The spiritual Message of German Fairy tales

Cat and Mouse in Partnership

Tale of the Brothers Grimm translated by M. Hunt [1884]
Interpretation by Undine & Jens in green [2018]

A certain cat had made the acquaintance of a mouse, and had said so much to her about the great love and friendship she felt for her, that at length the mouse agreed that they should live and keep house together. “But we must make a provision for winter, or else we shall suffer from hunger,” said the cat, “and you, little mouse, cannot venture everywhere, or you will be caught in a trap some day.” The good advice was followed, and a pot of fat was bought, but they did not know where to put it. At length, after much consideration, the cat said, “I know no place where it will be better stored up than in the church, for no one dares take anything away from there. We will set it beneath the altar, and not touch it until we are really in need of it.” So the pot was placed in safety, but it was not long before the cat had a great longing for it, and said to the mouse, “I want to tell you something, little mouse; my cousin has brought a little son into the world, and has asked me to be godmother; he is white with brown spots, and I am to hold him at the christening. Let me go out to-day, and you look after the house by yourself.” - “Yes, yes,” answered the mouse, “by all means go, and if you get anything very good, think of me, I should like a drop of sweet red christening wine too.” All this, however, was untrue; the cat had no cousin, and had not been asked to be godmother. She went straight to the church, stole to the pot of fat, began to lick at it, and licked the top of the fat off. Then she took a walk upon the roofs of the town, looked out for opportunities, and then stretched herself in the sun, and licked her lips whenever she thought of the pot of fat, and not until it was evening did she return home. “Well, here you are again,” said the mouse, “no doubt you have had a merry day.” - “All went off well.” answered the cat. “What name did they give the child?” - “Top off!” said the cat quite coolly. “Top off!” cried the mouse, “That is a very odd and uncommon name, is it a usual one in your family?” - “What does it signify,” said the cat, “it is not worse than Crumb-stealer, as your god-children are called.”

Before long the cat was seized by another fit of longing. She said to the mouse, “You must do me a favour, and once more manage the house for a day alone. I am again asked to be godmother, and, as the child has a white ring round its neck, I cannot refuse.” The good mouse consented, but the cat crept behind the town walls to the church, and devoured half the pot of fat. “Nothing ever seems so good as what one keeps to oneself.” said she, and was quite satisfied with her day’s work. When she went home the mouse inquired, “And what was this child christened?” - “Half-done.” answered the cat. “Half-done! What are you saying? I never heard the name in my life, I’ll wager anything it is not in the calendar!”

The cat’s mouth soon began to water for some more licking. “All good things go in threes,” said she, “I am asked to stand godmother again. The child is quite black, only it has white paws, but with that exception, it has not a single white hair on its whole body; this only happens once every few years, you will let me go, won’t you?” - “Top-off! Half-done!” answered the mouse, “They are such odd names, they make me very thoughtful.” - “You sit at home,” said the cat, “in your dark-grey fur coat and long tail, and are filled with fancies, that’s because you do not go out in the daytime.” During the cat’s absence the mouse cleaned the house, and put it in order, but the greedy cat entirely emptied the pot of fat. “When everything is eaten up one has some peace,” said she to herself, and well filled and fat she did not return home till night. The mouse at once asked what name had been given to the third child. “It will not please you more than the others.” said the cat. “He is called All-gone.” - “All-gone,” cried the mouse, “that is the most suspicious name of all! I have never seen it in print. All-gone; what can that mean?” and she shook her head, curled herself up, and lay down to sleep.

From this time forth no one invited the cat to be godmother, but when the winter had come and there was no longer anything to be found outside, the mouse thought of their provision, and said, “Come, cat, we will go to our pot of fat which we have stored up for ourselves we shall enjoy that.” - “Yes,” answered the cat, “you will enjoy it as much as you would enjoy sticking that dainty tongue of yours out of the window.” They set out on their way, but when they arrived, the pot of fat certainly was still in its place, but it was empty. “Alas!” said the mouse, “Now I see what has happened, now it comes to light! You a true friend! You have devoured all when you were standing godmother. First top off, then half done, then… ” - “Will you hold your tongue,” cried the cat, “one word more, and I will eat you too.” - “All gone” was already on the poor mouse’s lips; scarcely had she spoken it before the cat sprang on her, seized her, and swallowed her down. Verily, that is the way of the world.

