The Science of Fairytales

Week 2 of our MYSHA Women’s Circle saw us exploring the story of Seal Skin-Soul Skin as written by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. This story explores the idea of the ‘skin’ that we wear as our soul identity – a skin that we feel at home in, a reflection of our true selves in the wildness of our own nature. As happened last time, and as it should be, the story was interpreted in different ways by each woman, some that surprised me … even challenged me. I am grateful for the ability to hear each woman’s experience of the story, for each little gem of insight ads to my own understanding of this beautiful and haunting tale. I have been left with much to think about, and in my sorry state of illness this week, I have had plenty of time to think. Read Melissa’s post about our circle at Real Life Dreaming.

In preparation for our next circle I have again been hitting the books, and old notes from past lectures I have attended. In one of these series of notes I have been delightfully sidetracked onto the subject of Embryology and how it relates to fairytales. It will be impossible to share with you the clarity and depth in which I remember this information, but from my notes I offer you these interesting tidbits of the ‘story of three’ and why ‘three’ is often a magic number in fairy tales. These notes come from a Vital Years Conference I attended in 2001. The speaker was Denis Klocek.

Stay with me – this is a longish post but worth the read!


Embryology is a science which concerns itself with the development of an embryo from the stage of fertilsation to the fetus stage. The terms we will use are:

Morula (first stage), where the egg is joined with the sperm. The egg experiences a ‘drama’ at the point where the sperm enters from the periphery. When the sperm joins, the egg tears itself in half an multiplies. It has become a morula, no longer a single cell, although as a bunch of cells it still has only one outer skin (called the ectoderm)

Blastula (second stage), occurs when the cells have multiplied so much that it forms a hollow ball of cells. It has an inside surface (endoderm) and an outside surface, the ectoderm.

Gastrula (third stage)  The Gastrula forms when the hollow ball of cells folds in on itself : the outer walls become the inner walls. Within the cavity of the gastrula the mesoderm is created. This is the space where the periphery and the centre meet. It is the creative space that has the potential to become anything within the body – but once it is committedd it loses its ability to be connected to fantasy (where anything can can become anything else). For example, once it becomes a bone cells, it cannot become a brain cell. It can’t dedifferentiate.

So what does this have to do with fairytales?

Fairytales are a journey to the periphery (outside of ourselves) to find who we need to be, then we bring this back to the centre (our heart space) so that we may embody this knowledge. Fairytales work on children in a totally unconscious way and it is not necessary to explain the meaning of fairytales to children. They already know the meaning, but as adults we have lost that connection to our inner knowing, and so the search, our quest, for knowledge about ourselves can be assisted in the interpretation of subconscious pictures that are presented in forms such as fairytales, dreams, day dreams, expressions of art and creative form.

The fairytale presents us with a picture of our becoming. Each and every story reflects our birth and our journey through life. There are stories that depict the journeys of our inner organs, both in their becoming, and in their function. There are microcosms within microcosms.

The Story of Three

Within fairytales there is often the theme of three brothers, three old women, three questions, three billy goats, three challenges. For the sake of simplicity, lets take the three brothers and look at their role:

1st brother is the ectoderm. He is often tall and thin, and is gives us a picture of the outer layer of the body, the skin and nervous system.

2nd brother is the endoderm. He is often shorter and squat, and gives us a picture of the inner layer of the body, digestive forces and metabolism.

3rd brother is the mesoderm. The third brother/question/challenge usually provides a successful conclusion to the story. His creativity in his challenges arises from the experiences of the 1st and 2nd sons. He is open to experiences, open to listening. He gives us a picture of the interactive, balancing forces in our bodies : our organs. Those things that keep us going and strive constantly to keep us in a state of balanced health.

There is SO much more I could share with you on this topic. I find it so fascinating that our ancient stories from all across the world still all protray the same themes, the same challenges, the same picture of our human development. They are telling the story of our becoming.


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