Brothers Grimm tale no. 179, and Aarne-Thompson type 923, love like salt.

There was once upon a time a very old woman, who lived with her flock of geese in a remote clearing in the mountains, and there had a little house. The clearing was surrounded by a large forest, and every morning the old woman took her crutch and hobbled into it. There, however, she was quite active, more so than any one would have thought, considering her age, and collected grass for her geese, picked all the wild fruit she could reach, and carried everything home on her back. Anyone would have thought that the heavy load would have weighed her to the ground, but she always brought it safely home. If anyone met her, she greeted him quite courteously. Good day, dear countryman, it is a fine day. Ah, you wonder that I should drag grass about, but everyone must take his burden on his back. Nevertheless, people did not like to meet her if they could help it, and took by preference a round-about way, and when a father with his boys passed her, he whispered to them, beware of the old woman. She has claws beneath her gloves. She is a witch.

One morning, a handsome young man was going through the forest. The sun shone bright, the birds sang, a cool breeze crept through the leaves, and he was full of joy and gladness. He had as yet met no one, when he suddenly perceived the old witch kneeling on the ground cutting grass with a sickle. She had already thrust a whole load into her bundle, and near it stood two baskets, which were filled with wild apples and pears. But, good little mother, said he, how can you carry all that away. I must carry it, dear sir, answered she, rich folk's children have no need to do such things, but with the peasant folk the saying goes, don't look behind you, you will only see how crooked your back is. Will you help me, she said, as he remained standing by her. You have still a straight back and young legs, it would be a trifle to you. Besides, my house is not so very far from here, it stands there on the heath behind the hill. How soon you would bound up thither. The young man took compassion on the old woman. My father is certainly no peasant, replied he, but a rich count. Nevertheless, that you may see that it is not only peasants who can carry things, I will take your bundle. If you will try it, said she, I shall be very glad. You will certainly have to walk for an hour, but what will that matter to you, only you must carry the apples and pears as well. The young man felt somewhat uneasy when he heard of an hour's walk, but the old woman would not let him off, packed the bundle on his back, and hung the two baskets on his arm. See, it is quite light, said she. No, it is not light, answered the count, and pulled a rueful face. Verily, the bundle weighs as heavily as if it were full of cobblestones, and the apples and pears are as heavy as lead. I can scarcely breathe. He had a mind to put everything down again, but the old woman would not allow it. Just look, said she mockingly, the young gentleman will not carry what I, an old woman, have so often dragged along. You are ready with fine words, but when it comes to be earnest, you want to take to your heels. Why are you standing loitering there. She continued, step out. No one will take the bundle off again. As long as he walked on level ground, it was still bearable, but when they came to the hill and had to climb, and the stones rolled down under his feet as if they were alive, it was beyond his strength. Drops of sweat stood on his forehead, and ran, hot and cold, down his back. Mother, said he, I can go no farther. I want to rest a little. Not here, answered the old woman, when we have arrived at our journey's end, you can rest. But now you must go forward. Who knows what good it may do you. Old woman, you are becoming shameless, said the count, and tried to throw off the bundle, but he labored in vain. It stuck as fast to his back as if it grew there. He turned and twisted, but he could not get rid of it.

The old woman laughed at this, and sprang about quite delighted on her crutch. Don't get angry, dear sir, said she, you are growing as red in the face as a turkey-cock. Carry your bundle patiently. I will give you a good present when we get home. What could he do. He was obliged to submit to his fate, and crawl along patiently behind the old woman. She seemed to grow more and more nimble, and his burden still heavier. All at once she made a bound, jumped on to the bundle and seated herself on the top of it. And however withered she might be, she was yet heavier than the stoutest country lass. The youth's knees trembled, but when he did not go on, the old woman hit him about the legs with a switch and with stinging-nettles. Groaning continually, he climbed the mountain, and at length reached the old woman's house, when he was just about to drop. When the geese perceived the old woman, they flapped their wings, stretched out their necks, ran to meet her, cackling all the while.

Behind the flock walked, stick in hand, an old wench, strong and big, but ugly as night. Good mother, said she to the old woman, has anything happened to you, you have stayed away so long. By no means, my dear daughter, answered she, I have met with nothing bad, but, on the contrary, with this kind gentleman, who has carried my burden for me. Only think, he even took me on his back when I was tired. The way, too, has not seemed long to us. We have been merry, and have been cracking jokes with each other all the time.

At last the old woman slid down, took the bundle off the young man's back, and the baskets from his arm, looked at him quite kindly, and said, now seat yourself on the bench before the door, and rest. You have fairly earned your wages, and they shall not be wanting. Then she said to the goose-girl, go into the house, my dear daughter, it is not becoming for you to be alone with a young gentleman. One must not pour oil on to the fire, he might fall in love with you. The count knew not whether to laugh or to cry. Such a sweetheart as that, thought he, could not touch my heart, even if she were thirty years younger.

