and Joe bought a house after living together for five years. Some time
during the first six months after their move into the new home, Karen got
the feeling that Joe was seeing another woman. Joe denied it. Yet Karen
just couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that there was someone else in
the picture. Karen even felt she knew who it was. After about a year of
what Joe called “continuous interrogations,” they went into therapy together.
Karen’s “unfounded” jealousy and insecurity became the topic of discussion
during their six months of therapy. In time, the interrogations stopped
and the therapy ended. One evening, about a year later, when Karen and
Joe were sharing a quiet intimate evening together, Joe said to Karen,
“You know how you used to think I was having an affair with Shelly? Well,
you were right! I was.”
is shattering. Yet deception, broken promises, unkept agreements, disappointments,
and unfulfilled expectations in every arena of life are fertile ground
for personal growth and an increased capacity for trust. This trust is
not trust in your betrayer or anyone outside yourself. This is a profound
sense of trust in your Self, your inner Source of wisdom, healing, and
love-a higher power within the psyche that brings each of us to and through
every experience in life, including betrayal.
betrayal is archetypal, that is, universal in nature, one taps into a collective
force that has tremendous power. It feels bigger than you, and seems to
have a life of its own. This greater power has enough potential energy
to transform you completely, if you know how to work with it. With archetypes,
one’s personal stories are actually reflections of profound universal forces.
As we experience our personal stories in terms of universal spiritual teachings,
we connect more consciously with the greater transformative power within
our experience. Let me give you an example by telling you one of my favorite
betrayal-to-trust stories. This is the story about the Frog Prince; but,
unlike the popular Disney-like version, it is not a magical kiss that transforms
the older, Grimm Brothers’1 version, the story opens with the king’s youngest
and most beautiful daughter weeping and wailing, lamenting the loss of
her golden ball that has tumbled down into the depths of a well so deep
that its bottom cannot even be seen. A frog, who happens to be by the well,
offers to retrieve the ball if, and only if, the princess will agree to
take the frog as her companion, to love him, to play with him, to let him
eat with her at her royal table, and to sleep with him in her royal bed.
the princess cries. “Anything you wish!” But once the princess gets her
golden ball back, she realizes what a mistake she has made. Without even
a word of thanks, she leaves the frog in the forest by the well. “After
all,” she thinks to herself as she turns on her heels and heads toward
the palace, “a frog is no companion for a princess.” It takes the frog
till the next day to hop to the palace and gain admittance. The princess
then tells her father, the king, the story about the golden ball, the well,
and the promise. And the king declares, “That which is promised must be
performed! Now you must share your plate with this frog and take him into
your bedchambers with you just as you promised.”
alone with the frog in her royal bedchamber, the princess shudders and
shrieks at the thought of sleeping with that horrible frog in her nice,
clean bed, let alone kissing those cold, wet, slimy, green frog lips. When
the frog threatens to call the king in to make the princess keep her promise,
she is beside herself with rage. She picks up the frog and hurls him against
the wall! As he falls to the floor, all at once the frog turns into a naked
knight, a noble prince with beautiful, kind eyes. Once he is returned to
his original human form, the prince explains to the princess that he was
turned into a cold-blooded frog by an evil witch, and only the princess
could break the spell. At long last, the spell is broken and they can go
to his father’s kingdom together.
Frog Prince story continues beyond the transfiguration of a frog to a prince.
The Grimm Brothers’ story ends with the prince’s servant, faithful Henry,
arriving at the palace with a magnificent carriage drawn by eight majestic
white horses. Henry has come to transport the bride and groom home. As
they are traveling the prince hears a strange creaking noise, and, concerned
that one of the wheels of the carriage is breaking, draws the sound to
the attention of his faithful servant. However, Henry replies,
wheel does not break,
’Tis the band around
That, to lessen
When I grieved
for your sake,
I bound round my
the prince restored, betrothed, and returning to his father’s kingdom,
faithful Henry’s heart is so full of joy that it breaks all the bands clean
tales are like dreams. They are filled with archetypal symbols. Every symbol
reveals a key to some part of the psyche. The seemingly absurd and grotesque
image of a frog being smashed against the wall represents the secret power
of betrayal to transform consciousness, from frog consciousness to nobility.
Notice how one’s noble true Self, the prince, has beautiful, kind eyes.
