Monday, 22 August 2016

Snow White: An Allegory of the Blessed Virgin Mary



Franz Jüttner (1865–1925): Illustration from Schneewittchen, Scholz' Künstler-Bilderbücher, Mainz 1910
An article exploring Snow White as an allegory of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the context of a poem titled 'Snow White' which follows.
The Immaculate Virgin Mary is the true Snow White since She is as “pure   as the driven snow; [and] her blessings and graces, [are as] numerous and varied as falling snowflakes.” I have always been intrigued by the character of Snow White, and the fairy tale has long resided in my imagination. The true reason for this is because Our Lady is the archetype of all women whose greatness, beauty and purity transcends comprehensibility, and so all idealistic portraits and figures of women, in art, literature, the collective cultural imagination, and above all in Salvation History, are as sacramentals, as icons as it were, of Mary Herself – each providing a unique glimpse into the person of our Lady. Though indeed, the primacy of biblical feminine icons must be emphasised – as these, belonging to Public Revelation, provide the clearest portrait of Mary, and serve as morsels providing the greatest depth of insight into Her. Still, this does not mean we ought to neglect and throw away the plethora of feminine characters which have occupied history, or have been molded in the imaginations of mankind throughout the ages, since these speak in diverse ways of Our Lady – even if at times certain negative aspects need to be polished and done away with – for only the positive, good and noble traits of these women bear witness to Mary the Most Blessed of All Women.
To appropriate and recognise Our Lady in these historical and mythical feminine icons, is part of a process to see the Face of God in all things, and testifies to the fact that all these feminine icons are so prominent and/or have been crafted, as a temporal response to the inner yearning that beats within the heart of every human being to be one in union with Mary the Mother of God, as was Joseph and as was Christ. Every heart longs for Mary, since this is indistinguishable from the thirst for God inherent in every man. Why? For God is so united to Mary in an indivisible bond of grace, that one cannot be one with God unless one is one with Mary, and vice versa.

Pagan peoples have fashioned women deities and have lauded them across the millennia, yet this has been out of a misguided expression of a holy desire for union with Mary, and of that innate knowledge of Her within each heart, which has been repressed through original and personal sin. Plagued with concupiscence, men so often objectify women, and women often objectify themselves, reducing themselves to totalities to be used and adored in their own right – yet all of this, among other things, is simply a misguided expression of a desire to reverence and devote oneself to the Blessed Virgin. In regards to feminine icons of our Lady in literature, art, and folk tales – these are often imperfect representations of our Lady, yet they’re generally not misguided, but rather, are usually the result of creative bursts or moldings over time, that unintentionally reveal the feminine ideal as it exists not so much in the mind of man, but in the Mind of God. An ideal which is enfleshed in Mary the quasi-incarnation of the Holy Spirit (quasi meaning not-the-incarnation of the Holy Spirit, but after Jesus, the closest human person who manifests the Divine Personhood of the Holy Spirit).

Snow White is among the feminine icons present within the Western imagination – gathered from an existent German fairytale, and published in 1812 by the Brothers Grimm. The birth of Snow White comes about as an unexpected fulfilment to a thought her mother had, whereupon pricking her finger with a sewing needle by the window, she saw three drops of blood fall upon the snow, whereat “she thought to herself, ‘would that I had a child as white as snow, as red as blood, and as black as the wood of the window-frame.’ [And] soon after that she had a little daughter, who was as white as snow, as red as blood, and her hair was as black as ebony; and therefore she was called little Snow White.” This itself can be interpreted allegorically, as referring to how from all eternity God’s first thought ‘outside’ of Himself was of Mary in connection with the snow, the Fiat of Creation; the blood, the Fiat of Redemption, and ebony, the Fiat of Sanctification. In expected fulfillment, She was conceived and born as Snow White – predestined to be Immaculate – “as white as snow” (Ps 51:7) – in body and in soul.

