The spiritual Message of German Fairy tales

Jorinda and Joringel

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

There was once an old castle in the midst of a large and thick forest, and in it an old woman who was a witch dwelt all alone. In the day-time she changed herself into a cat or a screech-owl, but in the evening she took her proper shape again as a human being. She could lure wild beasts and birds to her, and then she killed and boiled and roasted them. If any one came within one hundred paces of the castle he was obliged to stand still, and could not stir from the place until she bade him be free. But whenever an innocent maiden came within this circle, she changed her into a bird, and shut her up in a wicker-work cage, and carried the cage into a room in the castle. She had about seven thousand cages of rare birds in the castle.

In most fairy tales, old witches, or enchantresses, are considered evil, something that has almost taken on a life of its own nowadays. But only evil? Is that possible? We do not think so. Because everywhere, where there is a minus, there also must be a plus. Old witches seem evil and yet cause good, because they are symbols of the acting nature. In theory we can divide our world into two principles, the physical aspect resp. nature charged with feelings and concepts, and the pure, wholesome mind. One works and creates, the other indicates the direction. The mind can do nothing without action, feelings and thoughts. Nature goes off course without the leading mind and gets caught up in painful extremes. Both belong together and are in fact not separate. But there are symbols in every fairy tale that make us think about what works and weaves and creates in our inside and thus also outside.

We think, the witch in this tale represents passion, greed and lust at the beginning of the story. He who carries these feelings unbridled in himself and comes too close to temptation as represented by the witch, is captured by her. For too much of something can paralyze and even overwhelm us, thus causing us to surrender completely to the witch.

Now, there was once a maiden who was called Jorinda, who was fairer than all other girls. She and a handsome youth named Joringel had promised to marry each other. They were still in the days of betrothal, and their greatest happiness was being together.

The meaning of the names Jorinda and Joringel can only be speculated upon. The common ‘jo’ suggests that they may be destined for each other. The German names are Jorinde and Joringel. “Rinde” means bark and “Ringel” means ringlet. We can think of a tree with the outer bark and the inner annual rings, which also would mean the two belong together.

One day in order that they might be able to talk together in quiet they went for a walk in the forest. “Take care,” said Joringel, “that you do not go too near the castle.” It was a beautiful evening; the sun shone brightly between the trunks of the trees into the dark green of the forest, and the turtle-doves sang mournfully upon the young boughs of the birch-trees. Jorinda wept now and then: she sat down in the sunshine and was sorrowful. Joringel was sorrowful too; they were as sad as if they were about to die. Then they looked around them, and were quite at a loss, for they did not know by which way they should go home.

So here we are: a young couple in love, who wants to be alone in the forest. The lovebirds are cooing and the passion burns. Despite good intention and all restraint - avoiding the witch, that is lust - the passionate feelings are stronger and confuse their minds. Therefore, both suffer and complain. The temptation is great, and the witch lures them into her spell.

The sun was still half above the mountain and half set. Joringel looked through the bushes, and saw the old walls of the castle close at hand. He was horror-stricken and filled with deadly fear. Jorinda was singing --

“My little bird, with the necklace red,
Sings sorrow, sorrow, sorrow,
He sings that the dove must soon be dead,
Sings sorrow, sor ---- jug, jug, jug.”

The light of day fades and the dark forces take over. Although the two see the disaster coming, they are already caught before the witch actually appears in person.

Joringel looked for Jorinda. She was changed into a nightingale, and sang “jug, jug, jug.” A screech-owl with glowing eyes flew three times round about her, and three times cried “to-whoo, to-whoo, to-whoo!” Joringel could not move: he stood there like a stone, and could neither weep nor speak, nor move hand or foot. The sun had now set. The owl flew into the thicket, and directly afterwards there came out of it a crooked old woman, yellow and lean, with large red eyes and a hooked nose, the point of which reached to her chin. She muttered to herself, caught the nightingale, and took it away in her hand.

Joringel could neither speak nor move from the spot; the nightingale was gone. At last the woman came back, and said in a hollow voice, “Greet thee, Zachiel. If the moon shines on the cage, Zachiel, let him loose at once.” Then Joringel was freed. He fell on his knees before the woman and begged that she would give him back his Jorinda, but she said that he should never have her again, and went away. He called, he wept, he lamented, but all in vain “Ah, what is to become of me?”

