The spiritual Message of German Fairy tales

The Wolf and The Seven Little Kids

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

There was once on a time an old goat who had seven little kids, and loved them with all the love of a mother for her children. One day she wanted to go into the forest and fetch some food. So she called all seven to her and said, “Dear children, I have to go into the forest, be on your guard against the wolf; if he come in, he will devour you all skin, hair, and all. The wretch often disguises himself, but you will know him at once by his rough voice and his black feet.” The kids said, “Dear mother, we will take good care of ourselves; you may go away without any anxiety.” Then the old one bleated, and went on her way with an easy mind.

This is probably one of the most famous fairy tales and has fascinated many children. The classic message is that the children should not open the door when they are home alone. All of our fears of scammers, burglars, child kidnappers and the like play a major role here. The protective shield for our children should be a well-dosed fear of evil, which is symbolized here in the form of the wild wolf that eats small children. This unpredictable wolf, about whom there are the wildest myths, stands in contrast to the cute little kids of our familiar pets. Such fears certainly have their useful place in the development of our children before reason is forming by the necessary experiences in life. The danger, of course, is that you will carry these fears around with you into old age because you somehow missed untying these knots and entering a deeper level. This was maybe the problem for earlier generations, because the wolf has been persistently hunted in Central Europe since the 15th century and practically exterminated over time. It is now under strict nature protection, but the fear of the animal in people’s minds seems to be unbroken.

Therefore, we would now like to try to shed a little more light on this fairy tale in order to cut through the outer symbolism of the wolf and to find the real villain. First, the mixture of animal fable and human world is striking, because goats actually live in the stable and not in a house with furniture in it. This alone suggests that the animals here play a symbolic role for animal beings that are alive in us humans. We find similar symbols in other fairy tales, such as Little Red Riding Hood or The Seven Ravens. When we now try to find these animal symbols in us, the first question that arises is: What do we need to protect in us and from whom? In ourselves, too, we find a mother who loves seven children, and think of our self-consciousness, which loves the five senses with thought and reason and naturally protects them. When our consciousness is directed outwards into the world, i.e. when it goes into the forest to collect food, then it is a matter of protecting the gates of our senses so that the ‘villain’ can not overwhelm them. Every sense has a certain sense consciousness that should pay attention to what we see, hear, taste, smell, feel, think and decide. And who is the ‘bad guy’ here? It is said: You can recognize him by his unkind words and sinful deeds. So we can assume that, here too, like with the wolf of Little Red Riding Hood, insatiable sensual desire is meant. And really, once this greed has seized us, it eats us up completely, first from the outside and then from the inside. With this, our self-consciousness changes into a greedy ego, which is dominated by desire, hatred and illusion. You can realize that outwardly from our words and actions.

It was not long before someone knocked at the house-door and cried, “Open the door, dear children; your mother is here, and has brought something back with her for each of you.” But the little kids knew that it was the wolf, by the rough voice; “We will not open the door,” cried they, “thou art not our mother. She has a soft, pleasant voice, but thy voice is rough; thou art the wolf!” Then the wolf went away to a shopkeeper and bought himself a great lump of chalk, ate this and made his voice soft with it. Then he came back, knocked at the door of the house, and cried, “Open the door, dear children, your mother is here and has brought something back with her for each of you.” But the wolf had laid his black paws against the window, and the children saw them and cried, “We will not open the door, our mother has not black feet like thee: thou art the wolf.” Then the wolf ran to a baker and said, “I have hurt my feet, rub some dough over them for me.” And when the baker had rubbed his feet over, he ran to the miller and said, “Strew some white meal over my feet for me.” The miller thought to himself, “The wolf wants to deceive someone,” and refused; but the wolf said, “If thou wilt not do it, I will devour thee.” Then the miller was afraid, and made his paws white for him. Truly men are like that.

So desire knocks repeatedly on our door and longs to be admitted, and that even with tricks and guile, especially in our world today, where we are bombarded with advertising everywhere. As long as our consciousness is not at home but wandering around the world, the danger is particularly great. Old home remedies are probably used here as symbols: the chalk for a soft voice and the bread dough against the bruise. At least the chalk helps against heartburn and thus indirectly against a rough voice when the stomach acid rises at night and irritates the voice box. The sourdough is supposed to have a cooling effect. Symbolically, it could mean that one artificially strives for a friendly voice. The dealer who gives him the chalk to whitewash his voice is probably our little inner huckster who feigns friendliness for worldly gain and tends to deceit and deceive. When it comes to the baker, we think of our ambition, who likes to use creativity to shape things the way we want them to be. The miller reminds us of our mindfulness, which should work in the mill of life and has a fine sense in form of our conscience that warns of the illusion of excessive desire. However, when this mindfulness is in the grip of greed, it becomes proud vanity that likes to whitewash our deeds with seemingly virtue and, as is well known, is also ruled by fear. With this, the greedy wolf can achieve its goal:

So now the wretch went for the third time to the house-door, knocked at it and said, “Open the door for me, children, your dear little mother has come home, and has brought every one of you something back from the forest with her.” The little kids cried, “First show us thy paws that we may know if thou art our dear little mother.” Then he put his paws in through the window, and when the kids saw that they were white, they believed that all he said was true, and opened the door. But who should come in but the wolf! They were terrified and wanted to hide themselves. One sprang under the table, the second into the bed, the third into the stove, the fourth into the kitchen, the fifth into the cupboard, the sixth under the washing-bowl, and the seventh into the clock-case. But the wolf found them all, and used no great ceremony; one after the other he swallowed them down his throat. The youngest in the clock-case was the only one he did not find. When the wolf had satisfied his appetite he took himself off, laid himself down under a tree in the green meadow outside, and began to sleep.

We may smile, but in practice, it is incredibly difficult to defend oneself against the treacherous desire. Once it has found its way inside, there is no stopping it. How could the senses hide from desire? The feeling escapes under the hard table top, which should perhaps serve as armour. The taste flees into the kitchen, where people eat. The smell hides in the oven, where otherwise the smell of cooked food or baked cakes arises. The hearing creeps into bed, where it does not have to hear anything under the thick pillow. The eye goes into the closet, where it is dark, the thoughts hide under the bowl, in which all laundry is usually washed, and the reason sticks in the clock case. Reason is of course the youngest child, because it is born last in our human development. The other senses are easy to find, the feeling under the shield, the taste and smell in the kitchen, the hearing under the pillow, the eye in the dark closet, where our beautiful clothes hang, and the thoughts under the washbasin, where they like to work and whip up a lot of foam. If desire had swallowed reason, then the fairy tale would certainly have ended here. Because when reason dies in us, there is no longer any hope of a contented and happy life.

Nevertheless, it is hiding in the clock case. What could that mean? The case is usually the resonance chamber for the striking mechanism of a clock. The meaning is difficult to understand these days, because the clocks used to strike not only to tell the time, but also to call people to the present. That is why there were many clocks with striking mechanisms even in the houses. The gong shook people out of their everyday worries and daydreams and reminded them of the presence of God. This constant mindfulness could be meant here, which can save reason from desire. We find something similar in the Indian tradition, as for example Dadaji reports: “Thereby the presence of this knowledge does not disappear, King Bharat had to be reminded of it all day long. For this, he had servants who rang a bell every fifteen minutes and shouted: “Attention, attention, stay awake, oh Bharat!” [Aptavani 1.8]”

Soon afterwards, the old goat came home again from the forest. Ah! What a sight she saw there! The house-door stood wide open. The table, chairs, and benches were thrown down, the washing-bowl lay broken to pieces, and the quilts and pillows were pulled off the bed. She sought her children, but they were nowhere to be found. She called them one after another by name, but no one answered. At last, when she came to the youngest, a soft voice cried, “Dear mother, I am in the clock-case.” She took the kid out, and it told her that the wolf had come and had eaten all the others. Then you may imagine how she wept over her poor children.

Even if we would like to avoid it nowadays, at some point we will turn our consciousness inwards again and recognize the chaos in our mind, where desire has raged. The senses no longer obey us when we call them because they are now under the control of desire and the greedy ego. This is a serious matter because the senses are our windows into the world. When the wolf puts his black paws on these windows, and they are ruled and smeared by desire, then we soon only see what greed paints on them. Then we sink into illusion and lose all truthfulness. With that, we are as good as dead inside and only live outside. And that’s really a big misery when it gets darker inside and a terrible depression threatens. Then we can only hope that at least reason is still hidden somewhere and answers our call.

At length in her grief she went out, and the youngest kid ran with her. When they came to the meadow, there lay the wolf by the tree and snored so loud that the branches shook. She looked at him on every side and saw that something was moving and struggling in his gorged body. “Ah, heavens,” said she, “is it possible that my poor children whom he has swallowed down for his supper, can be still alive?” Then the kid had to run home and fetch scissors, and a needle and thread, and the goat cut open the monster’s stomach, and hardly had she made one cut, than one little kid thrust its head out, and when she cut farther, all six sprang out one after another, and were all still alive, and had suffered no injury whatever, for in his greediness the monster had swallowed them down whole. What rejoicing there was! Then they embraced their dear mother, and jumped like a tailor at his wedding. The mother, however, said, “Now go and look for some big stones, and we will fill the wicked beast’s stomach with them while he is still asleep.” Then the seven kids dragged the stones thither with all speed, and put as many of them into his stomach as they could get in; and the mother sewed him up again in the greatest haste, so that he was not aware of anything and never once stirred.

Now it’s getting really fascinating. Is there really a way to defeat the insatiable desire in us and to free the senses again? Let’s read: First, one should find desire with the help of reason, preferably when it is asleep. Then one can observe it and realize that it has swallowed our senses alive. Now reason gets the necessary means so that consciousness can free the senses again. This strange operation is reminiscent of an analytical meditation in which one dissects a problem with skilful means, gets to the core and puts everything back together again. And when the senses and thought are finally freed, true love can awaken. However, what happens now to the animal being? Obviously, you can’t just kill it and leave it somewhere. Just as Little Red Riding Hood had to fetch the stones, so here it is the seven senses that carry the stones and fill the wolf’s belly with them. What kind of stones are these? It would have to be something that our desires can no longer nourish on and will perish. Since it usually feeds on perishable things, we are thinking here of something immortal and eternal, for which the stone is used as a symbol. Accordingly, in the Middle Ages there was much talk of the “Philosopher’s Stone”, which, as a summum bonum (highest goal) and universal remedy, can transform the base into something noble and our lower consciousness into a higher one, including the greedy ego into a pure consciousness or the so-called Supreme Self. This philosopher’s stone is reminiscent of a spiritual process of knowledge, perhaps even of the self-knowledge common in yoga, about which we read, for example, in the Indian Ashtavakra-Gita:
“In the world of diverse creatures, between Brahma and the smallest blade of grass, only self-knowledge has the power to profoundly renounce indulgence and suffering... Without “I” there is liberation. Where the “I” is at work, there is attachment. With this realization, both the desire and the hatred in life vanish… Through self-knowledge one reaches satisfaction, attains bliss and the highest being.”

This mystical knowledge of the Self, God, or truth does not only happen somewhere in thinking or reason, but extends across all senses to our entire perception, our entire being and our entire cosmos. Therefore, it is certainly no coincidence, that all the senses have to help to find the “Philosopher’s Stone”, which turns everything into gold or eternal truth. This completely pure essence of all things, which holds the world together in its innermost being, this true, eternal and immortal. It is completely unbearable for our greedy ego, and therefore it must perish with it. For in the presence of truth there can be no illusion.

The supper mentioned as a side note could allude to the biblical Lord’s Supper as the last perishing meal, and the tailor with his wedding reminds of a truly poor person and his union with the Supreme Self. However, the liberation from desire through self-knowledge or the “Philosopher’s Stone” is not a small thing that one attains in life on the side. It may even be the highest that one can ever achieve, namely to find the truth and thus the great release from the constraints of nature.

When the wolf at length had had his sleep out, he got on his legs, and as the stones in his stomach made him very thirsty, he wanted to go to a well to drink. But when he began to walk and to move about, the stones in his stomach knocked against each other and rattled. Then cried he,

“What rumbles and tumbles against my poor bones?
I thought it was six kids, But it’s naught but big stones.”

And when he got to the well and stooped over the water and was just about to drink, the heavy stones made him fall in and there was no help, but he had to drown miserably. When the seven kids saw that, they came running to the spot and cried aloud, “The wolf is dead! The wolf is dead!” and danced for joy round about the well with their mother.

Here, too, the greed of the wolf is addressed, this insatiable thirst that he tries to quench at the world’s well. This is the painful path of a greedy ego, which crams everything into itself with desire, hatred and illusion, without chewing and digesting sensibly, because its inner senses are dead or too deaf and reason hardly works anymore. Then hunger and thirst get bigger and bigger, and we get heavier and heavier not only physically, but above all mentally. It is long known: With this great burden, of course, nobody can ascend to heaven. One will sink into the lower worlds to Hell, where neglected digestion will be enforced in the fire of suffering. These are all symbols that we can recognize and experience on a small and large scale within ourselves and outside in the world.

When the desire in us is finally defeated, a great joy arises spontaneously, which is also called bliss. The liberated senses dance unburdened and freely with their mother, the pure consciousness, around the mystical fountain, from which the famous water of eternal life could now spring, which quenches the thirst forever.

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)
The Wise Servant - (topic: Search for wisdom, Reformation)
Fundevogel - (topic: path to liberation, spiritual values)
Doctor Knowall - (topic: Science, Spirit)
Spirit in the Bottle - (topic: Mind, School system, Homeopathy)
... 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
[Aptavani 1] Ambalal Muljibhai Patel,, 2004
[2019] Text and Pictures by Undine & Jens /