In the meantime the old woman stroked and fondled her geese as if they were children, and then went into the house with her daughter. The youth lay down on the bench, under a wild apple-tree. The air was warm and mild. On all sides stretched a green meadow, which was set with cowslips, wild thyme, and a thousand other flowers. Through the midst of it rippled a clear brook on which the sun sparkled, and the white geese went walking backwards and forwards, or paddled in the water. It is quite delightful here, said he, but I am so tired that I cannot keep my eyes open. I will sleep a little. If only a gust of wind does not come and blow my legs off my body, for they are as rotten as tinder. When he had slept a little while, the old woman came and shook him till he awoke. Sit up, said she, you can not stay here. I have certainly treated you ill enough, still it has not cost you your life. Of money and land you have no need, here is something else for you. Thereupon she thrust a little box into his hand, which was cut out of a single emerald. Take great care of it, said she, it will bring you good fortune. The count sprang up, and as he felt that he was quite fresh, and had recovered his vigor, he thanked the old woman for her present, and set off without even once looking back at the beautiful daughter.

When he was already some way off, he still heard in the distance the noisy cry of the geese. For three days the count had to wander in the wilderness before he could find his way out. He then reached a large town, and as no one knew him, he was led into the royal palace, where the king and queen were sitting on their throne. The count fell on one knee, drew the emerald box out of his pocket, and laid it at the queen's feet. She bade him rise and hand her the little box. Hardly, however, had she opened it, and looked therein, than she fell as if dead to the ground. The count was seized by the king's servants, and was being led to prison, when the queen opened her eyes, and ordered them to release him, and every one was to go out, as she wished to speak with him in private.

When the queen was alone, she began to weep bitterly, and said, of what use to me are the splendors and honors with which I am surrounded. Every morning I awake in pain and sorrow. I had three daughters, the youngest of whom was so beautiful that the whole world looked on her as a wonder. She was as white as snow, as rosy as apple-blossom, and her hair as radiant as sun-beams. When she cried, not tears fell from her eyes, but pearls and jewels only. When she was fifteen years old, the king summoned all three sisters to come before his throne. You should have seen how all the people gazed when the youngest entered, it was just as if the sun were rising. Then the king spoke, my daughters, I know not when my last day may arrive. I will to-day decide what each shall receive at my death. You all love me, but the one of you who loves me best, shall fare the best.

Each of them said she loved him best. Can you not express to me, said the king, how much you do love me, and thus I shall see what you mean. The eldest spoke, I love my father as dearly as the sweetest sugar. The second, I love my father as dearly as my prettiest dress. But the youngest was silent. Then the father said, and you, my dearest child, how much do you love me. I do not know, and can compare my love with nothing. But her father insisted that she should name something. So she said at last, the best food does not please me without salt, therefore I love my father like salt. When the king heard that, he fell into a passion, and said, if you love me like salt, your love shall also be repaid you with salt. Then he divided the kingdom between the two elder, but caused a sack of salt to be bound on the back of the youngest, and two servants had to lead her forth into the wild forest. We all begged and prayed for her, said the queen, but the king's anger was not to be appeased. How she cried when she had to leave us. The whole road was strewn with the pearls which flowed from her eyes. The king soon afterwards repented of his great severity, and had the whole forest searched for the poor child, but no one could find her.

When I think that the wild beasts have devoured her, I know not how to contain myself for sorrow. Many a time I console myself with the hope that she is still alive, and may have hidden herself in a cave, or has found shelter with compassionate people. But picture to yourself, when I opened your little emerald box, a pearl lay therein, of exactly the same kind as those which used to fall from my daughter's eyes. And then you can also imagine how the sight of it stirred my heart. You must tell me how you came by that pearl. The count told her that he had received it from the old woman in the forest, who had appeared very strange to him, and must be a witch, but he had neither seen nor heard anything of the queen's child. The king and the queen resolved to seek out the old woman. They thought that there where the pearl had been, they would obtain news of their daughter.

The old woman was sitting in that lonely place at her spinning-wheel spinning. It was already dusk, and a log which was burning on the hearth gave a scanty light. All at once there was a noise outside, the geese were coming home from the pasture, and uttering their hoarse cries. Soon afterwards the daughter also entered. But the old woman scarcely thanked her, and only shook her head a little. The daughter sat down beside her, took her spinning-wheel, and twisted the threads as nimbly as a young girl. Thus they both sat for two hours, and exchanged never a word. At last something rustled at the window and two fiery eyes peered in. It was an old night-owl, which cried 'uhu, three times.

The old woman looked up just a little, then she said, now, my little daughter, it is time for you to go out and do your work. She rose and went out, and where did she go. Over the meadows ever onward into the valley. At last she came to a well, with three old oak-trees standing beside it. Meanwhile the moon had risen large and round over the mountain, and it was so light that one could have found a needle. She removed a skin which covered her face, then bent down to the well, and began to wash herself. When she had finished, she dipped the skin also in the water, and then laid it on the meadow, so that it should bleach in the moonlight, and dry again. But how the maiden was changed. Such a change as that was never seen before. When the gray mask fell off, her golden hair broke forth like sun-beams, and spread about like a mantle over her whole form. Her eyes shone out as brightly as the stars in heaven, and her cheeks bloomed a soft red like apple-blossom. But the fair maiden was sad. She sat down and wept bitterly. One tear after another forced itself out of her eyes, and rolled through her long hair to the ground.