The witch catches the bird and carries it away - Jorinda is now completely under the power of nature. Separated from all reason, she now functions only by feeling and instinct, thus falling into the realm of animals. The witch releases Joringel with the help of the Archangel Zachiel, who personifies coping with problems, divine justice, mercy, remembrance and forgiveness. His name means “commemorate the gods”. So, is this witch completely demonic and evil? Is there nothing divine in her? Rather not. She deliberately sends Joringel on a journey that will change him.

Joringel went away, and at last came to a strange village; there he kept sheep for a long time. He often walked round and round the castle, but not too near to it. At last he dreamt one night that he found a blood-red flower, in the middle of which was a beautiful large pearl; that he picked the flower and went with it to the castle, and that everything he touched with the flower was freed from enchantment; he also dreamt that by means of it he recovered his Jorinda.

The first two sentences are so brief, but so rich when they are related to a person’s mental development. Going to a strange village means retreating from the busy world that surrounded you, and becoming a hermit. Who guards the sheep, guards and controls his animal instincts, his thoughts and feelings - hard enough! The castle may also be a symbol of the hardened ego, which delimits itself with high walls and stands rigidly alone. And keeping an eye on the castle, but not getting too close to it, means: Of course, you will not get rid of your passions and your ego as long as you have a body. But observing them, respecting them, restraining them and keeping them at a distance so that they do not overwhelm you is the work of a master.

The Indian sage Dadaji writes: “There is a big misunderstanding in the world about lust. The Scriptures say that lust is a poison that prevents (spiritual) liberation. And many people agree. But I say ... lust is not the poison, but the lack of respect for lust, that is the poison. Be careful with the lust! [Aptavani 1]”

If you have attained a certain, spiritual purity and clarity, then dreams and visions can help you.

In the morning, when he awoke, he began to seek over hill and dale if he could find such a flower. He sought until the ninth day, and then, early in the morning, he found the blood-red flower. In the middle of it there was a large dew-drop, as big as the finest pearl. Day and night he journeyed with this flower to the castle. When he was within a hundred paces of it he was not held fast, but walked on to the door.

What was the goal of asceticism of the young man? The red flower certainly stands for love. But no longer the selfish, egotistical love that just wants to possess and enjoy. The dewdrop stands for clear, pure and holy water, a new consciousness. It is the pure and holy love that can truly give because it is not a slave of the passions.

Joringel was full of joy; he touched the door with the flower, and it sprang open. He walked in through the courtyard, and listened for the sound of the birds. At last he heard it. He went on and found the room from whence it came, and there the witch was feeding the birds in the seven thousand cages. When she saw Joringel she was angry, very angry, and scolded and spat poison and gall at him, but she could not come within two paces of him. He did not take any notice of her, but went and looked at the cages with the birds; but there were many hundred nightingales, how was he to find his Jorinda again? Just then he saw the old woman quietly take away a cage with a bird in it, and go towards the door. Swiftly he sprang towards her, touched the cage with the flower, and also the old woman. She could now no longer bewitch any one; and Jorinda was standing there, clasping him round the neck, and she was as beautiful as ever! Then he changed all the other birds back into virgins and together with Jorinda he went home and they lived a long and happy life together.

Yes, it is the selfless love which Jorinda brings out of the prison of her narrow, animal mind. The witch is unable to harm such a pure love, even though she tests the youth again by her rage. Moreover, when the witch is touched with the flower of selfless love, the temptation has lost all power and can no longer bind. And yet it was important that the witch once had power over the young people. For would Joringel have freely evolved without the painful loss? It is the task of nature to wake us up and to make us realize, how captivated we are, if we are a slave to our unrestrained passions, even if it is painful and an apparent loss. But only then we can seek the spiritual path to the selfless love that can conquer every witch and every demon.

Jorinda and Joringel (topic: power of true love)
Iron John - (topic: making nature an enemy)
The Old Woman in the Wood - (topic: change in nature)
Hansel and Grethel - (topic: defeating ego and desire)
Rumpelstiltskin - (topic: essence of nature and its spirit)
Mother Holle - (topic: essence of nature)
The Youth who went forth to learn what Fear was - (topic: essence of fear)
Little Red-Cap - (topic: essence of desire)
Hans in Luck - (topic: way to true happiness)
Godfather Death - (topic: essence of death and reality)
... 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
[Aptavani 1] Ambalal Muljibhai Patel, 1983/2004,
[2018] Text and Pictures by Undine & Jens /