Sleeping Beauty: An ancient tale for these challenging times by Diane Perazzo

Fairy tales are intwined in our imagination and our spirituality. As Jane Yolan writes, one of the subtlest and yet most important functions of myth and fantasy is to “provide a framework or model for an individual’s belief system.” (1)

In the Reclaiming spiritual tradition, we often use fairy tales in healing and self development work. These stories act as warp and weft as we weave and spin complex ritual arcs and other events that take place at extended Witch Camp sessions. In Twelve Wild Swans, Starhawk points out that fairy stories are “more than just encouraging and inspiring. They are also templates for soul healing from Europe’s ancestral wise women and healers. When the ancient Earth-based cultures of Europe were destroyed, these stories remained.” (2)

Unlike myths, fairy tales are expected to change over time. “A fairy tale is in a perpetual state of becoming and alteration. To keep one version or translation alone is to put a robin redbreast in a cage.” (Philip Pullman) (3) Even though change is welcomed however, we should not lose sight of the older versions of fairy tales because they can offer us clues about how our ancestors related to their world in many ways including spiritually. And, by taking a closer look at the ways these stories have changed over time we can better understand how our own world view has evolved (and not always for the better).

I would like to propose that a fairy tale’s evolution does not have to be always marching forward like the hero’s journey. Perhaps it is also valuable for us to think of this evolution more cyclically, like the heroine’s journey (see Mary Sharratt’s post on February 13). During this challenging time of pandemics, economic upheaval and rapid climate change, there is a lot to be learned by spiraling back to earlier versions of fairy tales and appreciating the messages they once offered that are no longer found in the sanitized versions our children and grandchildren are shown on the Disney channel.

Sleeping Beauty, one of our oldest and most enduring fairy tales, seems to me especially relevant as we “sleep” through this ongoing pandemic.

* * * *

What are you spinning old woman? the princess asked.

I am spinning the future of the world, my pretty child. Come nearer and watch the way I gently pull and twist the yarn. See the spindle spin – always clockwise, always steady, flowing round and round . . .

Curious, the princess moved toward the spinning wheel. Pulled like the wool roving, closer and closer to the spindle, until she too was spun into the filament of time . . .

And she dreamed that the forests grew stronger,
the rivers ran cleaner,
the winds blew fresher
and the meadow herbs and flowers
turned their faces to the loving sun.

Perhaps she dreamed the world we all wished it could be.

Perhaps her dreams were our dreams.

You may know this story. Perhaps it was told to you when you were young. A reassuring story about a handsome prince who wakened the princess with a gentle kiss and they lived happily ever after . . .

But there is another, older story you may not know. In this mostly forgotten tale, the prince rapes the princess and then he leaves her, still sleeping.

And now
her skin and limbs are dissolving into
earth’s shadowy places.
The molecules of her cells are disintegrating
and the strands of her DNA weave like a weft
among the warp of a broken landscape
while her neurons tangle
and travel mycelial trails.

And she dreams that the forests are ravaged
and the rivers are polluted.
The winds carry toxic chemicals,
and the meadow herbs and flowers are churned
under the wheels of tractors
while the helpless sun looks on.

Perhaps she is dreaming the world as we have allowed it to become.

Perhaps her dreams are our dreams.

But wait, the story is not over yet. As she sleeps, her body will change. Her belly will grow,

and soon enough, twin babies will be born.

Such pretty little jewels. . .
Who knows how they will survive?

But they will. And one day a sweet mouth will mistake her finger for a breast and suck out the poison.

And then the kingdom will waken.

The princess will no longer be dreaming.

Her children will have opened her eyes.

Perhaps her children will be our children.

* * *

For at least 800 years, this primeval story has been told and retold. The earliest known record can be found in the Tale of Troylus and Zellandinewhich was included in the anonymous prose romance, Perceforest written in the late middle ages between 1330 and 1344. Three hundred years later in 1634, the tale was told as Sun, Moon and Talia by the Italian poet Giambattista Basile in his collection of fairy tales titled The Pentamerone (published posthumously). The rape of the sleeping princess was replaced with a non consensual kiss by Charles Perrault in 1697 when La Belle au Bois Dormant was published and almost 100 years later the Brother’s Grimm told it as Little Briar Rose (1812). (4)

I believe that the earlier (pre-Perrault) versions contain lessons that are very relevant to the climate challenges we are facing in our world today. Not only do they provide an analogy of how humans have raped and pillaged our mother earth, they also leave us with a powerful message about how our children and young people such as Greta Thunberg are waking us up to the realities of climate change and leading us into the future.


(1) Jane Yolan, Touch Magic: Fantasy, Faerie and Folklore in the Literature of Childhood: 2000.
(2) Starhawk: The Twelve Wild Swans: A Journey to the Realm of Magic, Healing and Action, 2001.
(3) Philip Pullman, Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm. A New English Version: 2012.
(4) For more on the history and versions of Sleeping Beauty, see the collection at Heidi Anne Heiner’s amazing website

Many thanks to my friend Judith Wouk who suggested I submit this piece to FAR and also to the amazing storyteller, writer, fairy tale explorer and teacher Dr. Joanna Gilar for her ongoing encouragement and support.


