‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,’ 1937, was the world’s first fully animated film, and is a masterwork of historical importance. As a child, I grew up watching Disney movies over and over again, and over time ‘Snow White’ has become my favorite in the Disney collection. Disney, being the company that birthed The Magic Kingdom, is responsible for perhaps a majority of the way the general public envisions magic. The images within Disney’s most well known films contain scenes of occult arts being performed, magical energies being utilized, and mystical transformations taking place. It’s important to note that in Disney’s early days magic and occultism were not subjects commonly portrayed in film, especially in detail. It is interesting that through the genre of children’s fantasy so much real world occultism was injected into the mainstream under the hands of Walt Disney and his teams. One of the films which provided many of these foundational magical images is a film about a gentle maiden in a life-and-death battle with an envious crone. In this in-depth analysis of the film we will explore the real occultism in my favorite Disney film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
The opening scene of Snow White begins with one of the most well known images of scrying into a magic mirror. Scrying has been used for millennia as a form of gaining psychic information by using a darkened surface to release the subconscious inner eye. In a chamber flanked by blue lights and curtains adorned with stars, the wicked Queen consults a darkened mirror surrounded by the symbols of the zodiac. "Slave in the Magic Mirror, come from the farthest space. Through wind and darkness I summon thee! Speak! Let me see thy face." In a burst of flame and the billowing of smoke the disembodied face of the Queen's familiar spirit appears. The Queen requests from him information in the same way a magician would contact their elementary spirit for information. The spirit in the mirror can overlook all of the land, transmit supernatural knowledge, and give this insight to his ruler. This movie, from the start, is potent with real-world occult magic, which was far-reaching in its underground presence in the western world. The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and other similar societies, taught methods of occult divination in America and Europe throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.
In the folktale version of Snow White we learn that from the beginning Snow was a magical child. Her mother, while pregnant, pricks her finger with a sewing needle and upon the drop of blood wishes for her child to be born beautiful, with hair black as ebony, skin white as snow, and lips red as blood. Snow White’s mother dies in childbirth, and soon after her father remarries a beautiful woman who is also vain and controlling. In the Disney version it is unknown where Snow's father is, but we might presume the wicked Queen killed him for his power, starving him in the dungeons. The figure of Snow's father is not important within the symbolism of the story from a psychosexual perspective, as the Prince serves as the driving male role and Snow's soon-to-be-obtained companion: the perfect and ideal partner for a young maiden. The wicked Queen, desperate for power, envies Snow as her own youth and beauty begins to decline. The archetypal symbolism of the Queen is that of the Crone; she is beginning to enter the post-mother phase of her life as she ages, and rather than becoming the positive archetypal image of the Crone she becomes the shadow: that of the anti-mother, the old hag who is symbolically infanticidal. She begins her plan to kill Snow White.
We then transition to meet our titular character, who's first appearance onscreen is also potent in magic and symbolism. Snow humbly washes the steps of the castle. She is surrounded by white doves and pink cherry blossoms, symbolizing her innocence as a young maiden. As she goes to fetch water to complete her task, she hesitates at the well and begins to speak of magic and wishes. "I'm wishing for the one I love to find me today." The well is symbolic, of course, of the womb. "Make a wish into the well, that's all you have to do, and if you hear it echoing, your wish will soon come true." This is simple and primitive magical symbolism: where the well is the vagina, the waters symbolize the fluid nature of the womb which transforms what enters it into something different, more tangible, more real, more physical. At conception the sperm enters, is transformed, and is born into a child. So too does Snow White's wish transform through this ancient symbol into physical reality, as we see the Prince respond to Snow's beautiful voice, riding in on a white horse (also representing his youth, purity, and virginity), and greeting her with requited love. Her reaction to the prince is also symbolic: she is afraid and runs away! Not only does this signify a fearful reaction to her own powers of manifestation, (and symbolically as a blossoming young woman) but her fear of intimacy with a man. She is trapped in between the phases of childhood and maturity. She is not quite ready to fall in love with someone. It is known that Disney chose the talented Adriana Caselotti for the child-like attributes of her voice. Snow White was meant to be the perfect maiden.
The setting of the castle and all human characters being of royalty is a typical occult metaphor for the human realm, denoted by structure, power, wealth, sex, hierarchy, and struggle. (This is in contrast to the simple realms of the elementals, which we will explore as Snow enters the forest.) Snow exists firmly in this human hierarchy, but she has no control of her own power and voice, as she is still a child, and as such is forced to dress in rags, work as a scullery maid, and lives at the whim of her evil stepmother. The transition of Snow to a fully developed woman through her hardships is symbolic of her mastery of the inner worlds and her own personal demons, and this is the fundamental underlying narrative of the story.
