Brothers Grimm tale no. 25, and Aarne-Thompson type 451

There was once a man who had seven sons, and still he had no daughter, however much he wished for one. At length his wife again gave him hope of a child, and when it came into the world it was a girl. The joy was great, but the child was sickly and small, and had to be privately baptized on account of its weakness. The father sent one of the boys in haste to the spring to fetch water for the baptism. The other six went with him, and as each of them wanted to be first to fill it, the jug fell into the well. There they stood and did not know what to do, and none of them dared to go home. As they still did not return, the father grew impatient, and said, they have certainly forgotten it while playing some game, the wicked boys. He became afraid that the girl would have to die without being baptized, and in his anger cried, I wish the boys were all turned into ravens. Hardly was the word spoken before he heard a whirring of wings over his head, looked up and saw seven coal-black ravens flying away.

The parents could not withdraw the curse, and however sad they were at the loss of their seven sons, they still to some extent comforted themselves with their dear little daughter, who soon grew strong and every day became more beautiful. For a long time she did not know that she had had brothers, for her parents were careful not to mention them before her, but one day she accidentally heard some people saying of herself, that the girl was certainly beautiful, but that in reality she was to blame for the misfortune which had befallen her seven brothers. Then she was much troubled, and went to her father and mother and asked if it was true that she had had brothers, and what had become of them. The parents now dared keep the secret no longer, but said that what had befallen her brothers was the will of heaven, and that her birth had only been the innocent cause. But the maiden took it to heart daily, and thought she must save her brothers. She had no rest or peace until she set out secretly, and went forth into the wide world to search for her brothers and set them free, let it cost what it might. She took nothing with her but a little ring belonging to her parents as a keepsake, a loaf of bread against hunger, a little pitcher of water against thirst, and a little chair as a provision against weariness.

And now she went continually onwards, far, far to the very end of the world. Then she came to the sun, but it was too hot and terrible, and devoured little children. Hastily she ran away, and ran to the moon, but it was far too cold, and also awful and malicious, and when it saw the child, it said, I smell, I smell the flesh of men. At this she ran swiftly away, and came to the stars, which were kind and good to her, and each of them sat on its own particular little chair. But the morning star arose, and gave her the drumstick of a chicken, and said, if you have not that drumstick you can not open the glass mountain, and in the glass mountain are your brothers.

The maiden took the drumstick, wrapped it carefully in a cloth, and went onwards again until she came to the glass mountain. The door was shut, and she thought she would take out the drumstick. But when she undid the cloth, it was empty, and she had lost the good star's present. What was she now to do. She wished to rescue her brothers, and had no key to the glass mountain. The good sister took a knife, cut off one of her little fingers, put it in the door, and succeeded in opening it. When she had gone inside, a little dwarf came to meet her, who said, my child, what are you looking for. I am looking for my brothers, the seven ravens, she replied. The dwarf said, the lord ravens are not at home, but if you will wait here until they come, step in. Thereupon the little dwarf carried the ravens' dinner in, on seven little plates, and in seven little glasses, and the little sister ate a morsel from each plate, and from each little glass she took a sip, but in the last little glass she dropped the ring which she had brought away with her.

Suddenly she heard a whirring of wings and a rushing through the air, and then the little dwarf said, now the lord ravens are flying home. Then they came, and wanted to eat and drink, and looked for their little plates and glasses. Then said one after the other, who has eaten something from my plate. Who has drunk out of my little glass. It was a human mouth. And when the seventh came to the bottom of the glass, the ring rolled against his mouth. Then he looked at it, and saw that it was a ring belonging to his father and mother, and said, God grant that our sister may be here, and then we shall be free. When the maiden, who was standing behind the door watching, heard that wish, she came forth, and on this all the ravens were restored to their human form again. And they embraced and kissed each other, and went joyfully home.

Notes

CW 12, Psychology and Alchemy, §201, The difficulty of going from 3 to 4, or 7 to 8

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Commentary

There was once a man who had seven sons, and still he had no daughter, however much he wished for one.

