The Role of Evil on the Path of Individuation

Sooner or later, you must enter the dark forest and leave the well-trodden path. Let us re-look at the fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood.

As you recall, Little Red Riding Hood is off to Grandma’s house to deliver some food for her sick grandma. Before leaving, her mother warns her to “stick to the path.”  Instead, part way down the path, a wolf entices her to wander from the path.

The wolf beat Little Red Riding Hood to grandma’s house and is disguised as grandma lying in bed. The wolf swallows Little Red Riding Hood whole.  Later, Little Red Riding Hood cuts a hole in the wolf’s stomach and climbs out alive.

What do you make of this fairy-tale?  One thing that Little Red Riding Hood learned was that wandering from the path came at a great cost—one that almost killed her. However, by doing so, she learned about the evil ways of the wolf and emerged alive with an increased consciousness that should help her in navigating her future.

Without this experience with the wolf, Little Red Riding Hood would remain naïve and ill-prepared for her life’s challenges.

Sooner or later, you will likely be tasked by life to leave the well-traveled path. Of course, you can decide not to leave this path, but this decision too will come at a price. The cost—a loss of your own individuality and truth that comes from soul.

Perceived evil, disguised as the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood, can be the stimulus that pushes you or pulls you off the well-trodden path. Put another way as St. Paul noted, God uses evil to do good. By being swallowed by the wolf and coming out alive, Little Red Riding Hood took on some of the qualities of the wolf that she would need some day, such as assertiveness and courage.

Little Red Riding Hood, from her limited ego perspective, may not have left the path since danger lurked there. But paradoxically, she needed to leave the path to gain awareness into self and to become who she was meant to become.

In another story, this one from a dream, a duckling swims by the river’s edge. It is dark, but not yet night. The duckling is all alone, not aware of the dangers lurking in the forest just over the river’s edge.

Behind the duckling, over the bank of the river and at the edge of the forest, is a door to a long hallway. The end of the hallway is not in sight. Behind the door and about half way down the long hall with no end, is a large black wolf. The black wolf is docile and non-threatening. In this case, the wolf is a metaphor for something that is not evil. (This illustrates a tricky part of dealing with images that illicit evil—on the surface, something that may seem like evil in one situation, can be an image of salvation in another. Unfortunately for the wolf, it is too often a symbol for evil in fairytale, story and even politics.)

The duckling climbs over the bank of the river and enters the long hallway.  She meets the wolf who looks down upon her. In this dream, the duckling be-friends the wolf and the two mismatched animals help each other travel through the dark forest together.

The duckling gifted to the wolf, love through friendship and a curiosity with the world, while the wolf gifted the duckling a sense of cunning and following instinct. The two animals need each other to survive and to travel their respective paths without becoming too one-sided. 

Evil does have the potential to greatly increase suffering and to stop the current trajectory of your life’s process in full.  But evil serves as a necessary part of the individuation process. As in Little Red Riding Hood’s case, evil can paradoxically serve as a catalyst for increasing consciousness necessary for the next stage of your life. 

© 2019, Dr. Jeff Howlin. All rights reserved.

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