The spiritual Message of German Fairy tales

Fundevogel (Bird-foundling)

Tale of the Brothers Grimm translated by M. Hunt [1884]
Interpretation by Undine & Jens in green [2019]

There was once a forester who went into the forest to hunt, and as he entered it he heard a sound of screaming as if a little child were there. He followed the sound, and at last came to a high tree, and at the top of this a little child was sitting, for the mother had fallen asleep under the tree with the child, and a bird of prey had seen it in her arms, had flown down, snatched it away, and set it on the high tree.

The forester climbed up, brought the child down, and thought to himself, “Thou wilt take him home with thee, and bring him up with thy Lina.” He took it home, therefore, and the two children grew up together. The one, however, which he had found on a tree was called Fundevogel, because a bird had carried it away. Fundevogel and Lina loved each other so dearly that when they did not see each other they were sad.

For our children it is certainly a magical story how nobody can get lost in this world if you trust your siblings and stick together. Then you can survive any adventure and even defeat an evil witch. For adults, the beginning of this fairy tale might already sound very strange and challenges us to look for a deeper symbolism.

Therefore, we want to try our hand at it: The forester is a man who watches and rules over a forest, and here reminds us of the ruling spirit over the designed nature. The sleeping mother could be the material nature that has sunk into the unconscious, and sleeps like a stone under the tree of life or like mother earth under our feet. Her child would then be us, a conscious being that was created by the spirit and physically born by nature. The great power of passion or desire has seized us and placed us in the great tree of life, which offers many fruits. Here the ruling spirit finds us - because Fundevogel means something like foundling - and connects us with our feminine side, who appears here as the biological daughter of the forester. Everyone has these two poles, which are inseparable linked, but do not always love each other as they do in this fairy tale. We usually do not know our real, spiritual parents, and so, like a foundling, stepparents raise us, who, in this version of the fairy tale, act as forester and old cook.

The forester, however, had an old cook, who one evening took two pails and began to fetch water, and did not go once only, but many times, out to the spring. Lina saw this and said, “Hark you, old Sanna, why are you fetching so much water?” “If thou wilt never repeat it to any one, I will tell thee why.” So Lina said, no, she would never repeat it to any one, and then the cook said, “Early to-morrow morning, when the forester is out hunting, I will heat the water, and when it is boiling in the kettle, I will throw in Fundevogel, and will boil him in it.”

If we consider forester and cook as polarity here, similar to king and queen in other fairy tales, then we come back to the ruling spirit and the ruling nature. This nature often appears hostile to us and is often symbolized as a stepmother or old witch who has magical powers and works with the power of illusion. The cauldron is an ancient symbol that reminds us of how our minds are cooked, transformed and prepared in nature. And what is it prepared for? In terms of evolution, it should of course be about a development from the lower to the higher. We find something similar in “Hansel and Gretel”, when Hansel should be cooked and Gretel should be baked. The cauldron could symbolize the painful aspect of nature with regard to our development, from the birth in the womb, through all our suffering and burning pains in life to the boiling cauldrons in hell. We already find such descriptions in the ancient Indian epics, such as:

“Birth is already painful and difficult to bear. As they grow in the womb, all creatures are boiled in the pungent, sour, and bitter body juices, surrounded by urine, slime, and faeces. There they have to live in a helpless state within the uterus and are repeatedly pushed and squeezed. So you can see how those beings who desire meat are cooked completely helplessly in the womb. And after they have had various births, they are still cooked in the hell Kumbhipaka (in large cauldrons).” [MHB 13.116]

Of course, this is a process of purification, as it is everywhere in nature, which often appears painful and hostile to us. Anyone who has a vegetable garden may have already noticed that nature apparently loves weeds, snails and lice more than our carefully tended lettuce plants. This is a great secret of nature, because it loves death for the sake of birth, sickness for the sake of health, diversity for the sake of unity, impermanence for the sake of eternity, the struggle for the sake of peace and separation for the sake of connectedness. That is why nature often appears hostile to us, because we primarily see the surface and do not recognize its deeper reason and meaning. Similarly, in this fairy tale, the cook appears to us as a witch who tries to cook the spirit in nature’s cauldron. And if we’re honest, then our feminine side knows this secret of nature and could reveal it to us if we only had as much trust as Fundevogel:

Betimes next morning the forester got up and went out hunting, and when he was gone the children were still in bed. Then Lina said to Fundevogel, “If thou wilt never leave me, I too will never leave thee.” Fundevogel said, “Neither now, nor ever will I leave thee.” Then said Lina, “Then will I tell thee. Last night, old Sanna carried so many buckets of water into the house that I asked her why she was doing that, and she said that if I would promise not to tell any one she would tell me, and I said I would be sure not to tell any one, and she said that early to-morrow morning when father was out hunting, she would set on the kettle full of water, throw thee into it and boil thee; but we will get up quickly, dress ourselves, and go away together.” The two children therefore got up, dressed themselves quickly, and went away.

The symbolism is wonderful! If we find this connectedness or unity of male and female or spirit and nature in us, then we can escape the cauldron of hostile nature and overcome the illusion of the witch who enchants us. The danger is of course especially great on the morning of the worldly day, when the spirit goes hunting into the world. So what do we do first? We try to flee from the apparently hostile nature, preferably to the end of the world or to the edge of the forest, as it is said here in the fairy tale.

When the water in the kettle was boiling, the cook went into the bed- room to fetch Fundevogel and throw him into it. But when she came in, and went to the beds, both the children were gone. Then she was terribly alarmed, and she said to herself, “What shall I say now when the forester comes home and sees that the children are gone? They must be followed instantly to get them back again.”

Well, of course, nature cannot accept this escape. The symbolism is very interesting. First, a bedroom is mentioned, where we usually sink into a dream world. It used to be known that one could wake up from the everyday dream world and thus escape hostile nature. Second, it is said that the cook, who at the end of the fairy tale is also referred to as a witch in the sense of a hostile nature, is afraid of the forester. So nature knows about her dependence on her master and must fear him, especially when his biological child, the young soul, is lost. We will also read later that the cook tries above all to get the girl back and to get rid of the boy. Moreover, she assumes that the girl, as the forester’s biological daughter, also had an aversion to the adopted boy, who was suddenly supposed to be her brother, otherwise, she would not have revealed her intention to cook the boy. Therefore, the hostile or opposing nature pursues us everywhere and tries to hold on to one part and get rid of the other part. But where could we escape from hostile nature? The problem lies within ourselves!

Then the cook sent three servants after them, who were to run and over- take the children. The children, however, were sitting outside the forest, and when they saw from afar the three servants running, Lina said to Fundevogel, “Never leave me, and I will never leave thee.” Fundevogel said, “Neither now, nor ever.” Then said Lina, “Do thou become a rose- tree, and I the rose upon it.” When the three servants came to the forest, nothing was there but a rose-tree and one rose on it, but the children were nowhere. Then said they, “There is nothing to be done here,” and they went home and told the cook that they had seen nothing in the forest but a little rose-bush with one rose on it. Then the old cook scolded and said, “You simpletons, you should have cut the rose-bush in two, and have broken off the rose and brought it home with you; go, and do it at once.”

Who are these three servants of nature? They are not explained in more detail in this fairy tale, and so we first remember the three colours of red, white and black, which are known from other fairy tales and are described in the Indian stories as the three qualities of nature, namely passion, goodness and darkness. One could also think of desire, hatred and ignorance, which are often explained as the driving forces in the wheel of life, or just of birth, old age and death. They all work in the natural realm of opposites. However, if the opposites in us are overcome and united, then they can no longer appeal to us or achieve anything.

