The spiritual Message of German Fairy tales


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

There were once a man and a woman who had long in vain wished for a child. At length the woman hoped that God was about to grant her desire. These people had a little window at the back of their house from which a splendid garden could be seen, which was full of the most beautiful flowers and herbs. It was, however, surrounded by a high wall, and no one dared to go into it because it belonged to an enchantress, who had great power and was dreaded by all the world. One day the woman was standing by this window and looking down into the garden, when she saw a bed which was planted with the most beautiful rampion (Rapunzel), and it looked so fresh and green that she longed for it, and had the greatest desire to eat some. This desire increased every day, and as she knew that she could not get any of it, she quite pined away, and looked pale and miserable. Then her husband was alarmed, and asked, “What aileth thee, dear wife?” - “Ah,” she replied, “if I can’t get some of the rampion, which is in the garden behind our house, to eat, I shall die.” The man, who loved her, thought, “Sooner than let thy wife die, bring her some of the rampion thyself, let it cost thee what it will.”

At the beginning of this fairy tale stands once again the contrast between masculine and feminine, which also stands at the beginning of the Bible, where it originated from a holistic being through separation. This polarity or opposition, which strives again for unification, becomes the engine of the development of a whole world, both on the large and small scale. How this engine works and what forces show their effect is described in our fairy tale with symbols of everyday life. From the desire of man and woman, nature becomes pregnant to give birth to the soul begotten by the spirit. The small window in the house reminds us of our senses, which look with a limited view out of the body into the external nature, into this wonderful garden, where the fruits of our desires grow.

However, this garden is in the power of an enchantress, who makes wonderful things appear by illusion. The human reach for these things with the power of desire, whereby one can regard the feminine side as the demanding force and the masculine side as the knowing and acting force. These forces play with each other like fire and water. But the game between male and female should not be referred too much to our outer gender. Everyone has both sides in them. It’s all about essential symbolism, which of course also shows itself in the outer world and in the roles that we play. We now read how the desire develops day by day and the fulfilment of our wishes becomes the only goal in life.

In the twilight of evening, he clambered down over the wall into the garden of the enchantress, hastily clutched a handful of rampion, and took it to his wife. She at once made herself a salad of it, and ate it with much relish. She, however, liked it so much, so very much, that the next day she longed for it three times as much as before. If he was to have any rest, her husband must once more descend into the garden. In the gloom of evening, therefore, he let himself down again; but when he had clambered down the wall he was terribly afraid, for he saw the enchantress standing before him. “How canst thou dare,” said she with angry look, “to descend into my garden and steal my rampion like a thief? Thou shalt suffer for it!” - “Ah,” answered he, “let mercy take the place of justice, I only made up my mind to do it out of necessity. My wife saw your rampion from the window, and felt such a longing for it that she would have died if she had not got some to eat.”

Then the enchantress allowed her anger to be softened, and said to him, “If the case be as thou sayest, I will allow thee to take away with thee as much rampion as thou wilt, only I make one condition, thou must give me the child which thy wife will bring into the world; it shall be well treated, and I will care for it like a mother.” The man in his terror consented to everything, and when the woman was brought to bed, the enchantress appeared at once, gave the child the name of Rapunzel, and took it away with her.

As in life, here too our fairy tale takes its course. Human desire cannot be fulfilled so easily. Even though we usually do not believe it, every satisfied pleasure only triples the desire. The twilight reminds us here of the dimming of pure consciousness, so that the man does not want to accept the given limits of nature and reaches for the foreign fruits. Rapunzel, rampion bellflower, is a congener of the common harebell. It has a long white spindle-shaped root which is eaten raw like a radish, and has a pleasant sweet flavour. Its leaves and young shoots are also used in salads. And of course the man will eventually be caught by the enchantress in the form of illusion and must pay a high price for it. For the growing soul is already being sold to the illusion of the world even before the girl was born. We do not come into this world as a pure and unencumbered soul, but bear the burden of our parents and ancestors. We should also think about this in our lives, and become aware of the responsibility for our children and their children’s children.

Rapunzel grew into the most beautiful child beneath the sun. When she was twelve years old, the enchantress shut her into a tower, which lay in a forest, and had neither stairs nor door, but quite at the top was a little window. When the enchantress wanted to go in, she placed herself beneath this, and cried,

“Rapunzel, Rapunzel,
Let down thy hair to me.”

Rapunzel had magnificent long hair, fine as spun gold, and when she heard the voice of the enchantress she unfastened her braided tresses, wound them round one of the hooks of the window above, and then the hair fell twenty ells down, and the enchantress climbed up by it.

