Transcendent Function In Fairytales

A fairytale is a narrative that transforms consciousness. The hero is that aspect of the psyche that functions in accordance with the Self, often the inferior function of the personality, to build up the ego, keep it going, and enlarging it. The hero is also a model and pattern for the right kind of behavior.

The psyche is composed of two parts-conscious and unconscious. The transcendent function is that property of the psyche that strives to bring the two parts together. It is a symbol-a combination of rational (conscious) and irrational (unconscious) material. The transcendent function transforms both conscious and unconscious.

The alchemists called it the “tertium non datur” and said “for those who have a symbol, the transformation is easier.” The transcendent function can be any image that connects both conscious and unconscious realms. For example, a bridge, a ferryman, messenger, rainbow, or an “ah ha!” moment.

The transcendent function comes into play only when the two opposing positions are equally strong and the ego is strong enough to hold the tension. When one integrates the symbol into consciousness the energy that is blocked can flow again.


There is one effect-evil, and one affect-anger, which, because of the ethical issues they raise, ask us to examine them carefully. In her book, Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales, Marie-Louise von Franz explored the nature of evil and the collective knowledge about how to deal it with it. Von Franz demonstrated that fairytales differentiate between cold evil and hot evil. Cold evil is the penultimate, an icy state, where emotion is frozen, rigid, and petrified. There is a kind of destruction that is so senseless, unconscionable, so evil, that the visceral emotion surpasses fear and anger and numbs into horror. In the face of this experience one is paralyzed, immobile, unable to protect oneself, either temporarily or permanently.

Hot evil, although repressed, is smoldering, unquenched, infectious emotional affect. Von Franz likens hot evil to the emotionality, rage, and aggressiveness of Woton. [i] Von Franz believed that to early humans, evil was “simply the appearance of something demonic or abnormal, a kind of overpowering nature phenomenon, which does not pose any ethical problem but the purely practical one of how to either overcome or successfully escape it.”[ii] Evil in nature is supernatural, numinous, fascinating, exciting, frightening. As terrifying as it is attractive, because it is in nature, it is divine.” [iii] Evil has the power to possess, to assimilate one into a numinous archetypal image, to sweep one away by one tune in the melody of one’s inner possibilities, to overpower with affect. [iv]

When faced with an immediate threat of evil in nature, escape is usually the most viable alternative. However, when the evil is in human behavior, dealing with it raises issues of ethics. Von Franz optimistically explored fairy tales in search of rules or ethical principles for dealing with the evil in human nature. She was surprised to find that folk wisdom is replete with opposites and contradictions:

        • Stand and fight. Run without fighting.
        • Suffer without hitting back.
        • Lie to escape it.

• Tell the truth. [v]

Von Franz, as Jung before her, found that in fairytales as well as dreams, evil may appear as compensation to the outer life. Such a dream or “fairytale contains a shocking truth which has to be recalled to consciousness.” [vi] She believed that acceptance of ones own evil can have a positive effect and reinforce the desire to live.[vii] Von Franz maintained that being conscious of the evil within oneself imparted the strength to recognize and deal with the evil that is part of human nature.

The more one knows about one’s own wickedness, the more one is able to protect oneself against other people. In some sense, the evil within oneself recognizes evil outside. One thus can avoid evil, but only by knowing how evil one is oneself, for only then one has an immediate and instinctive awareness and recognition … Those who have integrated much of their own darkness have a kind of invisible authority.[viii]



[i] VonFranz, Marie-Louise. Shadow and Evil in FairyTales. Boston and London: Shambala, revised 1995, 218-219.
[ii] VonFranz, ibid.149.
[iii]VonFranz, op.cit., 152.
[iv] VonFranz, op.cit. p 182.
[v] Von Franz, op.cit.,, 144-145.
[vi] Von Franz, op.cit.,146-147.
[vii] Von Franz, Marie-Lousie. Problems of the Feminine in Fairytales. Dallas, Texas: Spring Publications, 1972, 185.
[viii]Von Franz, ibid.,182-183.