The spiritual Message of German Fairy tales

Swan Prince

Tale of the Brothers Grimm [1812] translated by Undine
Interpretation by Undine & Jens in green [2024]

There was a girl in the middle of a big forest. A swan came towards her with a ball of yarn and said to her: “I am not a swan, but an enchanted prince. You can free me if you unwind the ball of yarn, as I will fly away with it. But be careful not to break the thread in two, or I will not reach my kingdom and will not be freed. But if you unwind the ball of yarn completely, then you will be my bride.”

The swan with his white dress reminds us of a pure spirit that was enchanted or cursed in this world and now has to wear the animal body of a swan. But he is now aware of his enchantment and says himself: “I am not a swan”, but a prince with a royal spirit who should actually rule over the world and not be ruled by the world and trapped in a narrow body. Here we can think of reason, which as a holistic consciousness is free and independent of all ties. In this way, one could also see the swan at the end of his earthly life, now giving his soul or the wound-up thread of life into the hands of nature, which is supposed to unwind it. Because everything that has been wound up must of course be unwound again. This is the karma law of cause and effect. And if this thread as a flow of cause and effect does not break, if there is no longer any separation in the broadest sense, then both are redeemed, spirit and nature. Body and soul are reunited and the mystical marriage is celebrated as eternal wholeness or deity. So, the swan rises from this earthly world to a higher realm, after having recognized himself in the mirror of the waves on the sea of consciousness.

A similar symbolism of the swan, which can see beyond this earthly world, can be found in Socrates over 2400 years ago in Phaedo Chapter 35:
As Apollo’s property, I think the swans are skilled at divination, and since they foretell happiness in Hades, they sing and rejoice on that day more than they have in the previous time. But I myself believe that I am a fellow servant of the swans and dedicated to the same god, and that I have received the art of prophecy from my master to no lesser degree than they do, and therefore I will leave this life no less joyful.

Leonardo da Vinci wrote in his fable “The Swan” over 500 years ago:
The swan bent his flexible neck towards the water and looked at his reflection for a long time. Then he understood the reason for his tiredness and the cold that gripped his body like pincers and made him tremble like in winter: he knew with absolute certainty that his hour had come and that he must be ready to die. His feathers were as white as on the first day of his life. He had lived through years and seasons without soiling his undefiled garment. Now he could say goodbye and end his life in beauty. Raising his beautiful neck, he slowly, almost solemnly, headed under a weeping willow, where he used to rest on hot days. It was already evening. The sunset turned the lake water purple and violet. And in the great silence that descended upon everything, the swan began to sing. Never before had he found sounds so full of love for all of nature, for the beauty of the sky, the water and the earth. His sweetest song floated in the air, barely veiled by melancholy, until it quietly, quietly disappeared, one with the last light of the horizon. “It is the swan,” said the fish, the birds, all the animals of the forest and the meadows, moved, “it is the swan that is dying.”

The famous German song by Karat was written about this “Swan King” in 1980:

A swan king bent his neck down to the water.
His plumage was as white as on the first day,
and as pure as the sound of a siren.
In the glitter of the morning sun
he looked into the mirror of the waves,
and with his eyes breaking he knew:
This will be his farewell...
And the swan king began
to sing his first song,
under the weeping willow,
where he loved his life.
And he sang in the most beautiful tones
that anyone had ever heard on earth,
of the beauty of this earth,
which enchanted him, immortally...

Our girl, as an immaculate virgin or pure soul, probably heard this first and original song when the swan recognized his pure and immortal source. And with the eternal and holistic bond of the soul, nature should now follow him, as the pure soul:

The girl took the ball of yarn and the swan rose into the air and the yarn unwound easily. She wound and wound all day long and by evening the end of the thread was already visible, but unfortunately it got caught on a thorn bush and broke off.

And the swan king sings
his whole last day,
until the evening sun quietly
flees into the dark red.
The weeping willow
silently lowers its leaves like lances.
The tones become quieter and quieter,
until the last light in the song dies away...

But at the end of the day the thread breaks, which of course means a separation. It probably gets caught on the thorns of painful opposites (like “on the lances of the weeping willow”). We also saw a similar break in the last fairy tale about the “Drummer” when he kissed his earthly parents again, although he had already come a long way, conquered the Glass Mountain and burned the witch. There too the pure soul of nature became sad, and so here too she remains saddened in the suffering of external nature, where it is now dark again after the song of the Swan King has died away.

