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Registered User
(8/2/02 12:44:11 pm)

Analysis: 12 Dancing Princesses
Here is the link to The Twelve Dancing Princesses:


Before I post my technique I wonder if anyone has any insights to offer as to the significance of the tale. Symbolism, subtext, or even psychoanalytical interpretations are welcome. Consider the tale a riddle. What is its solution?


James Lambert

Registered User
(8/2/02 2:48:51 pm)
A few interpretations...
Hmmm, I'm having a hard time fleshing out my analysis, but here are some keywords and notes that I've come up with as *possible* relations to the tale.

Princes vs. Soldier

Bed as doorway to dreams or enchantment.
Father- Cannot protect children from growing away, lost to mysteries of maturation of young girls.
Shoes- wearing down, growing out.
Threshold between reality and dreams, between childhood and adulthood.
Princes- Overlooking the obvious.
Soldier- Overlooked, not a threat. Already invisible.
Dream, enchantment, trance, curse, sleeping draught.

12 Princesses = 9 Muses + 3 Graces/Fates
Deceased mother = Only a Memory (Mnemosyne)

Silver, Gold, Diamonds = Daughters are precious to their father, kingdom's treasure, enchanted world is princesses' secret.

Crossing the lake = Crossing the river Styx in the Underworld.

Goblet of wine with sleeping draught, which leads to princes' deaths = Drinking from the Underworld river Lethe, which makes one forget the past.

12 princesses going down into enchanted underworld = 12 months of the year, going through seasons of life and death, Persephone.

Door, stairs, avenue, lake and boats = milestones in journey, literal rites of passage.

I'm sure there are hundreds of other interpretations, mine may be farfetched to some, but it's something. Other thoughts?

Dandelion wishes,


Registered User
(8/2/02 11:53:38 pm)
Re: Analysis: 12 Dancing Princesses
I went and reread the tale and sat with it a while to see what would make itself known. The thing that surprisingly stood out was the "naughtiness" of the princesses - they weren't doing something malicious or illegal, but they were definitely being naughty. And it's a seemingly innocent form of naughtiness - going out to this enchanted beautiful place for a night of dancing; and yet, it's not so innocent: men are getting their heads chopped off because the princesses refuse to stop, or at least come clean with their father. Furthermore, once they are found out, they're placed under an enchantment that lasts as long as the nights they went dancing. And so it's not so innocent after all.

I started to wonder how this might connect to our everyday lives: when are we somehow being like the dancing princesses? What came to mind was any form of addictive behavior, especially the ones that seem benign. For example, someone may be addicted to shopping - buying things when they don't really have the money, charging it on their credit cards. When they're buying the item, they're like the dancing princesses - enjoying themselves, having a nice time, not hurting anyone. But it's not integrated with the rest of the personality, and the "king" doesn't have any real knowledge or control. When the bill arrives, other parts of the personality freak out, which causes the king to get concerned; but he's basically powerless.

And so, going along those lines, what gives the soldier the ability to break through this, or in our lives, to end the addictive cycle? I haven't sat with that question yet; there's definitely his openness to the old woman's guidance, bringing up the idea of the Hero's Journey stage: "Supernatural Aid." I'm sure there's much to explore here, but I'm getting sleepy. Look forward to hearing other ideas. Scott

Registered User
(8/3/02 5:52:35 am)

I Ching as key
Dear Kerrie,

Your post was most helpful. Clearly you have examined this tale in great detail, yet still its core fails to gel. What if I were to tell you that the tale contains, encoded within the narrative, a series of clues leading to the a hidden core of the tale? Once these clues are properly decoded, the elements of the tale all fall securely into place.

What must first be understood is that this tale cannot be properly understood in isolation from the system by which the narrative was encoded, just as a coded message cannot be decoded without access to the codebook.

Are you familiar with the I Ching? It is an ancient Chinese oracle. It is a book of wisdom which contains sixty-four hexagrams. Each hexagram gives a short lesson of sorts. Hexagrams are usually chosen through the flipping of coins, tossing of sticks, or the picking of chits, in other words, by some randomising routine.