The Dwarfs Warn Snow White
There are varying versions of the tale, and within this poem a snapshot of the tale is taken, along with an alternative take, partly as a result of explicitly writing it to serve as an allegory of Our Lady in general, and particularly, yet not exclusively, of Our Lady and the role She takes within the individual life of the soul. The poem is ultimately a narrative that explores the soul in relation to Mary, in a true devotion, involving the interplay of the human will, and the Divine Will – and the state of living in It. Yet it also speaks of the drama of sanctification as it plays out in the historic, universal, and particular sense. In the following poem Snow White represents Our Lady; the seven dwarfs the fecundity of Our Lady in general, the seven heavenly virtues possessed by Our Lady and by the soul who claims Hers as her own, as well as the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit; the evil Queen step-mother represents the human will and the false-self – the greatest enemy of the soul; and the prince the soul’s true self in Christ. On another level, Snow White can also represent the soul in her aspect in, with, and through Mary, and the wicked Queen a wicked soul. Without wanting to go into too much detail, certain aspects, due to the manner in which they could be misunderstood ought to be briefly explained.

The Queen-Witch, Disney
The poisoned apple that the Queen, who is a witch, offers to Snow White, alludes to how Our Lady took on and suffered the consequences of the Fall and sin itself, throughout Her life, yet namely at Calvary. In the poem, and in the original, the apple does not go down into Snow White’s stomach, but is lodged in her throat. In a spiritual sense, Eve choked and died when she ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden – that is, her soul died to grace and the sanctity of the Divine Will. Now Mary, was undefiled, without original and personal sin, and yet, She the Innocent and Spotless One – She who is Snow White – in, with and through Her Son freely took on what Paul calls the wages of sin – death. This death she took upon Herself at Calvary, yet not a physical death, nor the same kind of spiritual death suffered by Eve (a death of sin), but a spiritual death that involved total self-nullification and kenosis (self-emptying) – a death of love.

Snow White, llewllaw
Hence Snow White’s death, the result of biting into the poisoned apple offered by the Queen, allegorically represents Mary’s willingness, not ignorance and naivety, to take upon Herself the evils of our sinful condition and the punishment due to our sins, which the human will offered Her on Mt. Calvary. This is a reparative co-redemptive act carried out by the New Eve, to remedy the Fall of the first Eve. Snow White’s resultant death, thus represents Mary’s mystical death beneath the Cross. The fact Snow White is laid to rest on a hill, is indicative of this. The fact the apple does not enter Snow White’s stomach represents how Mary suffered and died for us, with Christ, without it reaching her stomach – that is, without being tainted by sin. In contrast the poisoned apple descends into the stomach of the wicked Queen, and is really a parallel symbiotic occurrence and result of Snow White’s coming back to life. Thus we can understand how Mary’s coming to life in the soul, through a true devotion, brings about the death to soul’s human will, and brings about that restoration of her soul, her land, into the kingdom of the Divine Will, in the unitive bliss of intimacy as between two spouses.

Snow White Speaks to a Little Bird, Disney
The kiss of the prince might be said to refer to the fiat (the ‘yes’) of the soul, through which Mary is born again in the soul. This fiat must be constant, and in turn, Mary will rise exponentially triumphant within the soul, bringing with Her the whole forest – the seven dwarfs of the Gifts of the Spirit and Her Virtues, and the creatures of Her sacred acts. Such a soul participates in the Festivity which is God’s Will – a festival which is embodied in the Mystery of the Resurrection and Ascension – and hence, in Mary’s Assumption.

The dancing mentioned in two places, and the allusion to rolling and round motions speaks of the rounds of Mary – the acts Mary made during Her life in union with the life and works of the Trinity – with which the soul participates, along with the rounds of the soul herself – of course, being united to Mary’s rounds and which are only able to be carried out by virtue of Mary's rounds. By means of these rounds, carried out before the soul has entered the permanent and lofty state of the Supreme Fiat, she is disposed to abide permanently in It. 

