Fairy Tales 4: Archetypes, Meanings and Metaphors

A ripe turnip ready sits in its bed, ripe for harvesting.

The turnip in the Grimm Brothers’ Fairy Tale may represent the earthy Self or may be a symbol for the Mother archetype or the Feminine Principle.

My recent reading has been so uplifting it must be shared. The first book is called Healing the Sacred Divide  by Jean Raffa  and has some wonderful insights on the significance of archetypes in our psychic life. Next is Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment, an out and out classic that reminds us how captivated we were by the stories of our childhood and the truly immense importance of fantasy and archetypal figures in a child’s developing psyche. Another text brought me to the realisation that every single fairy tale is crammed with archetypal figures and meanings. Marie-Louise von Franz provides a stunning description of many possible layers of meaning in a couple of intriguing tales of old European origin. After reading it I found myself desperate to read more Fairy Tales! So I turned to my faithful Kindle version of original tales from the Brothers Grimm.  One in particular made an impression as I couldn’t figure it out at first but after going back to Bettelheim and von Franz it started to make sense. Regarding interpretation, both authors stress that it is the meaning for the reader or listener that works the magic and that meaning flows from where we are at in our own lives and what it is exactly that we need to relate to in the tale. Now for my take on The Turnip.

Two brothers, one poor and the other rich, are de-mobbed from the army and need to decide what to do. The poor brother, we are told, decides to make a living. He pulls off his red army coat and goes off to sow some turnip seeds, which grow successfully, one in particular reaching gigantic proportions. Thinking this would make the King happy, he gifts it to him. Delighted, the King bestows rich rewards of land, flocks and gold upon the poor man. Brother Rich was envious and thought to impress the King even more with a lavish gift of gold and horses. His reasoning went that if his poor brother got such a reward for a mere turnip, he himself was bound to get far more, given his generous offering. Not so! When the King surveyed the rich brother’s gift, accepting it graciously but puzzled as to how to reward him….the Turnip! Yes, that was exactly what he needed so that was what he got!

Further episodes ensue, which I will not go into now. Let me speculate on the possible meanings that spring to mind. Firstly, the brothers are two archetyapal figures, each one is incomplete in some way but who will each take very different paths. One sheds the ego (the red coat), delves deep into the unconscious (the earth), sows seeds and patiently harvests its fruits (the turnip – a root vegetable, a mother symbol, nourishing, bringing its earthy gifts). When the poor brother (the immature but awakening self) gives the gift to the King (a wise old man figure, the young man’s future integrated self) he appreciates it because of the work (soulwork) that went into producing it and because it is wholesome and life-sustaining (soulfood). So the poor brother is rewarded with riches (an abundant selfhood). The rich brother is all surface and ego. He, we assume, kept his coat (ego) and lolled around in his materially (superficially abundant) world. With skewed reasoning, he tries to get what the brother got (individuation) by superficial means and what does he get? A dose of the fruits of the earth – the giant turnip! In other words, the unconscious erupts and overwhelms him.

Let me know if any other meanings are bursting to be heard! In the meantime, here’s a link to The Rolling Stones – You can’t always get what you want, (but you find sometimes, you get what you need!)


Image reference – wiki commons: commons.wikimedia.org : http://www.google.co.uk/search?as_st=y&tbm=isch&hl=en&as_q=The+turnip+fairy+tale&as_epq=&as_oq=&as_eq=&cr=&as_sitesearch=&safe=images&tbs=sur:f&biw=1366&bih=653&sei=q-d6UZCsIOKy0QXqyIGYDQ#as_st=y&hl=en&tbs=sur:f&tbm=isch&sa=1&q=The+turnip&oq=The+turnip&gs_l=img.12..0l4j0i10l2j0j0i24l3.3967.7151.10.15083.…0.0…1c.1.11.img.l3ZRwwtT33w&bav=on.2,or.r_qf.&bvm=bv.45645796,d.d2k&fp=8f1d6dd638b63d84&biw=1366&bih=653&imgrc=q8wXOBqzcnDVNM%3A%3BUaat_oTnc0QK-M%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fupload.wikimedia.org%252Fwikipedia%252Fcommons%252Fe%252Feb%252FTurnip_J3.jpg%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fcommons.wikimedia.org%252Fwiki%252FFile%253ATurnip_J3.jpg%3B3940%3B2750


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Meanings of The Matrix | Subliminal Spaces
  2. Roberta McDonnell
    Jun 10, 2013 @ 23:08:35

    Hi Mary, thanks so much, pleasure to meet you and likewise re- your blog, looking forward to keeping up. 🙂



  3. maryoconnor12
    Jun 10, 2013 @ 22:47:12

    Thanks for visiting and following my lifeisfullofsweetspots.com blog and, by so doing, introducing me to yours. I can see that it is filled with a wealth of wonderful information. I know I shall be back for more!



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