The girl was very sad and wept. Night was about to fall; the wind was so loud in the forest that she was frightened and began to run as fast as she could. After she had been running for a long time, she saw a little light, which she hurried towards, and found a house and knocked. An old woman came out who was surprised to see a girl at the door. “Oh, my child, where have you come from so late?” - “Give me a place to stay tonight,” she said, “I have lost my way in the forest. And a little bread to eat too.” - “That is a difficult thing,” said the old woman, “I would gladly give it to you, but my husband is a maneater. If he finds you, he will eat you up, there is no mercy. But if you stay outside, the wild animals will eat you. I will see if I can help you through.”

With the great power of love the pure soul of nature tries to find her pure spirit again in the spiritual darkness, and runs and hurries because she fears she has lost him. The Bible’s Song of Songs says something similar:
“Draw me! We will run after you, following the scent of your ointments.” (Song of Songs 1.3 according to Allioli)

What kind of house is it where the soul sees a small light in the dark forest and seeks protection and nourishment? Here we can first think of our body, which stands like a house in the forest of worldly ideas, which is illuminated from the inside by the small lights of our thoughts. The old mother would then be nature herself, which the soul calls “my child.” And the cannibal would be the ego spirit that lives in this house, a spirit that feeds, so to speak, on the opposites of “other people” and lives from this egocentric separation. Of course, this is a difficult situation for the pure soul, which has lost the connection to the pure spirit or pure consciousness, and now has to fear being eaten and, so to speak, incorporated and embodied in this world of wild animals and humans.

So, she let the girl in and gave her a little bread to eat, and then hid her under the bed. But the maneater always came home before midnight, when the sun had completely set, and went away again in the morning before it rose. It was not long before he came in. “I smell, I smell human flesh!” he said, and searched the room. Finally, he reached under the bed and pulled the girl out. “That’s still a good morsel!” But the woman begged and begged until he promised to let her live through the night and not to eat her until the next morning for breakfast. But before sunrise the old woman woke the girl. “Hurry up and get away before my husband wakes up! Here I give you a golden spinning wheel, which is to be honoured. My name is Sun.”

It is of course the great Mother Nature who nourishes and protects everything. And when it gets dark in the external world, the ego mind also returns to the interior of its body house and continues to search for nourishment in the form of thoughts, dreams and memories. But why does the pure soul smell like human flesh here? It is of course the basis of embodiment and thus also of human flesh and lies so to speak “under the bed”, where the ego can also find it in order to “incorporate” it and turn the holistically pure soul into a personally separated soul, which is then burdened with the weight of personal property and contaminated by this illusion. But Mother Nature of course has her means and ways to prevent the greedy ego mind from appropriating everything, and often enough shows him how weak his power over his supposedly own body is, especially with the idea of time: “You can do that tomorrow!” In this way, the pure soul can continue to use her freedom and is not completely incorporated and trapped in the body. She also receives a “golden spinning wheel” from the great mother, which reminds her of the spinning of the thread of life in the flow of cause and effect, and because it is golden, also of the truth that lies behind it.

So, Mother Nature now reveals herself throughout the universe as the sun, moon and stars:

The girl went away and, in the evening, came to a house where everything was as it had been the previous evening, and the second old woman gave her a golden spindle as she left and said: “My name is Moon.” And on the third evening she came to a third house where the old woman gave her a golden reel and said: “My name is Star, and Prince Swan, although the thread was not yet completely unwound, was already so far along that he could enter his kingdom. There he is king and has already married and lives in great splendour on the Glass Mountain. You will go there this evening, but a dragon and a lion lie before to guard him. Take the bread and bacon and appease them with them.”

The pure soul now searches in three mystical houses, whose lights shine down on us from the worldly sky. First in the house of the sun, which rules over the day, then in the house of the moon, which rules over the night with the wandering planets, and finally in the house of the fixed stars, which proclaim a realm of permanence far above. What we now explain as a practically dead cosmos of matter was of course previously viewed as much more spiritual and alive. You can also see here three rooms or areas of consciousness. But it is described that the greedy ego spirit or mind still lives everywhere as a self-consciousness that locks himself in a body and wants to “incorporate” the pure soul into it.