However one text I purchased did not contain such a description of a technique, but rather indicated that the hexgrams be chosen based on the nature of the situation under examination. Here was an entirely new approach, to examine the situation and to determine the proper hexagram based on the relationships found.

Each hexagram is formed by two trigrams. These trigrams are in the form of elemental/natural features. They are Earth, Fire, Water, Mountain, Wind/Wood, Sky, Lake, and Thunder.

The trigrams have the following qualities:

Earth: Docile and Receptive
Fire: Attention and Awareness
Water: Passion and Danger
Mountain: Stillness and Stopping
Wind/Wood: Following and Penetrating
Sky: Strength and Creativity
Lake: Joy and Attraction
Thunder: Action and Initiative

These elements are arranged one above the other.

So with these tools in hand let us approach 'The Twelve Dancing
Princesses.' Allow me to summarize the beginning of the tale.

A king keeps his twelve daughters under lock and key but they still
manage to escape and dance holes in their shoes. The king offers one of
the daughters' hands in marriage to whoever discovers where the
daughters go at night. A king's son takes the offer but falls asleep.
After failing for three nights he is beheaded as are those who follow in
his place. The story then cuts to a wounded soldier. He meets an old
woman who advises him not to drink the wine and who gives him an
invisible cloak. The soldier goes to the king, is taken to his chamber,
given the wine which he then pretends to drink. Now let us return to the
tale itself.

Then he lay down and when he had lain a while, he began to snore, as
if in the deepest sleep. The twelve princesses heard that, and
laughed, and the eldest said, "He, too, might as well have saved his
life." With that they got up, opened wardrobes, presses, cupboards,
and brought out pretty dresses, dressed themselves before the
mirrors, sprang about, and rejoiced at the prospect of the dance.
Only the youngest said, "I know not how it is, you are very happy,
but I feel very strange, some misfortune is certainly about to befall
us." "You are a goose, who are always frightened," said the eldest.
"Have you forgotten how many kings' sons have already come here in
vain. I had hardly any need to give the soldier a sleeping-draught,
the booby would not have awakened anyway."

Here we see the soldier faking his sleep and the eldest princess
laughing at him. At the same time we have the youngest princess feeling
uncertain and worried. The eldest princess laughs away the youngest's
fears. Compare this to the hexagram for Thunder:

51. Chên / The Arousing (Shock, Thunder)


SHOCK brings success.
Shock comes-oh, oh!
Laughing words -ha, ha!
The shock terrifies for a hundred miles,
And he does not let fall the sacrificial spoon and chalice.


Thunder repeated: the image of SHOCK.
Thus in fear and trembling
The superior man sets his life in order
And examines himself.


° Nine at the beginning means:
Shock comes-oh, oh!
Then follow laughing words-ha, ha!
Good fortune.

I have stopped at the first line as it is the ruling line of this
hexagram. But, you may ask, where is the thunder? The thunder is the
soldier's snoring. It was this that the princesses heard and it was that
which caused the eldest princess's mirth.

When they were all ready they looked carefully at the soldier, but he
had closed his eyes and did not move or stir, so they felt themselves
safe enough. The eldest then went to her bed and tapped it,
whereupon it immediately sank into the earth, and one after the other
they descended through the opening, the eldest going first. The
soldier, who had watched everything, tarried no longer, put on his
little cloak, and went down last with the youngest. Half-way down
the steps, he just trod a little on her dress, she was terrified at
that, and cried out, "What is that? Who is pulling my dress?" "Don't
be so silly," said the eldest, "you have caught it on a nail in the

Here we have the princesses descending into the earth with the
soldier close behind. But he follows a little too closely. He steps on
the youngest princess's dress.

The soldier steps on the dress of the princess, above is the Strong,
below is Attraction, Heaven over Lake. Which brings us to hexagram
number ten.

