The Forest in Fairy Tales: Symbol of our Lone Nature

Marie-Louise Von Franz in her book, The Feminine in Fairy Tales, discusses the psychological meaning of the forest in fairy talesIn many tales about the developing feminine, a girl or princess retreats into a forest, hiding or taking refuge from a situation that seems destructive. In one such tale, Allerleirauh or All Fur, the heroine runs away from her father, who wants to marry her because she looks just like her late mother. Allerleirauh hides in the forest of a nearby kingdom and takes refuge in a hollow tree.

The fairy tale depicts a psychological situation in which an old, ruling attitude in the psyche (the old king) fails to recognize a new generation of feminine development (the princess). In a woman, such an attitude can live a dynamic life as her own inner masculine voice, an animus voice that is stuck in old ideas about who she “should” be. Such a voice often and loudly insists on a woman meeting expectations that do not belong to her true nature, expectations for example that insist on perfection or pleasing others. Von Franz says a retreat “into the forest” to escape such an attitude or voice in oneself symbolizes a retreat into one’s deep inner nature. Such a withdrawal from collective life necessarily involves an encounter with existential loneliness:

“Most women, since they depend so much on relationship and long for it, have great difficulty in admitting to themselves how lonely they are and in accepting that as a given situation. To retire into the forest would be to accept the loneliness consciously, and not to try to make relationships with good will, for that is not the real thing. According to my experience, it is very painful, but very important, for women to realize and accept their loneliness. The virgin soil would be that part of the psyche where there was no impact of collective human activities, and to retire to that would be to retire not only from all animus opinions and views of life, but from any kind of impulse to do what life seems to demand of one. The forest would mean sinking into one’s innermost nature and finding out what it feels like. The vegetative is also spontaneous life and offers healing to the woman destroyed by a negative animus or negative mother-complex.” ( 1982, p. 85.)