The spiritual Message of German Fairy tales

The Robber Bridegroom

Tale of the Brothers Grimm translated by M. Hunt [1884]
Interpretation by Undine & Jens in green [2020]

THERE was once on a time a miller, who had a beautiful daughter, and as she was grown up, he wished that she was provided for, and well married. He thought, “If any good suitor comes and asks for her, I will give her to him.” Not long afterwards, a suitor came, who appeared to be very rich, and as the miller had no fault to find with him, he promised his daughter to him. The maiden, however, did not like him quite so much as a girl should like the man to whom she is engaged, and had no confidence in him. Whenever she saw, or thought of him, she felt a secret horror. Once he said to her, “Thou art my betrothed, and yet thou hast never once paid me a visit.” The maiden replied, “I know not where thy house is.” Then said the bridegroom, “My house is out there in the dark forest.” She tried to excuse herself, and said she could not find the way there. The bridegroom said, “Next Sunday thou must come out there to me; I have already invited the guests, and I will strew ashes in order that thou mayst find thy way through the forest.” When Sunday came, and the maiden had to set out on her way, she became very uneasy, she herself knew not exactly why, and to mark her way she filled both her pockets full of peas and lentils. Ashes were strewn at the entrance of the forest, and these she followed, but at every step she threw a couple of peas on the ground. She walked almost the whole day until she reached the middle of the forest, where it was the darkest, and there stood a solitary house, which she did not like, for it looked so dark and dismal. She went inside it, but no one was within, and the most absolute stillness reigned. Suddenly a voice cried,

“Turn back, turn back, young maiden dear,
‘Tis a murderer’s house you enter here.”

The maiden looked up, and saw that the voice came from a bird, which was hanging in a cage on the wall. Again it cried,

“Turn back, turn back, young maiden dear,
‘Tis a murderer’s house you enter here.”

Then the young maiden went on farther from one room to another, and walked through the whole house, but it was entirely empty and not one human being was to be found. At last she came to the cellar, and there sat an extremely aged woman, whose head shook constantly. “Can you not tell me,” said the maiden, “if my betrothed lives here?”

“Alas, poor child,” replied the old woman, “whither hast thou come? Thou art in a murderer’s den. Thou thinkest thou art a bride soon to be married, but thou wilt keep thy wedding with death. Look, I have been forced to put a great kettle on there, with water in it, and when they have thee in their power, they will cut thee to pieces without mercy, will cook thee, and eat thee, for they are eaters of human flesh. If I do not have compassion on thee, and save thee, thou art lost.

Thereupon the old woman led her behind a great hogshead where she could not be seen. “Be as still as a mouse,” said she, “do not make a sound, or move, or all will be over with thee. At night, when the robbers are asleep, we will escape; I have long waited for an opportunity.” Hardly was this done, than the godless crew came home. They dragged with them another young girl. They were drunk, and paid no heed to her screams and lamentations. They gave her wine to drink, three glasses full, one glass of white wine, one glass of red, and a glass of yellow, and with this her heart burst in twain. Thereupon they tore off her delicate raiment, laid her on a table, cut her beautiful body in pieces and strewed salt thereon. The poor bride behind the cask trembled and shook, for she saw right well what fate the robbers had destined for her. One of them noticed a gold ring on the little finger of the murdered girl, and as it would not come off at once, he took an axe and cut the finger off, but it sprang up in the air, away over the cask and fell straight into the bride’s bosom. The robber took a candle and wanted to look for it, but could not find it. Then another of them said, “Hast thou looked behind the great hogshead?” But the old woman cried, “Come and get something to eat, and leave off looking till the morning, the finger won’t run away from you.”

Then the robbers said, “The old woman is right,” and gave up their search, and sat down to eat, and the old woman poured a sleeping- draught in their wine, so that they soon lay down in the cellar, and slept and snored. When the bride heard that, she came out from behind the hogshead, and had to step over the sleepers, for they lay in rows on the ground, and great was her terror lest she should waken one of them. But God helped her, and she got safely over. The old woman went up with her, opened the doors, and they hurried out of the murderers’ den with all the speed in their power. The wind had blown away the strewn ashes, but the peas and lentils had sprouted and grown up, and showed them the way in the moonlight. They walked the whole night, until in the morning they arrived at the mill, and then the maiden told her father everything exactly as it had happened.