Snow White in the Coffin, and the Prince
Yet to live in God’s Will the soul must be willing to eat the poisoned fruit of her own will, which is the same as the call from our Lord to drink the bitter cup (Mt 20:22). Yet the naivety of Snow White in biting from the apple alludes to how Mary’s focus was not on saying “no” to the human will, but on saying “yes” to the Divine Will – to such a point that there is a forgetfulness, holy indifference and certain blasé quality that manifests in paying no heed to the human will, since there is a total mesmerisation on, and immersion in, the Divine Will. Every time the soul fuses herself with Mary, and expresses her fiat, she is at once biting her will (perhaps we might say, to the point that time after time, bite after bite, there is ‘nothing’ – in a figurative, non-ontological sense – left of this apple of her will) and thus dying to her false-self and will, whilst she is rising again in newness and fecundity of life in the sanctity of the Divine Will until she comes to live in It - leaving forever the coffin of her self-will. This high estate of living in God’s Will, which involves perfect union with Mary, is ultimately symbolized in the poem by the inhabiting of the kingdom, its flourishing, and the wedding that takes place in the castle between Snow White and the prince.

***

Snow White, Snow White,
So comely fair,
None possess
Thy beauty rare,
None, princess,
To thee compare.

She runs through the forest with skips and hums,
Her enchanting voice singing, cheeks blushing plums.
All the meek creatures of the woods come forth,
To play and dance, ‘round May Pole and her dwarf,
Named Soliday, her favourite of all,
Yet Lunday, Martday, Merday, eq’lly small,
And Joveday, Venday, Saturday alike,
Clap and sing with birds and deer whilst Snow White
Holds a hare by paws, in ringing motion –
As all faces smile in sweet devotion.

Snow White, Snow White,
So comely fair,
Thy pale cheeks
Blush in morn’s air,
As dancest
Thou with white hare.

On left shoulder hers hangs a basket weaved,
Filled to the brim with blackberries retrieved,
Elderb’rries, strawb’rries, boysenberries too,
And even a dozen mushrooms with hue
So white, yet less bright indeed than her glow
Fair skin – that’s whiter than the softest snow.
She twirls – the delight of all living things –
Causing her ebony black hair, like wings,
To touch the sky, brushing fronds of willow
In glide ascent that makes its dryad show.

Snow White, Snow White,
So comely fair,
Lovely, long,
Silk black hair,
Causes all
At thee to stare.

From a distance walks the false Queen, a witch,
Who heard the pipes of dwarfs, and chorus pitch,
Masked as haggard peddler – lusting for death
Of she whose blood red lips leak sweetest breath.
In hand she holds an apple – fine to eye
But poisoned on the inside, to make die
The cause of her envy, since spake to she
Mirror on wall: “Snow White’s more fair than thee.”
So up she went to the now resting girl
And offered her apple as though a pearl.

Snow White, Snow White,
So comely fair,
That she-wolf
Doth cruelly dare,
To harm thee
With sweetful snare.

In her innocence dear Snow White took bite
And at once blood ran cold, and slumped to right.
With glee her step-mother changed to normal,
Making flight on broom, whilst woods were mournful.
When the sun was nearly set, each dwarf,
All seven, raised her up, and on heads, north,
They carried her – silently, nature still.
Betwixt the seven mounts on a green hill
They laid her down to rest, fashioning glass
Coffin, s’that all in beauty hers could bask.

Snow White, Snow White,
So comely fair,
All sorrow
Cannot compare:
What a loss! –
O living prayer.

On third day, riding horse, there comes a prince
Whom chasing bear with hunter’s bow did wince,
Since there, dead, by fate not chance, graced Snow White
He saw whose sight in heart lit chaste delight.
Dismounting horse, he walked towards her bed,
Where she lay as though fast asleep, not dead.
For three whole hours he sat beside her,
Gazing in love, when from his eye fell tear
That splashing unto glass split it in two,
Causing dwarfs to wake from sleep with knifes drew.