The symbol of the rose bush resembles the vine in the Bible: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him brings much fruit, because without me you cannot do anything.” [Bible, Joh. 15.5] This also fits the saying “Never leave me, and I will never leave you.” This unity of spirit and nature, the much-described mystical marriage, is the great way to the highest wealth. But nature doesn’t seem to like this marriage and keeps pushing for separation in the game of opposites. What kind of force is working here? The fairy tale says it is the three servants, and in practice above all the passionate desire and the darkness of illusion. If we look at our scientific world today, we find something similar. We passionately reach for the outer forms of nature and do not want to know anything about the inner, spiritual world. We reach for the beautiful roses and fear the thorny rose bush. We desire the grapes and regard the vine branches only as a tiresome means to an end. This is the game of illusion, which envelops us in darkness. That is the witch, who enchants and cooks us in the cauldron.

They had therefore to go out and look for the second time. The children, however, saw them coming from a distance. Then Lina said, “Fundevogel, never leave me, and I will never leave thee.” Fundevogel said, “Neither now, nor ever.” Said Lina, “Then do thou become a church, and I’ll be the chandelier in it.” So when the three servants came, nothing was there but a church, with a chandelier in it. They said therefore to each other, “What can we do here, let us go home.” When they got home, the cook asked if they had not found them; so they said no, they had found nothing but a church, and that there was a chandelier in it. And the cook scolded them and said, “You fools! why did you not pull the church to pieces, and bring the chandelier home with you?”

Why can the female side do magic or enchant so well? This makes sense at least insofar as sorcery has to do with illusion and illusion is a property of changeable nature, even if we often wish to conjure permanent things. Of course, this cannot be done without the power of the spirit, that is why spirit and nature are never separate, and one could even say that nature is nothing other than enchanted spirit. Therefore, it is possible that man can purify himself on the spiritual path and free himself from the constraints of nature with its servants of desire, hatred and illusion. If spirit and nature were two completely different things, the great mystical marriage of union would be impossible. This affinity is also the reason why the spirit can transform itself and, through the magic of the illusion, take on different physical forms.

So next appears a church with a chandelier inside. At the middle level, one could see here the religious and secular power that should be united and prioritized, while the witch tries to seize only the secular power and destroy the religious. For a long time it was evidently normal in human society for the secular rule of kings and princes to be placed under the religious guidance of wise men and priests. At least we know from the ancient Indian scriptures the caste system in which the Kshatriyas (the kings and warriors) subordinated themselves to the Brahmins (the priests, wise men and teachers) and took care of their protection. In addition, many symbolic stories are passed down, especially in the Mahabharata, of how a society falls into decline and perishes in war, when the kings miss their tasks or the Brahmins reach for worldly power. Something similar can be found in the history of Christianity when the leaders of the Church reached for worldly power and wealth. The effects are well known: spiritual decline, dogmatism, fanaticism, religious wars, fragmentation through the Reformations and, finally, worldwide ruin. Sure, who would trust spiritual rulers who cannot even rule themselves?

With this a new intellectual elite developed, which was able to prove its ability to master nature with objective science. The scientific and technological revolution took its course, and the age of the dead machines began. However, already two hundred years after the invention of the steam engine and two devastating world wars with panzers, bombs, poison gas and over 70 million people killed, our earth was facing an all-destructive nuclear war. This already makes it clear that the truthfulness of our scientists is crumbling too, because the new, intellectual elite also grasps for the power, fame and wealth of the world, becomes dependent on it and bribed. Accordingly, it says in the Bible: “You are the salt of the earth. If the salt is no longer salting, what should you use to salt? It is no longer of any use than to be thrown away and let people trample it under foot.” [Bible, Matthew 5.13]

On a deeper level, the church walls can also be seen as a symbol of restraint and the chandelier as our human nature (the famous crown of creation), which should learn to control itself in the course of its development. Today we are more inclined to the nature of the witch and try to break the limits of nature in order to develop an unbridled desire. This is obviously the modern epitome of “freedom”. Here, self-control should be the top priority, especially for the leading intellectual elite of a society. Because as long as the spirit cannot control itself, it is under the control of others, is clinging, dependent, corruptible and cannot be truthful (see e.g. MHB 12.251). Without truthfulness, illusion reigns, and illusion is certainly not something that can be trusted for a long time. They say a life like this is built on sand. Many powerful rulers have already experienced this. The last great example was probably the fall of socialism.