As a symbol of wholeness it is very difficult to go from 3 to 4 or 7 to 8, representing the integration of the inferior function as discussed by Jung (CW 12) and von Franz. Interestingly, some of the original copies of this fairytale had 3 ravens, not 7 (wikipedia)

The tale starts with the man, his wife and 7 sons. So M, F, m(x7). There is a clear masculine bias. 7 is also a masculine number. I don't know a lot about number theory or symbolism. If we consider that in this constellation 7 = 3 and 8 = 4. 3 is also a very masculine number. I came across the tetractys and Pythagorean numbering:

There's more about the numerology here, and not directly related but interesting…

(http://www.donaldtyson.com/tetract.html) “The number six was looked upon as the principle of holy marriage, since it contained within itself the mathematical formula 2 x 3 = 6. Two was considered the first feminine number, and three the first masculine number. Their sexual union was expressed by the process of multiplication, since by multiplying more is brought forth than the original amount, just as in sexual union, children exceed the natures and abilities of their parents.”

So anyway, we have a figure here with a masculine bias and a desire to integrate or grow, i.e. bring in the 4th inferior function by way of the birth of a child, a daughter. The tale then already points to what we hope is a completeness; the 8 children and a balance restored to the now masculine biased configuration.

At length his wife again gave him hope of a child, and when it came into the world it was a girl. The joy was great, but the child was sickly and small, and had to be privately baptized on account of its weakness.

A child, a birth is always a good sign of a nascent potential from the unconscious, so this is a good thing. Only we read the child was very sickly and underdeveloped so the birth there but the result has perhaps not been readily acknowledged. A bit like the Chinese proverb, “be careful what you wish for.” This born out again later in the tale when he wishes his sons to be ravens. You get the feeling he has a short fuse and little patience…for the healthy gestation and development of a child takes time and patience. Its almost a little childish to enjoy the immediate elation - “The joy was great”, without realising the longer term commitment. Kind of like 'a dog is for life, not just for christmas' type attitude so prevalent in our temporal fast paced society at the moment, 'instant gratification' and disposable short term goals are the flavour of the month: “I want it and I want it now, next week I'll want something else”…something like that.

It bothers me too that the baptism was to be private. Not that the ceremony itself should be a public affair but it is a public declaration ceremony too, the public commitment to bring the child up in the presence of God (perhaps a christian influence to the fairytale here) and dedicate, with the support of the community, themselves to bringing the child up in the teachings of God. It is the right of admission to the kingdom of God. It is also to bring the child under the protection of God. All these are very long term commitments in contradistinction to the - seeming - situation of the fathers immature stance of the birth as indicated by the sickly child. That said, baptism is not necessarily for infants, which is often called christening for infant baptism. Baptism is also when the child is named and as we see, the baptism does not happen so in some ways, the child is not truly known or established so to speak.

(wikipedia) Infant baptism: “While there is debatable scriptural evidence (such as that in Colossians 2:11-12), paedobaptists believe that infant baptism is the New Testament equivalent of circumcision. During the medieval and Reformation eras, infant baptism was seen as a way to incorporate new-born babies into the secular community as well as inducting them into the Christian faith.”

The Grimm tale is of German origin but similar versions have been found in the Greek where instead of baptism the sons were sent to the healing well. This informs to the Christian influence that would not have accepted the 'healing well' no doubt if it had been in the original German for e.g. and would have naturally replaced the analogous baptism in its place where God would heal the child.

The father sent one of the boys in haste to the spring to fetch water for the baptism. The other six went with him, and as each of them wanted to be first to fill it, the jug fell into the well. There they stood and did not know what to do, and none of them dared to go home. As they still did not return, the father grew impatient, and said, they have certainly forgotten it while playing some game, the wicked boys. He became afraid that the girl would have to die without being baptized, and in his anger cried, I wish the boys were all turned into ravens. Hardly was the word spoken before he heard a whirring of wings over his head, looked up and saw seven coal-black ravens flying away.

Again with all the haste and immediacy of attitude, “sent one of the boys in haste…”, “as each of them wanted to be the first to fill it…”, “the father grew impatient…”. Its that impatient, immature attitude again. As in the father, so in his sons. As the carriers of the fathers imago they show him - as they are - to be juvenile and impatient as they each wanted to be the first to fill the jug instead of ensuring the errand for the newborn. The fact that these aspects of the masculine psyche are themselves human shows some development but only beyond birth perhaps or an amplification of the fact that the masculine constellation has not grown up at all as shown by the heavy masculine bias, the developed male figure, married and having children (physical acts out of his control, in as much as you can't help growing up physically…time takes care of that) and the heavy proportion young boys.