There she sat, and would have remained sitting a long time, if there had not been a rustling and cracking in the boughs of the neighboring tree. She sprang up like a roe which has been overtaken by the shot of the hunter. Just then the moon was obscured by a dark cloud, and in an instant the maiden had put on the old skin and vanished, like a light blown out by the wind. She ran back home, trembling like an aspen-leaf. The old woman was standing on the threshold, and the girl was about to relate what had befallen her, but the old woman laughed kindly, and said, I already know all. She led her into the room and lighted a new log. She did not, however, sit down to her spinning again, but fetched a broom and began to sweep and scour. All must be clean and sweet, she said to the girl. But, mother, said the maiden, why do you begin work at so late an hour. What do you expect. Do you know then what time it is, asked the old woman. Not yet midnight, answered the maiden, but already past eleven o'clock. Do you not remember, continued the old woman, that it is three years to-day since you came to me. Your time is up, we can no longer remain together.

The girl was terrified, and said, alas, dear mother, will you cast me off. Where shall I go. I have no friends, and no home to which I can go. I have always done as you bade me, and you have always been satisfied with me. Do not send me away. The old woman would not tell the maiden what lay before her. My stay here is over, she said to her, but when I depart, house and parlor must be clean. Therefore do not hinder me in my work. Have no care for yourself, you shall find a roof to shelter you, and the wages which I will give you shall also content you. But tell me what is about to happen, the maiden continued to entreat. I tell you again, do not hinder me in my work. Do not say a word more, go to your chamber, take the skin off your face, and put on the silken gown which you had on when you came to me, and then wait in your chamber until I call you. But I must once more tell of the king and queen, who had journeyed forth with the count in order to seek out the old woman in the wilderness.

The count had strayed away from them in the wood by night, and had to walk onwards alone. Next day it seemed to him that he was on the right track. He still went forward, until darkness came on, then he climbed a tree, intending to pass the night there, for he feared that he might lose his way. When the moon illumined the surrounding country he perceived a figure coming down the mountain. She had no stick in her hand, but yet he could see that it was the goose-girl, whom he had seen before in the house of the old woman. Oho, cried he, there she comes, and if I once get hold of one of the witches, the other shall not escape me. But how astonished he was, when she went to the well, took off the skin and washed herself, when her golden hair fell down all about her, and she was more beautiful than anyone whom he had ever seen in the whole world. He hardly dared to breathe, but stretched his head as far forward through the leaves as he could, and stared at her. Either he bent over too far, or whatever the cause might be, the bough suddenly cracked, and that very moment the maiden slipped into the skin, sprang away like a roe, and as the moon was suddenly covered, disappeared from his sight.

Hardly had she disappeared, before the count descended from the tree, and hastened after her with nimble steps. He had not been gone long before he saw, in the twilight, two figures coming over the meadow. It was the king and queen, who had perceived from a distance the light shining in the old woman's little house, and were going to it. The count told them what wonderful things he had seen by the well, and they did not doubt that it had been their lost daughter. They walked onwards full of joy, and soon came to the little house. The geese were sitting all round it, and had thrust their heads under their wings and were sleeping, and not one of them moved. The king and queen looked in at the window, where the old woman was sitting quite quietly spinning, nodding her head and never looking round. The room was perfectly clean, as if the little mist men, who carry no dust on their feet, lived there. Their daughter, however, they did not see. They gazed at all this for a long time, until at last they took heart, and knocked softly at the window. The old woman appeared to have been expecting them. She rose, and called out quite kindly, come in. I know you already.

When they had entered the room, the old woman said, you might have spared yourself the long walk, if you had not three years ago unjustly driven away your child, who is so good and lovable. No harm has come to her. For three years she has had to tend the geese. With them she has learnt no evil, but has preserved her purity of heart. You, however, have been sufficiently punished by the misery in which you have lived. Then she went to the chamber and called, come out, my little daughter. Thereupon the door opened, and the princess stepped out in her silken garments, with her golden hair and her shining eyes, and it was as if an angel from heaven had entered. She went up to her father and mother, fell on their necks and kissed them. There was no help for it, they all had to weep for joy. The young count stood near them, and when she perceived him she became as red in the face as a moss-rose, she herself did not know why. The king said, my dear child, I have given away my kingdom, what shall I give you. She needs nothing, said the old woman. I give her the tears that she has wept on your account. They are precious pearls, finer than those that are found in the sea, and worth more than your whole kingdom, and I give her my little house as payment for her services.

When the old woman had said that, she disappeared from their sight. The walls rattled a little, and when the king and queen looked round, the little house had changed into a splendid palace, a royal table had been spread, and the servants were running hither and thither. The story goes still further, but my grandmother, who related it to me, had partly lost her memory, and had forgotten the rest. I shall always believe that the beautiful princess married the count, and that they remained together in the palace, and lived there in all happiness so long as God willed it. Whether the snow-white geese, which were kept near the little hut, were verily young maidens no one need take offence, whom the old woman had taken under her protection, and whether they now received their human form again, and stayed as handmaids to the young queen, I do not exactly know, but I suspect it. This much is certain, that the old woman was no witch, as people thought, but a wise woman, who meant well. Very likely it was she who, at the princess's birth, gave her the gift of weeping pearls instead of tears. That does not happen nowadays, or else the poor would soon become rich.

