The Shadow that turned
An allegorical tale of the thorny path to enlightenment
Guest article by Erika Hahn
Introduction by Occult Mysteries
As we discuss in our articles on the Mystery Language and Symbolism, there is no ancient myth, fable, or folk-tale which does not contain some historical fact, moral principle or occult truth concealed under the cloak of allegory and symbolism. This is true of many (but not all) fairy-tales, which this new and unusual story Erika Hahn has kindly written for us illustrates perfectly.
The Shadow that turned is an allegorical tale of the thorny path to enlightenment which contains many layers of meaning and several important lessons for those of us on the path to the Light. Regular readers will know that the author has written several other fairy-tales for us—see note at the end of her story. In our customary afterword we take a brief look at the antiquity, origins and purpose of fairy-tales.
NE DAY THE SUN was travelling all over the earth looking to see which of his children was ready to return home, when he peeped into a dark cellar and saw a beautiful maiden sitting all by herself with only a candle for company. The flame cast her flickering shadow upon the wall which stretched itself until its head almost touched the ceiling. 'I believe my shadow and I are the only living things in this place,' she said sadly to herself, 'unless it is the candle; for without it I should be even lonelier.'
Through a narrow, barred window set high in one wall she could see the street above, and upon the other side, an ornate wrought iron gate captivated her with its beauty. Often she would gaze at it hoping to see someone she knew, but no one ever passed through it. Beyond it lay an enchanted garden ablaze with the most colourful flowers. Their scent was so strong it reached her even in her musty old cellar. Sometimes she thought she heard the most heavenly music coming from the garden, and at others, elfin voices singing so sweetly they brought tears to her lovely blue eyes. Once she thought she saw a handsome youth standing amidst the flowers, but when she rubbed her eyes to make sure they were really open, he vanished. 'How does one get into that garden?' she asked herself, 'for the gate is very tall and strong and I do not know how I can squeeze through my tiny window to reach it.' The only other way out of the cellar was through a trapdoor in the ceiling above her head, but that was secured with a heavy, iron padlock. She sighed and a solitary tear rolled down her cheek. As if it could read her melancholy thoughts, the shadow shivered in the candles light, and shrank back against the wall.
"So——you're back then?" it complained in a high, rasping voice.
"Did you speak?" asked the maiden in astonishment.
"What do you think?" asked the shadow.
"I don't know what to think," she replied. "One minute I dreamed I was in a lovely garden and the next I was back here again. Who are you?"
"Don't you recognise me?"
The maiden shook her head.
"I'm your shadow. It was I who furnished this cosy cellar you seem so eager to leave!"
"I must still be dreaming," she said, rubbing her eyes. "This can't be happening; shadows don't speak."
"Well it isn't something that happens every day," said the shadow. "But then you are a Princess."
"Who else but a Princess would put on such refined airs and graces?"
"You know you do," sneered the shadow. "I'm the one who has to walk in your royal footsteps and listen to your pathetic prayers and pious platitudes when I could be outside having fun!"
"You can leave the cellar?" asked the Princess in astonishment.
"Only when you're asleep."
"Why have I never heard you speak before?"
"How should I know?" replied the shadow peevishly. "I don't know what you get up to when you're asleep. Perhaps it has something to do with that imaginary garden you're always babbling about."
"Imaginary?" said the Princess indignantly. "There's nothing imaginary about it. I can see it as plain as the crooked nose on your ugly, dirty face!"
"Where?" snapped the shadow, wincing at her insults, "show it to me."
"There," she replied, pointing to the tiny window high in the wall.
"What? You call that old pile of rotting leaves and tangled brambles a garden?"
"Can't you see the lovely flowers?"
"Bah! There's nothing there but a rusty old gate and some stinking weeds!"
The Princess stared at the shadow in disgust, too astonished to speak.
"Well? What are you staring at, you drivelling ninny? Have I worked my fingers to the bone all these years to furnish this glorious palace just so you can mope around and gaze like a feeble-minded rabbit at a pile of rotting leaves?"
The Princess gaped at the shadow in disbelief. It was astonishing how real it looked. It was dressed in an expensive designer frock, wore garish rings on all its impeccably manicured fingers, and its dyed blond hair was scraped back from its pimply forehead beneath a diamond tiara. Yes, the shadow was well dressed in the latest fashion; there was no denying it. But the strangest thing about it was that it was completely black, even down to its crooked teeth and shifty eyes, which glowed malevolently as it grinned at her.
"Cat got your tongue?" it asked.
At last the Princess found her voice and jumping up from the bed shouted indignantly: "You horrible liar! How dare you claim to belong to ME! You are a disgusting snake whose twisted lips spit poison. Begone before I stamp you back into the slime from which you erupted!"