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I wonder too to what degree the sickly little girl was due to the weak nature (perhaps) of the feminine - the tale doesn't say, but if this constellation was a man, it would be a man perhaps with a weak feminine and boyish masculine - hence the sickly little girl.

His anger results in his wish/curse to turn the boys to ravens. I wonder if this energy to 'deprecate' the human figure aspect to a more primitive animal figure is then directed unconsciously to the feminine and this is what allows (as we read later) the little girl to grow up strong and beautiful. I think a lot more could be said about the anger and guilt here as a theme if we consider this tale to be a man, what kind of man would he be? The ego complex has been overwhelmed by another complex, containing guilt. A nice explanation by von Franz in Redemption Motifs in Fairytales:

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Why Ravens? They are omnivores, often eating carrion - so you can imagine all kinds of mythology and symbol around that figure, spurred on by the fact they are all black and have a very distinct cry. They are related to the souls of the dead. As birds they are carriers of spirit and psychic energy.

I like this: Ravens in popular culture In Norse mythology, the Ravens Hugin and Munin sit on the god Odin's shoulders and bring to his ears all the news they see and hear; their names are Thought and Memory.

The raven is a symbol of the nigredo, the stage of putrefaction in alchemy…which is quite appropriate when you consider 'putrefaction' can mean the the process of decay or rotting in a body, and the bird eats rotting stuff…see :) The alchemists saw this as the first stage on the road to the philosophers stone…so quite an apt transformation.

The parents could not withdraw the curse, and however sad they were at the loss of their seven sons, they still to some extent comforted themselves with their dear little daughter, who soon grew strong and every day became more beautiful.

Its important to note that once the energy has transformed; 7 brothers to ravens = to the little girl, it cannot be undone. The parents as the ego attitude cannot undo the curse, even though they brought it about by saying it (through guilt?) they cannot un-say it. The ego cannot forcibly change the flow of energy - an important lesson here that it is not by will that we are transformed, it is an unconscious journey. Or rather, it is a journey with the unconscious that the ego must engage with, here the little girl is the connection, the nascent attitude of growth connecting consciousness with the unconscious. So the journey is not unconscious but is an encounter with the unconscious - no ego strength will transform the sons back from the more primitive, instinctual energy of the animal, the bird that is now more deeply within the unconscious landscape. More to be said and linked here I think with modern thought on CBT and attitude (ego) strength bringing about change - that is not the way. I should find reference in Jung to substantiate this. The ego = parents also do not talk about the change so much, i.e. they do not tell the little girl about her brothers…but it is not under their control really, the unconscious will 'inform' itself so to speak.

For a long time she did not know that she had had brothers, for her parents were careful not to mention them before her, but one day she accidentally heard some people saying of herself, that the girl was certainly beautiful, but that in reality she was to blame for the misfortune which had befallen her seven brothers. Then she was much troubled, and went to her father and mother and asked if it was true that she had had brothers, and what had become of them. The parents now dared keep the secret no longer, but said that what had befallen her brothers was the will of heaven, and that her birth had only been the innocent cause.

“and that her birth had only been the innocent cause”…very interesting, am not quite sure what to make of this. In some ways it corroborates the idea that the energy which gave birth, or brought about the wish fulfilment of her birth has been taken from the brothers and thus they needed to regress, lose energy, return to the unconscious, Jungs idea of the self regulating system of the unconscious; as above, so below. What happens on the outside will effect the inside. There must be a return to Self to find the energy to change to bring about the transformation of the brothers back to consciousness.“

But the maiden took it to heart daily, and thought she must save her brothers. She had no rest or peace until she set out secretly, (a journey without conscious/ego instigation) and went forth into the wide world to search for her brothers and set them free, let it cost what it might. She took nothing with her but a little ring belonging to her parents as a keepsake, a loaf of bread against hunger, a little pitcher of water against thirst, and a little chair as a provision against weariness.

It is very curious these items she takes with her: The ring, a symbol of eternity, infinity, particularly with time it has no end and no beginning. It is a wonderful symbol of the timeless nature of the unconscious, of the infinite nature. It is apt too that it is the (Christian) symbol of marriage, the item that binds the mother and father and in some way connects them with the unconscious journey too even if they are not aware of it. It is also a symbol of the Self. I like it too as we read later in the take it is the thing that reminds the brothers/crows of their family…like a totem, or a charm that has the power to bring someone back from the nether world. I think of movies I've seen where they carry an amulet that they must rub at the moment they wish to return from the time travel. It is the link, a symbol of the Self, between her current life and journey to the unknown.