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Notes

Commentary

This tale is interesting as it is told slightly back to front and also in parallel at some points between the journey and experience of the young princess and the journey of the young prince and the king and queen. It starts towards the culmination or the resolution in a way with the encounter between the old woman in the woods and the prince before explaining how we get to this point with the history of the young princess and her parents. The tale starts shortly before the three years since the princess was exiled is up.

There was once upon a time a very old woman, who lived with her flock of geese in a remote clearing in the mountains, and there had a little house. The clearing was surrounded by a large forest, and every morning the old woman took her crutch and hobbled into it. There, however, she was quite active, more so than any one would have thought, considering her age, and collected grass for her geese, picked all the wild fruit she could reach, and carried everything home on her back. Anyone would have thought that the heavy load would have weighed her to the ground, but she always brought it safely home. If anyone met her, she greeted him quite courteously. Good day, dear countryman, it is a fine day. Ah, you wonder that I should drag grass about, but everyone must take his burden on his back. Nevertheless, people did not like to meet her if they could help it, and took by preference a round-about way, and when a father with his boys passed her, he whispered to them, beware of the old woman. She has claws beneath her gloves. She is a witch.

The old woman is a mother earth-goddess; she lives in the woods and is a picture of contradiction, of opposites - she is both old and cripple (using a crutch) but is also strong and capable of carrying heavy loads and doing a full days work. She is a carer of geese and thus a caretaker to the underworld or the world beyond and thus a connection with the unknown, the unconscious.

“Like the duck, gander or swan, the goose is a beneficent animal associated with the Great Mother and with the ‘descent into hell’.”
Cirlot, J. E. (1971) A Dictionary of Symbols. Routledge, 2nd edition

The fact that she is avoided highlights perhaps a theme - right at the start - of reluctance to know of, or approach this world. Psychologically speaking this would be someone or even for the collective attitude who reproaches and warns off any unconscious contact. It is unknown. The geese might - but we'll see more later - be unconscious content that have reached the doors of death so to speak, regressed to the unconscious with no conscious knowledge and as the mother goddess, the caretaker, she is looking after this content, the geese until they are ready to develop…as perhaps in other tales, the Six Swans or the Seven Ravens.
The forest too is a symbol of the unconscious arena.

One morning, a handsome young man was going through the forest. The sun shone bright, the birds sang, a cool breeze crept through the leaves, and he was full of joy and gladness. He had as yet met no one, when he suddenly perceived the old witch kneeling on the ground cutting grass with a sickle. She had already thrust a whole load into her bundle, and near it stood two baskets, which were filled with wild apples and pears. But, good little mother, said he, how can you carry all that away. I must carry it, dear sir, answered she, rich folk's children have no need to do such things, but with the peasant folk the saying goes, don't look behind you, you will only see how crooked your back is. Will you help me, she said, as he remained standing by her. You have still a straight back and young legs, it would be a trifle to you. Besides, my house is not so very far from here, it stands there on the heath behind the hill. How soon you would bound up thither. The young man took compassion on the old woman. My father is certainly no peasant, replied he, but a rich count. Nevertheless, that you may see that it is not only peasants who can carry things, I will take your bundle. If you will try it, said she, I shall be very glad. You will certainly have to walk for an hour, but what will that matter to you, only you must carry the apples and pears as well. The young man felt somewhat uneasy when he heard of an hour's walk, but the old woman would not let him off, packed the bundle on his back, and hung the two baskets on his arm. See, it is quite light, said she. No, it is not light, answered the count, and pulled a rueful face. Verily, the bundle weighs as heavily as if it were full of cobblestones, and the apples and pears are as heavy as lead. I can scarcely breathe. He had a mind to put everything down again, but the old woman would not allow it. Just look, said she mockingly, the young gentleman will not carry what I, an old woman, have so often dragged along. You are ready with fine words, but when it comes to be earnest, you want to take to your heels. Why are you standing loitering there. She continued, step out. No one will take the bundle off again. As long as he walked on level ground, it was still bearable, but when they came to the hill and had to climb, and the stones rolled down under his feet as if they were alive, it was beyond his strength. Drops of sweat stood on his forehead, and ran, hot and cold, down his back. Mother, said he, I can go no farther. I want to rest a little. Not here, answered the old woman, when we have arrived at our journey's end, you can rest. But now you must go forward. Who knows what good it may do you. Old woman, you are becoming shameless, said the count, and tried to throw off the bundle, but he labored in vain. It stuck as fast to his back as if it grew there. He turned and twisted, but he could not get rid of it.