When the day came when the wedding was to be celebrated, the bridegroom appeared, and the Miller had invited all his relations and friends. As they sat at table, each was bidden to relate some- thing. The bride sat still, and said nothing. Then said the bride- groom to the bride, “Come, my darling, dost thou know nothing? Relate something to us like the rest.” She replied, “Then I will relate a dream. I was walking alone through a wood, and at last I came to a house, in which no living soul was, but on the wall there was a bird in a cage which cried,

“Turn back, turn back, young maiden dear,

‘Tis a murderer’s house you enter here.”

And this it cried once more. ‘My darling, I only dreamt this. Then I went through all the rooms, and they were all empty, and there was something so horrible about them! At last I went down into the cellar, and there sat a very very old woman, whose head shook; I asked her, ‘Does my bridegroom live in this house?’ She answered, ‘Alas, poor child, thou hast got into a murderer’s den, thy bridegroom does live here, but he will hew thee in pieces, and kill thee, and then he will cook thee, and eat thee.’ My darling, I only dreamt this. But the old woman hid me behind a great hogshead, and, scarcely was I hidden, when the robbers came home, dragging a maiden with them, to whom they gave three kinds of wine to drink, white, red, and yellow, with which her heart broke in twain. My darling, I only dreamt this. Thereupon they pulled off her pretty clothes, and hewed her fair body in pieces on a table, and sprinkled them with salt. My darling, I only dreamt this. And one of the robbers saw that there was still a ring on her little finger, and as it was hard to draw off, he took an axe and cut it off, but the finger sprang up in the air, and sprang behind the great hogshead, and fell in my bosom. And there is the finger with the ring!” And with these words she drew it forth, and showed it to those present.

The robber, who had during this story become as pale as ashes, leapt up and wanted to escape, but the guests held him fast, and delivered him over to justice. Then he and his whole troop were executed for their infamous deeds.

Well, the first impression is of course shocking, and one wonders: is this really a children’s fairy tale? Yes, it corresponds in principle to an old children’s fairy tale. Because there are the typical contradictions on the level of action, which should ensure that the person with growing reason questions the external action more and more and can penetrate to the deeper levels of symbolism. The most “clear” contradictions are: the path that was towards marked out with ash and backwards with peas and lentils that germinated overnight and pointed the way in the moonlight in a forest where everything is sprouting and greening. Or also in the groom who wants to kill his bride before he gets to marry her. Only children can actually accept such obvious contradictions in a story without dismissing the story as nonsensical.

It’s a shock story, meant to warn us about something. But, what of? For a child it could be a warning not to get lost in the deep forest where the evil robbers live. It may be a warning for girls to listen to their hearts when it comes to choosing their bridegroom. And parents should be warned not to be fooled by appearances when choosing a groom. But that is certainly not the whole message. That would have been shooting at sparrows with cannons. A far greater impact would be to prevent that animal violence from occurring in the first place, of which we are accustomed to say: what sane man would do such horrible things? And yet, somehow this animal cruel drive lives in all of us and wants to be controlled or even defeated.

Of course, one can argue about the value of such shock stories for raising children. One should be aware, however, that children used to consume far fewer such stories, and mainly in an oral way. Accordingly, it was certainly much easier to remember the associated story when fears arose, in order to gradually process the explosive material and thus even fathom the deeper messages of such fairy tales. One could even speak of “sustainable learning” here. At least this means seemed to have proven itself in the education of children over several thousand years. Even today, shock stories are used extensively in the media, not only to educate children, but above all to educate adults. But with what goals? Is it still about the development of a higher reason? Or should this very reason be suppressed by force in order to establish the dictatorship of fear over a people of consumer slaves, for whom even health becomes a consumer good?

In addition, one can also find a psychotherapeutic level in this fairy tale, which shows us how to deal with shocking experiences. There are many occasions when one is severely hurt emotionally, especially by violence, even if one only observes it. The fairy tale says that here one first finds help from the ancient Mother Nature, which lives deep within us. You should have confidence in her, that she means well with us and leads us on the right path. And when you’re ready, you can talk about these experiences as if it were a dream that you experienced. With the sentence “My darling, I only dreamt it.”, the shock experience is gradually dissolved like a mantra. The fact that she calls the robber bridegroom “darling” is perhaps the most important aspect, namely forgiveness. With practice, you can turn any negative energy into a positive one, or at least overcome the hate associated with such shocking experiences. In the end, the robber punishes himself and has to endure the effects of his actions. That used to be divine justice that could be trusted. The finger with the golden ring could also stand for this, namely that we are all connected to a higher truth.