Some food for hunger and water for thirst - not sure there's much to say here.

A little chair is a very peculiar thing to take along, why not a matt to sleep on rather if you are weary? There is scope I guess to wax on about a chair having 4 legs (although the tale doesn't mention any of this)…but I don't think there's merit in that. We read later that the stars that helped her were each sitting on their “own particular little chair.” We could not know at this point in the tale why a chair is needed but we see later that it somehow links her to the stars I think. Is she likened with the stars perhaps - where (as we read later) she is rejected or frightened away by the moon and sun that perhaps she belongs with the stars and has a little chair like them too. What does this say of her though? more later…

And now she went continually onwards, far, far to the very end of the world. Then she came to the sun, but it was too hot and terrible, and devoured little children. Hastily she ran away, and ran to the moon, but it was far too cold, and also awful and malicious, and when it saw the child, it said, I smell, I smell the flesh of men. At this she ran swiftly away, and came to the stars, which were kind and good to her, and each of them sat on its own particular little chair. But the morning star arose, and gave her the drumstick of a chicken, and said, if you have not that drumstick you can not open the glass mountain, and in the glass mountain are your brothers.

She is driven away by the sun that would devour little children - it was too hot. She is driven away from the moon - it was too cold. This is very curious as the sun, often a symbol of the Self, is damaging. The moon too, a godess, also a symbol of the Self, is “awful and malicious”. Why is this so as these would normally show the way, or present assistance on the heros journey. The Sun and Moon are the alchemical father and mother too, and perhaps analogous with the ego parents who could not help on this journey, the Sun and Moon are not part of the help here. The morning star is also related to Christ as the redeemer and so in this vein it is not the Father and Holy Ghost that help, but the redeeming symbol of Christ. This too relates to the baptism. This is now the heroine's journey - so the feminine journey, so not the same as the hero. This makes me think of the lumen naturae where it says, Jung quoting from Ignatius of Antioch in a letter to the Ephesians,

Jung goes on to say of this scintilla, the Lumen naturae, “Pscychologically, the One Scintilla or Monad is to be regarded as a symbol of the self.” I think here it is fair to say the morning star is an encounter with the Self. We read further:

Here the girl encounters the Self in the morning star, in the light source of man. This is not entirely applicable but I like it :) :

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So the morning star helps her, tells her where her brothers are and gives her a drumstick that she will need. The drumstick seems a little odd but we see later that it is befitting that she can replace it with her own sacrifice. The glass mountain if very interesting too - I had a friend once who I could see was the most beautiful, rich person inside but speaking with her was boring and colourless even though I could see so much there, like looking at a beautiful lake and seeing everything below but unable to dive in for a sheet of ice covers the top. I think the glass mountain must be like this a bit, it needs to be broken in to. In some fairytales it needs to be scaled and a special power is needed to climb the slippery slope. Somehow access must be gained. I'm not entirely sure what the glass mountain means.

The maiden took the drumstick, wrapped it carefully in a cloth, and went onwards again until she came to the glass mountain. The door was shut, and she thought she would take out the drumstick. But when she undid the cloth, it was empty, and she had lost the good star's present. What was she now to do. She wished to rescue her brothers, and had no key to the glass mountain. The good sister took a knife, cut off one of her little fingers, put it in the door, and succeeded in opening it.

I'm not sure if the tale is telling us she had little fingers or if she cut off one of her little fingers. I don't know the significance of the different fingers…I'm sure they must mean something. 10 fingers, 10 points on the tetractys?…not sure. I'm guessing too though that like in other fairytales where ravens have been concerned quite often there is one of the 6 brothers who have been turned to ravens (or swans in 'The six swans”) and when they are redeemed very often one of them is not completely made whole again but must remain with one arm a wing as the sister hadn't finished the clothes she was meant to make for some or other reason. You cannot leave the unconscious whole so to speak, not only is their a sacrifice but also a continued growth needed…we are never quite whole. The hand is also the instrument of the practical man in a way…the grind with reality, the work that must be done in this real world. Perhaps this finger is a sacrifice to the unconscious reality that says, “stop spending so much time working out there and do some work in here…I'll take a piece of that thank you!”. Something like that.

