Hidden Wisdom in Fairy-tales
An investigation of the hidden meaning in three fairy-tales: Cinderella, Brier Rose and Rumpelstiltskin
Guest article by Erika Hahn
I'd promised to write this analysis of fairy-tales for the website as long ago as 2017, well before I'd finished The Shadow that turned. I hoped to submit it in the spring of 2020, but we all know what happened then . . . Rather than break my promise I sent Occult Mysteries The Divine Lady instead, which was published in September that year. I'd written it many years earlier and so only needed to edit it a bit for the website. The editors were kind enough to accept it, diplomatically laying the blame for my missing analysis on the Covid-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, I stopped writing. I could have finished this article on time if I'd swallowed the Government propaganda, taken the clotshot (or several) and joined the rest of the sheep banging saucepans to 'save the NHS'.
I didn't do any of these things. I smelled a rat as early as December 2019 when we were shown unconvincing footage of Chinese octogenarians dropping dead in the streets of Wuhan. I had just completed The Shadow that turned and was busy researching this article when bodies started piling up in New York and Milanese mortuaries were allegedly bursting at the seams with covid cadavers. That's when the rat grew wings and turned into an enormous, flying pig. The pig landed in the UK on the 23rd March 2020; a day that will forever live in infamy in our house. Not only does it happen to be my husband's birthday, but it was also the day another porker, not affectionately known as the 'pig dictator', locked us all up. The rest, as they say, is history. Or rather it's not as the covid hysteria hasn't gone away. I see it in the masked faces I still encounter in shops, on the Tube and even in London parks in the open air!
But I'm supposed to be discussing the occult meaning in three fairy-tales, not rabbiting on about how I survived covid. Actually, I'm not sure I have survived covid — the histrionics, hype and propaganda that is — not the supposed deadly plague itself. I think I did catch it in late 2020 from some builders working in our house. So did my husband, but not my children or my parents who were in and out of the house all the time. None of us are jabberated with the monkey-gunk so go figure, as they say. My husband had the dry cough for about two weeks. It came on whenever his head hit the pillow but he was otherwise fit as a flea. I had some breathlessness for a week and felt a bit off colour. Frankly, I've had much worse colds and so have my husband and children. Even if there had been any truth in the wall-to-wall propaganda churned out over the last two years the fact that covid didn't kill us (or anyone we know), and didn't even make us particularly sick, would have been enough to turn me into a sceptic, if not a full-blown, tin-foil hatted, conspiracy loony.
What did make me sick to my stomach (and still does), and this is the point of this monologue, was the reaction of my closest friends and some relatives. With one exception, I no longer have any close friends. They long since wrote me off as a selfish, dim-witted, granny-killing anti-vaxxer who is unfit to mix with decent society. One of them went so far as to get me sacked from the boring but well-paid job I had in a publishing company. Think J. K. Rowling and transgender wokery and you'll get the picture. Only I'm neither as pretty, influential or as rich as she is. So it was easy to get me cancelled and sacked. That meant our income was drastically cut as my husband works for peanuts for a proper charity. You know, ones that don't pay their chief executives six figure salaries and actually give most of their income to the people they're supposed to help rather than their virtue-signalling shareholders.
Monologueish rant over. I had to get a new job tout de suite to pay the bills. So had no time to write. We are now back on our feet and no longer staring homelessness in the face. But it was pretty awful for a while and still is for many not so fortunate as us. People have died because they are unable to access the broken, 'covid-only' NHS. Others have lost jobs, been reduced to a state of terminal fear bordering on insanity, and some have even gone to prison. Which is why the 23rd March 2020 is a day I shall never forget. Nor can I forgive the people who have done this to us, and are still doing it to us. I remain profoundly unconvinced that this madness is over or ever will be over. But that's another story I'm not interested in writing. What has this to do with the hidden wisdom in fairy-tales? Quite a lot, actually, as the best fairy-tales are all about Good triumphing over evil, the reward of virtue and the punishment of vice.
