The Poisoned Apple Part 2: Snow White and the Poison Apple
“All alone my dear… the little men are not here?” So says the face of the crone as she appears at the window of the home of Disney’s Snow White who is making gooseberry pie. “It's apple pies that makes the men-folks mouths water,” continues the old lady in a voice of calculated sweetness, “Wait until you taste one.” As she brings the poison apple to the maiden the birds in the trees, recognizing her malign intent, swoop down to attack her. Although temporarily thwarted the canny queen in witch form feigns a “poor heart” and is led into the house by the kindly girl for a rest.
Inside the witch plays a new trick, telling Snow White that the apple is a magical one. Here we have the power of the partial truth as an even more enchanting lie: this is a “wishing apple – one bite and all your dreams will come true.” “There must be something your little heart desires,” she says, warming to her role, or someone? Of course there is. Snow White wishes “that he will carry me away to his castle where we will live happily ever after” and bites into the red fruit with the words, “Oh I feel strange.” The exultant queen witch cries aloud, “Now I will be the fairest in the land!”
For it is all about vanity for the queen, usurper of the throne after the death of Snow White’s parents. After treating the pure princess as a servant and slave the queen orders her huntsman to take her deep into the forest and to cut out her heart. Moved by pity for the beautiful young woman the huntsman kills an animal instead and brings the wrong heart back to the queen. The magic mirror of the queen, to which in a narcissistic trance she keeps asking, “who is the fairest of them all?” To which the reply is always: Snow White, even after the presentation of the heart – hence her turning to a witch with the poison apple.
In the original Grimm’s fairy tale the witch is Snow White’s step mother, whose jealousy of the beautiful child of the king’s first wife seeds the poisonous deed. In this version Snow White’s mother is sewing when she pricks her finger from which three drops of blood fall onto the freshly fallen snow; admiring the beauty of red on white she asks for a girl whose skin is as the snow and whose lips are the colour of blood. This powerful symbolism of virginal purity and bloody sexuality twist the pride of the queen into hatred. The three forms of the goddess, maiden, mother and crone are out of balance – mother has died with only the magic of her wish for her daughter left. And the innocence of youth plays against the narrow materialism of the aging queen, who can only see physical beauty where clearly Snow White shines with moral virtue. Here the nobility of soul transcends the hierarchies of political power. As a servant, Snow White is royal - infinitely more so than the queen.
The challenge presented to Snow White by the witch/queen is a more complex process in the brothers Grimm tale. Initially the Queen sells Snow White an exquisite bodice which is tightened so extremely that Snow White is left for dead. I remember a prior-life regression I did for a young woman who, after a chart reading, had wanted to explore choices around her career. She remembered a life as an aristocrat in which her maidservant had to help her into the exceptionally tight bodices of the day. This sense of the suffocating weight of the clothing she had to wear as an expression of her beauty and social status overpowered the regression.
Initially upon returning to the present she was confused – why had she spent the rare chance at regression squeezed to the edge of suffocation in tight clothes, staring from the windows of her beautiful home? She realized then that all of that life she had looked out of the window onto others who were living their lives free from that social armour. She had found herself jealous of the servants, of the gardener working outside. It came to her then that she had chosen to train as a dancer in this life so that she could allow her soul’s passionate desire for this freedom of expression to be at the forefront of her current experience. It validated a choice that, with its discipline and commitment, had limited other possibilities in her education. She was able to connect with the deep urge for freedom in her being that had led her to dance.
Next the queen offers a comb for Snow White’s hair, the poison of which causes Snow White to fall faint. But her friends the dwarfs reawaken her, as they found her suffocating in the bodice and cut it off. Grimm’s queen then creates a poison apple and as a farmer’s wife offers it to Snow White, who is understandably a little less trusting at this point, so the queen eats a bite herself, from the green side of the apple. When she then gives the apple to Snow White she presents the red side, from which the maiden is poisoned.
It is this duality within the apple, the green side of life and the red side of death that so caught the imagination of one of the great minds of the twentieth century. Here remembered in an interview with the fantasy novelist Alan Garner, a close friend of Alan Turing:
“But there was one point where we did have a long, serious conversation. It was because we discovered that we'd both been traumatized by the same event. That was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Paulson: The Disney movie?
Garner: Yep. He used to give seminars at Cambridge University on the psychology of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Disney version. Now for me at the age or two or three, I was taken to a cinema for the first time. Nobody said what it was and the lights went out and then when the queen turned into the witch I screamed and I screamed and I screamed. And my mother, instead of calming me down, called for an attendant and all I could remember was a bright light shining on me and strange smelling arms picking me up and taking me away from my mother. The exit for the cinema was at the foot of the screen. So I was being carried by a stranger pinioned in the dark towards the witch.
Paulson: Away from your mother.
Garner: Away from my mother. And I had nightmares about that until I was about 14 or 15. And he, Alan Turning, had this obsession with the connection between good and evil, beauty and ugliness, and this is where the apple came in because in folk lore it's a common thing that the magic apple that brings on the deathlike sleep is bright red on one side and bright green on the other and it depends on which side you bit into. He used to talk and talk and talk as we ran about how easy it was to be fooled. We discovered that we had both realized independently that quite often life and death are the same thing, beauty and evil are the same thing.”
Alan Garner remembers meeting Alan Turing out running one day. Turing, a serious athlete and contender for the 1948 Olympics cut a very different figure from the tall, thin novelist. Garner remembers him as barrel chested and stocky with a high pitched aristocratic accent. The two men became firm friends and yet in that curious English way did not speak of matters personal until they discovered the mutual significance of the Poison apple scene in Snow White.