The old witch gathering her harvest using a sickle is reminiscent of the Greek depiction for summer. The Greeks represented the four season by four woman figures;

“Summer, with a crown of ears of corn, bearing a sheaf in one hand and a sickle in the other.”
Cirlot, J. E. (1971) A Dictionary of Symbols. Routledge, 2nd edition

We could say that the three years were like the three previous seasons and now it is time for the harvest, the summer, the fourth season. The number four being a complete number.
She is a bit of a trickster too - mercurial - with her pithy anecdotes about age and her ability knowing full well she is capable in her task. In this tricky manner she coerces the prince into helping more than he would like. Her role as the mother goddess is further confirmed with her power to trick him and enslave him in some way, i.e., he takes the load and is not able to remove it from his back. He is a bit of a hero, looking to help and be chivalrous. He exclaims his pedigree as the son of a rich count. I've said prince till now, but I think they are similar enough…except that the son of a rich count is not immediately in line to the throne, so in this sense, he is not a true prince but certainly a worthy energy coming from a wealthy background. Psychologically he is certainly a heroic figure who is being to be tested now. I think it important too that he does not know or recognise the old woman as a witch, or if he does, he is not afraid. I would err on the side of naiveness as opposed to heroism. I think this is important, his 'full of joy and gladness' stance brings an innocence with it, necessary to meet and engage with the witch. If he was older (as with the other man walking with his son through the forest) he might have more conscious maturity, and experience, and avoid the witch. This young, puer energy is needed to bring about the change.
In general, apples are a masculine fruit and the pear a feminine fruit. This highlights again the duality of the old woman as encompassing the opposites, as the mother earth goddess.. As we'll see later, she has a plan and is both good and as this encounter with the prince highlights, a little demonic in tricking him to do her bidding - and then laughing at him too! :) So again, the duality of her nature.

The old woman laughed at this, and sprang about quite delighted on her crutch. Don't get angry, dear sir, said she, you are growing as red in the face as a turkey-cock. Carry your bundle patiently. I will give you a good present when we get home. What could he do. He was obliged to submit to his fate, and crawl along patiently behind the old woman. She seemed to grow more and more nimble, and his burden still heavier. All at once she made a bound, jumped on to the bundle and seated herself on the top of it. And however withered she might be, she was yet heavier than the stoutest country lass. The youth's knees trembled, but when he did not go on, the old woman hit him about the legs with a switch and with stinging-nettles. Groaning continually, he climbed the mountain, and at length reached the old woman's house, when he was just about to drop. When the geese perceived the old woman, they flapped their wings, stretched out their necks, ran to meet her, cackling all the while.

This encounter reminds me of Jason and Hera, where Hera spied Jason one day and found him to be beautiful. So she disguised herself as an old crone standing forlorn by the side of a flowing river in an attempt to cross. Jason then offers to carry her on his back across the river. As he carries her across it gets more and more difficult but he sticks to the task. At one point, he loses a sandal in the mud but continues to the other side. Once safely across Hera reveals herself and then blesses Jason giving him magic horses. Jason goes on - with Hera's help - to adventures with the Argonauts. The count's son as similar to Jason is certainly then a heroic figure.

Behind the flock walked, stick in hand, an old wench, strong and big, but ugly as night. Good mother, said she to the old woman, has anything happened to you, you have stayed away so long. By no means, my dear daughter, answered she, I have met with nothing bad, but, on the contrary, with this kind gentleman, who has carried my burden for me. Only think, he even took me on his back when I was tired. The way, too, has not seemed long to us. We have been merry, and have been cracking jokes with each other all the time.

The princess, although they exchange salutations of mother and daughter, is very much like the old woman as perceived by the prince. She is an 'old wench' with a walking stick. She is also a contradiction, an embodiment (quite literally) of opposites - she is young and beautiful, but old and walking with a stick. This as a picture brings her close to the mother goddess, there is an identification with her. Psychologically speaking, there is a participation mystique. The archetypal energy that she represents has regressed to reside with the earth-goddess. Notably though, alongside the earth-goddess, she is shunned and not included in consciousness - until now as we see with the arrival of the hero.

At last the old woman slid down, took the bundle off the young man's back, and the baskets from his arm, looked at him quite kindly, and said, now seat yourself on the bench before the door, and rest. You have fairly earned your wages, and they shall not be wanting. Then she said to the goose-girl, go into the house, my dear daughter, it is not becoming for you to be alone with a young gentleman. One must not pour oil on to the fire, he might fall in love with you. The count knew not whether to laugh or to cry. Such a sweetheart as that, thought he, could not touch my heart, even if she were thirty years younger.

The prince has been tested and 'fairly earned' his wages. We know having read the whole tale that the old woman has a view of the bigger picture, and the unfolding plan of things…so having tested the young man, she has now told him he has passed and his reward will 'not be wanting'. He wouldn't know what that is of course, and he already has a rich father.
I'm curious about this quip made by the old woman - why would she say that. Perhaps it is to be foreboding of what may come, or to hint at it to see if the young man might perceive her intentions and planning - and thus, perhaps it is good he doesn't? Perhaps, by sending her away, the old woman is removing any 'accident' of him finding out? …don't know. It could just be inline with her trickster nature we've seen earlier.

In the meantime the old woman stroked and fondled her geese as if they were children, and then went into the house with her daughter. The youth lay down on the bench, under a wild apple-tree. The air was warm and mild. On all sides stretched a green meadow, which was set with cowslips, wild thyme, and a thousand other flowers. Through the midst of it rippled a clear brook on which the sun sparkled, and the white geese went walking backwards and forwards, or paddled in the water. It is quite delightful here, said he, but I am so tired that I cannot keep my eyes open. I will sleep a little. If only a gust of wind does not come and blow my legs off my body, for they are as rotten as tinder.