10. Lü / Treading [conduct]



TREADING. Treading upon the tail of the tiger.
It does not bite the man. Success.


Heaven above, the lake below:
The image of TREADING.
Thus the superior man discriminates between high and low,
And thereby fortifies the thinking of the people.


°Six in the third place means:
A one-eyed man is able to see,
A lame man is able to tread.
He treads on the tail of the tiger.
The tiger bites the man.
A soldier becomes a major leader.

The fourth line is the ruling line at it speaks directly of the wounded
soldier. He is the lame man. Notice precisely what the eldest princess
tells her in response:

"Don't be so silly," said the eldest, "you have caught it on a nail in
the wall."

The term, 'a nail in the wall' is actually code for another hexagram.
The wall is probably wood, especially if it has a nail in it. So there
we have the upper trigram as Wood, upper because the nail is IN the
Wood. Inner is lower, outer is upper. The trigram for nail is a bit more
difficult, but through a process of elimination it becomes clear that it
can only be Mountain, which is especially fitting as the nail is
supposedly Stopping the princess by catching on her dress.

And what hexagram is Wood over Mountain? I give the hexagram below
along with the first portion of the judgment commentary as it is especially

53. Chien / Development (Gradual Progress)



Is given in marriage.
Good fortune.
Perseverance furthers.

The development of events that leads to a girl's following a man to
his home proceeds slowly. The various formalities must be disposed of
before the marriage takes place. This principle of gradual development
can be applied to other situations as well; it is always applicable
where it is a matter of correct relationships of co-operation, as for
instance in the appointment of an official.

The above demonstrates that this hexagram is especially suited to the
topic under discussion, as it is a marriage which comes at the climax of
the tale.

I will pause now to respond to any questions or comments you may have.

Best regards,

James Lambert

Registered User
(8/4/02 2:21:11 am)
Re: I Ching as key
very cool
don't stop

Registered User
(8/4/02 6:26:34 am)

Re: I Ching as key
And so to continue:

Then they went all the way down, and when they were at the bottom,
they were standing in a wonderfully pretty avenue of trees, all the
leaves of which were of silver, and shone and glistened. The soldier
thought, "I must carry a token away with me," and broke off a twig
from one of them, on which the tree cracked with a loud report. The
youngest cried out again. "Something is wrong, did you hear the
crack?" But the eldest said, "It is a gun fired for joy, because we
have got rid of our prince so quickly." After that they came into an
avenue where all the leaves were of gold, and lastly into a third
where they were of bright diamonds, he broke off a twig from each,
which made such a crack each time that the youngest started back in
terror, but the eldest still maintained that they were salutes.

Here we have the soldier breaking off the limbs which causes a loud
cracking noise, again like thunder, which we have already examined.

So we have trees and thunder, but which is above the other?
There really is no way to say for sure. But don't despair, because on
the other side of the lake we find the same situation.

On the opposite side of the lake stood a splendid, brightly-lit
castle, from whence resounded the joyous music of trumpets and

We have the music of trumpets and kettle-drums. Trumpets would be
Wind and kettle-drums Thunder. Again Wind/Wood and Thunder with
no way to determine which is above the other.

However in both instances Wind/Wood and Thunder occur above
the Lake.

54. Kuei Mei / The Marrying Maiden


Undertakings bring misfortune.
Nothing that would further.

A girl who is taken into the family, but not as the chief wife, must
behave with special caution and reserve. She must not take it upon
herself to supplant the mistress of the house, for that would mean
disorder and lead to untenable relationships.
The same is true of all voluntary relationships between human
beings. While legally regulated relationships based on personal
inclination depend in the long run entirely on tactful reserve.
Affection as the essential principle of relatedness is of the
greatest importance in all relationships in the world. For the union of
heaven and earth is the origin of the whole of nature. Among human
beings likewise, spontaneous affection is the all-inclusive principle of


Thunder over the lake:
Thus the superior man
Understands the transitory
In the light of the eternity of the end.