Hah!" retorted the shadow. "You won't get rid of me that easily. You were nothing more than an insubstantial cloud of nothingness until I took a hand in your development and made a woman out of you! Who do you think feeds and clothes you, and has scoured the earth for the choicest luxuries so you can laze around in comfort and ease all day long? Too long have I had to listen to your vacuous dreams and pious platitudes. Well NOW you've finally woken up you're going to have to get used to having ME around; behind and in front of you, you-you simpering soap bubble of sanctimonious wind!"
"I will NOT!" shouted the Princess, furiously stamping her foot. "I care nothing for your empty treasures, your worthless gifts, or this horrid dark hole I have to live in! And I will not put up with your wicked lies a moment longer. Begone!" And with that she lunged at the shadow. But it was too quick for her, and stepping nimbly out of the way, leaped onto the table, tried to kick over the candle but missed, and disappeared in a malodorous cloud of oily smoke.
'How very strange,' the Princess said to herself when she had calmed down. 'Can it really be true that such a loathsome creature is MINE, or have I simply dreamed all this? She crossed the cellar and looked out through the window. 'The garden is there,' she said to herself, 'although the flowers do not seem so bright as they were...' She looked around the cellar and sighed. 'The shadow has tried to make it cosy in here and I suppose I was happy here once; but ever since I saw the garden and the Prince—at least I think he must be a Prince as he had such a regal bearing and was so richly dressed—I have been like someone who has lost a great treasure but cannot remember where it is or how to find it. "Can you tell me?" she asked the candle. But the flame did not stir. Perhaps she had been too hard on the shadow? After all, it had looked after her ever since she was little—or so it said. What was the truth? Who could tell her?
The shadow returned the very next day and kept coming back, no matter how many times the Princess chased it angrily away. The ruder she was the more violent and loathsome it became. They fought like cat and dog; yet she had to listen to its insinuating voice, just as the shadow had to put up with her. The days passed and the Princess continued to dream of the garden but however hard she searched she never found the young Prince again.
"We shall get on a lot better if you keep to your side of the cellar, you mealy-mouthed hypocrite," the shadow said to her after one particularly difficult day.
"And I should be much happier if you would moderate your filthy language and stop interrupting my prayers with your vainglorious boasting and beastly suggestions."
The battle went on day after day until one morning the Princess awoke with the sobering realisation that perhaps the hateful shadow really was hers. 'This can't go on,' she said to herself. 'Something will have to be done.'
The next time they met she forced herself to remark how attractive the cellar was looking and congratulated the shadow on its housekeeping skills. "Also," she added in a breathless rush, "I shall not be saying my prayers aloud any more."
The shadow was quite taken aback and rather touched, though it took pains to conceal it. "Now you come to mention it," it replied, stumbling over the unfamiliar word, "Your—er—p-p-prayers weren't all bad. For my part I shall try to behave with a little more refinement in your presence, though I confess your shining countenance and regal bearing do give me the creeps."
In time the Princess's dreams became so vivid that even the cellar began to look cheerful and the candle blazed up so brightly, it almost outshone the Sun that occasionally peeped in at the tiny window. The shadow only flinched occasionally when it caught sight of the Princess' enraptured face, and actually started to whistle as it followed her about. Once she caught it staring surreptitiously out of the window with a puzzled expression on its face, and that made her so very happy she went out of her way to be especially kind to it for the rest of the day. 'I confess,' she said to herself, 'my shadow is looking less and less ugly every day.' Not long afterwards she woke up after a particularly lovely dream and found it sitting on the end of her bed grinning at her.
"How are things going?" it asked politely, and looking around, added cheerfully; "it's become uncommonly bright in here."
"It has," agreed the Princess. "I imagine it has something to do with all the time I spend in the garden I told you about."
"So I've noticed," replied the shadow. "Perhaps I was wrong about that; it doesn't seem as shabby as I remember it; and the flowers don't stink nearly as badly as they used to."
"You can see the garden?" asked the Princess in surprise.
"I always could, but I didn't like it very much. To tell you the truth it used to set my teeth on edge——and the smell—ugh. . ." it added with a shudder.
"It's growing on me."
"Which is more than I can say for you," giggled the Princess. "You appear to have lost a great deal of weight since last we met; and I see you've changed your horrid clothes—and your awful hair."
"I am a good deal lighter," admitted the shadow. "My former diet doesn't seem to agree with me any more and I find little pleasure in the things I used to enjoy."
"Life is a dungeon dark and deep; a long night of sorrow through which we sleep," declaimed the Princess mournfully.
"Oh I wouldn't go that far," replied the shadow. "Though I am beginning to agree with you that this cellar isn't quite as cosy a nook as I once imagined."
"Really?" asked the Princess.
"Really," affirmed the shadow.
"You have spoken very decently," said the Princess, "and I am sure you mean what you say, so I ought to be just as honest with you. As a shadow you know what Royalty can be like. Some of them cannot bear to have coarse people around them without it upsetting them. Well, I had the same feelings toward you when first we met. But now I see that we have a lot in common and might be friends if we could put aside our differences and learn to rub along together."