The description of nature is informative I think. This little paragraph is quite rich. Firstly, the apple tree - conjures up thoughts of the tree from the Garden of Eden and the apple from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. So this is a symbol of consciousness, enlightenment, awakening (ironic he falls asleep under it). Regarding the description, the mention of 'a thousand other flowers' brings to mind the cosmos of nature where the stars are like stars in the sky, where Paracelsus said that the plants were natures cosmos and thus reflected the constellations in a fashion. He used this notion to formulate remedies - a person who fell within a certain astrological constellation who was ill would thus need the appropriate complementary astrological constellation administered to them in herbs and plants and flowers that reflected the cosmos in nature. So we could say there is the sky on earth here. The 'clear brook on which the sun sparkled' is another indicator to this I think - the sun is there too. So in all this you see the totality of the grove in which the earth goddess lives. I think this is valuable and speaks to the narrative of the unconscious realm in which the old woman, the princess and the young man are moving.
Why does he fall asleep? He's tired of course, but what does it mean to fall asleep in to the unconscious. All in all, compared with other tales, he is hardly heroic in his deeds. Psychologically this would perhaps inform a more feminine emphasis on the tale as it is the princess who has had the more significant journey.

When he had slept a little while, the old woman came and shook him till he awoke. Sit up, said she, you can not stay here. I have certainly treated you ill enough, still it has not cost you your life. Of money and land you have no need, here is something else for you. Thereupon she thrust a little box into his hand, which was cut out of a single emerald. Take great care of it, said she, it will bring you good fortune. The count sprang up, and as he felt that he was quite fresh, and had recovered his vigor, he thanked the old woman for her present, and set off without even once looking back at the beautiful daughter.

When he was already some way off, he still heard in the distance the noisy cry of the geese. For three days the count had to wander in the wilderness before he could find his way out. He then reached a large town, and as no one knew him, he was led into the royal palace, where the king and queen were sitting on their throne. The count fell on one knee, drew the emerald box out of his pocket, and laid it at the queen's feet. She bade him rise and hand her the little box. Hardly, however, had she opened it, and looked therein, than she fell as if dead to the ground. The count was seized by the king's servants, and was being led to prison, when the queen opened her eyes, and ordered them to release him, and every one was to go out, as she wished to speak with him in private. When the queen was alone, she began to weep bitterly, and said, of what use to me are the splendors and honors with which I am surrounded. Every morning I awake in pain and sorrow.

He really is a passive hero figure. He's basically a messenger. In some ways the trial of carrying the old woman was a test to see if he could handle the message, the cargo, would he follow through. Clearly, the old woman - earth-goddess - has insight in to the future unfolding of the tale, and so she knew he was the one. It is he who carries the 'message', the item from the old woman to the king and queen, to the queen first. This is very important. Psychologically speaking then, it is a young masculine energy that needs to be enduring and a little immature or naive perhaps in his view on things. Where the King and Queen of the kingdom would normally represent the predominant collective conscious attitude it is a masculine archetype that needs to engage with the unconscious attitude. Notably - as we see later - it was the king, a dominant animus that drove the princess away. So it is a renewed animus archetype, attitude perhaps. The hero must carry the message back to consciousness.
The emerald box and the pearl carry with them an association of the third eye, a symbol of wisdom and eternity.

“The cup itself has its own symbolism, but there is a legend which tells how it was fashioned by angels from an emerald that dropped from Lucifer’s forehead when he was hurled into the abyss. This emerald, as Guénon has shown, is reminiscent of the urnâ, the pearl fixed to the forehead which, in Hindu symbolism, is the third eye of Siva (or Shiva), representing the ‘sense of eternity’.”
Cirlot, J. E. (1971) A Dictionary of Symbols. Routledge, 2nd edition

So it seems the emerald and the pearl are linked. The pearl related to shells in the sea also reminds me of Aphrodite (Roman Venus) who emerged from a shell, like a pearl. She was the goddess of love, happiness, beauty, procreation and pleasure. I'm not sure what the 'message' (= pearl in the emerald box) means exactly. It is the pearl that informs the queen of the potential to re-unite with her daughter, so it is this that we should focus on I think. the pearl is a symbol of the Self, the centre hidden in the shell. It is a labour over time, it is the rough made smooth, beautiful and valuable.

I had three daughters, the youngest of whom was so beautiful that the whole world looked on her as a wonder. She was as white as snow, as rosy as apple-blossom, and her hair as radiant as sun-beams. When she cried, not tears fell from her eyes, but pearls and jewels only. When she was fifteen years old, the king summoned all three sisters to come before his throne. You should have seen how all the people gazed when the youngest entered, it was just as if the sun were rising. Then the king spoke, my daughters, I know not when my last day may arrive. I will to-day decide what each shall receive at my death. You all love me, but the one of you who loves me best, shall fare the best. Each of them said she loved him best. Can you not express to me, said the king, how much you do love me, and thus I shall see what you mean. The eldest spoke, I love my father as dearly as the sweetest sugar. The second, I love my father as dearly as my prettiest dress. But the youngest was silent. Then the father said, and you, my dearest child, how much do you love me. I do not know, and can compare my love with nothing. But her father insisted that she should name something. So she said at last, the best food does not please me without salt, therefore I love my father like salt. When the king heard that, he fell into a passion, and said, if you love me like salt, your love shall also be repaid you with salt. Then he divided the kingdom between the two elder, but caused a sack of salt to be bound on the back of the youngest, and two servants had to lead her forth into the wild forest. We all begged and prayed for her, said the queen, but the king's anger was not to be appeased. How she cried when she had to leave us. The whole road was strewn with the pearls which flowed from her eyes. The king soon afterwards repented of his great severity, and had the whole forest searched for the poor child, but no one could find her.