Thunder stirs the water of the lake, which follows it in shimmering
This symbolizes the girl who follows the man of her choice. But every
relationship between individuals bears within it the danger that wrong
turns may be taken, leading to endless misunderstandings and
Therefore it is necessary constantly to remain mindful of the end. If
we permit ourselves to drift along, we come together and are parted
again as the day may determine. If on the other hand a man fixes his
mind on an end that endures, he will succeed in avoiding the reefs that
confront the closer relationships of people.


Nine at the beginning means:
The marrying maiden as a concubine.
A lame man who is able to tread.
Undertakings bring good fortune.

Once again we have the lame man connected to the marrying maiden. In the
first instance, as you may remember, he stepped upon her tail. Now he
sits by her side.

They went on and came to a great lake whereon stood twelve little
boats, and in every boat sat a handsome prince, all of whom were
waiting for the twelve, and each took one of them with him, but the
soldier seated himself by the youngest. Then her prince said, "I
wonder why the boat is so much heavier to-day. I shall have to row
with all my strength, if I am to get it across." "What should cause
that," said the youngest, "but the warm weather?" "I feel very warm

Notice in the above section that the youngest princess explains away the
difficulty her prince has in rowing as a result of the especially hot
weather that night. This is quite strange as they are underground and
there is no change in the weather underground. If it's warm one night
then it is always going to be warm. But in one sense that night she was
sitting next to Fire. The soldier is the enlightened one who has
traveled under the earth.

36. Ming I / Darkening of the light


Here the sun has sunk under the earth and is therefore darkened. The
name of the hexagram means literally "wounding of the bright"; hence the
individual lines contain frequent references to wounding.


It furthers one to be persevering.

One must not unresistingly let himself be swept along by unfavorable
circumstances, nor permit his steadfastness to be shaken. He can avoid
this by maintaining his inner light, while remaining outwardly yielding
and tractable. With this attitude he can overcome even the greatest
In some situations indeed a man must hide his light, in order to
make his will prevail inspite of difficulties in his immediate
Perseverance must dwell in inmost consciousness and should not be
discernible from without. Only thus is a man able to maintain his will
in the face of difficulties.


The light has sunk into the earth:
Thus does the superior man live with the great mass:
He veils his light, yet still shines.

In a time of darkness it is essential to be cautious and reserved. One
should not needlessly awaken overwhelming enmity by inconsiderate
behavior. In such times one ought not to fall in with the practices of
others; neither should one drag them censoriously into the light. In
social intercourse one should not try to be all-knowing. One should let
many things pass, without being duped.


Nine at the beginning means:
Darkening of the light during flight.
He lowers his wings.
The superior man does not eat for three days
On his wanderings.
But he has somewhere to go.
The host has occasion to gossip about him.

° Six in the second place means:
Darkening of the light injures him in the left thigh.
He gives aid with the strength of a horse.
Good fortune.

Six at the top means:
Not light but darkness.
First he climbed up to heaven,
Then plunged into the depths of the earth.

I shouldn't need to point out the relevance of the above to the the hero
of our tale, the wounded soldier. He is the lame man. Notice that he does
not drink the drugged wine for three nights, that he is mocked by the
eldest princess, and that he hides his light by means of his invisible cloak.

On the opposite side of the lake stood a splendid, brightly-lit
castle, from whence resounded the joyous music of trumpets and
They rowed there, entered, and each prince danced with
the girl he loved, but the soldier danced with them unseen, and when
one of them had a cup of wine in her hand he drank it up, so that the
cup was empty when she carried it to her mouth, the youngest was
alarmed at this, but the eldest always silenced her.

Above we have horns (wind) and kettle-drums (thunder) over the lake.
This is a reflection of the woods and the loud cracks (thunder) which
were on the other side of the lake.