At the top level, this fairy tale is relatively clear. Cat and mouse are natural enemies. Therefore, the mouse should beware of the cat and do not trust her, because it is indeed the nature of the cat that she likes to eat mice. Even if the cat shows a good character and has the best intentions, as soon as her hunger awakes, there is no stopping her. This is the power of nature and it should be accepted in nature. So it does not make much sense to blame the cat. The mouse should be careful and stay away from the cat. This eating and being eaten is the normal case in nature. Although man tries to get out of this system, he too relies on natural food. And there is probably no food that other beings do not have to suffer from. Even our artificial chemistry, which should provide us with an independent solution here, is very troublesome to the natural ecosystem, drawing even greater circles of destruction than slaughtering a pig or harvesting a cabbage head. So if you look at it more deeply, then man is still a part of nature, even if he thinks he is something special, which of course every cat also does.

At a deeper level, this conflict of interest can also be transferred to our inside. Then you could consider the grey mouse as our reason and the cat as our passionate ego. The nature of the two can be studied very well on the basis of this fairy tale. There is, first of all, reason, which seeks the good and ideal, but in this house of our body usually has to live with or even wants to live with the ego. Of course, the ego wishes for a safe supply for the future and has little faith in others because it knows itself well enough. According to the motto: “What I think and do myself, I also trust the others to do!” So it decides for a place where it expects a certain security, namely the church. But it does not take long for egoistic desire to awaken and lie to our reason. And it often happens that the egotistical desire hides behind the special lie of helping others and doing them good. A strong reason would have the opportunity to tame the ego. But our little mouse lets itself be seduced, believes the lie and even enthuses about enjoyment. With this, reason first loses its ‘skin’. And every desire that is fulfilled, and every lie that is accepted, lets reason fade away, until it is swallowed up in the end by the greedy ego. That is how life goes...

Anyone who has already been able to observe this game inside will also know the deceptive sense of relief when a desire has been fulfilled in the short term. But this nice feeling is quickly gone, as we read in this fairy tale. And even if the pot is empty and you think that the desire will now keep quiet, it was not the solution, because quickly the greedy ego seeks the next object and snatches it...

If we really want to solve this problem of the cat and mouse inside, we should end up on the side of the mouse and strengthen the reason that it becomes steadfast and can no longer be overwhelmed by lies. This truthfulness is a really big challenge and, of course, starts with these very little lies that we allow ourselves daily to gain very small benefits. And that does not start with the ‘others’ out there, but in our own heads. In this regard, one could still think a lot about this inner dilemma of different interests. A similar story about the coexistence of cat and mouse can be found in the ancient Indian epic of the Mahabharata [MHB 12.138], where many of these aspects are discussed in more detail.

The altar could also be considered as one’s own body, with the lights of the five senses and the thinking as well as the cross symbolizing the Holy Trinity. Inside, both reason and ego live with the pot of accumulated merit, which the greedy ego likes to consume, ideally along with reason.

Maybe another thought about the trust that the egoistic cat has just in the church. Today, in the face of our fast-moving society, many people seek some support in religious communities. This is certainly good, so that the spiritual dimension in our lives gets not completely lost. However, it becomes problematic when it is above all the greedy ego, that seeks there for protection, confirmation and personal fulfilment. This can be seen in the many hundreds of religious groups who are hostile to each other. You join in a certain group, as if you were joining a party and fighting for political goals. Because this is typical of egoism, that of course you want to be something special, to stand out and look down to ‘others’. How can there be so many rock-solid differences, if the spiritual way is to dissolve the hardened superficial views and to find the deeper truth? This is mainly due to selfishness, because our ego is the most threatened by truth and then usually reacts like the cat at the end of our fairy tale: Snap, and truth and reason are gone in the greedy throat.

The Girl Without Hands - (topic: The path of suffering to salvation)
Briar-Rose or Sleeping Beauty - (topic: The rigor mortis of nature)
Our Lady’s Child - (topic: The divine sense of nature)
The Frog-King, or Iron Henry - (topic: spirit-nature)
Sweet Porridge - (topic: poverty and abundance)
Cat and Mouse in Partnership (topic: reason-ego)
The Fisherman and his Wife - (topic: ego madness)
The Golden Bird - (topic: reason)
The Twelve Brothers - (topic: spirit, passion and nature)
The Seven Ravens - (topic: The seven principles of nature)
Little Snow-White and the seven dwarfs - (topic: Ego and passion)
... Table of contents of all fairy tale interpretations ...

[1884] Grimm's Household Tales. Translated from the German and edited by Margaret Hunt. With an introduction by Andrew Lang, 1884, Vol. 1/2, London: George Bell and Sons
[MHB] Das Mahabharata des Vyasa, 2014,
[2018] Text and Pictures by Undine & Jens /