So now we get to the antecedent of this whole tale; why the princess was sent away. It comes about at when she is around 15 years old, a time of change in the feminine psyche when eros comes in to play and hormones are going nuts.

Psychologically speaking, the feminine is now faced with the dominant collective consciousness in the guise of the King and Queen and she is challenged in the form of the animus posing a question to her. The Kings question is a very mature one, he is worried about life and death and what will become of his kingdom. This is a pretty harsh question to place on a 15 year old, and unnecessary as it is a time for living at this age. He asks how much he is loved - this is curious because in some ways he's asking to ensure the current state of the collective conscious attitude, i.e. his kingdom, but on the other hand, he's mindful of his death and its end. So perhaps he is looking for the one who loves it the most to ensure thus current state of things will continue as they are.
The dress - ???
Sugar - ???
Salt - In alchemy salt represents the body. Her first answer is she does not know…this is not a bad answer I think as it is honest and what a normal 15 year old would say if you asked them, “what do you want to do with your life?” Some may have an answer, but in ernest, most 15 year olds would answer “dunno.” :) When pressed, she says the body = salt. At the age of 15 the body - with eros stoking the boiler - becomes a key preoccupation of most 15 year olds, how they look, dress, move, develop, boobs, har, sex…etc. So this is again, a good answer. The King does not like this and kicks her out the kingdom with a bag of salt. It's fair to say I think, psychologically that there is pressure here on the individual to take life too seriously; consider death and the future in such a way. The conscious attitude to grow up too quickly and worry about things like life and death, and maintaining the kingdom so to speak is not what the young person of this tale should be worrying about. The pressures of life are too soon and when this over anxious attitude is adopted, the young vibrant energy of the princess is exiled and repressed to the unconscious.
The princess is special - she is beautiful and cries tears of jewels and peals. This is important: pearls as a collection are something different to individual pearls. As a collection they form jewelry and a necklace for example.

“Pearls in large numbers take on a different character: despite their high value, they come to be mere beads: when joined they correspond to the symbol of the necklace, and when scattered they relate to the symbol of dismemberment, like all things that are dispersed.”
Cirlot, J. E. (1971) A Dictionary of Symbols. Routledge, 2nd edition

So we might say that the girl has the potential to gather her jewels and pearls but at this age they are dispersed, her energy is dismembered and not connect, strung together. This is not bad I think given her age. She needs to understand this gift…that may result in a kingdom and wealth as we see at the end. This also resonates with her answer of 'I don't know'.
The queen is also quite passive.
A note on the goose girl's hair, where it say 'her hair as radiant as sun-beams.' : In Norse mythology the sun is feminine which may point to the prime feminine sun goddess figure.

When I think that the wild beasts have devoured her, I know not how to contain myself for sorrow. Many a time I console myself with the hope that she is still alive, and may have hidden herself in a cave, or has found shelter with compassionate people. But picture to yourself, when I opened your little emerald box, a pearl lay therein, of exactly the same kind as those which used to fall from my daughter's eyes. And then you can also imagine how the sight of it stirred my heart. You must tell me how you came by that pearl. The count told her that he had received it from the old woman in the forest, who had appeared very strange to him, and must be a witch, but he had neither seen nor heard anything of the queen's child. The king and the queen resolved to seek out the old woman. They thought that there where the pearl had been, they would obtain news of their daughter.

The old woman was sitting in that lonely place at her spinning-wheel spinning. It was already dusk, and a log which was burning on the hearth gave a scanty light. All at once there was a noise outside, the geese were coming home from the pasture, and uttering their hoarse cries. Soon afterwards the daughter also entered. But the old woman scarcely thanked her, and only shook her head a little. The daughter sat down beside her, took her spinning-wheel, and twisted the threads as nimbly as a young girl. Thus they both sat for two hours, and exchanged never a word. At last something rustled at the window and two fiery eyes peered in. It was an old night-owl, which cried 'uhu, three times.

The old woman looked up just a little, then she said, now, my little daughter, it is time for you to go out and do your work. She rose and went out, and where did she go. Over the meadows ever onward into the valley. At last she came to a well, with three old oak-trees standing beside it. Meanwhile the moon had risen large and round over the mountain, and it was so light that one could have found a needle. She removed a skin which covered her face, then bent down to the well, and began to wash herself. When she had finished, she dipped the skin also in the water, and then laid it on the meadow, so that it should bleach in the moonlight, and dry again. But how the maiden was changed. Such a change as that was never seen before. When the gray mask fell off, her golden hair broke forth like sun-beams, and spread about like a mantle over her whole form. Her eyes shone out as brightly as the stars in heaven, and her cheeks bloomed a soft red like apple-blossom. But the fair maiden was sad. She sat down and wept bitterly. One tear after another forced itself out of her eyes, and rolled through her long hair to the ground.