One of my most treasured possessions is a first edition of Grimms' Tales for Young and Old translated by Ralph Manheim and published by Victor Gollancz, in London in 1978. This was the first new translation of the entire 210 tales to be published in the UK for almost a hundred years. Manheim used the Winkler-Verlag (Munich) edition of the complete Kinder- und Hausmärchen by Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm, published in 1819 in Germany. This was the second German edition of the stories — the first was published in 1812. This is the book I have used to research and write this article. A paperback edition of Manheim's translation was published in 1983 by Anchor Books. As I couldn't find a copy of this translation online I've reproduced the three fairy-tales in the sidebar for anyone who wants to follow my analysis. I've had to make them shorter to fit the space, but hopefully not so short so as to lose the sense or spoil them.
The reason I've used the stories by the Brothers Grimm rather than those by Perrault, Andrew Lang or others, is that I believe they preserve more of the hidden sense of these timeless tales. However, I still think it's worthwhile reading the different versions — many can now be found online. The Disney movies of these stories and awful musicals are best avoided. They may look as appetising as a rosy-cheeked apple offered by a smiling granny but they murder the spirit of the stories. Some readers may be wondering why I've chosen these three particular fairy-tales rather than any others collected by the Brothers Grimm. I chose them partly because they are well-known and partly because I have loved them ever since my grandmother first read them to me as a small child. In addition, each story contains several hidden messages which I feel are worth drawing out. This is not true of all the fairy-tales the Brothers Grimm published. I mention a story later on with a really horrible ending I forbade my grandmother ever to read to me again!
I may interpret more fairy-tales in future if enough readers are interested in hearing what I have to say, which is doubtful...I say 'may' as I am by no means certain that further lockdowns, pandemics and other horrors won't be inflicted on us in future. Now we have the threat of World War Three hanging over us too. But who knows, perhaps some good will come out of all this, just as it does in the first story I have chosen to analyse. Cinderella is a tale all will be familiar with in one form or another. This is followed by an analysis of two more stories from the German folklorists: Brier Rose and Rumpelstiltskin. I hope you will enjoy reading about the wonderful wisdom they can teach us as much as I have enjoyed digging it out.
Cinderella or Ashputtle
ASHPUTTLE OR CINDERELLA as it is known in England, is generally regarded as a 'rags to riches' story and so it is, but 'rags' and 'riches' have quite another meaning for the occultist and mystic. There isn't a pumpkin, fairy godmother or glass slipper in the Grimms' tale. These elements were added by French writer Charles Perrault when he published his version of the story in 1697. While an esoteric meaning might be deduced from these additions I'm not going to try because I firmly believe they are misleading embellishments which detract from the hidden meaning of the story. Such additions are a trap for the unwary in many fairy-tales which it took me a long time to recognise and discard. The first step in detecting the addition of pretty but pointless ornamentation is to seek out the oldest version of a story. This is a lot easier now than it was before the Internet came along. Wikipedia tells us Cinderella is derived from a tale recorded by the Greek geographer Strabo who flourished some 2,000 years ago. It tells of a Greek courtesan called Rhodopis living in Egypt whose sandal was carried off to Memphis by an eagle which dropped it into the lap of Pharaoh. The king, aroused by the beautiful shape of the sandal and intrigued by the mystery of its arrival, sent men in all directions to find the owner.
When she was discovered living in the city of Naucratis, she was brought to Memphis and married to the king. The tale was repeated by the Roman orator Aelian (ca. 175-235 A.D.) who added that the name of the pharaoh was Psamtik, one of three kings of the same name who reigned in Egypt from around 600 to 500 B.C. Herodotus, writing 500 years before Strabo, recorded a similar story whose protagonist was also named Rhodopis. This brings us very close to the actual reigns of the aforementioned pharaohs. Herodotus tells us that Rhodopis was a Thracian courtesan taken to Egypt in the time of Pharaoh Amasis, the father of Psamtik III. Whatever the true origin of the tale, and whether it's genuinely historical or merely allegorical, it's unquestionably very old and was propagated all around Europe from as early as the twelfth century. Readers who want to explore this further will find plenty of resources, both on and offline. Fascinating and rewarding as such studies can be, they are secondary to my purpose which is to discover what hidden Wisdom the story may hold.
