Unfortunately, myth has come to mean something that it doesn’t. Usually, when we say that something is a myth, we mean that it is untrue. But a myth is actually a story whose characters are the inner aspects of one person — ourselves — and the plot describes how we transform from a state of sleep and unconscious suffering into a fuller realization of who we really are.
Snow White and the Huntsman is this kind of mythic tale.
You already know the story, so I don’t think a spoiler alert is necessary, so I would like to give you some overlays, things to watch for as the story unfolds. And I really do hope you see it. It is a beautiful movie!
The first key to understanding this myth is knowing that Snow White and Queen Ravenna are two aspects of one person — you. As we come into this life, fresh from the Other Side, the outer garment of our soul has been cleansed of past errors. We are born riding on a wave of innocence and grace. Once again we are in a cycle of infancy, a fresh start, but the deeper, more universal hurdles on the path to personhood are there to meet us, and we must face them.
The evil queen, Ravenna, is terrified of death and obsessed with immortality. Aren’t we all. Our spiritual growth is held in check by our fear of dying. Until we conquer that fear, we cannot progress on the spiritual path. Ravenna is the personification of that fear. She keeps us imprisoned in her castle, a fortress against the natural cycle of birth, death and rebirth. The fear of death sucks the life out every living thing around us, as we insist on seeing ourselves as forever young in the golden mirror of our vanity.
The path of initiation always comes with trials. We must face our fears and conquer them — see them for what they really are. Death is perhaps the greatest fear. In ancient Egypt, the initiate was placed in a tomb for three days, believing he was going to die. At the end of three days, he was “resurrected” into a new life. He was no longer afraid of dying, or maybe he was just glad to get out of that damn box! Either way, it was a ritual of rebirth.
In the Buddhist tradition, there is a similar ritual called “the Graveyard Vision,” where a lone monk has to spend the night in a graveyard where he grapples with and finally overcomes his fear of dying. His teacher probably enhanced the experience with a bit of spooky astral projection just to override any false bravado in the monk. Teachers can be sneaky that way. Today, initiates sometimes spend three days in seclusion before going through a ritual of initiation, symbolically reenacting entombment in the King’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid.
There are other elements to Snow White and the Huntsman. The poison apple is the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, the dual vision of reality that plunges us deep into the sleep of materiality. Its illusion is that of love withheld, as in an early scene where Snow White’s cousin pretends to offer her an apple but then snatches it away as she reaches for it. This symbolizes the seeming cruelty of life, the way death snatches away those we love, just as it did Snow White’s mother, leaving her vulnerable and alone, without an external role model and a father figure disempowered by grief and despair.
The Seven Dwarves are the seven virtues, yet in their undeveloped state, kept small by our preoccupation with the sensory world. When one dwarf dies to save Snow White’s life, this is symbolic of sacrificial love, that love of which there is no greater. It is in this scene that the Huntsman first realizes that he is in love with Snow White. The stunted, unrealized integration of anima and animus is replaced by the full-blown fulfillment of soul-integration. The Huntsman’s own integration with his feeling nature has been cut short by the death of his wife, symbolizing our profound disenchantment with the transience of physical life, where our response is to shut down, just as he did, turning our love into anger and self-destructive behavior. This all takes place within one person — usÂ — regardless of whether an external romance is found. Such is the quality of myth.
The troll under the bridge is our anger. This test is won by love when we are able to embrace the hurt part of ourselves with kindness and compassion. But first we must demonstrate that we do not fear it, as when Snow White commands the troll to stop, before it can obliterate her inner masculine. The troll is the masculine aspect after it has been consumed by anger, made into a monster that prevents travelers from passing over the bridge from the swamps of the dark forest of ignorance to the world of light and self-awareness.
After Snow White’s integration with her own inner masculine (symbolized by the Huntsman’s kiss) and her resurrection, she must do battle with the dark queen of her own fears. When we come into awareness of our spiritual nature, we still have to undo the mess created by years of false thinking.
Initiations are beginnings — it is we who have to do the work of completing the transformation. Nothing is simply given — power must be seized. Snow White rallies all of her inner powers, symbolized by her knights, and rides out to do battle with the false queen, to slay her own illusions and reclaim the crown of enlightened, integrated personhood.
There are other metaphysical images in the movie, as when Ravenna climbs up out of a pit of black ooze, which symbolizes the dark, unseen forces of nature that bind the physical world together. These are the same entropic forces that pull the upward arc of physical life back into its source, the way the shooting water of a fountain loses momentum and falls back into its pool. It is this force that Ravenna seeks to escape by bathing in the milk of life, which she steals from “her people,” the various parts of our soul that long for full development but are starved of life-giving energies by pride and egotism.
Another metaphysical symbol in Snow White and the Huntsman is the heart, perhaps the central theme of the story. The heart, with its three aspects – courage, love, and life. Snow White demonstrates her courage when she escapes from the castle, her love when she subdues the troll, and her life when she refuses death under the domination of the false queen.
Is it any wonder that the heart is at the center of all mystical traditions? It is passion, not lust — love, not fear — and knowledge, not ignorance that brings us into wholeness. It is the beauty of a fully integrated soul that defines Snow White, not the superficial glamor of vanity and worldly power. The battle is an inner one, the task herculean. But the reward is true happiness, the aliveness of the present moment, and the fulfillment of our soul’s purpose.