There she sat, and would have remained sitting a long time, if there had not been a rustling and cracking in the boughs of the neighboring tree. She sprang up like a roe which has been overtaken by the shot of the hunter. Just then the moon was obscured by a dark cloud, and in an instant the maiden had put on the old skin and vanished, like a light blown out by the wind. She ran back home, trembling like an aspen-leaf. The old woman was standing on the threshold, and the girl was about to relate what had befallen her, but the old woman laughed kindly, and said, I already know all. She led her into the room and lighted a new log. She did not, however, sit down to her spinning again, but fetched a broom and began to sweep and scour. All must be clean and sweet, she said to the girl. But, mother, said the maiden, why do you begin work at so late an hour. What do you expect. Do you know then what time it is, asked the old woman. Not yet midnight, answered the maiden, but already past eleven o'clock. Do you not remember, continued the old woman, that it is three years to-day since you came to me. Your time is up, we can no longer remain together.

The girl was terrified, and said, alas, dear mother, will you cast me off. Where shall I go. I have no friends, and no home to which I can go. I have always done as you bade me, and you have always been satisfied with me. Do not send me away. The old woman would not tell the maiden what lay before her. My stay here is over, she said to her, but when I depart, house and parlor must be clean. Therefore do not hinder me in my work. Have no care for yourself, you shall find a roof to shelter you, and the wages which I will give you shall also content you. But tell me what is about to happen, the maiden continued to entreat. I tell you again, do not hinder me in my work. Do not say a word more, go to your chamber, take the skin off your face, and put on the silken gown which you had on when you came to me, and then wait in your chamber until I call you. But I must once more tell of the king and queen, who had journeyed forth with the count in order to seek out the old woman in the wilderness.

The count had strayed away from them in the wood by night, and had to walk onwards alone. Next day it seemed to him that he was on the right track. He still went forward, until darkness came on, then he climbed a tree, intending to pass the night there, for he feared that he might lose his way. When the moon illumined the surrounding country he perceived a figure coming down the mountain. She had no stick in her hand, but yet he could see that it was the goose-girl, whom he had seen before in the house of the old woman. Oho, cried he, there she comes, and if I once get hold of one of the witches, the other shall not escape me. But how astonished he was, when she went to the well, took off the skin and washed herself, when her golden hair fell down all about her, and she was more beautiful than anyone whom he had ever seen in the whole world. He hardly dared to breathe, but stretched his head as far forward through the leaves as he could, and stared at her. Either he bent over too far, or whatever the cause might be, the bough suddenly cracked, and that very moment the maiden slipped into the skin, sprang away like a roe, and as the moon was suddenly covered, disappeared from his sight.

Hardly had she disappeared, before the count descended from the tree, and hastened after her with nimble steps. He had not been gone long before he saw, in the twilight, two figures coming over the meadow. It was the king and queen, who had perceived from a distance the light shining in the old woman's little house, and were going to it. The count told them what wonderful things he had seen by the well, and they did not doubt that it had been their lost daughter. They walked onwards full of joy, and soon came to the little house. The geese were sitting all round it, and had thrust their heads under their wings and were sleeping, and not one of them moved. The king and queen looked in at the window, where the old woman was sitting quite quietly spinning, nodding her head and never looking round. The room was perfectly clean, as if the little mist men, who carry no dust on their feet, lived there. Their daughter, however, they did not see. They gazed at all this for a long time, until at last they took heart, and knocked softly at the window. The old woman appeared to have been expecting them. She rose, and called out quite kindly, come in. I know you already.

When they had entered the room, the old woman said, you might have spared yourself the long walk, if you had not three years ago unjustly driven away your child, who is so good and loveable. No harm has come to her. For three years she has had to tend the geese. With them she has learnt no evil, but has preserved her purity of heart. You, however, have been sufficiently punished by the misery in which you have lived. Then she went to the chamber and called, come out, my little daughter. Thereupon the door opened, and the princess stepped out in her silken garments, with her golden hair and her shining eyes, and it was as if an angel from heaven had entered. She went up to her father and mother, fell on their necks and kissed them. There was no help for it, they all had to weep for joy. The young count stood near them, and when she perceived him she became as red in the face as a moss-rose, she herself did not know why. The king said, my dear child, I have given away my kingdom, what shall I give you. She needs nothing, said the old woman. I give her the tears that she has wept on your account. They are precious pearls, finer than those that are found in the sea, and worth more than your whole kingdom, and I give her my little house as payment for her services.

When the old woman had said that, she disappeared from their sight. The walls rattled a little, and when the king and queen looked round, the little house had changed into a splendid palace, a royal table had been spread, and the servants were running hither and thither. The story goes still further, but my grandmother, who related it to me, had partly lost her memory, and had forgotten the rest. I shall always believe that the beautiful princess married the count, and that they remained together in the palace, and lived there in all happiness so long as God willed it. Whether the snow-white geese, which were kept near the little hut, were verily young maidens no one need take offence, whom the old woman had taken under her protection, and whether they now received their human form again, and stayed as handmaids to the young queen, I do not exactly know, but I suspect it. This much is certain, that the old woman was no witch, as people thought, but a wise woman, who meant well. Very likely it was she who, at the princess's birth, gave her the gift of weeping pearls instead of tears. That does not happen nowadays, or else the poor would soon become rich.

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