Let's begin with the main elements. We can dispense with the virtuous introduction about prayer and goodness. This is just a bit of German Pietism added by the Brothers Grimm, or is it? As we shall see later on, prayer plays an important part in the plot; a role usurped by the fairy godmother in the secular and saccharine Hollywood makeovers of the story. Note that Ashputtle (Cinderella) always prays by her mother's grave. This is the first of the many esoteric messages in the story. Real prayer, as John Temple explains in his wonderful article of the same name "is the Key to the Gates of Heaven; and the more powerful and sincere the prayer, the more glorious the Gate that Key will unlock for you." Once we know this the opening injunction to 'be good and say your prayers' reveals its hidden meaning to us.
We must not miss the significance of the mother either who, in contrast to the wicked stepmother, has only one daughter, not two. In their article about numerology, Occult Mysteries tell us that the Pythagoreans despised the number two because it was the symbol of duality, separation and differentiation. We might almost say it is an evil number whereas one is wholly good. Stepmothers are invariably evil in fairy-tales because they stand for the material world and the lower self symbolized by the number two, whereas the first mother stands for the spiritual realm and the Higher Self. Poor Ashputtle is consigned to the drudgery and squalor of the kitchen just as the Higher Self is compelled to leave Heaven and descend to the dusty earth. What better metaphor could there be for the harsh lessons we have to learn here?
The next hidden message concerns the hazel branch that Ashputtle receives from her father. I find it significant that this apparently worthless gift, found at random is eerily reminiscent of another worthless gift chosen by Bassanio in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. In that marvellous play, three suitors compete for the hand of the fair Portia. She has hidden her portrait and the promise of marriage that goes with it, in one of three caskets. The first casket is made of gold, the second of silver and the third of lead. The first suitor goes for gold and is rewarded for his greed and presumption with the picture of a skull whose empty eye socket contains a verse that begins with a line familiar to many: "All that glitters is not gold..." The second suitor fairs little better in choosing the silver casket which contains the picture of a Fool and another, equally mocking verse. Finally, along comes Bassanio, the third suitor, who chooses the lead casket with the words: " thou meagre lead, which rather threatenest than dost promise aught, thy paleness moves me more than eloquence; and here choose I; joy be the consequence!" And so it is, for he gets the girl! Do read the play yourselves; it really is an amazing mine of hidden wisdom and occult truths.
So Ashputtle receives a hazel branch while her two stepsisters get beautiful clothes and jewels. Like the allegory in Shakespeare's play this seems a very poor result! But is it really such a bad deal? That's the wonder of fairy-tales and this one in particular; nothing is what it seems to be. Ashputtle plants the branch on her mother's grave and waters it with her own tears until it grows into a beautiful tree. She sits under the tree three times a day to weep and pray. Each time she does so a little white bird comes and perches on the tree, and gives her whatever she wishes for. Do I really need to explain the esoteric meaning of this allegory? I'm sure you can all do so yourselves. No? Then let me simply say it is emblematic of the spiritual rewards of real prayer. God does not necessarily give us what we want, but He does give us what we need. Tears also imply sacrifice, knowledge arising from the ashes of suffering and wisdom from bitter experience.
Before this can come to pass, poor little Ashputtle has to be put through the wringer a few more times, for Faith, if worthy of the name, is tested many times, often to breaking point and beyond, before finally we are delivered from the prison of earthly life, to be joined to our 'true love'; a metaphor for the joys of life in the Spirit as well as the more obvious meaning of marriage to the one we love. But before those blessings can be ours, we, or Ashputtle (the same thing!) have to learn how to dance and make ourselves beautiful so as to be worthy of marrying the King's son. As I've discussed in my previous articles and stories, nothing is to be taken literally in fairy-tales. Dancing can be seen as a metaphor for Grace and fine clothes for the inner riches of humility, goodness, generosity, faithfulness and righteousness. Even Ashputtle's golden slippers are a symbol which reminds us of the pure hearts of the truly Wise, who were called the 'wearers of the golden sandals' in ancient Egypt because their footsteps showed the way home to the golden land depicted in Vision Six of The Golden Star.
