Parables as Teaching Stories

Parables are short symbolic tales signifying moral instruction. Taken from the Hebrew word "mashal," meaning analogy or metaphor, the use of parables extends as far back as biblical times. For truth-seekers, parables as teaching stories became spiritual guideposts. Religious leaders, scholars and psychologists believe parables provide introspection and guidance for adults as well as children. Parables creatively impart wisdom in allegorical lessons that are poetic and mystical as well as compelling.

"Women Who Run With Wolves"

In her dreams of one woman standing on the shoulders of another woman, steadying the ankles of another on her shoulders, author Clarissa Pinkola Estes asserts that "a story is holy and used as medicine." "Women Who Run with Wolves," Este's collection of 19 fables and stories, intertwine mythology, fairy and folktale within a feminist-powered context.

Analogies in stories such as "The Red Shoes," "The Ugly Duckling" and "Blue Beard" provide women a context to see the parallels in their own lives. The prevailing allegorical thread throughout the stories invites women to unearth hidden choices to empowerment.

In the story of "Blue Beard," a charismatic husband has murdered his previous wives. The newest bride puts a key into a lock that begins to bleed. Many of the fables display dark imagery such as blood or skulls, juxtaposed with light symbols. Although the author brings a Jungian orientation to the stories, as a teaching tool, women may find personal interpretation meaningful.

"The Hero's Journey"

Joseph Campbell illustrates the stepping stones or passages in life that can be demonstrated through parables in his book "The Hero's Journey." Divided into a series of tasks and tests where each step represents a crossroad or initiation, the theme reflects the undertaking as highly spiritual, courageous and thus, heroic.

"The Hero's Journey," targeted to a male demography, lists such points in the journey such "Woman as the Temptress," "Master of the Two Worlds" and "The Freedom to Live" among several that to point to real life conflicts and revelations.

"Chronicles of Narnia"

Representing a series of seven tales, "The Chronicles of Narnia" by Clive Staples Lewis, better known as C.S. Lewis, blends Greek and Roman mythology with Celtic and British folktales along with Christian themes.

In "The Chronicles of Narnia," children are given power as the protagonists within a magical world where mythical animals live. The teaching symbols emerging through adventures are good versus evil, making it more easily discernible for children to understand.

"The New Testament"

Parables are primarily associated with Jesus Christ of Nazareth. "The New Testament" refers to Jesus speaking of the necessity of using parables to offer reflection, reverence and obedience to God within a course of right spiritual action. The parables were related primarily to a group of men mentored under his tutelage as disciples.

Among the parables in "The New Testament" are the "The Prodigal Son," "The Ten Bridesmaids" and "The Sower and the Seed." In the parable of the "The Good Samaritan," a man beaten and left for dead has been passed by three men, consisting of one priest and other two high officials. A Samaritan takes care of the wounded man, although socially Samaritans were considered low class. Jesus uses the story as means to illustrate how the complexities and traps of racism and hypocrisy can be mitigated by love of humankind.

The parables taught by Jesus reach across gender and generational lines, in teachings to men, woman, and children.