The Archetypes of Cancer in Grimm Brothers Story Rapunzel – Why Capricorn Achievement Needs Cancer Security
Because Cancer, the sign, symbolically embodies the mother-child relationship, I have re-read the Grimm Brothers story Rapunzel, seeking to understand how the idea of attachment, used in the context of early childhood development, related to the Cancer archetype.
The Story of Rapunzel
Originally told by the Brothers Grimm
After many years of barrenness, a poor couple was expecting a child, but they had little money for food. The pregnant wife craved radishes, which could only be gotten by the husband stealing them from the garden of the witch next door under cover of darkness. When the husband was finally caught, the witch demanded the unborn child in recompense. The frightened husband agreed.
After their child – a girl named Rapunzel – was born, the despondent couple brought her to the witch. When Rapunzel was 12 years old, the witch locked her in a tower with no doors and only one high window. Using Rapunzel’s long hair as a ladder, the witch brought food and drink to the tower. One day, a prince spied the witch climbing Rapunzel’s hair. He waited until night, then called to the girl and climbed her hair.
The prince visited nightly from then on, and soon the young couple was in love. By and by, they hatched a plan to free Rapunzel from the tower. But before they could carry it out, the witch discovered that Rapunzel was pregnant. Furious, the witch cut off Rapunzel’s hair and threw her from the tower. That night, the prince called to Rapunzel and, when her hair unfurled from the high window, he climbed it. He was astonished to see the witch’s face when she reached the top. She pushed him away from the window; he fell to the ground and was blinded by thorns when he landed.
Rapunzel, pregnant with twins, and the prince with gouged-out eyes, wandered separately in the wilderness for many years. One day, the prince heard Rapunzel singing near a well and approached, calling her name. They fell into each other’s arms, and their tears of joy restored the prince’s sight. He took Rapunzel and their children to the castle to live happily ever after.
The Archetypes of Cancer in Grimm Brothers Story Rapunzel
In Capricorn, we turn to Rapunzel to study ideas surrounding the traditional father-child relationship: independence, authority, self-possession, individuation. Now, in Cancer, I wondered if the balance point, the mother-child relationship, would make an appearance as well.
As a starting point, I looked at Rapunzels mother figures, the birth mother and the Wicked Witch, and quickly realized that each of them embodies one of the four widely documented attachment styles.
Rapunzels birth mother or, I would say, her birth parents together symbolize an avoidant style inasmuch as they allow Rapunzel to be taken immediately upon birth, exposed to the harshness of the world and expected to mature quickly enough to manage it on her own. (Please understand that Im not suggesting this of real-life birth parents who release their children for adoption but am using Rapunzel rather as a metaphorical look at attachment.) Rapunzel cannot form any kind of attachment with her birth parents, to the point where they might as well be strangers to her. No emotional investment exists from her perspective, though her parents may feel differently.
On the other hand, the Wicked Witch forms an ambivalent attachment with Rapunzel, attempting to arrest her maturation process by locking her in a tower. The Witch appears in the tower only often enough to provide for Rapunzels physical needs and to ensure the girl is dependent on the older womans authority and resources. Rapunzel gets just enough from the Witch to want more: more warmth, more connection, more consistency. But what she develops instead is clinginess and insecurity a near-neurotic need for reassurance and a terrible fear that any connection at all will vanish.
Attachment theory came out of studies by Englishman John Bowlby that found that infants and toddlers need responsiveness and sensitivity from close adults in their lives. Such interactions help children develop a sense of security, or secure base, from which they will then dare to move ever-further away from the parent in order to explore and build independence. A secure base is first embodied in the responsive, sensitive adult who provides empathy, compassion, self-management and consistency for the child. Over time, the secure base and its constituent parts are assimilated into the childs self-image, influencing perceptions and expectations of all future relationships.
In other words, the development of safety and security, in the tradition of Cancer sensitivity and intuition, are critical to childrens eventual ability to risk independence and self-authority in the Capricorn way. Secure attachment in Cancer is necessary to authentic independence in Capricorn. When the Cancer archetype is seriously imbalanced in either direction by way of an under- or over-emphasis on attachment then independence becomes either the only available choice or too frightening even to contemplate.
But, you ask, didnt Rapunzel manage to escape the tower and build a new life for herself despite her childhood? Yes. Thats because she had a third attachment figure that balanced the archetype nicely: the Handsome Prince.
I love this part of my musings because it re-visions traditional feminist interpretations of the Handsome Prince role in fairy tales. In a huge departure from the criticism that the Handsome Prince suggests a woman always needs a man to save her, I want to suggest that at least in Rapunzel the Handsome Prince provides Rapunzel with a very necessary secure attachment.
The Prince visits Rapunzel consistently, presumably providing warmth and responsiveness, which are key ingredients in secure attachment. He also treats Rapunzel appropriately for her age and her experience, neither infantilizing her nor heisting her away immediately, which would likely be too frightening for someone of her history.
But perhaps most important, the Prince also helps Rapunzel transition from childhood to adulthood. He slowly but consistently provides her with the means to build a ladder to her own independence (one strand of silk thread each night) instead of simply carrying her off to be his, which would be just echoing the Wicked Witchs role. Not only that, he also helps Rapunzel weave the ladder, demonstrating both that he will be there for her a secure base and that he simultaneously believes in her ability to create her own independence.
The Prince embodies the perfectly balanced Cancer archetype, the care-giving figure who is secure enough both to act as a secure base and to encourage independence in its own right time.
The Prince is such a strong and secure attachment figure, in fact, that when the Wicked Witch discovers Rapunzel is pregnant and exiles her into the desert, the young woman is able to survive and raise her twin children alone, without the aid of the Prince. We know she has succeeded in internalizing the Princes example when she is able to receive him back into her life after years of separation.
This is the legacy of a secure attachment: the capacity for authentic independence alongside the ability to be a secure base to ones own children (or to others who need one). And to be able to do so, if one chooses, from within the embrace of a mutually loving, respectful and joyful adult relationship.
By Cancer person, I dont only mean people with Cancer as their sun sign. Anyone whose chart contains strong Cancer energy which can appear in a number of different ways would qualify as a Cancer person in my estimation. And certainly all of us could stand to know about the dynamics surrounding the idea of attachment!
Last updated on May 13, 2017 at 10:53 pm. Word Count: 1278