Princess and the Pea Story
The Princess and the Pea story is a tale about a young woman who is too sensitive… Right? This sensitivity seems to get her in trouble. Do you cringe at the prissy princess who is easily wounded, never comfortable, and always complaining? Doesn’t this story perpetuate the misogynist myth of the feeble female who needs to be coddled and sheltered? As a child I saw the princess as a wussy, and secretly vowed to be tougher than her. I didn’t like this story. Others I speak with share the same memories.
Everything changes when we arrive at the story with soul.
Let us call on the soul’s ability to see strength where cultural conditioning reads weakness.
The fact is that the princess proves how REAL she is by detecting a tiny object under twenty mattresses and twenty eiderdowns. For a refresher on how the story goes, you can watch my oral telling in this video…
Realness and the “Real” Princess
What does it mean to be “real”? In today’s world to be real is to be honest, authentic, candid, vulnerable. Realness is show who we really are rather than who we think everyone wants us to be. The real person is comfortable in her own skin. Realness has to do with knowing the true Self. I use a capital “S” here for self because, well, I am speaking of the Divine Self. That which is God within. Christians call this the “child of God” and Hindus name it “Atman”.
A real person finds this Self through deep, often excruciating, sometimes troubling, and always challenging self-reflection. She cultivates spiritual wisdom. She has grit. The layers of conditioning and illusions are burned away in the fire of discernment. Everything that is unreal peels away to expose what is real.
Another important fact is that the story starts out by telling us that the prince is searching for a real princess. He won’t take your average run-of-the mill princess. No, he wants a real one and he’s willing to wait for her.
Not only is the princess in this story a real, awakened human being, but she is desired. The prince marries her the moment he learns she is authentic. The royal family embraces her and makes her one of their own.
How does it feel to read the story this way? What if instead of fearing exile upon authenticity, you could imagine belonging? Authenticity definitely grants sovereignty.
This is the magic of bringing soul to fairytales. We see another way through.
Who Are You in the Princess and the Pea Story?
Now let’s get something straight. Reading the story from the soul is to read the symbols and archetypes of the story, and to carry them into our interior. We are the princess, prince, king and queen.
The prince is not a literal man looking to marry a literal woman. He is an aspect of your psyche (remember the Greek word “psyche” means soul, so I’m not just talking the intellect here). The inner prince is the part of you that strives to be worthy of the throne, and that seeks sovereignty over your interior kingdom. The prince wants to reign your thoughts, emotions, and inner landscape wisely. He seeks an education in how to be authentic, thus the reason he wants a real woman for his wife.
I imagine the prince as a late-twenty something bachelor staying home way too long. You’d think his parents might be ready to kick him out of the castle if he doesn’t marry and take over the kingdom soon. However, they are patient as you can be with yourself.
Maybe in his search for the real princess, he’s also doing the important inner work of finding himself. Traveling the world and coping with failure definitely help self-actualization.
Your inner prince is the part of you that is seeking your true self. He knows there are aspects of you that are missing and he won’t stop looking for them.
Forces in Our Souls
Symbolically speaking, the prince, princess, king, and queen reside within each of us. They are forces in our souls that assist us on the path of liberation from the tyranny of the outside world. For the prince and princess to marry is to wed the masculine and feminine qualities each of us possess, to put them into right working relationship. The prince is symbolic of action out in the world and the princess symbolizes the wisdom we can bring to action. There are other ways to read them symbolically, but these are the basics.
The king and queen are the old guard, the ideas and myths we carry that are ready to step down. They assist our evolution by answering the call of the princess (old king opening the gate for her) and setting up the test (queen placing the pea under the bed). This shows us that not every shift in consciousness requires an insurrection. Here is a map for a peaceful transfer of power from the false self to the true Self. There is a seed of realness in the false self for even the old queen knows that the test is needed.
The castle is a symbol of one’s soul. It is our interior fortress and what we do to fortify ourselves. What happens in the castle of The Princess and the Pea story gives instruction for how to fortify our spiritual selves.
Symbolism of the Pea
The symbolism of the pea in The Princess and the Pea story is most intriguing. First of all, it is a seed. Symbol of birth and new beginnings, the pea as seed in this story can stand for many things. It can be the seed of a new idea, a new life, a new job or career, and so on. What new seed is lying dormant under your bed right now?
The queen could have put any number of small, round objects under the bed. Why wouldn’t a pebble, marble, or pearl do? Why a pea?
Peas are a common, lowly food. They are not rare delicacies, but functional staples. Split pea soup is mushy, green and ugly. The pea under the bed could symbolize what is uncomfortable, wrong, or unwanted – a seed of discontent in the kingdom. If that seed is disregarded it can grow into a vine that turns everything into a tangled mess. The prince and his family are trying to sweep this discontent under the rug, but the princess cannot ignore it. This is the little things our intuition picks up on. The small voice in the back of our minds that keeps nagging at us. Remember how the princess was bruised by the pea? She can’t escape its message. This is her gift.