It’s important to address, before we get to the start of the story's action, what it means for the Queen to wish to kill Snow because of her beauty. The Queen is a power-hungry figure and craves superiority over everyone, which is noted by her constant asking if she is the most beautiful in the land. In her mind, when she attains this, it equates to money, riches, and getting any man she could desire. Yet, as the symbolic Crone, and Snow and the Prince the symbolic young couple, Snow becoming the most beautiful in all the land signifies the Queen's lack of control over what she desires; in short, the princes in the land will not want her, they will want Snow, and in this way Snow can attain more power than the Queen. Once again, the jealousy and greed of the Queen is comparable to the anti-mother trope. This leads to the turning point in the action: the Queen deciding to kill Snow so she can remain on her perch high above everyone else. In a magical sense we can also look at what happens right before this decision: Snow White begins to come into her own feminine power, as is shown in the wishing well scene. So not only does the Queen demand to be the most beautiful, but also the most magically powerful. Instead of wishing her child to thrive, the anti-mother wishes for dominance over her child. (Another witchcraft piece of media we have recently seen this in is American Horror Story: Coven.) The queen demands the Huntsman to kill Snow and bring back her heart (the symbolic vehicle of love and will) back to her. The huntsman can not bring himself to kill Snow because of her sweetness and loveliness, so shows her mercy and sends her running off into the forest. In occult terms the Huntsman is the gatekeeper: he commands the world of the animals, he draws the line between death and life as he draws his arrow. He is the Horned God who sends souls into the initiations of the inner realms, Earth, and Death. What follows is a significant (and terrifying for children, in theaters children would frequently wet their seats during this scene) montage of Snow suffering in the darkness of the forest. The initiator into the Earth, the Huntsman, symbolically allows her to penetrate the realms of the Earth elementals, and the fearful forest warps into a place of dark, hungry beings who grab at Snow. For the first time in her life she is subjected to the cruelty of the darker side of the Earth element.
In the journey of so many Goddesses into the Underworld this scene represents the suffering that must be undergone and the sacrifices which must be made to penetrate the mysteries of Earth, something which all of us, especially occultists, must go through.
Snow White survives the challenge of this Earthly initiation, and is brought deeper into the vibrations of the Earth element through the acceptance of the forest animals, the more subtle guardians of Earth mysteries. Another indication that Snow White is a magician is her ability to communicate with animals, a long-held belief about witches and shamans and those who straddle the different realms. She then sings with love and joy to the animals who are truly the brighter aspects of the Earth element. She slowly gains their trust, and another initiation into Earth is accomplished. She tells the guardians of the forest that she needs a place to stay, and because she has gained their trust they decide to take her to the cottage of the Dwarfs, and thus she is allowed to penetrate further into the occult realms of the Earth element.
Franz Bardon, the brilliant German magician, said of the Earth elementals, "Gnomes are little people similar to the elves in fairytales. Usually they have long beards and wear caps, with long hair and flashing eyes and their garments are frocks. Every Earth spirit carries a small lantern and each lantern has a different luminosity. The lantern helps these Earth spirits find their way in the subterranean kingdom."
Bardon also had more to say about Earth elementals which will play vitally into the main plot of Snow White: "As soon as the gnomes are convinced that the magician is superior to them in intelligence and willpower, they will not only derive happiness from the relationship but they will also become the most obedient servants."
The Dwarfs are the magical epitome of Earth, wearing dirty frocks, carrying lanterns to illumine the earth’s dark caverns, and digging in their mines for sparkling diamonds which they unsurface with no difficulty, for truly they are at one with the Earth element and contain limitless knowledge of the subterranean kingdom. They store their diamonds away without security, for they know that no one can steal them unless they become one with Earth. Hermetic magic teaches of communing with Earth spirits and learning their secrets to benefit mankind. Sure enough, this task is what Snow will eventually accomplish.
Our pre-introduction to the Dwarfs is a messy house covered in cobwebs and clutter. It's obvious that for as excellent as the Dwarfs are at mining, they are neglectful of everything else. They are the pure spirit of the Earth element, as such they focus entirely on their work and neglect their music, socialization, dining, bathing, and storytelling. The Dwarfs have yet to truly enjoy all of the beauty that Mankind has to offer. This is meaningful because magicians know that the elementals are mostly one-dimensional creatures, unlike humans who are five-dimensional, possessing all the qualities of all the elements and being created in "the image of God." Each Dwarf has a one-trait name which describes them because they are simple beings, but only through Snow White's magic and enlightenment they begin to possess opposing, balanced qualities of themselves. It is known that a magician is the only way an elemental can truly obtain a "life." Some critics complained that the Dwarfs were one dimensional characters. But anyone who has studied the elemental kingdoms knows that true Dwarfs, Gnomes, Salamanders, and Sylphs would only be one dimensional; it is the nature of elemental creatures. The narrative beauty of this is it allows for the heartwarming transformation which will take place in the Dwarfs, and as such is not a hindrance but a benefit to the story if viewed from an occult perspective. Through the course of Snow White's life with the Dwarfs she teaches them to love all the joys of human life, and they teach her the Mysteries of the Earth. It is a mutualist relationship which leads the Dwarfs and Snow White to much learning and growth and ultimately, I believe, to giving the Dwarfs a true independent life because of Snow's power.
