The Frog King, or The Frog Prince
Before we get started – Please Note!
This article is intended to help parents, teachers and caregivers understand the deeper meanings imbedded in a particular fairy tale. The way this article is written and even the format in which the story is being presented is not suitable to share with your child. You can refer to my article in the April issue, “The Waldorf Approach to Fairy Tales” for more information on telling fairy tales to children of different ages.
The value of analyzing a fairy tale is to help the storyteller feel comfortable with the story and to have confidence in choosing when and how to present it to her listeners. As I have indicated in the previous article, the “fairy tales” most used and valued in the Waldorf tradition are those collected by the Grimm brothers from the oral tradition of the German countryside. Their meanings are generally deep and have lived below the surface of everyday understanding for eons, rather like a golden ball at the bottom of a deep well.
This will be the first of a series of analyses of various fairy tales. I will draw on the help of the wonderful website, SurLaLune Fairy Tales:
I highly recommend this site as a resource for fairy and folk tales, although it is very scholarly and may add a little confusion for “newbies”. Also, the fairy tales are annotated and can help provide insight into meanings but most of the notes are of historical rather than spiritual or psychological value.
Please start our journey by reading the full fairy tale in its original form here:
Are you finding the story rather different from the clichéd version as it has been popularized? No kissing of a frog, at least not in his froggy form! Should you tell a story that has an act of violence against a small animal? Well, yes actually, you should. I have often used this story as one of the first of the school year with predominantly five year old kindergarten children. Five year olds tend to be very experimental and very passionate about their relationships. I frequently had elaborate “weddings” during free play and the bride and groom often took the situation very seriously. Five is also the age of “best friends” and can be the age to be on the watch for bullying or ostracizing. Kindergarten children move from the side by side play of the four year old to the direct and often dramatic arena of interactive imaginative play.
“The Frog King” actually speaks to the first glimmers of this emotional life. It is a kind of foreshadowing of what will develop into real emotional relationships with the onset of puberty further down the road. It speaks of the effects of our promises and their consequences, albeit in still a dreamlike format, not through moralizing.
It is vitally important when choosing this story for your children to really learn it well “by heart.” Every word is beautiful and full of meaning and significance. The opening paragraph is a work of pure poetry:
“IN OLD times when wishing still helped one, there lived a king whose daughters were all beautiful, but the youngest was so beautiful that the sun itself, which has seen so much, was astonished whenever it shone in her face.”
So, being the intellectual old folks that we are, let us analyze or “break down” this story. But be sure to put it back together in your heart afterward, whole and un”adult”erated!
“The Frog King” is the story of the awakening of sexuality in the human being. The Frog always symbolizes fertility and in many stories comes to a queen to announce that she will have a child. A frog is truly a creature of fertility and reproduction. So much so that a sperm cell actually looks a lot like a tadpole and the human embryo goes through an early stage that is almost identical to the developing frog!
This being a common element in folk lore it is easy to ascertain that this story is about the Human Soul (Princess archetype) on the verge of its transition from childhood innocence to the awareness of biological human sexuality.
A Princess represents a purified aspect of any Human Soul, no matter if incarnated in a female or male body. She has a crown (elevated, “pure” thinking soul force), pearls and jewels (feeling forces) and priceless gowns (willing forces). These “purified” soul elements are her birthright, not earned in the current incarnation. She has them from her spiritual heritage of previous incarnations. She is the “youngest” meaning, the Human Soul as it is now – more highly developed (ie “beautiful”) than any that has gone before.
The Princess in this story loves to play with a Golden Ball. When we have anything Gold, we can immediately connect it with the spiritual aspect of the Sun Forces. Mundane astrology focuses on our “Sun Sign” which is the basic relationship that we have to the sun forces in relation to the Earth at the time of our physical birth. Through this Sun Sign, we are given the Destiny of our current earth life as we ourselves have designed it in the time between incarnations. This destiny is made of our intentions, karmic debts, talents carried over from developments made in our former lifetimes and our inheritances (biological and spiritual) given by the current family which we have chosen to incarnate through.
