The huntsman lifts his ax, but finds he doesn’t have the heart to strike the young maiden. He sobs for her forgiveness and explains that he was ordered by the wicked queen. Snow White flees into the forest, terror-stricken by the evil plot that had come to her innocent world. In a state of panic, everything now suddenly seems to be attacking her, as shrubs reach out with spiky claws, logs turn into alligators and trees become monsters.
The 1937 Disney classic superbly dramatizes Snow White’s descent into fear as she succumbs to the phantoms of her own mind. There is no escape from evil spirits of this kind. And although this is surely one of mankind’s oldest and bitterest lessons, it must be learned first-hand by each and every one of us.
The particular madness known as panic, catastrophizing or irrationality is usually brief, as higher reason eventually restores the troubled mind to equilibrium. But this only occurs after the pendulum has reached its apex, which sends Snow White collapsing to the forest floor, exhausted and sobbing. When she calmly awakes and finds herself surrounded not by demons but furry helpers, she apologizes for having been afraid.
There’s a good reason why it’s been said that there’s nothing to fear but fear itself. You should fear fear. You should fear it very much, for fear is not the same as danger. Danger is a situation wherein instinct takes over with the fight-or-flight response, which is almost always successful in guiding you to safety. But fear is not a situation but rather an irrational response to dangers that are not so much real as imagined, as our thoughts run amok and drag us along screaming in fright.
Edgar Allan Poe was a pioneering genius for dramatizing the state of fear. Writing all the way back in the 1830s, Poe showed the paralyzing effect fear has upon the will, rendering us frozen and unable to act. Will, imagination and reason are our three primary divine faculties, above and prior to all the quirks of our individual character, and fear neutralizes all three of them.
Ancient spiritual paths emphasize the conquering of fear as a conditioning qualification for the awakening process. Not only because understanding metaphysical reality requires that our faculties be sharp and clear, but because when faced with the gradual understanding that our will, imagination and reason are divine powers independent of our puny human selves, we are likely to become terrified at the realization that we are in fact that which we are: mortal beings with immortal souls.