When she had gone inside, a little dwarf came to meet her, who said, my child, what are you looking for. I am looking for my brothers, the seven ravens, she replied. The dwarf said, the lord ravens are not at home, but if you will wait here until they come, step in. Thereupon the little dwarf carried the ravens' dinner in, on seven little plates, and in seven little glasses, and the little sister ate a morsel from each plate, and from each little glass she took a sip, but in the last little glass she dropped the ring which she had brought away with her.

Firstly, the dwarves: in mythology and fantasy they live in and under the mountain, they are the miners, the excavators of the earth, they live comfortably in the dark depths - not hades or hell, just deep in the earth. They are great smiths and workers of the minerals and treasures to be found in the earth. So they are unique, very smart and clever at what they do. It is also noteworthy that they are great craftsmen with the earth as they mine out chambers but also with what they find in the earth, so good with their hands. The very thing that the little girl must sacrifice to gain entry because she comes from consciousness so to speak. There is an overlap here with the realm of the dwarves and what they do in the mountain and what is done by the ego. The dwarves are busy at work but in the mountain, and they serve (as indicated by their reference to the 'lord ravens' and the fact they are serving them dinner) the ravens it would seem. This points to good energy I think within the unconscious psyche of this person…there is work going on here that has not been accessed till now. The ravens are in good company and will take with them this energy I think to some degree - this knowledge of the mountain as they have spent their time there. I don't see the dwarves as complex characters akin to the psychological complex as represented by the ravens, they are not the same. Rather, the dwarves are in their rightful place and the sons = ravens - the complex energy has receded to the unconscious and needs to be restored and reintegrated to the ego consciousness…the dwarves are not the same. This is important I think.

The serving of food and drink to the ravens is obviously not how ravens would normally eat and drink. The indication here is that the brothers, the sons, have not lost their ego or conscious cognisance, they have regressed to unconscious dominion certainly but they have potential to return with the right attitude. Like Goldie Locks and the three bears, the daughter takes a bit from each serving. I'm not sure why? Is this a ritual into their world, like the eucharist? An informal taking part that has consequences like eating the food of the gods, but not the same thing? Does this in some way connect her back to her brothers?…I'm not sure. The ring is the talisman that precipitates the encounter with her brothers. It seems from the tale that she did this on purpose.

Suddenly she heard a whirring of wings and a rushing through the air, and then the little dwarf said, now the lord ravens are flying home. Then they came, and wanted to eat and drink, and looked for their little plates and glasses. Then said one after the other, who has eaten something from my plate. Who has drunk out of my little glass. It was a human mouth. And when the seventh came to the bottom of the glass, the ring rolled against his mouth. Then he looked at it, and saw that it was a ring belonging to his father and mother, and said, God grant that our sister may be here, and then we shall be free. When the maiden, who was standing behind the door watching, heard that wish, she came forth, and on this all the ravens were restored to their human form again. And they embraced and kissed each other, and went joyfully home.

“the ring rolled against his mouth”…it is interesting that it touches the mouth. I'm not sure why :) It seems to me important that the mouth is involved as they realise “It was a human mouth.” The mouth is where food goes in, where speech comes out, where people kiss. The mouth is very important…but not sure why exactly. The brothers seem to know that their sister is the key to their salvation; “God grant that our sister may be here, and then we shall be free.” It seems that for them to be redeemed - rather a let down - is for the sister to have completed or made the journey. This is again a little different to the heros journey for the most part. usually there is a final deed that must be required to achieve redemption but with the herion it seems more about the journey and the sacrifice perhaps?

What kind of person would this be? I'm thinking of the guilt that brought about the curse…the long journey then involved and the ultimate 'relief' of the brothers regaining their form. It is more about that end moment that of realisation - with guilt I'm thinking - that the 'getting to that point' is the hard part, the journey to realisation and then…the guilt energy may flow again. Its the journey that's more important here.

The concluding constellation is - we presume as the brothers and sister go home - is the married couple, and 8 children. There is a more integrated Anima figure in the little girl in that she bridges the gap to the unconscious processes; the dwarves in the mountain, the morning star, and the elevated engagement of the brothers now returned to their human form, so the energy has been restored to them - they too have a connection with the dwarves. It seems to me though that as a depiction of a psyche this person has only just realised the energy potential within them - their inferior function - that now needs to still develop. They are only just now awakened, there is still more to do.

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