How is it that betrayal can generate beauty and kindness? This is indeed
a mystery. The princess’s betrayal of her promise to the frog and her rebellion
against her father’s command are somehow part of the magic that releases
the power of the wicked witch’s spell over the Frog Prince. The stakes
are great for both the princess and the frog. The princess could suffer
her father’s condemnation, ever to remain a little girl; the frog may never
come to know his true form as a man; and, unbeknownst to the prince, his
faithful servant’s heart may never be free.
one of us has a frog, a princess, and a faithful Henry within us (though
we may tend to play one of these roles more frequently). In fairy tales,
wicked witches and evil queens are symbolic of betrayal wounds inflicted
by the mother, just as kings, sorcerers, and wizards represent the father.
Many of us are under the spell of a wicked witch or cruel king and feel
overpowered by a giant or ghost from our past. This was certainly true
of Karen and Joe. When I saw them for an appointment, Karen said she grew
up with an authoritarian, alcoholic father. Joe’s authoritative denial
of his affair with Shelly the year before and then during their six months
of therapy opened an old wound. Like the frog, who retrieved the princess’s
golden ball from the depths of the well, Joe’s betrayal of Karen sent her
to her emotional depths. And, at the age of forty-seven, she emerged from
the betrayal experience with the golden awareness that she can trust the
authority of her intuition instead of giving her power away to the kings
in her life-her former therapist and Joe, in this case.
was also caught up in a curse from the past. He described himself as the
oldest and only boy in his family of immigrant refugees from World War
II. As a child he was obliged to take care of his perfectionistic, demanding
mother and younger siblings, while his father worked long hours to support
the family. Joe, who turned fifty when their house was in escrow, said
he felt overloaded with responsibilities and financial obligations after
he and Karen bought the house together. Our discussion revealed that his
affair with Shelly somehow made him feel carefree, like the prince before
he was turned into a frog by the witch.
spells and curses are cast in a variety of ways. Suffering through physical
and verbal abuse or neglect, sexual or emotional incest, or any of the
wide range of dysfunctional family patterns associated with alcoholism
and drug abuse all evoke the experience of parental betrayal within a child’s
psyche. Uncontrollable events like a war or national disaster, a death
in the family, divorce, illness, accidents, sudden changes in residence,
and even seemingly innocuous events can also fuel the betrayal fires within
adult reactions to childhood wounds and re-wounding by our intimates are
only half the story. Faithful Henry’s role in the Frog Prince’s transformation
reminds us also that there is a faithful companion who follows us through
life, though we are unaware of him. As we unify with our true Self, this
faithful companion becomes known to us and helps us “return to the father’s
kingdom”-symbolizing the spiritual nature of this psychological journey
from betrayal to trust. The rewards of psychospiritual transformation are
well worth the price. Faithful Henry’s example shows us that our hearts
can be truly free. Betrayal is a sacred event that has the power to transport
us into a deeper spiritual truth that brings joy to the heart.
the prince who was turned into a frog and forced to leave his father’s
kingdom, or the princess who is alone at the well, lamenting the loss of
her golden ball, betrayal is attended by feelings of isolation, alienation,
rejection, and loneliness. Some of the tests and trials in the Frog Prince
story echo the challenges of betrayal that Joe and Karen felt as well:
the princess was required to live with a frog-eat with it, sleep with it,
keep it as a companion. And the prince who lost his human form through
no fault of his own, suffers rejection at the well and is flung against
the wall for being a frog. However, as a result of knowing each other,
both princess and frog change radically-into a bride in her full authority
and a beautiful, naked knight. Joe and Karen were also transformed as they
learned more about themselves and each other. Understanding and integrating
the mystery of betrayal is an essential part of the story.
tales like the Frog Prince story follow an archetypal pattern of growth
and change found in ancient and indigenous cross-cultural rites of initiation.
Initiatory rites of passage may show us how to find our way through the
pain, separation, alienation, and shock of betrayal to feel fully alive
again. We start by looking at the experience of betrayal as a sacred event
in our lives that has the power to initiate a personal spiritual awakening.