For nothing is hidden that will not be revealed, nor anything secret that will not be known and come to light. [Bible, Luke 8:17]

But all the diverse symbols of this fairy tale point to a much deeper message. Everything begins with a miller, so to speak the operator of the mill of this world, which grinds everything rough into fine things with the wheel of time as a millstone. We also know this mill as the hamster wheel in which we struggle, or the thought mill that is constantly circling in our heads. Of course, circling is also closely linked to the waves of emergence and development, such as between birth and death, blossoming and fading, emergence and decay, happiness and suffering, inhaling and exhaling, waking and sleeping, being and non-being in the eternal rhythm and change of nature. And who runs this mill of the world? Is it Spirit, God or the Great Father? His daughter would then be our soul as a part of female nature, which is very closely connected with our emotional life. But the further a child matures and develops physically, the more the soul connects with the spiritual dimension of life, which is the male being in the form of mind, intellect and thoughts up to higher reason. This spiritual is the “suitor” who woos the soul, even in the literal sense, because the spirit wants to “free” the soul from the constraints of nature. This symbolism is found in a great many fairy tales, and they usually end in the happy ending of the great mystical marriage of spirit and soul, as found in the Bible’s Song of Songs. But the way there is of course full of challenges for both of them. And so this fairy tale is primarily about a “tormented” soul and an apparently “mad” spirit, both of whom are wandering through the world, searching for each other, losing and hopefully finding themselves again free of madness.

Now, regarding the robbers, we don’t want to talk so much about the individual psychopaths who enjoy torturing themselves and others. We would like to focus our attention on human development in western society over the past four to six centuries. At that time we too started a path that promised us a lot of wealth to fulfil all imaginable wishes of our souls. Of course there were also doubts, but hope was high and fate apparently decided it that way. So it went from religion to alchemy to modern medicine and science. This fundamentally changed our worldview. The spiritual, which used to be the basis, became a material side effect, and the material nature formerly created by the spiritual was now considered the basis of everything. And just as human rule was formerly based on spirit, so it is now based on nature.

…Once he said to her, “Thou art my betrothed, and yet thou hast never once paid me a visit.” The maiden replied, “I know not where thy house is.” Then said the bridegroom, “My house is out there in the dark forest.” She tried to excuse herself, and said she could not find the way there. The bridegroom said, “Next Sunday thou must come out there to me; I have already invited the guests, and I will strew ashes in order that thou mayst find thy way through the forest.”

And the fairy tale is right: back then, nature was still really green and the forests were wide and deep. And in the midst of this verdant nature, a strange gang of robbers settled in the dark, leading the soul down a dark path. With anxious heart she had to follow a grey trail of ash through the green forest. What could that mean? Grey formula theory, dead matter, and grey soldiers’ uniforms, grey armies of workers in smoky factories or devastating wars up to Hiroshima? Modern science began to reduce living nature to dead matter. And you don’t need to have any respect or conscience for dead matter, you can exploit it mercilessly. This gave rise to the idea of dead machines. The horse became a car, the ox became a tractor, the bird became an airplane, man became a robot, medicinal plants became chemical pills, imagination became television, our brain became a computer, and the smartphone became our best friend. On this path, which was marked by dead ashes, so to speak, our soul now walks with great fear, but does not trust dead matter. She fills her pockets with seeds that still have life in them, marking the path that might lead her back to the father.

Well, she came to a dark house that was empty and lifeless. Only one imprisoned bird called desperately from a cage: “Turn back! You are in a murderer’s house!” Could the “murderer’s house” mean our modern world view, which makes nature dead and inanimate matter? People live in such a mental structure today, and the comparison with robbers is also obvious, because we behave accordingly. But even after the second warning, the soul does not turn back. She goes on because she must go on to have a horrifying and shocking experience. For this she is helped by an old woman in the basement of the house, probably the ancient Mother Nature who serves us all. She prepares the food for the robbers just as she provides food for all other living beings. She always means well with all beings and never tires of warning and teaching us to save us from ourselves. And so she also ensures that we have to have corresponding experiences in life that are not always happy.

…Thereupon the old woman led her behind a great hogshead where she could not be seen. “Be as still as a mouse,” said she, “do not make a sound, or move, or all will be over with thee. At night, when the robbers are asleep, we will escape; I have long waited for an opportunity.”

