The spiritual Message of German Fairy tales

The Seven Ravens

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

There was once a man who had seven sons, and still he had no daughter, however much he wished for one. At length his wife again gave him hope of a child, and when it came into the world it was a girl. The joy was great, but the child was sickly and small, and had to be privately baptized on account of its weakness. The father sent one of the boys in haste to the spring to fetch water for the baptism. The other six went with him, and as each of them wanted to be first to fill it, the jug fell into the well. There they stood and did not know what to do, and none of them dared to go home. As they still did not return, the father grew impatient, and said, “They have certainly forgotten it for some game, the wicked boys!” He became afraid that the girl would have to die without being baptized, and in his anger cried, “I wish the boys were all turned into ravens.” Hardly was the word spoken before he heard a whirring of wings over his head in the air, looked up and saw seven coal-black ravens flying away.

We would like to continue our journey with this fairy tale because it probably deals with the same subject as “The Twelve Brothers” from a slightly different perspective. Here there is no king and queen at the beginning but just man and woman like Adam and Eve in the Bible. And up to the transformation of the sons into ravens, this story even sounds very realistic. But now let’s look deeper and consider the symbolism:

The seven sons could again symbolize the five senses with thought and reason and the daughter the self-consciousness, with which we shift the whole story into our inner being. It should be noted that not the woman as a symbol for nature wants the daughter, but the man as a symbol for the spirit. And his wish is so great that the woman really gives birth to a girl after the seven sons. But because she seems small and powerless, the fear arises in the man immediately that he might lose his little self again and now demands a quick baptism to sanctify the little self. This is a memorable symbol because it really happens often that people use church baptism primarily to affirm and sanctify their ego. The senses with thought and reason should serve him and fetch the baptismal water from the eternal spring. But in a hurry they lose the means with which they want to scoop the holy water and now they don’t know what to do next. Perhaps this remedy was completely useless for such a baptism. Because actually the senses should not sanctify the ego-consciousness, but the ego-consciousness should sanctify the senses. Well, finally the father gets angry and curses his sons because they are preventing the blessing he has envisioned for the little ego.

The parents could not recall the curse, and however sad they were at the loss of their seven sons, they still to some extent comforted themselves with their dear little daughter, who soon grew strong and every day became more beautiful. For a long time she did not know that she had had brothers, for her parents were careful not to mention them before her, but one day she accidentally heard some people saying of herself, “that the girl was certainly beautiful, but that in reality she was to blame for the misfortune which had befallen her seven brothers.” Then she was much troubled, and went to her father and mother and asked if it was true that she had had brothers, and what had become of them? The parents now dared to keep the secret no longer, but said that what had befallen her brothers was the will of Heaven, and that her birth had only been the innocent cause. But the maiden laid it to heart daily, and thought she must deliver her brothers. She had no rest or peace until she set out secretly, and went forth into the wide world to trace out her brothers and set them free, let it cost what it might. She took nothing with her but a little ring belonging to her parents as a keepsake, a loaf of bread against hunger, a little pitcher of water against thirst, and a little chair as a provision against weariness.

The self-consciousness that gives us every identity as a human being is really a being that on the one hand appears very weak and vulnerable like the little girl, so that we are often afraid of losing it along with our lives. On the other hand, it is extremely powerful, has created this whole world, can wage mighty wars and cause great suffering. But it can also save us when it is purified from illusion, desire and anger. Basically, our whole life revolves around this self-awareness. Moreover, the pure self-consciousness could even be God himself, as Jesus also says in the Bible: “I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me. If you knew me, you also knew my father. [Bible, John 4.6]” So the daughter (or ego consciousness) leaves her father and mother and goes into the world to redeem her brothers (i.e. the senses with thought and reason). Here, too, we hear the biblical vision that Christ came into this world and took on all the suffering in order to redeem us.

In Hindu philosophy, too, this self-awareness plays a fundamental role in the creation myth (for example, in [Markandeya Purana chap. 45]). Of course, this high rating comes first of all from the practical experience that every person can have in life. Certainly, no scientist would claim that he works without self-awareness. Formerly, modern science only spoke of energy as the basis of the universe. Today one hears more and more of the concept of information, which is just as difficult to grasp as mind or consciousness, and basically means the same. It is said, that the famous German physicist Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976), who researched in quantum mechanics, has said: “The first drink from the cup of science makes atheistic, but at the bottom of the cup God is waiting.” We can find this cup again at the end of our fairy tales.