Well, the soul is separated from her parents, is raised by an enchantress and does not know her true origin. As soon as the girl reaches the fertile age, when the feminine and masculine start to feel the longing for unification, she is locked up in a lonely tower in the midst of nature, to which the masculine is denied access. For the illusion knows that it loses the soul as soon as she reunites with the male spirit of knowledge. And what is this tower? It reminds us again of our material body with the little window of the senses, where we live in a top-heavy world of concepts and limited vision and would like to rise above nature in a proud tower. The Bible speaks of a similar tower, the Tower of Babel. Here too, man wanted to rise from nature to heaven in a strange way, with a tower of burned bricks and pitch as mortar. Who does not think of our fossilized concepts and sticky illusions, from which we build the defence tower of our ego? Do we really want to free ourselves from the limits of nature in this way?

The twelve years may point to the coming of puberty, but also to the dawn of the thirteenth year, which often points to something out of the ordinary, as the thirteenth moon month in the solar year plays an extraordinary role. The only access into the head of the young soul should be the enchantress herself, and of course there will be a spell to open the way. The hair plays a special role in this fairy tale, such as finely spun gold, which on the one hand indicates a certain purity of the soul, but on the other hand reminds of the illusions that we have in our heads. Perhaps it also means the intertwined thoughts that can be both, the path of illusion and the path to liberation. The length of the hair with 20 ells, so about 12 meters, is of course fairy tale and would imply an age of 100 years at a hair growth of 12cm a year. This is always the wonderful thing about a fairy tale, that one notices with growing spirit, that many things are “dragged in by the hair”, which is the German phrase for “far-fetched”. And so our soul draws the illusion in the form of the enchantress in her head.

Our hair has always played an important role in human history. For one thing, the hair expresses our inner essence. Let’s think of the wild hair of the hippie era, the extravagant hairstyles and wigs in the rococo, the aggressive cock’s combs of the punks, the ascetic hairstyles of the monks, the matted hair of the Indian yogis and perhaps our own attempts, to find a suitable identity in a certain hairstyle. But it is said that hair is just like antennas, which can send messages to the outside and also receive them. That is obvious in the animal kingdom, because there we know the whiskers of for example the cats. It is also reported about the ancient witches that they wore their hair long and open to receive the messages of the spirits. Anyway, at least our hair is connected to our feelings, and in our fairy tale it plays an important role. And as the cats wander disoriented without whiskers, likewise, when we are trapped in our tower and fail to receive the true spirit that can liberate us from this prison, we may err in our lives, drawing in more and more illusions.

We also find in the Bible the commandment that women should wear their heads covered, but bare the men (for example, 1 Corinthians 11). Well, as far as the feminine power of desire works outward and wants to pull in the illusion, it certainly makes sense to protect the head and ward off the outer influences. And as far as the male power works inward and receives the holy spirit of liberation, one should open the head and switch all the antennas to reception. For that reason, one probably takes off the hat when one approaches someone superior or even enters a temple of God.

After a year or two, it came to pass that the King’s son rode through the forest and went by the tower. Then he heard a song, which was so charming that he stood still and listened. This was Rapunzel, who in her solitude passed her time in letting her sweet voice resound. The King’s son wanted to climb up to her, and looked for the door of the tower, but none was to be found. He rode home, but the singing had so deeply touched his heart, that every day he went out into the forest and listened to it. Once when he was thus standing behind a tree, he saw that an enchantress came there, and he heard how she cried,

“Rapunzel, Rapunzel,
Let down thy hair.”

Then Rapunzel let down the braids of her hair, and the enchantress climbed up to her. “If that is the ladder by which one mounts, I will for once try my fortune.” said he, and the next day when it began to grow dark, he went to the tower and cried,

“Rapunzel, Rapunzel,
Let down thy hair.”

Immediately the hair fell down and the King’s son climbed up.

The good news is that the growing soul cannot be locked forever in the tower of illusion. The connection with the male principle is essential and cannot be prevented. Of course, here we first see the prince on the upper level of the story, who, attracted by the singing, accepts the challenge. And what girl does not wish to be conquered by a real prince? The deeper level, of course, is again the spirit that conquers nature in the form of knowledge. The true spirit, the pure consciousness, is the true king, and his son is the seeking spirit who is on the way to true knowledge, which, of course, is not separated from nature. So he first observes nature and finds an access.

At first Rapunzel was terribly frightened when a man such as her eyes had never yet beheld, came to her; but the King’s son began to talk to her quite like a friend, and told her that his heart had been so stirred that it had let him have no rest, and he had been forced to see her. Then Rapunzel lost her fear, and when he asked her if she would take him for her husband, and she saw that he was young and handsome, she thought, “He will love me more than old Dame Gothel does.” and she said yes, and laid her hand in his. She said, “I will willingly go away with thee, but I do not know how to get down. Bring with thee a skein of silk every time that thou comest, and I will weave a ladder with it, and when that is ready I will descend, and thou wilt take me on thy horse.” They agreed that until that time he should come to her every evening, for the old woman came by day.

