The spiritual Message of German Fairy tales

The Valiant Little Tailor

Tale of the Brothers Grimm translated by M. Hunt [1884]
Interpretation by Undine & Jens in green [2019]

This fairy tale is of course full of symbolism again. We already encountered scissors, needles and thread as symbols for the tailor in the fairy tale of the wolf and the seven little kids. The tailor himself is also an extremely symbolic figure, because he cuts the fabric with scissors and sews the pieces back together with needle and thread to make clothes with which the rich make themselves outwardly beautiful, while he himself is often just a poor guy, who can barely afford to eat. But he meets a lot of people and should have intuition, creativity and a good knowledge of human nature in order to tailor the right clothes. In this regard, as a poor man with a job that requires a lot of concentration and patience, he is downright predestined for deeper insights into the human being.

One summer’s morning a little tailor was sitting on his table by the window; he was in good spirits, and sewed with all his might. Then came a peasant woman down the street crying, “Good jams, cheap! Good jams, cheap!” This rang pleasantly in the tailor’s ears; he stretched his delicate head out of the window, and called, “Come up here, dear woman; here you will get rid of your goods.” The woman came up the three steps to the tailor with her heavy basket, and he made her unpack the whole of the pots for him. He inspected all of them, lifted them up, put his nose to them, and at length said, “The jam seems to me to be good, so weigh me out four ounces, dear woman, and if it is a quarter of a pound that is of no consequence.” The woman who had hoped to find a good sale, gave him what he desired, but went away quite angry and grumbling. “Now, God bless the jam to my use,” cried the little tailor, “and give me health and strength;” so he brought the bread out of the cupboard, cut himself a piece right across the loaf and spread the jam over it. “This won’t taste bitter,” said he, “but I will just finish the jacket before I take a bite.” He laid the bread near him, sewed on, and in his joy, made bigger and bigger stitches. In the meantime the smell of the sweet jam ascended so to the wall, where the flies were sitting in great numbers, that they were attracted and descended on it in hosts. “Hola! who invited you?” said the little tailor, and drove the unbidden guests away. The flies, however, who understood no German, would not be turned away, but came back again in ever-increasing companies. Then the little tailor at last lost all patience, and got a bit of cloth from the hole under his work-table [in German: “…from his hell”], and saying, “Wait, and I will give it to you,” struck it mercilessly on them. When he drew it away and counted, there lay before him no fewer than seven, dead and with legs stretched out. “Art thou a fellow of that sort?” said he, and could not help admiring his own bravery. “The whole town shall know of this!” And the little tailor hastened to cut himself a girdle, stitched it, and embroidered on it in large letters, “Seven at one stroke!” “What, the town!” he continued, “The whole world shall hear of it!” and his heart wagged with joy like a lamb’s tail.

What now appears in the superficial story as a funny sway, should of course also remind of a deeper meaning, and so we would like to try to shed light on the symbolism. We already know the window and the advertising call, which penetrates his ears, from the fairy tale of Snow White, when the sorceress wanted to sell her apples. When the windows of our senses are open, the call of temptation and distraction can enter us and we turn our consciousness outward and reach for things. That makes effort in every direction, the peasant women has to climb the many stairs with her burden, and the tailor has to use his senses and make a decision. Here he certainly benefits from his poverty, which restrains him outwardly, but also annoys the woman because he only buys a small amount of her jam, which could symbolize the sweet and seductive food of the world, which promises us pleasure and strength. But he can also restrain himself internally and first finishes his work before he wants to give in to enjoyment. As is well known, that alone requires great bravery in us. In doing so, he makes a great discovery, because he observes the flies, which, like our thoughts, buzz in droves around the jam and pounce on the sweet temptation. Now, presumably, reason comes into play, and the little tailor takes a handkerchief and strikes. He took the cloth from ‘Hell’: “This is the name of a room under the workman’s table, in which he sticks his legs and which actually used to be the first place to stay for the pieces of waste. [Hess. Sheets p205]”

Even today, we still know the saying “killing two birds with one stone”. That means solving two problems at the same time. This brings up the big question, which seven problems solved the tailor here at one stroke? Remembering our interpretations of Snow White, the Seven Ravens, Six Servants, etc., it makes sense to think again of the five senses with thoughts and reason. At least the ear when calling the trader, the eye when looking out the window, the nose when smelling the jam, and the taste when hoping for sweet enjoyment are expressly mentioned. The feeling could be found in the effort of carrying it up as well as in anger, the restless thoughts in the flies and reason in his knowledge. And how does he solve the problem? Well, he brings the greedy thoughts to rest, and with that the problem of the five senses is solved all the sudden, too, because the mushed bread with the dead flies was certainly no longer a sweet seduction. In addition, he suddenly no longer has any appetite or hunger. At least symbolically, this could be seen as a kind of insight that the little tailor writes on his girdle so that it will never be forgotten again.

A girdle like this, which surrounds us like a magic ring, has a long tradition as a symbol. It stands for strength, power and domination, but also for purity. Think of the belt of Thor, who doubled his strength, or the belt of the dwarf king Laurin, which gave him the strength of twelve men. In modern NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming), one would perhaps speak of an anchor for the new knowledge.

The city, which should experience everything, could initially mean our own body and the world our inner cosmos, if we map this fairy tale in our inner being in a spiritual way. Because a higher knowledge is only worth something if it affects our whole being. However, if you see this city in the outside world and the knowledge promises only worldly fame, the fairy tale becomes a funny sway, and the courage that the little tailor has gained by his insight appears as worldly arrogance in a children’s story, about which we smile at first. Until in time, we find a deeper level.

The tailor put on the girdle, and resolved to go forth into the world, because he thought his workshop was too small for his valour. Before he went away, he sought about in the house to see if there was anything which he could take with him; however, he found nothing but an old cheese, and that he put in his pocket. In front of the door he observed a bird which had caught itself in the thicket. It had to go into his pocket with the cheese. Now he took to the road boldly, and as he was light and nimble, he felt no fatigue. The road led him up a mountain, and when he had reached the highest point of it, there sat a powerful giant looking about him quite comfortably. The little tailor went bravely up, spoke to him, and said, “Good day, comrade, so thou art sitting there overlooking the wide-spread world! I am just on my way thither, and want to try my luck. Hast thou any inclination to go with me?”

When it comes to conquering the senses and thoughts, then certainly not killing is meant, but controlling. Because whoever has control over his senses, thoughts and reason and is no longer their slave, has really gained a lot of strength and power and can achieve everything in life, even if he appears physically weak. In order to provide us with proof of this, our little tailor is now leaving his domestic ‘hell’ and going into the world. In his house he only finds ‘old cheese’, perhaps the remains of his old thoughts, wishes and habits, and in front of the gate a bird that he frees and that becomes a symbol of his light journey into a larger and higher world. So he can easily get to the same mountain where the worldly giants come with a lot of physical strength, the violent people in our world, so to speak, who pursue their goals with a lot of rational and material violence. These are two ways to win the world. Nowadays we tend more towards the giants and try to achieve our goals with tremendous machine power, material energy and natural science. In this regard, the whole thing also reminds us of the famous fight between David and Goliath:

The giant looked contemptuously at the tailor, and said, “Thou ragamuffin! Thou miserable creature!” - “Oh, indeed?” answered the little tailor, and unbuttoned his coat, and showed the giant the girdle, “There mayst thou read what kind of a man I am!” The giant read, “Seven at one stroke,” and thought that they had been men whom the tailor had killed, and began to feel a little respect for the tiny fellow. Nevertheless, he wished to try him first, and took a stone in his hand and squeezed it together so that water dropped out of it. “Do that likewise,” said the giant, “if thou hast strength?” - “Is that all?” said the tailor, “that is child’s play with us!” and put his hand into his pocket, brought out the soft cheese, and pressed it until the liquid ran out of it. “Faith,” said he, “that was a little better, wasn’t it?” The giant did not know what to say, and could not believe it of the little man. Then the giant picked up a stone and threw it so high that the eye could scarcely follow it. “Now, little mite of a man, do that likewise.” - “Well thrown,” said the tailor, “but after all the stone came down to earth again; I will throw you one which shall never come back at all,” and he put his hand into his pocket, took out the bird, and threw it into the air. The bird, delighted with its liberty, rose, flew away and did not come back. “How does that shot please you, comrade?” asked the tailor.

“Thou canst certainly throw,” said the giant, “but now we will see if thou art able to carry anything properly.” He took the little tailor to a mighty oak tree which lay there felled on the ground, and said, “If thou art strong enough, help me to carry the tree out of the forest.” - “Readily,” answered the little man; “take thou the trunk on thy shoulders, and I will raise up the branches and twigs; after all, they are the heaviest.” The giant took the trunk on his shoulder, but the tailor seated himself on a branch, and the giant who could not look round, had to carry away the whole tree, and the little tailor into the bargain: he behind, was quite merry and happy, and whistled the song, “Three tailors rode forth from the gate,” as if carrying the tree were child’s play. The giant, after he had dragged the heavy burden part of the way, could go no further, and cried, “Hark you, I shall have to let the tree fall!” The tailor sprang nimbly down, seized the tree with both arms as if he had been carrying it, and said to the giant, “Thou art such a great fellow, and yet canst not even carry the tree!”

Such a violent person who trusts only in the physical cannot imagine that the spirit can be more powerful. Similarly, many scientists today still doubt whether there is any spiritual power at all. That is why the great powers of virtues such as truthfulness, humility or contentment are undervalued and often even disregarded in our society, just as the giant disregards the scrawny little tailor. The little tailor, however, shows his courage and there is a trial of strength, where the soft triumphs over the hard, the light over the heavy and the weak over the strong. Mental mobility is crucial so that one can transcend the usual limits of the rational intellect and think far beyond them. In this way the little tailor succeeds in the rationally impossible. If the giant had been a little more careful, he would probably have accused the little tailor of fraud, because our intellect clearly differentiates between stone, cheese and bird. But if you look deeper, you find more and more connections, and at the atomic level almost all differences disappear. Our ordinary intellect does not want to believe how much life there is in a cheese, let alone in a stone. Even the giant does not believe that the large crown of the tree is lighter than the much thinner trunk. We simply believe above all in the world of our five senses with the thoughts that our little tailor has conquered so that they no longer dominate him. Another difference can be seen in the fact that the giant tries with his ego to force everything by himself, while our little tailor trusts in life, lets the bird fly and himself be carried by the tree. So it is easy for him to win everywhere, because that is the great advantage of an agile mind that looks deeper and is not caught in the rational limits of the external world. But sure, a normal school teacher would certainly despair of such a student...

They went on together, and as they passed a cherry-tree, the giant laid hold of the top of the tree where the ripest fruit was hanging, bent it down, gave it into the tailor’s hand, and bade him eat. But the little tailor was much too weak to hold the tree, and when the giant let it go, it sprang back again, and the tailor was hurried into the air with it. When he had fallen down again without injury, the giant said, “What is this? Hast thou not strength enough to hold the weak twig?” - “There is no lack of strength,” answered the little tailor. “Dost thou think that could be anything to a man who has struck down seven at one blow? I leapt over the tree because the huntsmen are shooting down there in the thicket. Jump as I did, if thou canst do it.” The giant made the attempt, but could not get over the tree, and remained hanging in the branches, so that in this also the tailor kept the upper hand.

This is typical of violent people; they bend the branches of the tree of life down towards themselves to take hold of the higher fruits instead of rising themselves up, thus creating a lot of tension in life. Just as nowadays, for example, the tried and tested yoga is pulled down to our worldly level and degraded to wellness, with which one even wants to earn money instead of us soaring ourselves to spiritual heights. The same can be found in religions, sciences and even in the judiciary. That is the problem of especially spiritually heavy people that when they reach for the high fruits they cannot rise and have to bend down the branches of the tree of life. Our little tailor is light and flexible, can be lifted up and even comes down unscathed. Because verily, down here in the bushes of the world hunters are shooting everywhere, not only death, but also illness, old age, loss and suffering. Therefore, it is good if one is spiritually light and agile enough to be able to rise into higher worlds. The physically clumsy giant does not succeed and gets stuck in the thicket of the world.

The giant said, “If thou art such a valiant fellow, come with me into our cavern and spend the night with us.” The little tailor was willing, and followed him. When they went into the cave, other giants were sitting there by the fire, and each of them had a roasted sheep in his hand and was eating it. The little tailor looked round and thought, “It is much more spacious here than in my workshop.” The giant showed him a bed, and said he was to lie down in it and sleep. The bed was, however, too big for the little tailor; he did not lie down in it, but crept into a corner. When it was midnight, and the giant thought that the little tailor was lying in a sound sleep, he got up, took a great iron bar, cut through the bed with one blow, and thought he had given the grasshopper his finishing stroke. With the earliest dawn the giants went into the forest, and had quite forgotten the little tailor, when all at once he walked up to them quite merrily and boldly. The giants were terrified, they were afraid that he would strike them all dead, and ran away in a great hurry.

In our normal world, too, there are such spiritually easy-moving people. In fact, it would be good to live with them and learn from them. But the giants are uneasy about such people, because they fear what they cannot understand. At least our little tailor has the courage to do so, but avoids the giant’s bed. What kind of bed is that a giant rests on? This could mean success, fame, fortune and the like. Then it would be understandable that our little tailor would rather retire to a quiet corner, because such seductive beds are very dangerous on the spiritual path. Therefore, he stays alive, and the giants now completely despair when they see the unbelievable that threatens their whole worldview. But do they change their view of the world? No, they run away, because then they can continue to ignore what they do not want to understand.

The little tailor went onwards, always following his own pointed nose. After he had walked for a long time, he came to the court-yard of a royal palace, and as he felt weary, he lay down on the grass and fell asleep. Whilst he lay there, the people came and inspected him on all sides, and read on his girdle, “Seven at one stroke.” - “Ah!” said they, “What does the great warrior here in the midst of peace? He must be a mighty lord.” They went and announced him to the King, and gave it as their opinion that if war should break out, this would be a weighty and useful man who ought on no account to be allowed to depart. The counsel pleased the King, and he sent one of his courtiers to the little tailor to offer him military service when he awoke. The ambassador remained standing by the sleeper, waited until he stretched his limbs and opened his eyes, and then conveyed to him this proposal. “For this very reason have I come here,” the tailor replied, “I am ready to enter the King’s service.” He was therefore honourably received, and a separate dwelling was assigned him.

Now it gets really interesting, because it goes to the king, to the ruling spirit within us, to celebrate the mystical wedding and to win the whole kingdom. Our little tailor has the best requirements; he is carefree and courageous, controls his senses and remains calm. His belt helps him even in sleep, and the king receives him to use his services. One must first come this far on the spiritual path in order to meet this king within oneself and consciously serve him. Really, this process is like an awakening from a long dream, for which the ruling spirit and its emissaries have to wait a long time.

The soldiers, however, were set against the little tailor, and wished him a thousand miles away. “What is to be the end of this?” they said amongst themselves. “If we quarrel with him, and he strikes about him, seven of us will fall at every blow; not one of us can stand against him.” They came therefore to a decision, betook themselves in a body to the King, and begged for their dismissal. “We are not prepared,” said they, “to stay with a man who kills seven at one stroke.” The King was sorry that for the sake of one he should lose all his faithful servants, wished that he had never set eyes on the tailor, and would willingly have been rid of him again. But he did not venture to give him his dismissal, for he dreaded lest he should strike him and all his people dead, and place himself on the royal throne.

This symbolism is wonderfully designed and one might think that our ordinary sensory consciousness, which has served the king well so far, is withdrawing in the face of the higher consciousness of our tailor. The king, however, is sceptical and doubts whether the one is really better than the whole group of his previous servants. Can we trust the higher consciousness, which is awakening in us, or do we prefer to stick with the old habits? Is it a new illusion or a real truth? Such doubts are normal on the spiritual path, and many trials lie ahead:

He thought about it for a long time, and at last found good counsel. He sent to the little tailor and caused him to be informed that as he was such a great warrior, he had one request to make to him. In a forest of his country lived two giants, who caused great mischief with their robbing, murdering, ravaging, and burning, and no one could approach them without putting himself in danger of death. If the tailor conquered and killed these two giants, he would give him his only daughter to wife, and half of his kingdom as a dowry, likewise one hundred horsemen should go with him to assist him. “That would indeed be a fine thing for a man like me!” thought the little tailor. “One is not offered a beautiful princess and half a kingdom every day of one’s life!” - “Oh, yes,” he replied, “I will soon subdue the giants, and do not require the help of the hundred horsemen to do it; he who can hit seven with one blow, has no need to be afraid of two.”

The little tailor went forth, and the hundred horsemen followed him. When he came to the outskirts of the forest, he said to his followers, “Just stay waiting here, I alone will soon finish off the giants.” Then he bounded into the forest and looked about right and left. After a while he perceived both giants. They lay sleeping under a tree, and snored so that the branches waved up and down. The little tailor, not idle, gathered two pocketsful of stones, and with these climbed up the tree. When he was half-way up, he slipped down by a branch, until he sat just above the sleepers, and then let one stone after another fall on the breast of one of the giants. For a long time the giant felt nothing, but at last he awoke, pushed his comrade, and said, “Why art thou knocking me?” - “Thou must be dreaming,” said the other, “I am not knocking thee.” They laid themselves down to sleep again, and then the tailor threw a stone down on the second. “What is the meaning of this?” cried the other. “Why art thou pelting me?” - “I am not pelting thee,” answered the first, growling. They disputed about it for a time, but as they were weary they let the matter rest, and their eyes closed once more. The little tailor began his game again, picked out the biggest stone, and threw it with all his might on the breast of the first giant. “That is too bad!” cried he, and sprang up like a madman, and pushed his companion against the tree until it shook. The other paid him back in the same coin, and they got into such a rage that they tore up trees and belaboured each other so long, that at last they both fell down dead on the ground at the same time. Then the little tailor leapt down. “It is a lucky thing,” said he, “that they did not tear up the tree on which I was sitting, or I should have had to spring on to another like a squirrel; but we tailors are nimble.” He drew out his sword and gave each of them a couple of thrusts in the breast, and then went out to the horsemen and said, “The work is done; I have given both of them their finishing stroke, but it was hard work! They tore up trees in their sore need, and defended themselves with them, but all that is to no purpose when a man like myself comes, who can kill seven at one blow.” - “But are you not wounded?” asked the horsemen. “You need not concern yourself about that,” answered the tailor, “They have not bent one hair of mine.” The horsemen would not believe him, and rode into the forest; there they found the giants swimming in their blood, and all round about, lay the torn-up trees.

Even the first test is very difficult because it is about defeating two giants who could symbolize the opposites that usually rule us. These include life and death, mine and yours, possessions and loss, warm and cold, beautiful and ugly, rich and poor and many other opposites that we normally struggle with in the world. Overcoming these polarities is a very great challenge on the spiritual path to unity and, as we know, they cannot be conquered directly. Because as soon as you fight against one pole, the opposite pole is automatically strengthened. Therefore, the symbolism is excellently described here, how one stimulates the opposites so that they destroy themselves. This is reminiscent of the usual analytics in meditation. You really have to be very careful not to saw off the branch on which you are sitting. Here, too, mental agility plays a decisive role, and one should pay attention to the many small nuances in the text when reading. After all, one could really get to the point where the opposites can no longer harm us. Because as long as one is dominated by opposites, one is also dominated by illusion and cannot recognize the truth. Similarly, it is said in the Indian Mahabharata:
“Oh son, become master of your senses, overcome the opposites of heat and cold, hunger and thirst as well as the inner wind. And when you have mastered it (like a yogi) then practice righteousness (Dharma). Walk the wholesome path of truth and honesty, freedom from anger and malice, self-restraint and renunciation as well as benevolence and compassion. Constantly be established in the truth, resolutely devoted to justice, and abandon all deception and illusion. Scrape your living on the remains of food after gods and guests have been fed. Your body is just as fading as the foam on the waves of the sea. The soul lives unbound in it, like a bird sitting in a tree. The multiple connections with all the pleasant things are extremely short-lived. Why, oh son, do you sleep in such forgetfulness? Your enemies (the passions) are always quick and alert. They are always ready and waiting for their opportunity. Why are you so deluded not to see them? [MHB 12,322]”

Much would have been achieved, if the opposites of nature annihilate each other, and one could feel very close to the great goal of kingship in the realm of nature. But:

The little tailor demanded of the King the promised reward; he, however, repented of his promise, and again bethought himself how he could get rid of the hero. “Before thou receivest my daughter, and the half of my kingdom,” said he to him, “thou must perform one more heroic deed. In the forest roams a unicorn which does great harm, and thou must catch it first.” - “I fear one unicorn still less than two giants. Seven at one blow, is my kind of affair.” He took a rope and an axe with him, went forth into the forest, and again bade those who were sent with him to wait outside. He had not to seek long. The unicorn soon came towards him, and rushed directly on the tailor, as if it would spit him on its horn without more ceremony. “Softly, softly; it can’t be done as quickly as that,” said he, and stood still and waited until the animal was quite close, and then sprang nimbly behind the tree. The unicorn ran against the tree with all its strength, and struck its horn so fast in the trunk that it had not strength enough to draw it out again, and thus it was caught. “Now, I have got the bird,” said the tailor, and came out from behind the tree and put the rope round its neck, and then with his axe he hewed the horn out of the tree, and when all was ready he led the beast away and took it to the King.

The unicorn is a great mystery that people have pondered for a long time. It appeared already at 400 BC in a Greek text by Ktesias of Knidos: “In India there are wild donkeys that are like horses, only larger. The body is white, the head purple, and the eyes dark blue. On their foreheads, they have a horn, which is a cubit long. Filed off particles of the same are put into a potion and are a means of protection against deadly substances ...” At least one can find many stories in the ancient Indian epics about a boar who, as a divine incarnation (Varaha), lifts the sunken earth out of the water with just one tusk raised. Nowadays one often hears the opinion that it actually referred to a rhinoceros or the extinct Elasmotherium with a much longer horn. However, what is important is the symbolism used here. And because the unicorn stands in contrast to the common animals with two horns and is often even painted as if two horns were twisted together to form one horn, after defeating the opposites we naturally think of achieving unity in which all opposites disappear. Strangely enough, this unity seems very dangerous to us at first and threatens to “impale” us. But that is understandable, because above all our ordinary ego is mortally threatened, which of course lives from the feeling of separation and can no longer exist in unity. However, this ego problem is certainly not spared anyone on the spiritual path and has to be solved somehow. Here, too, some dangers lurk along the way, because the idea of unity can easily lapse into nihilism, which denies and destroys everything around and routes every meaning in life. So you have to pass this test, too, and capture the one so skilfully that you don’t kill the life in the process. How to do this is of course not easy, but it is ingeniously indicated here by connecting the one with life and nature, for which the tree could stand as a symbol. An older version of the fairy tale from [1812] says it even more clearly: “When the tailor saw this, he moved, put the rope around the neck of the unicorn, which he had taken with him, and tied it to the tree, went out to his fellows, to show them his victory over the unicorn, afterwards to know this to the king...”.

The Christian mystic Meister Eckhart (1260-1328) also expresses this knowledge of unity in his traditional sermons with incomparable depth. There you can read, for example:
“When I flowed out of God, all things said: God is. But this cannot save me, because here I recognize myself as a creature. But in breaking through, where I am free of my own will and the will of God and all his works and God himself, I am above all creatures and I am neither “God” nor creature, rather I am what I was and what I will remain now and forever. Then I receive an upswing that should bring me above all angels. In this upswing I receive such great wealth that God cannot be enough for me with all that he is as “God” and with all his divine works; for in this breakthrough it is granted to me that I and God are one. There I am what I was, and there I neither lose nor gain, because I am an immovable cause that moves all things. Here God does not find a place (anymore) in man, because man achieves with this poverty what he has been eternally and will always remain. Here God is one with the spirit, and that is the most real poverty that one can find. - If you don’t understand this speech, don’t worry your heart with it. For as long as a person does not resemble this truth, he will not understand this speech for so long. Because it is an undisguised truth that has come directly from the heart of God. [Eckhart, Sermon 32]”

The King still would not give him the promised reward, and made a third demand. Before the wedding the tailor was to catch him a wild boar that made great havoc in the forest, and the huntsmen should give him their help. “Willingly,” said the tailor, “that is child’s play!” He did not take the huntsmen with him into the forest, and they were well pleased that he did not, for the wild boar had several times received them in such a manner that they had no inclination to lie in wait for him. When the boar perceived the tailor, it ran on him with foaming mouth and whetted tusks, and was about to throw him to the ground, but the active hero sprang into a chapel which was near, and up to the window at once, and in one bound out again. The boar ran in after him, but the tailor ran round outside and shut the door behind it, and then the raging beast, which was much too heavy and awkward to leap out of the window, was caught. The little tailor called the huntsmen thither that they might see the prisoner with their own eyes. The hero, however, went to the King, who was now, whether he liked it or not, obliged to keep his promise, and gave him his daughter and the half of his kingdom. Had he known that it was no warlike hero, but a little tailor who was standing before him, it would have gone to his heart still more than it did. The wedding was held with great magnificence and small joy, and out of a tailor a king was made.

What remains after overcoming the opposites and finding unity? Even after that, this world does not disappear. It continues to function normally. Only now, through our easy and spiritual agility, we have the power to overcome or heal the heavy, wild, animal and instinctual nature. In the physical world one speaks here of genes and compulsive wiring of our brain, in the spiritual world of habits, inclinations, original sin and accumulated karma from this and many other lives. The third test now appears. And the symbolism is also good, because the wild animal that lives in us is caught here in the holy temple of God and the physical ego-like nature is raised to a spiritual, divine level. This sacred temple can even be spread over the whole universe. That was the common way to transform the wild hostility of nature into a friendly divinity. Similarly, the Bible begins with God creating nature and seeing that everything was good. This cosmic embodiment of God can also be found in the ancient Indian texts in the form of the entire universe. This is difficult to understand, however, and one should not abuse this symbolism. Because until one has not passed the two previous exams, it is certainly not salutary to regard everything as divine and to blame God for one’s own sins. Master Eckhart says on this matter:
“Our Masters ask the question, whether angels are grieved when man commits sin? We say: no! Because they look into the righteousness of God and grasp in it all things in him (= in God) as they are in God. Therefore, they cannot grieve. [Eckhart, Sermon 51]”

Therefore, our little tailor wins the king’s daughter, and spirit and nature celebrate their mystical wedding. But only half the kingdom has been won and the great bliss has not yet been achieved, because obviously one big question is still open: “Who am I?”

After some time the young Queen heard her husband say in his dreams at night, “Boy, make me the doublet, and patch the pantaloons, or else I will rap the yard-measure over thine ears.” Then she discovered in what state of life the young lord had been born, and next morning complained of her wrongs to her father, and begged him to help her to get rid of her husband, who was nothing else but a tailor. The King comforted her and said, “Leave thy bed-room door open this night, and my servants shall stand outside, and when he has fallen asleep shall go in, bind him, and take him on board a ship which shall carry him into the wide world.” The woman was satisfied with this; but the King’s armour-bearer, who had heard all, was friendly with the young lord, and informed him of the whole plot. “I’ll put a screw into that business,” said the little tailor. At night he went to bed with his wife at the usual time, and when she thought that he had fallen asleep, she got up, opened the door, and then lay down again. The little tailor, who was only pretending to be asleep, began to cry out in a clear voice, “Boy, make me the doublet and patch me the pantaloons, or I will rap the yard-measure over thine ears. I smote seven at one blow. I killed two giants, I brought away one unicorn, and caught a wild boar, and am I to fear those who are standing outside the room.” When these men heard the tailor speaking thus, they were overcome by a great dread, and ran as if the wild huntsman were behind them, and none of them would venture anything further against him. So the little tailor was a king and remained one, to the end of his life.

Now suddenly a new danger appears from nature, so that the greatest care is still required. The symbolism is very interesting: If the king is here more on the side of his daughter than on the side of an unknown hero, then it would symbolically mean that the ruling spirit is more on the side of nature than on the side of a person who does not know himself. Now let’s encounter the next challenge on the way, namely the so-called self-knowledge.

And who could be the king’s armour-bearer, who bears the arms of the ruling spirit? Intuition, reason or knowledge - something is warning our little tailor. So one also recognizes a change in this last section, because first he speaks in the dream as a servant who is under the rule of his master, and then he consciously speaks as a master to the servants while he is awake. With this, the suffering of the world flees, which is otherwise constantly threatening and terrifying. The poor tailor, who was once a servant of his senses and body, has now become a spiritual tailor-king who rules the fabric of nature with cubit, scissors, needle and thread. Moreover, if at the beginning of the fairy tale it is said that he sewed with “all his might”, he now sews with “all his spiritual strength”. Because he conquered the five senses and thinking with reason with one stroke, overcame the opposites, won the unity and restrained the animal being in himself. Wonderful! This spiritual development finally culminates in the fact that one can recognize one’s true self, to which the famous Bhagavad-Gita says:
“The self is never born, nor does it ever die. It knows no growth and no passing away. It is unborn, immortal, eternal and ancient. It does not die with the body. Whoever has recognized it as indestructible, immortal and immutable, how could he kill, be killed or still want to kill? Just as a person takes off worn-out clothes and puts on new ones, so the embodied self throws off the worn-out bodies and appears as other, new bodies, so to speak. Weapons don’t split it, fire does not burn it, water does not wet it, and winds don’t ravage it. Nobody can split it, burn it, wash it away or dry it out. It is immutable, all pervading, permanent, reliable and eternal. So it is called unfolded, inconceivable and immutable. If this being is truly recognized, you no longer have to complain about it. [MHB 6.26]”

This is how high man can develop and rise from the constraints of nature. And in that regard he was certainly a good king who could control himself and was no longer controlled by nature. He had conquered the passion of the senses and thoughts and was no longer a slave to desire, hatred and illusion. This is probably the fundamental difference between a tyrant and a good king.

Admittedly, this whole interpretation sounds just as adventurous as the fairy tale itself. But truly, our life can be so adventurous, and we can reach such worlds. The spiritual paths are of course just as diverse as the old fairy tales, because everyone experiences these paths differently. This is probably why so many fairy tales have come about that look at and describe similar principles in very different ways. This is the typical variety of practical ways and experiences that are not yet fully shaped by rational concepts. However, today it is difficult to understand the used symbolism, which may have been as natural in the past as a television film is now. Who cares about spiritual worlds today? Mind and spirit are just ghosts from the dark ages of superstition for many people. Accordingly, we often only see the outer shell of the traditional fairy tales and smile at the stupidity of our medieval ancestors. But even that is still better than forgetting our old fairy tales completely. At least this fairy tale about the brave little tailor could be over 500 years old. Martin Montanus published the essence of the second half in a book as early as 1557. Because the tailors’ guilds are said to have emerged just in the 12th century, the tale must have been born somewhere in between in order to spread widely in Europe.


... Table of contents of all fairy tale interpretations ...
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)
The Wolf and The Seven Little Kids - (topic: desire)
The Valiant Little Tailor (topic: a healing way)

[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
[Eckhart] Meister Eckhart, Deutsche Predigten und Traktate, Diogenes 1979
[Hess.Blätter] Hessische Blätter für Volkskunde, Band 10, W. Schmitz Verlag, 1911
[MHB] Das Mahabharata des Vyasa, 2014, www.mahabharata.pushpak.de
[2019] Text and Pictures by Undine & Jens / www.pushpak.de