It is also worth noting that the pure soul does not recognize any difference in the nature of these houses or bodies, but they give themselves a name that corresponds to their external form. And that is correct, because basically they are all just external forms of the same consciousness in which all forms have appeared since eternity up to the furthest limits of what is knowable. Only in this pure consciousness nature and spirit can find themselves as father and mother in the eternal unity of the great and whole. And only through our egoistic mind, which grasps at the external forms, clings to them and builds a personal house out of them, does this holistic fabric of endless threads of cause and effect break apart, so that nature and spirit appear as a variety of objects and subjects separated from one another, giving rise to a world of opposites.

Accordingly, the sun, moon and stars all play a part in spinning the life threads of all other creatures here on earth, because everything is connected to everything else. And the old mothers give the soul the corresponding symbols in the form of tools that were previously used for spinning and processing the threads from which the external clothing for the body was then knitted and woven.

But only the star could see far enough to tell the searching soul where the royal swan had risen to and now rules over his kingdom as king. Can we imagine how large the kingdom of stars is with their light? We “know” today that the light from our sun alone takes over 8 minutes to reach the earth, although it travels almost 300,000 km every second. The closest star would be Proxima Centauri, which is over 4 light years away. Our Milky Way galaxy has a radius of over 52,000 light years. And the entire kingdom of stars that we know today with billions of galaxies is over 90 billion light years wide. And one light year is the unimaginably long distance that light travels in a year, i.e., over 9 trillion kilometres! Wow! And that’s just the material, visible world, beyond which our consciousness can rise much further. This visible realm of the stars is not an ordinary space with fixed outer boundaries, but rather a relative space of consciousness where the observer is always at the centre, no matter which star he is currently near, i.e., always exactly at the location of the Big Bang. One can imagine smaller and larger spaces of consciousness, from the smallest elementary particle, through atoms, molecules, cells, plants, animals, people, planets, solar systems and galaxies, to the entire universe and far beyond.

In this process of raising and expanding consciousness, we now encounter the mystical glass mountain again, which already played a major role in the last fairy tale of the drummer. And here too, in contrast to our physical world, we can think of a subtle world where matter has become transparent and its spiritual nature is increasingly revealed. One could also speak of a first level of heaven, where the world becomes ever higher and more spiritual. In this regard, one can imagine several levels of heaven, which was probably done, so that today we still speak of the “seventh heaven”, but hardly anyone knows the meaning. In the old Indian Puranas one can still find similar descriptions of seven lokas or worlds, for example in Vayu Purana 2.39. Accordingly, one could think of the glass mountain as the Swarloka of the gods and stars.

But this realm is also still guarded by “lions and dragons”. The mighty lion, which becomes a predator through hunger, and the fire-breathing dragon, which binds and wants to eat the virgin or pure soul, remind us again of the three giants from “The Drummer” who guard the forest in front of the Glass Mountain, i.e., of desire and hatred, as well as ignorance, because they guard and even want to preserve a border where in reality there is no border or separation. These guards, as desire and hatred, allow themselves to be briefly satisfied with worldly or physical food so that the pure soul can also come to this kingdom on the Glass Mountain. Well, this higher world also has its limits, and the swan has certainly come a long way, but he has not yet been able to reach true freedom. How could he, as long as he is still separated from the pure soul?

And so, it happened. The girl threw the bread and bacon into the monsters’ mouths, and they let her through, and she got to the castle gate, but the guards did not let her into the castle itself. So, she sat down in front of the gate and began to spin on her golden wheel.

The pure soul of pure nature actually knows no boundaries, but she can only be consciously recognized where she is allowed in. Otherwise, she waits, so to speak, at the gate of our senses and thoughts and spins the threads of life with the tools of Mother Nature, which are made of “gold”, that is, of the truth of a pure consciousness that can take on any form.

The end of this fairy tale is basically like the last part of “The Drummer”, only that it takes place not on earth but on the Glass Mountain. The queen, who has since married, reveals herself through her greed for external forms that she is not yet the pure soul. And now it is the matter of the king remembering the origin of his thread of life in order to unite the beginning and the end, i.e., the pure soul with the pure spirit, so that spirit and soul are once again a pure, holistic consciousness where there is no longer any separation.