What does she recommend to the soul? Sit down, don’t move and watch carefully! Then you can come back to the father together with the mother. A yogi would probably recommend something similar, only nowadays it’s called meditation. So first you should look inside. It’s not for nothing that this scene takes place in the basement of the house, where the big barrel with our accumulated karma stands and the actual robbers live. Here, deep inside, we can see what has happened over many generations in the outer world. That can be really shocking. Here one suddenly sees the robbers, intoxicated with the wine of the world, seizing the soul by force. Thus began our “modern age” with a totalitarian religion that declared itself to be the followers of Jesus Christ and wanted to mercilessly destroy all other views. No other religion has raged on earth like this and tried to wipe out entire cultures and nations. Certainly one should not lump all Christians together here, but it was above all the clergy of the church who reached for total world domination over all souls and left a trail of fire, murder and annihilation in their wake, and there was no help screaming and wailing.

…Hardly was this done, than the godless crew came home. They dragged with them another young girl. They were drunk, and paid no heed to her screams and lamentations. They gave her wine to drink, three glasses full, one glass of white wine, one glass of red, and a glass of yellow, and with this her heart burst in twain. Thereupon they tore off her delicate raiment, laid her on a table, cut her beautiful body in pieces and strewed salt thereon.

From this medieval alchemy and occult science emerged, which wanted to use the power of thought to violently conquer nature and even the devil, and above all for worldly wealth. Let’s just think of the “Dreifacher Höllenzwang” of the notorious Dr Faust (Doktor Johannes Faust’s Magia naturalist et innaturalist). They gave the soul three kinds of wine and broke her heart. The colours of the wine in the glasses could be reminiscent of alchemy, when people tried to compose the soul, which was previously a whole, from individual elements. But three kinds of wine also remind us of the spiritual deceit of the church: They preached water and drank wine. They carried the banner of love and waged terrible wars. They promised liberation and supressed with dogmas. This caused the soul’s death and the spiritual downfall of the church. A little later a totalitarian science developed out of a totalitarian religion. The living beauty was taken from the soul and her body chopped up. This is also reminiscent of the time when corpses were dissected, which was first carried out in secret because there were still many people who did not have a good feeling about it. Modern medicine developed from this and mercilessly destroyed on its way all those who thought differently, such as holistic natural and herbal medicine. Today we lament how much valuable knowledge was lost back then.

Thus the strange claim of the Christian religion to the “only true way of salvation” continued as a monopoly in modern medicine and science, only under a different sign. Accordingly, everything spiritual was rigorously removed from natural science and demonized as superstition and esotericism. A mindless physical science arose, which is primarily interested in dead bodies. A strange treat for the senses!

Isn’t nature beautiful?

They created a world view that consisted almost entirely of dead matter particles and forces. The whole thing was forced into a system of grey mathematics, raised to a pedestal of truth, and made the basis of a new social order called capitalism. The most valuable thing that the soul lost was her trusting belief in a higher intelligence or divine reason. The chopped off little finger with the golden ring could stand for this as a symbol of connectedness, which the soul must of course somehow preserve. Because if she loses this connection to the whole, then she loses herself and turns into an ego being that only exists in the head or brain and no longer knows its true soul. Thus began the age of the super-egos who kill their souls with insatiable materialism.

This may sound relatively dark at first. Of course there were good things in this human evolution, but we don’t usually accumulate them inside. We think a lot about the pleasant and happy, enjoy it and digest it. We like to repress the unpleasant and terrible into the depths of our cellar, don’t talk about it and don’t want to see it either. From this arises the legacy of many generations, which we all more or less carry within us: all this delusion of totalitarian religion, science and medicine, of total war and finally of total commerce. Somehow we have to get along with this legacy of a merciless “mono-culture”.

What does the fairy tale mean about it? It says: Turn back, dear soul! Get out of this gang of robbers in the murderer house! Turn this dead picture of the world back into a living one! Use the time when the robbers are asleep. Use the time of peace, be careful and don’t wake them up. Let God help you and go back together with Mother Nature. Don’t go the way of the grey ash! Let the dead ashes be blown away by the wind of a living spirit, and walk the path of sprouting life in the fertile light of the moon. A way in which lentils and peas grow in symbiosis, so no monoculture (because peas can serve as a climbing support for lentils). Follow your feelings and don’t trust the intellectual madness of grey theories. Go through the night to a new day and return to the Father. Tell him your troubles and he will help you.