"The longing for immortality of the elemental beings is great, and they envy human beings for this advantage, and the explanation for their yearning can be found in this fact. It is understandable that every elemental being aspires to achieve immortality, and that a magician can bestow immortality upon an elemental being." -Bardon
When human beings die, our souls begin a slow ascension to higher realms and eventual reunion with God. The same is not true for elementals, themselves not possessing the four-fold attribute of the Source—in essence not a true soul. So when an elemental dies or is destroyed, they simply return to the element they are made up of. But, through the power of a magician, they can become a multi-dimensional being and not have to face this fate. Such is the story of an elemental's life and their highest pursuits; and funnily enough such is the character arc of the seven dwarfs in Snow White.
Franz Bardon continues, “As is well known, the difference between a spirit of the elements and a human being lies in the fact that a spirit of the elements consists of only one element, whereas a human being is computed of all four elements…"
It doesn't all happen instantly. For the next quarter of the movie the Dwarfs and Snow experience growing pains. Snow must adapt to living in the realm of Earth and the Dwarfs must adapt to living with a human. During this period Snow learns to gain the affection of all of the Dwarfs, even Grumpy, and teach them to live close to the way humans do.
At first the Dwarfs hesitate to trust Snow when they discover she has made herself comfortable in their home. It is obvious no human has ever stepped foot near the Dwarfs' realm.
Happy: Something's cookin'. Smells good!
Grumpy: Don't touch it ya fools! Might be poison.
Grumpy: See? It's witches' brew.
(Perhaps you're right, Grumpy.)
Upon finding Snow, most of the Dwarfs are tamed by her beauty, and the fact that she is a very sweet person. Grumpy, of course, disagrees, and says, "...she's a woman, they're full of wicked wiles!" A wile is a "devious or cunning strategy employed in manipulating or persuading someone to do what one wants." This sounds very much like the magician persuading spirits or elementals into helping them! Grumpy realizes that Mankind has a history of getting use out of elemental spirits through magic.
It’s interesting how the dirtiness of the Dwarfs is portrayed. As Earth elementals it is logical that everything surrounding them is covered in dirt, including their hands, and because they are beings of one single element, they have never even touched water. Snow, being a creature of all the elements, forces them to experience the water element.
Happy: *swirls finger around in washing tub* "Gosh, it's wet!"
Because of Snow's teachings, the Dwarfs are initiated into a new element.
Snow White, with her experience as a scullery maid, prepares dinner for the Dwarfs and teaches them the simple human joy of dining with companions.
"Over the seven the Jeweled Hills,
Beyond the seven falls,
In the cottage of the seven dwarfs,
Dwells Snow White, fairest one of all."
In a rage, the wicked queen descends into her dungeon scattered with skeletons, signs of death, and tomes of ancient wisdom. This is the lair of the archetypal Crone, where the aging queen's transformation to the most evil anti-mother takes place.
Disney, taking some liberty with the myth, added more sorcery to this scene. In the original folktale the queen simply puts on a disguise of an old peddler woman. The imagery in the Disney version is far more potent.
"Mummy dust, to make me old.
To shroud my clothes, the black of night.
To age my voice, an old hag's cackle.
To whiten my hair, a scream of fright.
A blast of wind, to fan my hate!
A thunderbolt, to mix it well.
Now, begin thy magic spell."
Once more we see an image of the symbolic womb within the chalice, where the ingredients transform into a magical elixir. Like the grim reaper himself, the wicked queen now wears a black hooded cloak.
Through her sorcery she has become a creature of death and shadows, and now she conjures up a spell for Sleeping Death.
She is now, fully, the archetypal Crone. As the transformation begins, the chalice representing the womb smashes to the ground and shatters, symbolizing her ultimate loss of fertility.
Elsewhere in the land the joys of Air magic are being experienced by the Dwarfs who now have access to instruments which Snow has thoroughly cleaned. Singing and dancing abound, and the Dwarfs are initiated into another aspect of the elements and of human life. As wind, string, and percussion instruments fill the cottage with music a fly, an obvious creature of Air, buzzes around the Dwarfs.
As the night rolls on, Snow White sings to the Dwarfs another affirmation for her future:
"Some day my prince will come, some day we'll meet again, and away to his castle we'll go, to be happy forever, I know. Some day when spring is here, we'll find our love anew, and the birds will sing, and wedding bells will ring, some day when my dreams come true."