Chart Analysis – Alan Turing. 23 June 1912. 2:15 am. London, UK.
Turing was a mathematical genius whose insights were fundamental to the breaking of the German enigma code in the Second World War and whose far-ranging work in artificial intelligence and the origins of computing is only recently fully emerging into the public domain. For example, his work on probability and cryptology was only released by GCHQ in 2012, deemed important enough to be a secret for seventy years! Just as Cambridge was the scene for Oppenheimer’s gift of a poison apple for his tutor some decades before, Turing’s prodigious intellect chose to give several of his Cambridge lectures on the significance of Snow White and her cruel gift.
The symbolism of the poison apple has a mysterious significance in these key figures involved in the birth of modern thought: in particular the theoretical physics and the mathematics underlying atomic energy, artificial intelligence and the origins of computing. Like Oppenheimer before him, Turing was also chewed up and spat out by the very establishment that had courted him and utilized his knowledge to such profound effect.
Under the transit of Uranus to Turing’s Mercury, an impecunious young lover with whom Turing was very generous set up an associate to break in to Turing’s house. The naïve Turing then shared with the police who had most likely committed the crime, implicating himself and his personal life in how he came to possess this knowledge. The man who cracked the most difficult of all codes, who allowed the allies to read all the high ranking German communication in the battle of the Atlantic and the build up to D-day, could not keep his secret. He spoke (Mercury) his to the ears of the time, shocking (Uranus) truth.
In the same interview quoted above, Garner says, “He knew he didn’t fit in” and describes his “absolute helplessness” over Turing's trial and bizarre punishment. His humiliating trial, in the part of his world so evocatively drawn by his friend Garner in his novels, shattered Turing. Transiting Uranus as an unfolding trauma signature conjunct his Mercury in Cancer in the 2nd house, inconjunct Jupiter on the Descendant, echoes the natal Uranus on the Midheaven inconjunct the Sun/Pluto/Venus – judged by society (Uranus in the 10th house) for who you are (Sun/Pluto/Venus).
Turing’s natal Mercury is conjunct Jupiter’s north node, an aspect that I discuss at length in the article The Spaces between the Stars for the Dec-Jan 2014 issue of The Mountain Astrologer. It is a signature that reveals a potential for collective significance (node of Jupiter) for the individual mind (Mercury) of Turing. The south node of Jupiter is in Capricorn and this aspect also shows that the collective vision of a society that benefitted so much from Turing’s brilliance and dedication would also, in its antiquated ideals, judge him (Saturn) for his sexuality.
Turing opted for what was termed "chemical castration" instead of prison. This consisted of radical (and arguably dangerous) levels of hormone therapy in order to resolve his ‘aberration’. Ironically this included high levels of estrogen. Under this regime of poisoning Turing went into a profound depression, and with transiting Uranus having moved to conjunct his natal Neptune in Cancer, in June 1954 Turing committed suicide by ingesting cyanide. At his bed-side, next to where he lay, was a half-eaten apple. The apple was not tested for the poison, the bitter almond smell of which was strong on Turing’s lips. No one can be sure if Turing had laced the apple with cyanide or had eaten half of the apple and then ingested the poison. The personal symbolism is clear though. Snow White had eaten the apple (hoping against hope, that in one bite all his dreams would come true).
This poignant scene illustrates without ambiguity the profound significance of the poison apple to Turing. His bonding with Garner and the lectures at Cambridge were no elaborate joke, or even nostalgia for a childhood event: this was a symbol that a mind as extraordinary as Alan Turing’s spoke to the very core (pun intended) of life and death.
With Pluto in Gemini in the 2nd house Turing’s natal chart expresses a central paradox: the versatility and elastic curiosity of the mind in Gemini is held with the strong container and reductive force of the 2nd house. This was a wanderer who could also get stuck on one thing long enough to get to the depth of it. With Venus and the Sun conjunct Pluto, the depth of the mental process runs through the whole system. All of these are balsamic conjunctions. With Pluto as the slowest moving base planet then Venus is in an applying and balsamic phase to Pluto. The Sun as the personal centre of the current life energy is always taken as the base planet, so both Pluto and Venus are seen as applying and balsamic to this position. So this is a power that has built over many lifetimes and that is reaching a culmination in his consciousness (Balsamic phase as a Pisces-like conjunction) in the current life (Sun) from which deep in his interior he is able to hold the different archetypes in balance.
On Christmas Eve 2013 Turing received a posthumous royal pardon. This occurred with Uranus at 8° Aries opposite Mars at 8° Libra, both forming a T-square to Turing’s Mercury at 8° of Cancer, which is conjunct the north node of Jupiter. This is the very degree which I showed in The Spaces between the Stars was contacted in almost every significant juncture of his life. Here two planets form an exact T-square! This is truly an extraordinary example of the way that the planetary nodes illuminate a collective expression within the individual life.
Amongst the many responses that followed my Facebook posting of the pardon, one that began, "That took ****ing long enough," continued he was only the “saviour of democracy”. This may seem like an exaggeration, but on final analysis the value of the code-breaking work of the whole team at Bletchley Park for whom Turing was a star player was arguably the single most significant factor to tip the conflict for the soul of democracy that lay at the heart of the last century. That this deemed a royal pardon seems oddly paltry and late in the day and begs the larger question of why not just pardon all those convicted of this nonsensical ‘crime’ not just the saviours of democracy?
Having said that though, I celebrate his pardon and choose to recognize the true royalty that is the nature of soul; which pardons all before its majesty. Furthermore I take seriously Turing’s significant interest in the poison apple and will seek in an on-going manner to probe the depths of its mystery.
God Bless All.