What at first looks like an amorous adventure is also a great thing on the spiritual level, where deeper insights often find their way into our consciousness suddenly and in a strange way. They, too, seem very alien at first, and we are afraid of them. But when we listen to their message and find trust, we quickly unite with them, and they find their access to our being ever easier. This is the famous spiritual wedding, also described in the Song of Solomon, which promises the way to liberation from the reign of illusion. This “yes” is very important on the spiritual path.

The enchantress remarked nothing of this, until once Rapunzel said to her, “Tell me, Dame Gothel, how it happens that you are so much heavier for me to draw up than the young King’s son; he is with me in a moment.” - “Ah! thou wicked child.” cried the enchantress, “What do I hear thee say! I thought I had separated thee from all the world, and yet thou hast deceived me!” In her anger she clutched Rapunzel’s beautiful tresses, wrapped them twice round her left hand, seized a pair of scissors with the right, and snip, snap, they were cut off, and the lovely braids lay on the ground. And she was so pitiless that she took poor Rapunzel into a desert where she had to live in great grief and misery.

The road to liberation is naturally full of obstacles. We make mistakes and reveal ourselves. In an older version of this fairy tale the girl says at this point: “Tell me Mrs. Gothel, my clothes become so tight and do not want to fit any more.” Well, the new love shows itself, first in partiality and later even in a pregnancy, which of course also refers to the mind on the deeper level. The Bible would say, “She became pregnant with the Holy Ghost!” But the illusion does not give up so quickly and uses the weapons of nature: separation, sorrow, and blindness. There is hardly a soul which can avoid this bitter path of purification. In addition, the girl is even cut off the hair that was previously her spiritual approach. And as the cats wander about without whiskers, so too must the soul err in life if she lacks the antennas to receive the spiritual messages that can liberate her.

Sure, every child asks at some point, why did not the prince just cut off the hair and tied it to the window hook, so that both could climb down one after the other. That’s the magic of the fairy tale, because there are deeper and deeper lessons waiting behind such questions. For, evidently, it is the way of illusion to cut off something and act wily, and the way of the mind is to build a ladder of pure silk so that the soul can come down from its top-heavy prison tower.

“Gothel” supposedly means “godmother” and says at least that she cares well for the soul but is not the true mother. But it can also be just any name that the soul uses here because she does not know her true mother. This often happens when we associate something unknown with a concept and then believe that we know the essence.

On the same day, however, that she cast out Rapunzel, the enchantress in the evening fastened the braids of hair which she had cut off to the hook of the window, and when the King’s son came and cried,

“Rapunzel, Rapunzel,
Let down thy hair,”

she let the hair down. The King’s son ascended, but he did not find his dearest Rapunzel above, but the enchantress, who gazed at him with wicked and venomous looks. “Aha!” she cried mockingly, “Thou wouldst fetch thy dearest, but the beautiful bird sits no longer singing in the nest; the cat has got it, and will scratch out thy eyes as well. Rapunzel is lost to thee; thou wilt never see her more.” The King’s son was beside himself with pain, and in his despair he leapt down from the tower. He escaped with his life, but the thorns into which he fell, pierced his eyes. Then he wandered quite blind about the forest, ate nothing but roots and berries, and did nothing but lament and weep over the loss of his dearest wife.

Yes, the illusion can be that deceitful. It banishes the true soul, takes her place, overwhelms the mind and blinds him. Maybe that’s what we call the illusory ego. Then our mind is wandering through nature, full of suffering, and unable to rediscover the soul.

Thus he roamed about in misery for some years, and at length came to the desert where Rapunzel, with the twins to which she had given birth, a boy and a girl, lived in wretchedness. He heard a voice, and it seemed so familiar to him that he went towards it, and when he approached, Rapunzel knew him and fell on his neck and wept. Two of her tears wetted his eyes and they grew clear again, and he could see with them as before. He led her to his kingdom where he was joyfully received, and they lived for a long time afterwards, happy and contented.

And yet the happy ending is unstoppable. After a period of suffering, which is always also a time of purification and trial, it naturally joins what belongs together, because in truth it is inseparable. Any illusion is transient and cannot last forever. The imperfect opposing poles, though separated long and long, recognize each other, and reunite to perfection. The suffering of the soul heals spiritual blindness, and then the mind leads the soul into the kingdom of his father, the true ruler. And if they have not died (in our reason), then they still live there happily united. That may be the end of our fairy tale, but of course not the end of the world. It continues to turn, because even this union was not fruitless. A new pair of twins was born, a boy and a girl, who will hopefully learn from this fairy tale and develop accordingly.

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)
One-Eye, Two-Eyes and Three-Eyes - (topic: normality)
Rapunzel (topic: spirit-soul-illusion)
Faithful John - (topic: overcoming opposites through reason)
The Wonderful Musician - (topic: The great harmony)
The White Snake - (topic: The ring of true love and connectedness)
The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs - (topic: soul-desire-ego)
The Girl Without Hands - (topic: The path of suffering to salvation)
... 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
[2018] Text and Pictures by Undine & Jens /