delving in a small circle






Pleasant House

Working with Fairy Tales


What the Story of Aladdin May Tell Us About Ourselves


Nanna Aida Svendsen©


The realm of fairy tale seems to have undergone a revival recently. Books

containing clues as to how we may interpret their deeper meanings abound, and

the genre seems to be as popular as ever at the movies. Walt Disney, master

of the art of turning familiar and well loved tales into well crafted

cartoon, has revived many of its golden oldies.


Fairy tales and myths can be powerful. They can capture and feed our

imagination and reflect our emotions. Through them we may speak of things

that otherwise we may never mention. They can tell of the possible horrors

and delights of being a child. And of being an adult. They can indicate how a

culture has attempted to teach its values, and on a deeper psychological

level they can reveal how our psyches may be hurt, how we may recover and how

our individual and collective creative processes might be unfolding.,


If we know how to interpret them and understand their possible deeper

meanings. they can tell us of the necessary journeys involved in becoming and

being whole and healthy human beings. Perhaps this is part why they hold

such fascination ? They can speak directly to the unconscious , and to the

part of us that likes to think in image, dream, fantasy and symbol. And of

course they can delight, and hold us ensconced in a good yarn.


Fairy tales may seem on the surface to be about how to behave. They may

appear to be giving guidelines about what to do, and what to expect from

life. However if we chose only to perceive and respond to them on this

superficial level we are likely to become disenchanted, because quite simply

as codes of conduct or as guides as to how to negotiate life they may not be

true enough. But, if we choose to appreciate them from another perspective

we will invariably find that they are often referring to a symbolic or

mythic journey. That they do harbour a great many valuable truths regarding

our feelings and experiences. It is not for nothing that most fairy tales

take place in far away lands, or begin with the words "Once Upon A time."

Immediately it is clear. We are going to deal with experience and meanings

that are somehow different from those of our everyday dealings. We are going

to enter the mythic and symbolic realm which we do with Aladdin.


Aladdin, originally one of the tales in A Thousand and One Nights, is about a

poor but street wise lad fighting for survival in a busy market town

somewhere in Arabia. The fact that in this tale we are dealing with a young

lad indicates immediately that we are going to be looking at the journey of

the developing male. Depending upon the lens through which we chose to view

Aladdin's story, we can either perceive it as a young mans journey into

self-hood, and/ or we can see it as a way of describing how we, regardless of

our sex, may come on an inner level to develop the kind of skills that one

such as Aladdin embodies. The facility to be outwardly proficient and able

to do things as well as be connected to his feelings, and intuition. If we

wish to we can chose to see Aladdin as a metaphor for developing what some

would call the masculine aspect inside ourselves


In other stories such as the Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast we were

to follow the journey of the developing feminine. Though these stories could

be referring to women, in inner archetypal terms, or in terms of symbol and

myth the feminine frequently refers to our feeling, receptive and

intuitive aspects, our ability to be, if you will. In these inner domains

married and living happily ever after as Princess and Princesses in fairy

tales frequently are wont to do, indicates the happy coming together of our

feelings and intuition with our ability to take action in such a way that

our actions are sourced in a sound feeling and intuitive system. Married and

happy ever after is not meant to imply that one cannot be a whole happy

human unless on has a husband or a wife,


In the fairy tales The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast our

attention was drawn to the journey of the feminine. For many of us interested

in inner work the past number of years have been about precisely this. About

being willing to afford feelings and the healing of feeling and intuitive

systems in men and women alike, as much credence and worth as the development

of our ability to do things, Now with Aladdin we are to follow the developing

masculine. Not that he does not need to be well connected to his feelings and

intuition and deep inner knowing, he does. For he represents a kind of male

who is sourced in his integrity, As such he can be seen as a kind of role

model for males and females alike. Not that we all should be like Aladdin.

Rather the qualities he exudes of being competent and sourced in his

feelings and at the completion of his journey also his wisdom, and not just

the demands and expectations of others around him, are worthy of our

consideration. He is not the kind of male that Jafar his opponent is, who

as we shall see, is sourced in his corruption. And so with this in mind, let

us turn to Aladdin.


Aladdin has fallen in love with the Sultans daughter, but as he is not a

Prince. What hope does he have to wed a Princess? And yet he dreams. There

must be a way for him to become her Prince, And indeed there is,.With the

help of a genie who lives inside a magic lantern Aladdin gradually learns how

to make his dreams real. It is no easy task of course and he is to be plagued

by one in particular a man named Jafar.......