"That's very generous of you," said the shadow, "I had come to much the same conclusion myself."
"Of course," added the Princess loftily, "There can be no question of us being equals—I am, after all—as you've pointed out—a Princess, and you are only a shadow. I hope that's not rude?"
"Not at all," replied the shadow. "So long as you remember that this is MY cellar, and stop interfering with MY management of it. I hope that's not rude?
The Princess laughed and reached out to shake the shadow's hand, which was much lighter than she remembered it. "Friends?" she asked warmly.
"Friends," agreed the shadow.
"I imagine we'll be seeing a lot more of one another in the future," observed the Princess thoughtfully.
"You can be sure of it," said the shadow.
"In that case I hope you won't mind if I excuse myself now. I'm rather tired and would like to rest for a while."
"Visit the garden, you mean," said the shadow with a knowing grin.
"Why yes," said the Princess. "Since you mention it. If I can get there, that is. It's not always possible you know."
"I'd quite like to take a little peek myself," said the shadow.
"You would?" asked the Princess, her eyes widening in surprise.
"If you wouldn't mind..."
"I'd be delighted; only we can't both be asleep at the same time or who will look after the cellar when we're gone?"
"I hadn't thought of that," said the shadow.
"Perhaps we can take it in turns?" suggested the Princess.
"I'm afraid not," said the shadow. "I can't get into the garden without your help. I can only see it through the gate when you're here with me."
"I had no idea," said the Princess sadly. "Have I been very horrid to you?"
"You did call me a 'disgusting snake," replied the shadow.
"And you called me a 'simpering soap bubble of sanctimonious wind."
"Which was true," said the shadow.
"Perhaps," admitted the Princess, "but now we're friends."
"Now we're friends," repeated the shadow. "And friends help one another."
"What do you mean?"
"I could show you how to leave the cellar if you promise to tell me afterwards what the garden is like inside."
"How will you do that?" asked the Princess.
"By climbing out through the trapdoor above our heads."
"But it's locked—you can't get out that way."
"Ah," replied the shadow with a grin, "You can if you have the key."
"And you do?"
"I've always had it."
"Why did you never say so?"
"You never asked," replied the shadow with a chuckle.
From that day forward the Princess went out to look at the garden every day and made a point of telling the shadow everything she saw and experienced whenever they met. In time she taught the shadow to appreciate the wonders of the magical garden almost as much as she did. For its part, the shadow transformed the dark cellar into a palace of loveliness and grew so transparent you could almost see right through it.
Then the Sun, seeing that one of his children had grown up and that her shadow had turned to the light, opened the trapdoor and let down a golden ladder into the cellar. The Princess had no sooner set her foot upon it, when to her everlasting astonishment, she found herself in the garden beyond the gate. The strangest thing of all was that the shadow had utterly vanished! As she slowly took in her surroundings she realised that there were no shadows anywhere, nor was there any sun, although the entire garden blazed with light.
But the greatest wonder was still to come, for at the height of her joy, the Princess turned around and found herself gazing into the most dazzling pair of grey eyes she had ever seen. "My Prince!" she cried, as she embraced the handsome youth she had first seen from her cellar window. He was even more wonderful than she remembered. A shimmering robe of white and gold fell to his sandaled feet and upon his brow was set a high, white crown adorned with gems that shone with all the colours of the rainbow. The Princess smiled shyly out of the corners of her eyes as the Prince took her slim hand in his, and kissed her.
Then the Sun, seeing that there was no more to be told, climbed into his golden boat, and sailed away into the West.
F I N I S
NOTE: If you have enjoyed Erika Hahn's allegorical tale you may also like The broken Violin. This too contains a number of occult truths concealed under the cloak of allegory and symbolism, often in the daftest manner imaginable. We publish it to give the serious student of occult science a further opportunity to put the keys of symbolism to practical use (see further reading list in the sidebar).
Another daft story equally rich in concealed meanings is Meditation; or the way of escape. In our afterword to this most unusual tale, we use the keys of symbolism and allegory to extract the important occult truths and wisdom teachings the story contains. If you use our methods and follow our hints and tips in this and other articles, you will begin to uncover the hidden meaning in not only fairy-tales, but also in sacred and magical literature of all kinds.
ILLUSTRATION: above and in the sidebar. Detail from The Garden Court by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones. This is the third in a series of four paintings by the artist which depict scenes from the version of the Sleeping Beauty compiled by the Brothers Grimm in their collection of folk tales published in 1812. The painting was completed between 1885 and 1890, and executed in oils on canvas.
Story © Erika Hahn. Introduction and Afterword © Copyright occult-mysteries.org. All worldwide rights reserved. Published 21 July 2019. Updated 12 June 2022.