Slowly but surely, the dwarfs begin to fall in love with Snow and the light and joy she brings with her, and thus the joys of human life and the nature of multi-elemental creatures. As Snow brings joy to the Dwarfs, she learns lessons in motherhood which prepare her for her future with the prince and the goals she will soon attain.
Before bed, bathed in the moonlight, Snow White prays for blessings upon the seven dwarfs, and for Grumpy to like her (another wish which is instantly manifested).
As they sleep, the wicked queen creates the poisoned apple and travels through the dark, foggy forest toward the Dwarfs' cottage. As a representative of death, murder, and old age, the wicked Queen is followed by vultures.
As the Dwarfs leave to the mines the next day, they warn Snow to be careful of the queen.
As the evil queen approaches, the sweet kitchen witch employs the help of the animals to bake a pie for Grumpy.
The evil queen lies to Snow saying the poisoned apple is a magic wishing apple. This is an obvious reference to the story of the Garden of Eden, both the snake and the queen represent a harbinger of death, in this case physical, in the Biblical case spiritual. The apple in Snow White represents personal desires to both characters; to the Queen it represents Snow's death and the attainment of power, and to Snow it represents her wish of future love and happiness.
As the queen entices Snow the dwarfs and animals rush to save her. But it is too late. Snow takes a bite of the apple and collapses. The wicked queen pronounces, "Now I'll be fairest in the land!" while ironically she is transformed into a harbinger of death, decrepitude, and murderous evil. The Dwarfs arrive and, followed by vultures, the queen rushes through the forest and up a mountain, impeded by obstacles as Snow White was when she was initiated into the Earth Mysteries. The Queen is being initiated into mysteries as well, but they are the mysteries of Death.
The last scene of the film is potent in natural symbolism. Since Snow represents the Maiden, the symbol of youthful female fertility, when she "dies" so too does the land. It is fitting that the first title card we see shows browning leaves falling off of a tree. It is autumn and the fertility of the land is disappearing. The Dwarfs, using their skill in the Earth element, fashion a coffin of glass and gold as winter descends upon the land. And finally as spring blossoms bloom, the prince hears of the Maiden who sleeps in the glass coffin and makes his way to her.
As Snow White rests in her glass coffin, the Dwarfs are themselves made aware of the Mysteries of Death and what it means to be a mortal, five-elemental creature.
With a kiss of true love, Snow is awakened and all the animals of the forest and elementals of Earth rejoice: the spring has returned, the trees are blossoming, winter is over, and the youthful Maiden of the earth is ready to be taken away out of the realms of energy and vibration and into the realm of life and physicality. The kiss between her and the prince is one of intersection: awake and asleep, alive and dead, earth and spirit, fire and water. The kiss is also a simplified image of marriage, sex, and eventual procreation. Snow White has gone through the Mysteries of childhood and is now reborn as a woman. The partnership between the Prince and the Princess in springtime symbolizes the triumph of life over death, of light over dark, of love over hate.
Snow and the Dwarfs say their farewells. Both have learned all the lessons they needed to from each other. Snow must now go back to the world of men and continue on her destiny. Through faith, kindness, and bravery, she has triumphed over her abusive and life-threatening situation, and now is free to live happily ever after.
Finally, Snow White's greatest wish is fulfilled:
"Some day when spring is here, we'll find our love anew, and the birds will sing, and wedding bells will ring, some day when my dreams come true."
As the screen returns to the book which opened at the beginning, we see that it is adorned with the six-rayed-star, a symbol which represents the hexagram and thus the union of the male and female force. This symbol is well known to anyone who has studied the Golden Dawn’s system of magic. Because of the union of forces (positive and negative and fire and water) it is a symbol for the magician who has reached equilibrium and mastered the four elements. It is safe to say that after Snow's initiation into the magical realms, and the attainment of love, she has obtained the mystery of the six rayed star and has gone from a law-of-attraction-master to a true initiated Magician.
The back of the book, we see, is the crown, not only symbolizing that Snow is soon to become the queen of two kingdoms, but the union of man (or in this case woman) with God, the King of Heaven. If we analyze these symbols, we find a very occult message; note that the book could've been adorned with crosses and crowns which is common in much heraldry and decorative books, but the deliberate decision in art direction was made to feature the six-rayed star at the end of the story, followed by the crown... a not-so-conventional-Christian message, especially when we bring sexual symbolism into the end of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs". This is potent symbolism to the initiated magician.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a story of initiations and transformations. It is a story of triumph over darkness and despair. It is a lesson in jealousy, hatred, generosity, nurturing, and love. It is the story of a girl facing the challenges of growing up. It is a story that teaches that dreams can come true.