61. Chung Fu / Inner Truth


The wind blows over the lake and stirs the surface of the water. Thus
visible effects of the invisible manifest themselves. The attributes of
the two trigrams are: above, gentleness, forbearance toward inferiors;
below, joyousness in obeying superiors. Such conditions create the basis
of a mutual confidence that makes achievements possible.
The character of fu ("truth") is actually the picture of a bird's
foot over a fledgling. It suggests the idea of brooding. An egg is
hollow. The light-giving power must work to quicken it from outside, but
there must be a germ of life within, if life is to be awakened.
Far-reaching speculations can be linked with these ideas.


INNER TRUTH. Pigs and fishes.
Good fortune.
It furthers one to cross the great water.
Perseverance furthers.


Nine in the second place means:
A crane calling in the shade.
Its young answers it.
I have a good goblet.
I will share it with you.

This refers to the involuntary influence of a man's inner being upon
persons of kindred spirit. The crane need not show itself on a high
hill. It may be quite hidden when it sounds its call; yet its young will
hear its not, will recognize it and give answer. Where there is a joyous
mood, there a comrade will appear to share a glass of wine.

The third
time he took a cup away with him as a token. When the hour had
arrived for him to give his answer, he took the three twigs and the
cup, and went to the king, but the twelve stood behind the door, and
listened for what he was going to say. When the king put the
question, "Where have my twelve daughters danced their shoes to
pieces in the night?"


Here again we have the soldier with the twigs and the wine goblet. Wood
over Lake again. Consider the image:


Wind/wood over lake: the image of INNER TRUTH.
Thus the superior man discusses criminal cases
In order to delay executions.

Once again, the resulting hexagram has a direct bearing on the events occuring in the narrative. More than that, they give fresh insight into the nature of the tale. We find a new focus for our investigation. There is the lame man, the marrying maiden, and the quest for the truth hidden at the core of the tale.


James Lambert

Registered User
(8/5/02 6:10:58 am)

Solution to the Riddle
Counselor: If you don't mind, I have a couple of questions. Thank you,
your Highness.

Counselor: (To the soldier.) About that cloak of invisibility. You say
that you got it from an old woman, the same old woman who told you not
to drink the wine. Why do suppose she decided to help you?

Soldier: I don't know.

Counselor: An invisible cloak is a very valuable thing to be given away
to a stranger. Why do you suppose she gave to you?

Soldier: I don't know. Perhaps she took me as a man capable of doing
what needed to be done.

Counselor: Yes. So you have shown yourself to be. But what of the
invisible cloak? Will you return it to her?

Soldier: Of course, if she comes forward for it.

Counselor: And will you reward her for her great service? Or have you
already? Have you already given the old woman what she desired?

Soldier: Watch what you dare. I am the king's heir.

Counselor: Forgive me milord, but you have not yet married the king's
daughter. You are yet under examination. Still, let us speak of a more
pleasant subject. Let us speak of the youngest princess. How does the
saying go? 'Twelve princesses, each more beautiful than the other.' What
a delightful paradox that description proves itself to be. I myself
prefer youth to wisdom. And what a ripe succulent flower the youngest
princess is. Only just reached her womanhood, she has. A high breasted
virgin if ever there was one, oh yes. Let me tell you, this whole
business of the underground castle-parties is due to her. She had so
much time ahead of her, time to dance, to flirt. Courtship for her was a
game, she being the Princess of princesses. She never wanted it to end.
Because she was the prize. But you didn't pick her. You picked her
sister, a woman who is older by, at minimum, twelve years. And in your
testimony she does nothing but nag and belittle her youngest, and
sweetest, little sister.

> Only the youngest said, "I know not how it is, you are very happy,
> but I feel very strange, some misfortune is certainly about to befall
> us." "You are a goose, who are always frightened," said the eldest.
> "Have you forgotten how many kings' sons have already come here in
> vain. I had hardly any need to give the soldier a sleeping-draught,
> the booby would not have awakened anyway."

> Half-way down
> the steps, he just trod a little on her dress, she was terrified at
> that, and cried out, "What is that? Who is pulling my dress?" "Don't
> be so silly," said the eldest, "you have caught it on a nail."