We may also regard Ashputtle's visits to the palace of the King dressed in her finery to dance with the prince as mental journeys to the higher realms in the same way that Mau and Ma-uti are taken there by the Divine Messenger in the aforementioned book. Seen in this light, 'the beginning of a bad time for the poor stepchild' is nothing more nor less than incarnation on earth. A life, if life it can be called, of drudgery and want lightened with fleeting moments of happiness. When the prospect of escape does arise (dancing at the palace) it is cruelly snatched away by the imposition of further toil and heavier burdens (the dumping of lentils into the ashes). Yet the prisoner does not despair. She reaches out to 'all the birds under heaven', a synonym for heavenly guides, teachers or angels, who come to her aid and furnish her with the means to escape from her prison and enjoy the festivities in the palace; itself a metaphor for being reunited with her own in a higher realm. But the respite is only temporary. After each journey she has to return to her squalid life among the ashes. It is not until the prince manages to get hold of Ashputtle's golden slipper that permanent deliverance beckons.
The slipper is the key which opens the door to freedom, just as it was for Rhodopis in Strabo's version of the tale. But there is more to this particular allegory than that. The first thing to note is that the staircase was brushed with pitch, a black, viscous substance which clings to anything it touches. The next that it was the left slipper that was pulled off while Ashputtle was running down the stairs. I have emphasized the words 'black', 'left' and 'down' as they hint at the existence of two minds in man and the descent of the soul (Higher Self) into incarnation. This lends support to the suggestion I made earlier that some, if not all of the action take place in other dimensions or planes of consciousness. Indeed I would go further and say that the otherworldly nature of many fairy-tales proves that they do not belong to the here and now, but to other 'earths' where better or worse conditions prevail.
You may well ask at this point whether these esoteric truths were recognised by the Brothers Grimm. Though they were both devout and sincere Christians there is no evidence that they knew anything about occultism. Yet, as the editors of Occult Mysteries have pointed out in several of their articles, such as their brilliant investigation of the esotericism in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, an author can convey occult truths in their writing without being consciously aware of their presence or origin. I'm not suggesting that the Brothers Grimm fall into this category, though they may do, but rather that a writer's Muse is a very strange being. Real inspiration puts us in touch with dimensions far removed from this realm as we can read in Vision Six of The Golden Star. The passage I'm thinking of describes an ocean in a higher realm from whence inspiration descends into the minds of men and women on earth. We read that: "An ocean of Inspiration this. And if but one such tiny spark you see descends into a Poet's Mind, Lo! an immortal work will be created. His pen drips honey and ambrosia, and with a careless gesture he scatters jewelled thoughts, like stars, upon the Universe of other minds."
You may think this is just a beautiful but utterly fantastic notion, but I don't. Knowing a little about how inspiration works I have no doubt that Dr Michaud actually saw this wondrous sea of liquid fire in another realm exactly as he describes it in his book. To return to our fairy-tale. There is little more to say. The business of finding the rightful owner of the golden slipper is self-explanatory or at least I hope so. Do we not all know people who have tried to obtain something or other they're not entitled to by deception? In so-called 'real' life they often succeed. Not in fairy-tales they don't. And definitely not in this one! In the end Ashputtle is freed and marries the prince and lives happily ever after in the only place one can live 'happily ever after'. Needless to add, not on this benighted planet, but rather in the realms of Light, Joy and Beauty to which all good fairy-tales point the way. In the end the stepsisters are punished for their cruelty and wickedness by losing their sight, though I would argue they never saw too well to begin with!
