It is interesting to observe that fairy tales such as Donkey Skin and Basile's The She-Bear carry within themselves the elements of the initiatory rite. Let's see why.
Both contain a triggering event that leads to detachment from the family with a separation rite with which every initiation ceremony begins. In fact, even the girls, in various ancient cultures including the Greek one, underwent an initiation by being removed from the family, in the woods, in a special hut or temple and this was what would lead them in adulthood to their role as women.
Basile's fairy tale draws directly on the initiatory rite of the temple of Artemis to which the Athenian girls who took the form of the Bear were subjected. (For further information click here) The old woman in the Bear and the fairy in donkey skin represent the elderly woman to whom the initiating girls are entrusted.
The donkey skin with which the princess covers herself, transforming herself into an almost mythical being could refer to the mare that represented the woman of childbearing age, in fact Donkey skin wears it when it arouses the desire, albeit incestuous, of a man who precisely coincides with the passage from the age of innocence to that of a young woman. The mare returns in various ancient cultures as a symbol of fertility: in the British Isles Brihanonon is a supernatural queen who has a bearing on the mare and births, Frau Holle in Germany arrives at the end of the year on a white horse followed by other ladies on horseback and by the procession of Elves and children who died without baptism. In the archaic German traditions the fairies retain something equine in them in fact the men they visit remain the prints of hooves on the chest.
After the transformation into an animal, the removal and the initiation into adult life, there is a return and acceptance into society.
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- Traces of initiation rites in fairy tales, Anselmo Calvetti 1987
- The tale if tales, Giambattista Basile
- The fairy tales, Perrault translated by carlo Collodi.