Snow White, Snow White,
So comely fair,
Asleepest
Thou layest there,
The object
Of princely care.

Lunday was about to yell, and Merday
To strike, but prince’s love did them allay;
And so from behind a rock they all peeped,
As now, without a veil divide, leaped
The prince’s heart, who leaning in did kiss
With peck, Snow White’s rose lips, tasting bliss –
O Fruit of life! whereat as he withdrew
Her body stirred, and gave a cough that threw
Poisoned apple into clouds, clearing throat
Wherein it lodged, thus stomach ne’er was smote.

Snow White, Snow White,
So comely fair,
Thou wert dead
In coffin square,
‘Till prince kissed
Thee on lips bare.

The maiden’s face returned to rest asleep,
As dumbstruck frozen, all stared in awe deep;
‘Till the meekest smile that ever was grew
Upon her lunar face; as eyes her blue
Did ope’ and head did raise aloft from grave.
The prince, beside himself, did lift from nave
Snow White upon his shoulder, spinning ‘round,
And ‘round, midst joyful laughter, whilst on ground
Four dwarfs rolled with joy; bouncing the rest
‘Round spinning pair, and soon all woods joined fest!

Snow White, Snow White,
So comely fair,
Thou indeed
Art sacred flair,
Whose life doth
To all, life share.

Meanwhile the evil queen was poised in pride,
Standing erect, certain Snow White had died.
Then she spoke: “Mirror, mirror, on the wall,
Who in the land is fairest of them all?”
“In past you’ve twisted my words to suit thee,
But know for sure, her hair’s black as ebn’y,
Her lips as red as blood, and skin like snow –
Ah, Snow White, is the fairest, thou shouldst know!”
At this, queen ran to window, screaming loud,
As apple piece in mouth-oped fell from cloud.

Snow White, Snow White,
So comely fair,
In whole land
Thou art most fair,
Since beauty
Thine, none doth wear.

Involunt’ry bite, no bite at all, but
Missing teeth, went straight down her pipe to gut;
And at that, that was that – she died right then,
Her limp corpse toppled, falling as did Gwen
For Lancelot; and as blood seeped from neck
‘Twas snapped, a crow her eyes did eat and peck
As pack of mutts lapped pool of blood. A dove
Brought this glad news to prince and May in love,
Glad, since queen’s death meant exile’s end, so wend
She home, in castle wed, and land anew flourishéd.

Snow White, Snow White,
So comely fair,
Now thou sits
In royal chair,
At king’s side
As one most fair.


24th June, 2016.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

The Man Whom Beauty Killed

Cleopatra: Eighty and Eighteen, John William Godward, 1888.


Into the mountains he went,

feeling his way with a staff;

until he reached a quiet nook

on a ridged peak, that was

sprinkled with snow, with air

so fresh with icy chill – and those

misty clouds encircled him.

‘Though them he could not see, but

only feel: it’s moistness on his skin

and smell of sharp and damp caress.

But then the sun tore through the mist

and his eyes were opened wide –

the scales falling down – for first time

he saw the brightness of the day!

Its panorama reclined

before him like Cleopatra,

as sea meets land, hills and fields

and woods and shades all green and purple,

which lay before his infant gaze

that drunk so deeply of nature’s draught

that he died right then and there.

Beauty killed him, delighted him dead,

by rushing on his heart and

ravishing his senses till they died –

too deep the wound, a wound that sighed

too deep for words – escaped the mind.

He fell with a smile unseen upon his face,

too broad the grin inside, that his mouth

couldn't stretch to meet such joy.

And so dead there he lay, beauty killed

him there, kissed him dead and stole his breath;

that blessed man – whose soul then soared

where saints sigh and swoon like waves

that plunge and dive eternally anew

in beauty ever ancient and ever new.



9/08/2016