The queen watched from above, she liked the beautiful little wheel and came down and wanted to have it. The girl said she could have it if she would allow her to spend a night next to the king’s bedroom. The queen agreed and the girl was led upstairs. But everything that was said in the parlour could be heard in the bedroom. When night fell and the king lay in bed, she sang:

“Does King Swan
still think of his promised bride Julian?
She has gone through sun, moon and stars,
through lions and dragons.
Will King Swan not wake up at all?”

The name Julian also means “dedicated to Jupiter”. Jupiter was the supreme deity in Roman religion, corresponds to the sky father Zeus in Greek mythology and was formerly considered divine reason (e.g., in Jacob Böhme, Signatura Rerum 10.8).

But the king did not hear it, for the cunning queen was afraid of the girl and had given him a sleeping potion.

Why was the cunning queen afraid of the pure soul? Well, that which lives from separation fears wholeness. So, our egoism will never willingly give way, but will do everything to numb and lull our minds so that we cannot hear the voice of truth.

Then he slept so soundly that he would not have heard the girl even if she had stood before him. In the morning everything was lost, and she had to go outside the gate again. Then she sat down and spun with her spindle, which pleased the queen too, and she gave it away on the same condition that she could spend a night next to the king’s bedroom. Then she sang again:

“Does King Swan
still think of his promised bride Julian?
She has gone through sun, moon and stars,
through lions and dragons.
Will King Swan not wake up at all?”

The king, however, was fast asleep again from the sleeping potion, and the girl had also lost her spindle. So, on the third morning she sat down in front of the gate with her golden reel and reeled. The queen also wanted the precious object and promised the girl that in return she should stay another night next to the bedroom. But she had noticed the deception and asked the king’s servant to give him something else to drink that evening. Then, she sang again:

“Does King Swan
still think of his promised bride Julian?
She has gone through sun, moon and stars,
through lions and dragons.
Will King Swan not wake up at all?”

Then the king awoke when he heard her voice, recognized her, and asked the queen: “If one has lost a key and finds it again, do one keep the old one or the new one?” The queen said: “The old one, of course.” - “Well, then you can no longer be my wife, for I have found my first bride again.” So, the next morning the queen had to go home to her father, and the king married his true bride, and they lived happily until they died.

This queen was certainly not the pure soul that the swan was looking for when he rose from the world and handed over the tangle of his life story into the hands of nature. For she is a soul that longs for property. And what longs for property cannot be true love, but desire and egoism. So, the spirit had not yet found the original key to the castle in which he lived. And without it, he remained locked and imprisoned here by a soul that lets him fall asleep and dream. But the pure soul always finds her way if we are really ready to listen to her:

... When a swan sings, the animals listen.
When a swan sings, the animals are silent.
And they bend down low, whispering quietly to each other:
It is a swan king who dies in love.

To “die in love” means to live forever, because true love knows no separation. Sad death as a terrible loss and dark end is only known to the “animals” whose holistic reason has not yet developed. If we too can hear this highest song of wholeness or divinity and listen in silence, then we may also sense that we are being deceived by our “individual soul” and try to remember again where our first origin is, where there is no separation and where “my soul and your soul” are only “one soul”.

The Indian Bhagavatam Purana also says something similar:
Thus, the swan, which had risen from Lake Manasa, was shaken up by his friend and recognized his true nature. In doing so, he remembered his first origin, which he had forgotten through separation. Oh Prachinavarhis, I have given you this teaching in a symbolic way, because the Supreme Lord and Creator of the universe can only be known beyond concepts. (Bhagavatam 4.28)


This English version of the song “Swan King” was translated and performed by Juergen Mayer in 2017:


... Table of contents of all fairy tale interpretations ...
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)
The Origin of Stories - (topic: material and spiritual world)
Hans Stupid - (topic: realize wishes)
The Drummer - (topic: Mind and path to salvation)
Swan Prince (topic: soul, spirit and salvation)

[1812] Jacob und Wilhelm Grimm: Kinder- und Hausmärchen, 1. Auflage, 1812
[2024] Text and Pictures by Undine & Jens / www.pushpak.de