so also the representation of the subconscious and instinct of Little Red, a little girl who still doesn’t know how to handle what she feels, even though she has insights about it, which initially seem to “save her”.
In this way the message of the tale is the complete opposite. It’s useless to avoid the encounter: you have to go inside your emotions, inside the darkness of the mind, face your fears, face the difficulties. It’s necessary to get inside the wolf’s belly. After that, a rebirth is the only thing that can happen: “if you think what the hunter is doing is a real caesarean section”. But even if he saves her, Little Red will finally go to pick up the stones to fill the wolf’s stomach again, to definitively close that experience. In fables, like in fairy tales, nothing is left to chance, every little detail has its meaning. The same little red hood makes her visible and appetizing for the first time, like a little girl who has to start growing (because it’s not useful to hide or retreat yourself). In Italy we say that Hope is always the last to die, and she is now growing up and understanding: girls are not prey, no one must stop us from going into the woods, we just have to be aware of it.
This article comes from the first of 9 meetings, a cycle of experimental workshops that reveals the language of fairy tales to adults, organized in Roma by Altramente association.
Quoted texts belong to the two hosts, Alessandra Pulvirenti, psychotherapist and psychologist, and Teresa Lucia Trecciola, graduate in psychology and artistic mediator, leading a small group of people during the first meeting dedicated to Little Red Riding Hood and the first phase of life.
The workshop is divided, infact, in 3 thematic cycles/phases of life symbolized by colors. Readings that everyone can do about the phase they’re most interested in.
I CYCLE (white, spring, youth): Little Red Riding Hood, Bluebeard, The Godfather
II CYCLE (red, summer, maturity): Vasilisa the beautiful, Cinderella, The boy who had no fear
III CYCLE (black, autumn/winter, old age): Snow-White and Rose-Red, The Beauty and the Beast, Bird-foundling