Throughout our Childhood, we “play” with these forces of destiny. There is no need to seriously come to grips with them yet. But eventually, the child grows older and approaches the threshold of puberty. It is at this point that our karmic relationships and past life promises become something serious. We must face the loss of our childhood innocence and become vulnerable to the facts of human sexuality and biological reproduction with all that this entails on our relationships with other people.
For most children on the verge of this stage of development, if they have truly been allowed to stay in a state of sexual innocence, the first awareness of what sexuality means can be very disgusting and repulsive. A girl is taught about her menstrual cycle hopefully before its onset and the first reaction is usually tinged with a bit of revulsion. If she is taught about the sexual act with a partner (hopefully before it actually happens) she can also be appalled and even frightened to consider it. Nevertheless, it is a basic and important aspect of becoming an adult and it has complex and wide ranging effects on all of the relationships that one has intended for oneself before birth.
So, here at the well, she “loses” her Golden Ball for the first time. It lies at the bottom of a deep and murky well, which in several other fairy tales is the portal to the spiritual world. She can not retrieve it herself. The Frog who lives in the well offers to get it for her. He rejects the crown, jewels and gown she offers in return, demanding instead a direct relationship with her. None of the Soul Forces that we have acquired in the past can put off the need to establish the relationships we need during our current lifetime. She agrees to this relationship but fools herself in the process. She is not emotionally sincere.
“Oh yes,” said she, “I promise thee all thou wishest, if thou wilt but bring me my ball back again.” She, however, thought, “How the silly frog does talk! He lives in the water with the other frogs, and croaks, and can be no companion to any human being!”
She has just found out what her future holds but she doesn’t really want to believe it. She runs off without the frog. But that evening, he appears at the palace door. When her Father, the King hears what has taken place he says to her,
“That which thou hast promised must thou perform. Go and let him in.”
This is very significant. There are several kinds of Father Archetypes in Fairy Tales – the boastful Miller, the weak Woodcutter. But the Father who is a King is a director of destiny. He is the force of moral spiritual law which holds us to our vows whether we make them sincerely or not. He is the power behind the marriage statement “What God has joined together, let no Man put asunder.” At his insistence, the Princess must fulfill her vow. First, the Frog wishes to eat from her golden plate and drink from her golden cup. Sharing a meal forms bonds of community. Think of Briar Rose and the feast of Twelve Golden Plates which leaves the Thirteenth Wise Woman out of the bonds of community with the King, Queen and Princess. Villages hold fetes or feasts. The wedding feast is intended to bond the new couple to their community. And churches and other organizations like to hold “pot luck” events to strengthen their social bonds.
The Golden Cup, or Chalice forms a bond at a “higher” level. It is the fellowship of the Grail, the sharing of the Water of Life. It is the essence of communion which brings human beings into relationship with a supersensible community as well.
As soon as the Frog eats from her plate and drinks from her cup, the Princess is so disgusted that she chokes.
When it is time for bed, the Father/ King insists that she takes the Frog with her.
“The King’s daughter began to cry, for she was afraid of the cold frog which she did not like to touch, and which was now to sleep in her pretty, clean little bed. But the King grew angry and said, “He who helped thee when thou wert in trouble ought not afterwards to be despised by thee.” So she took hold of the frog with two fingers, carried him upstairs, and put him in a corner. “
Things are really coming to a crisis now. The Frog insists upon sharing the Princess’ bed and threatens to “tell her Father”. This brings on a new emotion in the Princess. Disgust gives way to anger and she throws the Frog against the wall. This is a psychological turning point. The Human Soul is not willing to be a victim, not even of her own karmic intentions. She must make a stand for her own autonomy and freedom. Only by doing so can she transform her own sexual nature from its total identification with the biological to a new relationship through Human Love. Human Love is not really a weak emotional experience. It is only really experienced through action. When the Frog falls down he has been transformed into a “handsome Prince.” This is actually his true state when the illusion of physical life falls away. The Princess is now able to embrace the male / female relationship because it is raised to a higher level of Love, a more spiritualized form.