Counselor: And in instance after instance the eldest sister demonstrates
extremely bad judgment in dismissing the youngest sister's fears:

> "Something is wrong, did you hear the
> crack?" But the eldest said, "It is a gun fired for joy, because we
> have got rid of our prince so quickly."

> ‘l am sure all is not right - did
> not you hear that noise ? That never happened before.’ But the eldest
> said, ‘It is only our princes, who are shouting for joy at our
> approach.’

> and when
> one of them had a cup of wine in her hand he drank it up, so that the
> cup was empty when she carried it to her mouth, the youngest was
> alarmed at this, but the eldest always silenced her.

Counselor: What reason could you possibly have for choosing the eldest
princess when she clearly demonstrates such bad judgment and character?
But perhaps she does not have as poor judgment as the evidence suggests.
After all, she is to be queen, by your side, isn't she? If I were a
terribly bold and cheeky bastard I might even venture to put forth the
suggestion that all the evidence points to a little secret collusion
between yourself and the mysterious old woman who gave you the invisible
cloak and the advice concerning the wine. The evidence suggests that
after you promised to marry her she then assisted you in every way she
could so that you might succeed where all the young princes had
previously failed. She was the one giving them the drugged wine. Each of
those young princes would have chosen the youngest for his bride. The
youngest, however, wasn't ready, she feared even the possibility of
discovery. Not the oldest, though. With you, an old wounded soldier, the
oldest princess saw her chance to break the cycle and come out queen.
Tell me soldier, dare you deny the truth of what I say?

Soldier: Those who conspire see only conspirators.

Counselor: (Leaning forward and whispering to the soldier.) She told you
to tell me that, didn't she? You'll go far with that cunning witch at
your side milord.

King: So he passes?

Counselor: (Straightening up.) He does, your Highness. His shall be a
long and balanced rule.

King: Oh my, I do hope so.

Edited by: Gnostradamus at: 8/5/02 10:41:12 am
Registered User
(8/7/02 3:02:06 am)
Re: Solution to the Riddle
yes, of course. The eldest knew exactly what she was doing.
there always a secret heroine at the heart of things,
a brave someone who knows that fate is about to unfurl, and she patiently allows it.

interesting, Gnostradamus.

I Ching corroborates
can this be done with the Qabalah as well? i wonder
-(symbols are symbols). Now i'm off in thought

thank you so much for taking me through this tour



Registered User
(8/8/02 2:31:02 pm)

Re: Solution to the Riddle
Dear Judih,

I am pleased that you enjoyed the tour. A fairy tale with a solution, can you imagine? Yes, clearly you can. Not only does it have a solution, it provides a lesson, it teaches us to approach these tales with a certain reverence. These tales are mysteries, constructed for purposes beyond the mundane.

Very few of Grimms' tales can be decoded by means of the I Ching. I suspect this is because very few Grimms' tales were constructed in accordance with the I Ching. If you accept that tale of The Twelve Dancing Princesses is a work of Objective Art then it should be obvious that every aspect of the tale was the result of a conscious decision on the part of the author(s). The hexagrams were purposely woven into the narrative.

As to the Kabala, I am not aware of any fairy tales employing such a method of encryption.

Perhaps you would be interested in examining a tale employing another method of encryption.



Registered User
(8/8/02 6:49:35 pm)
Re: Solution to the Riddle
when i feel the laws bubbling through my veins,
i shall

unregistered User
(8/18/02 4:42:51 pm)
Re: 12 Dancing Princesses
Well I have always been fascinated by the idea of encryption but have never heard of the i-ching being used as a decoder. I am however curious about myths as they relate to astronomy as explored in the book "Hamlet's Mill".

Just dipped into Winterson's "Sexing the Cherry" which creatively explores the 12 princesses fairytale. Winterson is one of these consummately modern writers more interested in tweaking gender, historical, erotic and interpretive barriers than in sustaining them and has in turn created real jewels in terms of original fairytale-making.

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