We ourselves have studied physics and computer science and are often very surprised how difficult it is for today’s scientists to use the concept of spirit. It is actually obvious that thoughts can move our arms and legs and be creative. And that this spiritual power does not play a minor role in our life should also be obvious. The same goes for the spiritual values such as virtue, wisdom, compassion and truthfulness. Stephen Hawking (1942-2018) was one of the most influential physicists of our time, who vehemently described himself as an ‘atheist’. But he also said: “Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.” We ask ourselves, of course: Who does he mean by the little word ‘itself’? This self can be the great key that is closely related to “I am”. Surely it is normal and good to seek the truth in the outer world first. But then you should also look inside and above all in yourself, like our little girl here in the fairy tale, who starts the great search for this spiritual being with her body and the memory of her origin.

And now she went continually onwards, far, far, to the very end of the world. Then she came to the sun, but it was too hot and terrible, and devoured little children. Hastily she ran away, and ran to the moon, but it was far too cold, and also awful and malicious, and when it saw the child, it said, “I smell, I smell the flesh of men.” On this she ran swiftly away, and came to the stars, which were kind and good to her, and each of them sat on its own particular little chair. But the morning star arose, and gave her the drumstick of a chicken, and said, “If thou hast not that drumstick thou canst not open the Glass mountain, and in the Glass mountain are thy brothers.”

There have really been people who flew to the moon, where it is terribly cold, gruesome and evil. And if the sun weren’t so unbearably hot, we would have left our footprints there too. The morning star is usually a planet, mostly Venus, which is the brightest point on the horizon before sunrise. Nowadays we think of dead celestial bodies that are out there flying across space. At that time they were still alive and able to speak to us. And on a spiritual level it can even be found inside us. Anyone who has already dealt with yoga may know that there is talk of one half of the sun and one half of the moon in our body. The moon is our left and feminine side, the sun our right and masculine side. If one of these sides dominates and becomes our personality, then we speak of man and woman, and that usually means the end of innocent childhood, which could perhaps be meant here by eating little children. In yoga we find the so-called chakras or energy centers in the middle of our body, which are usually represented as stars or mandalas. There are also seven in number and can be assigned to the five elements and sensory experiences plus thinking and reason. It begins at the lower end of the spine with the element earth and the associated smell, then water with the taste in the genital area, fire with the visibility in the navel area, wind with the feelings in the chest, space with the sounds in the throat, thinking with thoughts on the forehead and reason with pure consciousness on the cortex. You can say that each chakra sits on its own special chair.

We do not want to claim here that Indian yogis told our fairy tales and kept them for a long time. But yoga is primarily about practical experience and less about theoretical philosophies, systems and concepts. Every person can have these experiences in his own way, no matter where he lives in the world, if he looks carefully into his body. Then one finds, for example, the earth at the end of the intestine, the water in the bladder, the fire in the upper intestine and stomach, the wind in the lungs, the space in the throat, the thoughts and reason in the head and the sun and moon as the two halves of the brain. And if you look even more carefully, you will find centers of feelings, energy channels, relationships, blockages and much more. You don’t necessarily need yoga training for this. On the contrary, too many terms and expectations can even have a destructive effect here. Yoga is a practical way. So why shouldn’t our ancestors in Europe have had similar experiences? Let us think, for example, of the famous picture by Johann Georg Gichtel (1638-1710) from the heyday of medieval alchemy, when many people tried to find the way to truth, to the so-called “Philosopher’s Stone” (in German: stone of wisdom) through the transformation and synthesis of inner and outer experiences. For example, the inner chakras were connected with the seven outer wandering stars (Saturn, Venus, Jupiter, Mercury, Mars, moon and sun). They were called “furnaces of the soul”: [anthrowiki.at/Johann_Georg_Gichtel]:

The morning star could also mean the third eye of ‘insight’ on the forehead, which can give us together with the human mind a key to the mountain of glass. For this, the symbol of a chicken leg is used, which is supposed to remind of a sacrificial animal. Because without sacrifice you cannot get to the glass mountain where the brothers are imprisoned. This mountain of glass can also be found in other fairy tales. Here it could be a symbol for our inner being. Because it often happens that we see the problems in us, such as bad habits, fears, anger, lies, etc., but cannot find any access to our inner being and run into invisible walls at every attempt. Glass also reminds of the essence of the illusion or of our spiritual crystallization within. And when it comes to redeeming the senses with thinking and reason, then we certainly have to turn inside and find an access. In yoga this means the cleaning of the chakras, which one can try with concentration of mind and breathing exercises.