There are three main aspects to Love – Eros, Philia and Agape. Eros is the physical, sexual aspect of human love. Philia is love raised to Brotherhood. Agape is the highest form of Spiritual Love. The Princess has by the force of her own self-realization raised the nature of her human relationship from Eros to Agape. The only thing now is to connect the relationship of the Couple to Humanity through Philia.
In the morning, a carriage arrives to take the Prince and Princess to his Kingdom (a spiritual state of being). This carriage is drawn by eight white horses and is driven by Faithful Henry.
Who is Faithful Henry? He is Philia and he is also Faithfulness itself. He represents the Faithfulness that can only exist in the human marriage relationship when it has been raised from the basest, primordial erotic level to the highest, spiritual form of union.
This sets free the power of the couple to bestow healing and blessing to all they are related to on the Earthly plane.
Christine Natale discovered Rudolf Steiner and his work at age 16 through a summer job in the Biodynamic Gardens at the Threefold Community in New York. After two years of community college in the area, Christine embarked upon a two year journey with her mentor, Rene Querido. Lucky enough to be in a small training class, Christine was able to intern at the Sacramento Waldorf School from the first of December through June with full block training experience in almost every grade and Kindergarten. Christine taught for about ten years, primarily in the Kindergarten, with one year taking a combined Fourth and Fifth Grade. During this time, she has given many lectures to the public, produced puppet theater and festival productions, co-directed young schools and been an active resource for Waldorf parents and their children.
More recently Christine has been focused on her writing. She has produced an extensive collection of children’s stories and articles on Waldorf Education and is in the process of self-publishing them. Christine brings a variety of skills in all of the arts, such as Waldorf Watercolor Painting, Crayon Drawing (and its interpretation), Handwork, Music, Drama, Puppetry, Storytelling and much more. She has a broad and deep base of knowledge of Anthroposophy and Waldorf Education, as well as a good familiarity with other educational systems and methods and an ability to draw connections and to build bridges of understanding for people who come from a wide variety of backgrounds.
Christine’s Book of Fairy Tales can be found here. Christine’s Blog, Straw into Gold can be found here.
© June 2011 Christine Natale
Such wonderful deep knowledge and resources you have Christine. I will have to reflect a bit- much to take in and consider. What is curious to me in the meantime is the deep meaning of these fairytales (memorized even by heart by the teacher)and the level of intention and sophistication towards even the youngest child’s destiny in sharing these with them. I think it’s a real service to educators as well as there is most definitely a mood of reverence around this ‘learning’ story time, but one that may remain mysterious for many parents (particularly those not brought up with/or familiar with these stories). Thank You!
[…] I would like to thank Waldorf teacher Christine Natale for this guest post chock-full of magical summer ideas. You can find Christine’s book of fairy tales here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/fairy-tales/12093029 and her blog here: http://threefoldwaldorf.blogspot.com/.  She also recently wrote an article about the meaning of the classic fairy tale, “The Frog Prince” for Wonder of Childhood magazine here: http://thewonderofchildhood.com/2011/06/the-frog-king-or-the-frog-prince/ […]
I acknowledge you for taking the time to so give so much to others that you dont even know. You gave this gift to me and you never knew I existed, I had been searching for the deeper truths that are in the fairy tales for so very long and there you are now, sharing in a real space of knowing and weaving wonder into the verses. I am soon to open my school here in a small midwestern town and the background of the fairy tales was missing for me…My very first silk fairy tale puppet play I created was The Frog Prince with two dear friends of mine Mary and Cynthia when they were beginning their journey of training teachers….time continues and people transform and yet in the mist on another shore a new friend appears and carries on….thank you so much for being the one that cleared the mist for me….
Thank you so much for writing this piece. I had suddenly got fascinated by the frog prince story, as I was watching a funny video. And I kept wondering about the significance of the kiss. I had known that my name means a princess. But only few days ago, I felt the depth of the name, as I met a stranger who brought the true meaning of my name to me.
And now I am mesmerized by what I read here. I am on a journey to find the prince and the princess within me.
love and light,
This tells me so much more than I would have thought.
There should be less testing and more fairy tales on schools! :)
Great analysis. Thank you for your work. I am going through each tort and looking up commentary on it. I love the way these stories pass down wisdom in such a subtle and artistic way.