YOUNGER READERS REARED ON A DIET of political correctness and 'gender studies' probably won't be surprised to learn that some 'scholars' (I use the word very loosely!) think that Brier Rose is a fantasy about puberty and an examination of female sexuality. Ye Gods! Is nothing safe from the mucky fingers and even muckier minds of sex-obsessed psychologists? I blame Freud for starting the whole thing off with his ridiculous ideas about sex, parents and growing-up. According to one nitwit the room in which Brier Rose spins straw into gold is "rife with sexual symbols," and she is just the right age (fifteen) for "exploring what it means to be a woman." Presumably they mean the spindle (phallus?), blood (menstruation?) and bed (sex?). What minds some people have! This reminds me of a little-known movie based on an early 20th century novel by Elizabeth von Arnim — Enchanted April. In one scene a garrulous old lady says: "In my day husbands and beds were very seldom mentioned in the same breath." I hope you will be relieved to know that no such nonsense forms any part of my analysis of this classic fairy-tale. I am concerned with discovering truths and not the silly speculations of prurient pedagogues or the opinions of straight-laced Victorian matrons.
The first thing that struck me when I re-read Brier Rose for this article was the inclusion of a talking frog who tells the queen her wish for a child will come true. So far as I am aware the frog is absent from Giambattista Basile's version published posthumously in his collection of fairy-tales in 1634. Nor does it appear in the adaptation published later by Charles Perrault. When I mentioned this to a friend who also happens to be an Egyptologist she smiled and told me all about Heqet. This was the ancient Egyptian goddess of fertility and reincarnation who is invariably depicted as a frog. This is a singular coincidence given that Champollion did not produce the first translation of Egyptian hieroglyphs until 1822. This was ten years after the Brothers Grimm published the first edition of their tales. On the other hand, frogs play a prominent role in many of the Grimms' stories and the Greeks and Romans both regarded frogs as symbols of fertility. They probably got this idea from Egypt, though the connection with reincarnation seems to have been lost.
In Perrault's story six good and one bad fairy are invited to the feast celebrating the birth of Brier Rose. What made the Grimm Brothers change them into thirteen Wise Women? Perhaps because if we include Judas thirteen disciples attended the Last Supper. In Mesoamerican mythology there are 13 heavens. This reminds me of some enigmatic verses from The Book of Sa-Heti by J Michaud PhD. "The Lord Brahma once uttered Twelve Divine Words, and Twelve secret regions sprang into being, in the midst whereof there floats a speck of dust, pitiful to behold." This presumably refers to planet Earth for the following verses tell us that the 'speck of dust' "is full of woe, and covered with woeful beings." A rather apt description of this globe of ours!
The prediction of the thirteenth Wise Woman that the princess would die on her fifteenth birthday after pricking her finger on a spindle was certainly a woeful one for all concerned! Fortunately for us, the twelfth Wise Woman was able to prevent this by modifying the spell to send Brier Rose into "a deep hundred-year sleep." I drew upon the magic gifts bestowed upon the child by the remaining eleven Wise Women, such as virtue and beauty, for my story of The Divine Lady. Very few readers seem to like that fairy-tale and some have even complained about the unhappy ending. Tough! is my reply; not every one of the Grimm's fairy-tales has a happy ending either. If you doubt me read the curiously-titled The Mouse, the Bird, and the Sausage (Von dem Mäuschen, Vögelchen und der Bratwurst in German). The three protagonists in this strange story all die very unhappily, but not at the same time or in the same ways. Nor does this story have any hidden meanings I could find unless it is the obvious one that one shouldn't try to fix what isn't broken by upsetting the status quo!
But I digress. In order to stop the wicked Wise Woman's curse coming true, the king ordered that every spindle in the kingdom should be destroyed. This is the age-old myth of the slaughter of the innocents turned on its head. Alas for the king! The very spindle that was to prove the princess' undoing was under his nose all the time, so was overlooked by his agents. This too is a familiar motif in fairy-tales and myths alike which teaches us that our greatest dangers (and enemies) are often where we least expect to find them. What happens next conceals several occult truths. The king and queen leave the princess all alone and she takes the opportunity to thoroughly explore the castle. In the same way, each one of us is seemingly deserted by their heavenly parents when we enter this earth in a new incarnation. I say 'seemingly' as we are never really alone unless we deliberately cut ourselves off from any higher reality or spiritual aspirations. But we remain free to explore our new world in order that we may learn to discriminate between Good and evil by experiencing the results of wise and foolish behaviour.