Jafar is the Sultans most trusted servant who would, unbeknownst to the

Sultan usurp him and steal his throne. Who would make the sultans daughter

the Princess Jasmine his wife, even though she does not want him. Jafar who

wants all the power in the world, so others can know that he is powerful. So

he can appear to be worthy when deep inside he probably feels worthless. Not

that anyone must know this of course. There is no love in him..


Jafar is a thief. Robber of other peoples souls he is one who would steal his

wisdom and power from others, Perhaps because he has lost his trust in these

forces within himself? Jafar servant to those he considers above him, is also

a tyrant to those he considers beneath him. He is a symbol of the kind of

male. who can only exist within a hierarchy. He has no real freedom to be

himself: to experience and express any real joy, rather he tries to find

happiness in his ability to manipulate others. The idea that mutuality could

be interesting or even desirous is abhorrent and to him mostly unknown,


Jafar displays many of the attributes of one whose true connection to his

feelings, his loves, his joys and his deep inner wisdom or wise-dame has be

lost or destroyed. O he may react, but as he has no way of coming to

understand why he feels to react as he does - as his reaction are not

tempered by his understanding and wisdom he does not act well. His actions

are not sound. Probably because when he was small and expressed his true

responses he was told that they were wrong. Probably when was small his

essential self when he expressed it with his true responses was shamed in

some way similar to the way that his parents probably were shamed before him.

Probably he was shunned in a way that made him loose his connection to

his own inner sense of grace self respect and love, Probably he was rewarded

when he denied his own feelings So he learned to hide and try to deny them

rather than to understand their real meaning. He learned perhaps how to hide

his true pain from those around him and how to try to find resolution to his

inner conflicts by seeking revenge. Or maybe he found that to feel what he

really felt was simply too painful and so he disconnected.inside. Who can

really say? Nothing is said directly about his childhood experiences in

Disney's film version of the story , but his personality makes it seem likely

that he has lost his internal connection to his inner wealth. So he tries

to find and steal it from others, . Just as it has been stolen from him. And

steal it he will. And he is smart. He knows precisely where his booty is



He knows that deep within the earth there is a cave full of magic treasure

in which there lies a lamp and in that lamp there lives a genie, one who has

the power of genius and Jafar will have it. He wants the genie. The one with

the power to grant three wishes to whom ever the lamp belongs to, He knows

though he does not know that he knows intuitively that the lamp containing

his wisdom is to be found by going down. Into the earth. For such is so

often the way with the treasure, it is hidden from view,. And to find it we

must go down enter the darkness of our own inner caverns if we are to seek

and hopefully find the lost parts of ourselves that are still lying there

hidden awaiting discovery. But Jafar when he comes to the cave where the

treasure is hidden is not afforded entry. A tiger god , symbol here of our

instinctual knowing perhaps, defends it and tells Jafar that only one who is

pure of heart may enter here.


And here with the words of the tiger god we receive our first clue. Only one

whose heart is pure - whose feeling system is intact and unharmed, one who is

willing to find the truth of his experiences may enter the magic cave and

receive its gifts. Only the part of the personality that still has integrity

can guide us perhaps, to the place of our own deepest treasure.


And the one of pure heart is Aladdin of course. He is a precocious bright

youth. His will, his spontaneity and his ability to act have not been done

in. He is not like Jafar. Either he is another sort of man, or he represents

an essential and unwounded place inside ourselves. And Aladdin has a mother.

He is the only main charater in our story to have one who features as part of

the plot. Maybe this means that Mother was present for him when he was small?

Maybe she happened to offer him a true mirror for his soul? For Aladdin is

sound, in some essential way, though he is not very mature. When we first

encounter him he has no conscious connection to his own wisdom or inner wise-

dame** nor to his own genius. These are to come as the story unfolds.


We are to meet the outer representation of his inner wise-dame in the form of

the beautiful Princess Jasmine, with whom Aladdin instantly falls in love

when he meets her in the market place. But what can he do? She is a

Princess and he is but a poor lad.


Jasmine is unhappy. It has been decreed, that she must be wed by her next

birthday which is in three days. But she will not have it. There is not a

suitor that suits her. She does not want to be wed. She wants to find and

live her own life.


Jasmine wants to know and discover herself. She does not want simply to be,

what she has been told, that she must be. She is, and she wants to be

something more. Jasmine is or wants to be the empowered feminine. She wants

to feel alive and connected to her own feeling system. She must find of a

way of recognizing herself. So she leaves the palace behind her, and goes

to the market. Just as so many of us did when we felt that in order to find

ourselves and fully express who we are, we had to leave home.