Like initiates through the ages, we can train ourselves to recognize and
respond to five distinct stages of initiation:
3. Symbolic Death
4. New Knowledge
always initiates experiences of separation, isolation, or rejection. Alone
at the well, the princess meets her initiator and is transformed from the
innocent, beautiful, youngest daughter of the king into a woman of royalty
with the authority to make her own decisions. At first, the princess mourns
the loss of her golden ball that has fallen into a well so deep that she
cannot see the bottom. This well symbolizes the core of her being, while
the golden ball represents her brilliance-that is, Self-awareness. Before
she gets her ball back, the princess is still the innocent, beautiful youngest
daughter. In her naiveté, she willingly promises to give the frog
anything in return for retrieving her ball. After the ball surfaces from
the depths of the sacred well, the princess is changed. She becomes Self-aware.
She can now stand up to her father, the king, and take a prince for a companion
instead of a frog.
our consciousness reaches these depths, we are transformed. When our golden
ball of consciousness is returned to us-even if it is returned by a frog-we
are irrevocably altered. The emotional ordeals of the betrayal-to-trust
initiation reveal your true Self. Within your heart, at the very core of
your being, is a truth you can trust. It was the princess’s coeurage (coeur
is French for “heart”) that allowed her to defy her father and take on
the role of divine initiator in her relationship to the Frog Prince. The
violent shock of rejection delivered by the princess to the frog when she
threw him against the wall was the initiatory ordeal that provoked the
frog’s transformation into a prince.
of us get smashed against walls, and some of us touch what feel like bottomless
depths. These are examples of the emotional ordeals that attend the rites
of purification. Betrayer and betrayed serve a deeper mystery that purifies
them both, just as the frog and the princess were intrinsic to each other’s
transformation of consciousness.
the relationship between the initiator and initiated, the betrayer and
betrayed, consciousness is purified, transfigured, and altered. This profound
change in consciousness is represented by the death phase of initiation.
Though the death is symbolic, its impact on consciousness is irrevocable
and complete. The frog did not die when he hit the wall. Yet the impact
of hitting the wall destroyed the frog form and revealed a prince with
beautiful, kind eyes.
delivery of a spiritual teaching that brings meaning to the test or ordeal
characterizes the new-knowledge phase of initiation. The appearance of
faithful Henry at the end of the tale indicates the presence of someone
who can help the princess and prince integrate the spiritual teaching.
In traditional societies, the elders help the initiate understand the meaning
or purpose of the initiatory ordeals, and they explain the value and use
of one’s newly found gifts. For example, menstruating girls are initiated
into the blood mysteries and are taught the meaning of the life cycle by
the older women in the clan. In advanced initiation rites, knowledge is
primarily received intuitively from inner sources.
Henry, whose heart breaks free of its restricting bands, depicts the secret
teaching that brings new knowledge, and illuminates the mystery of the
betrayal-to-trust initiation. Heart knowledge is intuitive knowledge. The
mystery that allows you to break through the defenses of your past requires
that you recognize that those old ways of being, which you developed to
cope with your earlier betrayal wounds, are like the constricting bands
that kept Henry’s heart from breaking. Our defenses keep our hearts from
breaking, but they restrict us and prevent our growth and expansion into
the joy of Self-deliverance. Henry reminds us that we will be delivered,
that we will
return to the father’s
kingdom. In this journey, the truth within our heart guides the way home
to our Source.
the death-rebirth cycle of initiation demands that the initiate demonstrate
his or her newly found gifts and knowledge, or die.
After she regains
her golden ball and returns to the palace, the princess demonstrates her
own authority when she challenges her father.
She is no longer
a child who must be told what to do. She takes a stand contrary to her
father’s expectations, showing that death-rebirth
the initiate to release any past prohibitions or personal inhibitions that
might block one from accessing and implementing
one’s new talents.
the final phase of initiation, defines the process of return. Rebirth brings
the individual back to life and back to one’s community to fulfill a new
role within that community. In puberty rites, girls become women, and boys
become men. In the Frog Prince story, the prince returns to his father’s
kingdom, not as a prince or as a frog, but as a groom betrothed to a mature,
self-confident woman. In traditional societies, not only does the individual
gain personal fulfillment from their new, adult roles, but the whole community
benefits from the added contributions of the individual. His or her life
becomes a demonstration of the spiritual teaching received during initiation,
and the community is strengthened by the individual’s new level of involvement
in communal life.
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