And how does the father help on the wedding day? He gathers all acquaintances and relatives. And for the Great Father, this is all of creation, which now serves as a witness to the madness of ravening mankind. Every being has its story to tell, including our soul. And that’s important. What can be good about to sweep the problems under the rug and pretend they aren’t there? They must come to light in order for them to be solved. Cars, planes, chemicals and plastic waste themselves are not the real causes of nature’s great suffering. Let’s look at our world with open eyes! There is hardly an area of life that is not commercialized. Kindergartens, schools, universities, hospitals, retirement and nursing homes, politics, medicine, culture, art and even eroticism are dominated by commerce and ruled by money. From birth to death, almost everything is in the hands of robbers. And where are these thieves? They sit in our own heads in the form of insatiable desire, hatred and passion. A growing selfishness and delusional spirit rules that has more or less gripped our souls. And where are the murderers? It may sound harsh, but in the spirit of our modern science we should look for the real killers who took nature’s life and soul and dismembered it into dead matter. A murderer’s house was built, so to speak, namely our modern world view, which serves insatiable desire and became the pillar of an insatiable society.

The soul now publicly accuses these murderers and robbers before the Last Judgment, which the Father has assembled. She laments the madness of the totalitarian religions that wage their fanatical religious wars. She laments the madness of totalitarian medicine in the service of a gigantic pharmaceutical industry that sells tons of medicines every day that ruthlessly burden all of nature. She laments the delusion of totalitarian science, which negates everything spiritual and reduces living nature to dead matter that can be ruthlessly exploited. She laments the madness of total wars with the most powerful weapons for an ideal master race or with the most toxic chemicals against all efforts of nature to avoid an agricultural monoculture. She laments the madness of materialism, wanting to live artificially in a dead nature, such as in a zoo behind bars, in the intensive care unit of a hospital under constant surveillance and control, or in a sterile nursing home cared for by robots. We kill the soul of living nature and are terrified of death. This is really a strange dream of mankind! The soul says, “My darling, it was just my dream.”, and probably means: “My darling, that’s madness!”

But why does she say “darling”? The spirit is and remains her greatest treasure. Soul and spirit are always connected and have never been separated. In this context one could understand the described wedding supper, which interestingly takes place before the wedding, or the transformation of the little finger into the gold or ring finger. And so she raises this warning finger with the gold ring, so that this rapacious and murderous spirit awakens. He cannot escape his judgment, but he can regret his delusion and awaken to a higher reason, the true treasure of man. A happy ending? It could still happen, as they say: problem identified - danger averted...

Perhaps it is good for all of us to think about this higher reason that should awaken here. Then maybe we could understand that a healthy life requires, above all, a lively soul and natural diversity. Where does this strange delusion of sterile monoculture come from, the ash road to a dead material world? This fairy tale says the problem is not so much in our soul as in the development of the spirit. And here it is all about the ravening ego that evolves out of the ego-consciousness. In his insatiable madness, this robber can really turn all good into evil and all happiness into suffering. What is this “I”? Jesus said: “I am the way, the truth and the life!” Did he really mean the greedy ego locked in the body, this “I want!”, which sees himself as the only true way, absolute truth and epitome of life? Or does he mean an “I am.”, a much higher intelligence and holistic reason that no longer sees himself as a small separate being who has to fight by all means for his personal survival in a mortal body? Should that perhaps be our “human reason” that needs to be realized: the way, the truth and life? Could we thereby overcome this robber creature, save the life of nature and soul, and leave the murderer’s house? Of what use is it to man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?

Thumbling - (topic: What is the soul? Is our worldview correct?)
The Crystal Ball / Castle of the Golden Sun - (topic: Egoism, defeating the inner beast)
The emperor's new clothes - (topic: MONEY-MAKES-BLIND - Memorial 2020)
Rat King Birlibi - (topic: Money, Enmity, Addiction, Poverty)
The Ditmarsh Tale of Wonders - (topic: Lies, Thoughts and Reason)
The Robber Bridegroom (topic: dead soul, spiritual murder)
The Poor Boy in the Grave - (topic: Education, Ego, Fear and Reason)
Simeli Mountain - (topic: material and spiritual world)
Strong Hans - (topic: Ego, robbers and ultimate gain)
The Old Man and his Grandson - (topic: social division, disgusting impermanence)
Allerleirauh - (All-kinds-of-Fur) (topic: sick mind, dying nature and healing)
... 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
[Bibel] Luther Bibel, 1912
[2020] Text and Pictures by Undine & Jens /