The maiden took the drumstick, wrapped it carefully in a cloth, and went onwards again until she came to the Glass mountain. The door was shut, and she thought she would take out the drumstick; but when she undid the cloth, it was empty, and she had lost the good star’s present. What was she now to do? She wished to rescue her brothers, and had no key to the Glass mountain. The good sister took a knife, cut off one of her little fingers, put it in the door, and succeeded in opening it. When she had gone inside, a little dwarf came to meet her, who said, “My child, what are you looking for?” “I am looking for my brothers, the seven ravens,” she replied. The dwarf said, “The lord ravens are not at home, but if you will wait here until they come, step in.” Thereupon the little dwarf carried the ravens’ dinner in, on seven little plates, and in seven little glasses, and the little sister ate a morsel from each plate, and from each little glass she took a sip, but in the last little glass she dropped the ring which she had brought away with her.

Well, the chicken leg somehow got lost, which is supposed to mean that the old shaman or witch rites with their animal sacrifices were also lost. However, it is better to make your own sacrifice than to sacrifice others. You certainly don’t have to cut your finger off for this. A great sacrifice nowadays is pausing quietly for a few minutes. Then one sacrifices the external action for the inner spiritual view. As part of the hand, this finger could also be a symbol for the sacrifice of action. Such a sacrifice can be made not only in silent meditation, but also in everyday activity by spiritual sacrificing the fruits of actions to something higher. Then you no longer identify with the fruits of your actions in order to nourish the greedy ego. And that is really a great and extremely difficult sacrifice, which is described for example in the famous Bhagavad Gita [MHB 6.27].

We should of course start slowly with a few minutes of quiet contemplation. Perhaps our mountain of glass will open up and an inner voice will sound and help us. For this, at least a dwarfish part of reason should still be at home, even if all other senses wander around with all thoughts in the world, and we have to wait patiently until they return. In the meantime we can practice our spiritual concentration, let the self-awareness wander with the breath from chair to chair, i.e. from chakra to chakra, and taste from each plate and drink from each cup. This is a wonderful and highly recommended meditation. It means practically: We start with the lowest chakra and remember the scent of the earth, the taste of the water, the light of the fire, the feeling of the wind, the sound of space, the thoughts of thought and the pure consciousness of reason. And in the last cup we give the mystical ring of the union of male and female, i.e. sun and moon, the great marriage of opposites.

Suddenly she heard a whirring of wings and a rushing through the air, and then the little dwarf said, “Now the lord ravens are flying home.” Then they came, and wanted to eat and drink, and looked for their little plates and glasses. Then said one after the other, “Who has eaten something from my plate? Who has drunk out of my little glass? It was a human mouth.” And when the seventh came to the bottom of the glass, the ring rolled against his mouth. Then he looked at it, and saw that it was a ring belonging to his father and mother, and said, “God grant that our sister may be here, and then we shall be free.” When the maiden, who was standing behind the door watching, heard that wish, she came forth, and on this all the ravens were restored to their human form again. And they embraced and kissed each other, and went joyfully home.

When the senses and thoughts return, they feel that their food has been touched by a cleansing consciousness in order to redeem them from their wandering and their animal nature. The great opposites, that previously seemed incompatible to us, are now beginning to dissolve and a wonderful feeling of unity arises. Then our true self-consciousness can slowly emerge, which has been purified from illusion, desire and hate and no longer appears as greedy ego, but shines as true love and perfect bliss in human form. Hence, we are returning to our true origin, whereby this fairy tale also finds a happy ending.


... Table of contents of all fairy tale interpretations ...
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)
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)

[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
[Bible] Luther Bibel, 1912
[2018] Text and Pictures by Undine & Jens / www.pushpak.de