And now the old cook herself got on her legs, and went with the three servants in pursuit of the children. The children, however, saw from afar that the three servants were coming, and the cook waddling after them. Then said Lina, “Fundevogel, never leave me, and I will never leave thee.” Then said Fundevogel, “Neither now, nor ever.” Said Lina, “Be a fishpond, and I will be the duck upon it.” The cook, however, came up to them, and when she saw the pond she lay down by it, and was about to drink it up. But the duck swam quickly to her, seized her head in its beak and drew her into the water, and there the old witch had to drown. Then the children went home together, and were heartily delighted, and if they are not dead, they are living still.

“Neither now, nor ever!” could also mean: “Now or never!” This saying, which runs like a mantra through the whole fairy tale, has great significance on the spiritual path, because the truth can only be found in the present, in the here and now. Some even say that past and future are just illusions that we mentally project. In this ‘now’ everything happens, including our physical and mental growth in constant change. Therefore, the siblings are now changing into the connection between pond and duck. The spirit is the pond and nature is the duck that swims on its surface. This is an amazing symbol to think about long and deep.

The water has always had a very mystical meaning. It is not only the medium in the cauldron, but is also seen as the basis of life itself, not only physically but above all mentally. So it says right at the beginning of the Bible:
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was desolate and empty, and it was dark on the deep; and the Spirit of God floated on the water. And God said: Let there be light! and there was light ...” [Bible, Genesis 1.1]

It sounds similar in the Indian scriptures:
“In ancient times I gave the water the name Nara. And since the water is my home, my Ayana, I am called Narayana (the one who is at home in the water or who is resting on the water). Oh dear Dwija, I am Narayana, the cause of all things, the Eternal and Immutable. I am the creator of all things and also their destroyer. I am Vishnu, Brahma and Indra, the lord of all gods.” [MHB 3.189]

Therefore, one speaks of the mystical sea of causes, from which the whole creation arises and enters back into it again at the end. From the Big Bang, so to speak, through the creation of our universe with its countless galaxies, to the dissolution in an unimaginably vast sea of homogeneity. And all the physical forms that we see and with which we identify are like this physical duck that swims on the spiritual sea of causes.

Now the witch tries to drink up the pond to take hold of the duck, just as we try to take hold of nature nowadays by draining her spiritually. We read accordingly, what can happen, because in the end nature seizes us and lets us drown miserably in the sea of illusion. Therefore, it is not good to be on the side of the witch to grasp nature without spirit. Goethe also lets his Mephisto speak on this subject in [Faust I]:

He who would study organic existence,
First drives out the soul with rigid persistence;
Then the parts in his hand he may hold and class,
But the spiritual link is lost, alas!
Encheiresin natures*, this Chemistry names,
Nor knows how herself she banters and blames!
(*to seize nature)

Whoever has recognized the unity, lets the witch sink into the sea of causes with all her magic power, frees himself from the illusion and returns home happily, to the true father. This is probably nothing more than the age-old path to immortal bliss, as can also be found in the great religions. So whoever hasn’t died is still alive ...


... Table of contents of all fairy tale interpretations ...
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)
The Six Servants - (topic: Supernatural abilities)
The Poor Man and the Rich Man - (topic: the curse of wealth)
Gambling Hansel - (topic: Delicate game with the world and nature)
Clever Grethel - (topic: Uncontrollable passion)
The Wolf and The Seven Little Kids - (topic: desire)
The Valiant Little Tailor - (topic: a healing way)
The Wise Servant - (topic: Search for wisdom, Reformation)
Fundevogel (topic: path to liberation, spiritual values)

[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, www.mahabharata.pushpak.de
[Bible] Luther Bibel, 1912
[2019] Text and Pictures by Undine & Jens / www.pushpak.de