One of my favorite stories is Cinderella. I fell in love with it somewhat recently when I researched it for my master’s dissertation. It is a story that has existed for a very long time and has hundreds of versions from nearly every culture around the globe. It is so old and so ubiquitous that scholars are not sure whether it originated in one place and then was adapted by various cultures, or whether it emerged spontaneously amongst different peoples. Its age and breadth are signs of the universality of its message. At its heart, it is not a story about a makeover or rags to riches. Cinderella is a story about a woman growing into her truest identity through communion with her mother and divinity.
In some versions of the Cinderella tale, a tree grows at the gravesite of Cinderella’s mother. This tree becomes a bridge between worlds. A tree’s structure penetrates three layers: the roots represent the underworld, the trunk represents the earth world, and the branches represent the heavenly or divine world. Each of these realms intersects when Cinderella experiences her grand transformation. Far from being some aesthetic metamorphosis, this transformation represents her personal development and individuation, which is assisted by her mother from the underworld and a magical figure representing divinity.
The conclusion of Cinderella is the beginning of a new family unit through marriage and the start of Cinderella’s life in the palace. Though the latter aspect superficially seems like a material boon, it is indicative of a much grander achievement. Fairy tales are inherently spiritual and Cinderella is no different. The story uses familiar elements to convey a numinous pattern. The crown of the story is Cinderella’s analogical entrance into Heaven. This is the end to which her deceased mother and divinity come to her aid.
This model of motherhood found in Cinderella parallels Big Ocean’s model. We define a mother as anyone who has the interests of the rising generation at heart. During the month of May, as we celebrate mothers, we honor the many women who have impacted our identities for good. Many of us are Cinderellas whose growth and development have been (and continue to be) assisted by women who are mothers to us. As this mothering harmonizes with the divine, we are aided in the process of becoming our truest selves.
During this month we might also reflect on how we have been mothers to those around us. Who in the rising generation do we encounter in our day-to-day experiences? Are we doing what is within our power to nourish and protect them so that they can have transformations of their own? Whatever stage of life we may be in, as we claim our power as mothers we will be able to bolster the rising generation; and as we turn to God in this effort, we will be guided so we can respond to the needs that emerge around us. One prayer, one word, one act at a time, we will follow those who came before in marking a path for those who come after until we have all made it safely Home.
Written by Elisabeth S. Weagel