Whilst she is in the market place many adventures befall her, When she gets

into a particular difficulty and is in need of creative action to defend

herself from the abuse of another, who should come to her aid but Aladdin.

For this in inner terms is one of the functions of the our ability to take

action on our own behalf. It is to protect our feelings and intuition and

our basic integrity from those who would abuse it. It is the needed

ingredient to help sort out and back up our feelings with appropriate action.



For Aladdin and Jasmine this is to be the first encounter with the beloved.

Here soul and its potential to manifest itself seem to receive an accurate

reflection in the eyes of the other, Though as so often is the case, full

realization of that love will take a while.


There is work to be done. Jasmine must prove that she will not be beguiled

by a false prince - by Jafar when he offers himself to her, or by Aladdin who

comes to her in disguise, when not trusting that he can be loved for being

himself pretends to be other than what he is, in hope of winning her heart.

She must prove that her feeling system and wisdom is sound. And Aladdin must

prove that he is able to act in recognition of his own will, in ways that

do not murder his soul.


To get to this place inside has not been easy. Aladdin has had to go on a

precarious adventure, he has had to go down, enter the cave of the tiger god,

follow his instincts to find and connect with the genius of his being, his

own natural talent. He has had to find a magic lantern as well as the genie

who lives inside it. And it was dark in the cave. There were many trials to

be over come. Many false treasures to be refused. Many old griefs to be

recognized and released. Many tears shed. For this decent down to the cave

represents in it way the crying years. in which old wounds are recognized for

what they are and let go off.


This is hard work and perhaps it is necessary so as to come to understand

and appreciate the truth of our experiences and of our being? For Aladdin it

is anyway. So he goes down, but it is not he who finds the lamp. No it is

Abu his trusted small monkey. Symbol here perhaps of the wise inner child.

That sensitive vulnerable to feeling, spontaneous, open, creative, child

like place inside us. That is the one who finds the lamp and its attendant

magic genie. Only that pure and trusted place inside us can find the magic in

the truth of our being and our natural abilties perhaps. Can find a way of

connecting with ones ability to be ones own master. With ones ability to be

free to be who one is.


A thing that does not happen in our story until several things are in place.

Jasmine and Aladdin have had to recognize know and honour one another as the

beloved, just as they have had to recognize know and honour them selves.

Aladdin has had to find and connect with his genie and genius, And he has had

to learn how to do so with integrity. Otherwise he cannot be as a Prince to

his Princess. And perhaps hardest of all, Jafar the old soul murdered and

soul murdering male, or that part of the personality perhaps, has to be be



His need to gain a power by manipulating,usurping and enslaving the will of

others, or other parts of the self, just as his own have been enslaved, must

seen to be what it is: an unhappy misguided entrapping and dangerous dance.

As an authority figure he has to be disenfranchised. Which he is by Aladdin,

who strong in his love for Jasmine -the feminine, Abu - the child, and in

his promise to set the genie his own natural talent free, is able to do. He

is able to lure Jafar into a trap of his own making.


Jafar has gotten hold of the magic lamp. He has stolen it of course from

Aladdin. The genie must now grant Jafar three wishes. Jafars greatest desire

is to be all powerful. He is well on his way to dominate and destroy all

around him with the help of his first two wishes. But though he may be able

to dominate others by making them fear him, he is not wise. He does not have

the wisdom of our young hero. He does not have his love for Jasmine. Abu and

the genie and what they represent. And so he is to fall into snare of his

own making when Aladdin points out to him that he will never be all powerful

be as long as there is a genie....


And hierarchical being that Jafar is, how can he refuse this particular

challenge? He who knows no other reality that one in which he is either

surrendering his will to that of another, or forcing someone else to

surrender their will to him, has to respond in accordance with his experience

and his belief.


And so Jafar's wish is granted and he becomes a genie, His genius is trapped

by his own corrupt soul inside a lamp. Or on an inner level perhaps his power

has been transformed by Aladdin's ability to accurately name the mechanics of

his behaviour. For such is the way we frequently heal and free ourselves on

an emotional level from the clutches of a wounded aspect: by accurately

naming what is going on. As for Aladdin ,his joy brimming over sets his

own genie free. There is no further need for it to be held hostage inside a

lamp. Now that Aladdin has found the way to be fully connected with his true

love and his true gifts, to be fully connected to himself as it were, in a

wise way, he is free simply to be. And so you see the story of Aladdin

although it was first introduced to the west in 1701 still may have

something to say that we can use and enjoy about what it may mean to be more

fully ourselves.

Nanna Svendsen ©

 Copyright © Nanna Aida Svendsen 2002