Seeds of Change in the Princess and the Pea Story
The princess’s ability to detect such seeds is a great asset to a kingdom’s longterm health. She’ll point out where the rebellion is brewing and help serve the whole kingdom by bringing the discontent into daylight. The pea seed isn’t bad, is nearly problematic for the status quo. The pea can be symbolic of what’s new and different which is threatening to what’s comfortable and stable. These seeds of change foster beneficial growth in us when addressed and incorporated.
Pea plants are nitrogen fixers. They take nitrogen out of the air, and fix it into a form that provides fertilizer in the soil for other plants. They give back. By looking at the problem and collaborating with the seed’s growth, we enrich our environment.
We also have the flowers that grow from the pea. Sweet pea isn’t just a phrase, it’s also a plant. Women are taught to be polite. to be “sweet peas” and not make any trouble. The princess and the pea has us confront our own politeness. In the innocence of the princess’s sensitivity there is a sweetness. She is not judgmental or critical. She simply names what is.
The Value of Speaking Up
In the morning, when asked how she slept the princess gives an unexpected response. As a guest in a new castle the polite thing to do would be to lie and say she slept well. After all, the queen did go to the trouble to provide the luxurious bed. Instead, the princess complains about the pain it causes her.
Surprisingly, speaking up gets her CROWNED rather than kicked out of the castle. How does this happen? She proves her authenticity by sharing her experience. I’m not saying we should all go around rudely telling people about how terrible their hospitality is. This is a soul exploration and about our interior. We all benefit from being honest with ourselves about what makes us uncomfortable, even if it seems as small and trivial as a pea.
The fact that the discovery of the pea happens in the bedroom speaks to the need for time alone, for privacy. In those quiet moments we have the chance to listen to that which is nagging us before bringing it out into daylight.
The ridiculous amount of mattresses can be seen as symbolic of “fleecing” of our interior – All the ways we try to dampen or soften a problem with material comforts and distraction. The princess’s inability to sleep speaks to her staying awake to the unconscious messages she receives. Although, for her sake I do hope she gets many nights of good rest in her “happily ever after”.
Final Thoughts on Sensitivity
Many people see the princess on the pea as sort of mascot for empaths and highly sensitive people (HSP). Her sensitivity makes her a good fit for this roll. She is not the weakling many make her out to be and this can help people who see their sensitivity as a curse.
The princess shows up in the middle of the night soaking wet with water running out of her shoes. Clearly she lost her royal entourage and managed to make her way in the dark and through a nasty storm to the castle gates. This speaks of the ability to navigate the wilderness of the unconscious alone. That takes enormous strength, courage, and wits. As I explained before, the spiritual path to being a “real”, authentic person is not for the faint of heart. All of these insights to the princess’s character can help empaths and HSP develop a profound level of self-respect.
In addition, the real princess speaks to those of us with chronic illnesses that cause hypersensitivity. I have ME/CFS, a neuro-immune disease that causes me to be hypersensitive to sound, visual stimulus, smells, and foods. I feel like I’m always telling my husband to turn the music down or make the food less spicy. This hypersensitivity could be seen as a vulnerability, but I’ve come to embrace it as a testament to my strength. Listening to my body when it says something is too much is authentic. Speaking up for self-care without shame is part of accepting and loving the body I have.
Everyone is Intuitive
And… the princess is a beacon for us all regardless of how we rate or realize our own sensitivity. Everyone is intuitive and has an interior life. Inner growth and the spiritual path call us all in different ways. By following the lead not only of the princess, but also the royal family who knows her necessity, we all have a chance to listen better to the Divine Self within and find wholeness. With The Princess and The Pea story we learn that we are sensitive AND strong, and that by marrying the two we progress on the spiritual path.
Read the original story written by Hans Christian Andersen: https://andersen.sdu.dk/vaerk/hersholt/ThePrincessOnThePea_e.html
Read other stories from around the world about the search for a sensitive wife: https://sites.pitt.edu/~dash/type0704.html
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About Author, Stacey L. L. Couch
Stacey L. L. Couch is a Spiritual Director who teaches about archetypes and symbolism. Her speciality is working with soul pioneers - those of you who are making it up as you go along the spiritual path. She works with beginner and life-long spiritual seekers. Through working with Stacey, lost seekers find their way home and professional spiritual guides receive mentorship. Stacey empowers people with the ability to explore their purpose and calling. Wisdom found in story, mysticism, and nature provide guidance and healing in her work. She is the author of Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks. She values mindfulness, wonder, and compassion in her daily spiritual practice. Learn More about Stacey.