Diane Perazzo is a writer, editor, poet and Reclaiming “eco witch” who lives in Ottawa Canada — unceded original territory of the Algonquin, St Lawrence Iroquoian and Anishinabewaki, (ᐊᓂᔑᓈᐯᒃ) people. For many years Diane has written and edited resources to enhance wellness and improve health equity for those at risk of physical and mental health challenges. As she eases into her crone years, her writing has become more focused on crafting words that strive to echo the magical and mythic voices of the living land, especially plant beings. Her poetry and stories can be found at

Categories: Fiction, General, Myth, Women and Art, Women's Voices

Tags: ,

17 replies

  1. This is an extremely powerful and thought provoking post.
    The version of sleeping beauty being raped makes sense. I have been suspicious of this story ever since I became a feminist.
    I think both myths and fairy tales change over time even as other oral traditions do… and I agree with you completely that its useful to examine as many versions as we can find or imagine for hidden truths.
    I think many women are re- writing both today – whether these new versions will stick we don’t know…
    Your words “Not only do they provide an analogy of how humans have raped and pillaged our mother earth, they also leave us with a powerful message about how our children and young people such as Greta Thunberg are waking us up to the realities of climate change and leading us into the future” really resonate with me. As an earth advocate I am appalled at our indifference to what’s happening globally, although impressed with Biden’s commitment. I’ve reached the conclusion that today it is really in the hands of the young people – i keep trying to introduce the concept/necessity of rewilding (allowing nature to take back the control) to adults without making a dent. At the same time I have a 22 year old friend who is building his own house off the grid by hand… he was brought up in the woods and is skilled in the ways of the forest – has his own saw mill – and is cutting his own lumber from the trees on his own land…He’s a budding writer among other things and I am helping him write about the land…when i am around him I feel the stirrings of hope – he knows life is going to get harder and is preparing himself to deal with it – Young people like this give me hope –

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you Sara! I agree that our children and grandchildren are our greatest hope for the future and I am so proud of how so many (such as your friend and my own niece Elyse) are studying permaculture and regenerative land management to actively make positive change in this world. There are many hopeful strategies and solutions to address climate change. I often recommend Starhawk’s Earth Activist Training programs to the young people I know.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Diane, Well done. Thanks for submitting one of your poems. I was wondering if you had ever read “Enchantment” by Orson Scott Card. He is not one of my favourite writers, but I liked this little twist on Seeping Beauty.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Well done, Diane. Every time I re-read this, I get new insights.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Very interesting! I’ve always been interested in fairy tales and have rewritten some to add the Goddess or references to Her.

    It’s interesting to consider that Sleeping Beauty–who stands (or lies) for Earth–might have been raped while she was unconscious. Well, nowadays, I think, a high percentage of the people who live on our blessed Mother Planet are unconscious, or at least unaware of the dangers of climate change. These include people who may have the power to make changes and won’t do it because they depend on the rape of the planet to keep them wealthy. Sigh.

    Has anyone else watched the PBS documentary about Greta Thunberg and her year of meetings, protests, and speeches? It’s good to see this intelligent young woman working so hard to preserve the planet.

    Diane, I’m hoping you’ll write regularly for FAR. Bright blessings!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you Barbara! Yes, I originally came across the idea that while she was sleeping, Sleeping Beauty was dreaming of the earth in Sara Maitland’s beautiful book “Gossip from the Forest”. And it occurred to me that perhaps once she was raped her dreams might have changed to nightmares. . . . I am so thankful for the work of young people such as Greta Thunberg who, like Sleeping Beauty’s children are waking us up. . . and thank YOU for your kind words and invitation to write more for FAR. I have been savoring your book “Secret Lives” this past year. . . I love being part of the world you have created there. :)


  5. A beautiful and very timely and needed retelling of the story! I love that, in addition to the young people, you also have the crone spinner spinning fate – a very ancient image that is so often lost and, with the version most of us know, definitely needing to be re-imagined in her original form! I agree with Barbara – I hope you will write more for FAR!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for this, Diane! Many years ago, I read Mary Louise von Franz’s book “The Feminine in Fairy Tales”, in which she discusses the Jungian archetypes and symbolic themes that appear in fairy tales. I don’t seem to have the book any more, so I can’t say what her interpretation of Sleeping Beauty was, but it opened me to the concepts you are elucidating here.

    Thanks especially for the historical references.

    I do worry about the effect that conventional tellings of fairy tales have on children. I once was babysitting a little girl who wanted to play ‘Sleeping Beauty’ with me. She was the princess. I, as the prince, pretended to be unaware of the need to kiss the princess; I sat next to her and said I was busy reading a book. The little girl tried to hint at what I was supposed to do and finally exploded, “Kiss me, you fool!” … so no problems with assertiveness there!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I am inspired by your writing. Thanks. I, too, would love to see more writings of yours here on FAR.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I had no idea about the older version of Sleeping Beauty in which she was raped. I wonder if there is even an older oral story in which Sleeping Beauty had power – like your retelling. It seems that so many of our legends, fairytales and myths record the transition (or conquest) from the time when Goddess was supreme and Earth was honored to the patriarchal dominance of hierarchy and misogyny.

    I think the rape of women goes hand in hand with the rape and pillage of Earth as your story illustrates. Which came first….?



  1. Sleeping Beauty * Pandemic Third Wave, April 2021 – Diane Finkle Perazzo
  2. Sleeping Beauty: An ancient tale for these challenging times by Diane Perazzo | edward2012's Blog

Please familiarize yourself with our Comment Policy before posting.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: