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By Ansur

Perhaps it is time to get your old childhood Fairy Tale Books out and re-read them from both an adult and Pagan perspective. According to Ed Fitch (author and long-time Witch—initiated in 1967!), the fairy tales accredited to the Brothers Grimm are actually old European folk tales that the brothers researched and compiled. For example, he claims that the fairy tale, Frau Holle contains actual examples of an initiation process—one successful, one a failure.

It is apparent that many of the tales have been “softened” and the more adult and frightening parts removed and/or modified so as not to scare the children. In the original “Snow White” the evil stepmother is forced to dance in red-hot iron shoes until she falls down dead. In “The Goose Maid”, a treacherous servant is stripped, thrown into a barrel studded with sharp nails, and dragged through the streets. The original stores contain the medieval worldview and culture with all of its stark prejudice, its crudeness, and barbarities.

If, therefore, you wish to read translations from the original works such as Jacob Grimm’s Teutonic Mythology (the original is four large volumes with exhausting notations and notes in many languages)—be prepared for some unpleasant and shocking differences from what you may recall of the tales from your childhood.

Later, further modifications were made to the stories because of the objections of the church. For example, the premarital couplings of Rapunzel and the prince who climbed into her tower were eliminated. In addition, incestuous fathers were recast as the devil.

Yet, the core of the tales remains intact. What I noticed in my study of fairy tales was that there is much practical moral advice and wisdom in them. Some of the important lessons taught to us by fairy tales are:

1. Being a good “step-relative” is both a sacred obligation and a very difficult task. Two of the favorite villains found in many tales are “the wicked stepmother” and the “mean stepsister.

In many tales, the birth mother of the innocent child heroes and heroines is dead—leaving them in the care of their father’s new wife—who wishes them ill. This not only makes the part of the story line, but also may reflect that death was a major factor during childbirth in olden times.

In other, more rare stories, there is also a single parent, this time the mother, who has lost her husband. She is usually of nobler, wealthier stock, reduced to humble circumstances by the loss of her husband. Widowhood is a noble state. This may reflects another fact from those times—when the man of the house was lost in one of the many wars or squabbles due to military service obligations. Moreover, they didn’t have life insurance in those times!

The image of the evil stepmother occurs frequently in fairy tales. She is symbolic of jealousy and cruelty. She may also be a symbol of the unconscious in a destructive role. Nevertheless, the stepmother figure is actually a two-sided coin for while she has destructive intentions, her actions often lead the hero or heroine into situations that identify and strengthen his or her best qualities.

2. The tales express is that the Goddess loves those who put themselves wholly into their work and are industrious. The Goddess does not like lazy people! In fact, in some stories, the Goddess puts a life-long curse on those that are lazy.

But the stories present two sides to the work issue: One is there are those who work themselves almost to death—are treated like slaves—and receive no compensation; and secondly, there are those who willingly labor because their honor demands it of them. The first, in the end, are vindicated while the second are rewarded greatly.

3. It is important to remember that kindness is always rewarded and going to great lengths to help anyone (including animals and plants—or even inanimate objects) if they are in trouble, is a great way to gain good karma.

Animals, plants, and inanimate objects speak in some of the tales, asking for help. Woe to those who do not heed such requests!

Talking and singing birds represent amorous yearnings while other animals that talk are usually a magical element in the story. This is important for without magic, the story cannot be a true fairy tale!

In the stories, even evil creatures need to be helped—and those that help are rewarded.

4. Things are seldom what they seem to be. The reality we perceive and the true reality that we usually don’t recognize are very different.

How many frogs have been kissed and thereby turned back into handsome princes? It was the love of Beauty for the Beast that broke the spell and turned him back into a man.

5. Dangerous and frightening things--and situations exist—so courage and perseverance are required. Misfortunes are beyond our control and point at the unfairness of life.

6. It is good to think deeply, to be wise, and to be cunning—while still being honest and appearing simple. Also, see the symbolism of the color white, below…

Being the Youngest: The hero or heroine in many fairy tales is usually the youngest child. This is significant because a youngster is the least experienced and perhaps most protected of the children in a family—and therefore the most innocent and pure.

Trickery is one of the ways of dealing with the evils that appear in fairy tales. This may mean the trickster has experienced and accepted evil within him or her self, thus allowing "insight into the strategy of the adversary.

7. Fairy tales are full of very important symbols. In fact, the stories are so full of symbols, they have a dream-like character about them. Some of the symbols that I have found to be significant can be found in the list below--but there are hundred more that you will have to find for yourself. So read those tales in your old books again and you may find more content in them than you ever suspected.

Symbols

Animals:

Bears represent bravery, strength, self-restraint, or an evil influence, problem or difficulty--even violence.

Birds indicate air, wind, time, immortality, the female principle, prophecy, and freedom.

Deer symbolize fleetness, gentleness, and timidity. A Stag represents longevity, regeneration, growth, and grace.

Doves are very important and can mean aspiration, gentleness, truth, wisdom, love, humility, innocence, purity, simplicity, peace, and sometimes represent a girl between 10 and 20 years of age.

A Duck is a sign of fidelity and of freedom from worry. Usually friendly, such "helpful animals" are a fairly common fairy tale theme.

Eagles may represent height, daring, speed, heroic nobility, male fertility, sun, fire, day, and air.

Hares usually mean procreation, a male figure, curiosity, and fertility.

Humans: A Traveler is a seeker after truth or someone engaged in personal development. In the past before the abundance of hotels and other commercial lodgings, travelers were often welcome in homes for little or no charge.

Lambs represent sweetness, forgiveness, and meekness.

Wolves are evil but cunning and sensual creatures capable of “sweet-talking” people (especially young ladies) into bad situations.

Colors:

Blue is a color that seldom occurs in the natural world. It is considered empty, or austere, pure, and frosty. It is the coldest color, indifferent and centered upon itself. Blue is not of this world: it suggests the idea of eternity, calm, lofty, superhuman, even: being inhuman.

Green represents fertility, life, spring, growth, rebirth, youth, hope, freshness, innocence, liberty, peace, expectation, and obedience. In a story, it may also reinforce the image of spring, but it also will imply that the true action of the story is about to begin.

Red means passion, love, and courage.

White means purity, simplicity, and wisdom.

Places:

Cottage: A cottage represents the simple and carefree country life or a humble life.

Hearth: The hearth represents the home, love, hospitality, sanctuary, and the junction of the masculine and feminine principles.

Woods or forests frequently appear as important settings in fairy tales. Forests symbolize the female principle, the unconscious, danger, mistakes, problems, fertility, and enchantment.

They often serve as the homes for outlaws such as Robin Hood, fairies, or supernatural beings.

The Forest is either a place of danger and testing, but if the word “wood” is used, the forest may be a playground for the pure and innocent.

Following an animal in a forest and being led to a confrontation with an evil being occurs in many tales.

The Palace: A great reward at the end of a story.

Miscellaneous:

A Beard or Hair can have many symbolic meanings. First, it is often connected with magical powers. It is also considered a sign of invulnerability. Hair can also be the sign of the animal in human while cutting a beard is a sign of shame.

A Cave: A cave can represent the secretive, security, the unconscious, the womb, mother, refuge, and primitive shelter.

A Single Blow: To kill with one blow requires great strength and/or great skill.

Holding hands is a sign of devotion—and is more intimate than hugging because skin touches skin.

Ovens can be interpreted as a womb symbol or symbol of birth and transformation.

Pearls represent the human soul, innocence, tears, faith, esoteric wisdom, and wealth.

Reading shows intelligence and education, especially in the time before public education.

Roses may symbolize beauty, female sex organs, and the heart.

The number Three symbolizes hope and resolution of conflict. It is generally a favorable number.

Bibliography:

Teutonic Mythology by Jacob Grimm

The Crystal Spring by Ed Fitch—Article in Gnostica, Volume 5, Number 1, Whole number 37

Snow-white and Rose-red by the Brothers Grimm

Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang
Guardians of the Fairy Tale: The Brothers Grimm: by Thomas O’Neill--1999 National Geographic Society

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