No sooner does Brier Rose touch the spindle than she pricks her finger, and the spell takes effect. Here the story touches on the problem of fate versus free-will which Occult Mysteries explore so thoroughly in their article on this vexing question. Fate did not compel Brier Rose to explore the castle. She did so of her own free-will. One could argue that Fate stacked the odds against her by playing on her innate curiosity. But it was she who climbed the winding staircase to the tower, and she alone who unlocked the door, went inside, and put her pinkie in harm's way. So she fell into a deep sleep along with the entire court and all the non-human inhabitants of the castle, including the flies on the wall. I especially like that whimsical touch which is missing from other versions of the story. The castle is soon enveloped by a brier hedge which completely hides it from view. Meanwhile, the locals spread the story of the beautiful sleeping princess far and wide, attracting many a reckless young swain to try his luck getting through the prickly barrier. Each and every one of them is caught and dies a 'pitiful death' as the story tells us.
It is said that the Higher Self loses awareness of itself when it enters incarnation on earth. In other words it falls asleep. Nor can it be awoken by any but the right catalyst, whether this is some profound experience, a kindly guide or our own Soul. The princes who attempt to break through the hedge remind me of my early struggles to discover truth, usually in wrong ways and almost always in the wrong places at the wrong times in my life. Several contributors to the website have related their own fruitless attempts to do the same; all are worth reading, for all shed light on those moments in our life when we are given the opportunity to awaken to a higher and greater reality.
It is for this reason that I regard Brier Rose as another version of the Babylonian story of Ishtar in which the goddess descends into the Underworld to find and release her lover. In our fairy-tale the sleeping princess takes the part of the lover and the prince the part of the goddess Ishtar who awakens her. When the rightful candidate appears the briers turn into flowers and the hedge lets him pass. When the student is ready, the Master appears. It is the same universal process at work.
But no sooner does the prince enter the grounds than the hedge closes fast behind him. This too is highly significant. In The Voice of the Silence, a devotional work compiled by Madame Blavatsky shortly before her death, we find the following remarkable statement: "I can tell you how to find those who will show you the secret gateway that opens inward only, and closes fast behind the neophyte for evermore." Coincidence? I think not! In Perrault's version of the fairy-tale the closure of the hedge prevents his retinue from following him, a detail omitted by the Brothers Grimm. This is a pity as it not only reinforces the esoteric message that it is only those who are truly ready who are worthy and capable of instruction, but that the power or the knowledge to achieve Initiation cannot be communicated from one person to another. Those seekers, who, however eager or sincere, are not ready, symbolized by the prince's retinue, must await their turn.
So the princess marries the prince; the Higher Self is re-united with the Soul, never more to be parted. Of course, there are many more messages hidden in this story as well as in the two previous ones I've analysed. But I simply don't have the time to explore or explain them all in this short investigation. Nor is it necessarily a good thing to try, for as the seeker is reminded by the Brahman in The Quest of Ruru. "If we make the Path too easy by straight away explaining every point to the Neophyte, he does not acquire any merit, and, moreover, he would not be able to understand; no matter how many times his Teachers should patiently unravel the Laws by means of words. He who does not know error cannot appreciate Truth." With that piece of excellent advice let's see what truths can be found in our final fairy-tale of Rumpelstiltskin.
BEFORE WE LOOK AT THE STORY ITSELF some readers may like to know the origin and significance of the rather odd name Rumpelstiltskin. In German 'rumpeln' means a rumbling or rattling noise and 'stiltzer' refers to a man with a limp. The two words together make rumpelstilz, meaning a mischievous, noisy spirit. With the addition of the suffix '-chen', a German diminutive cognate with the English '-kin' we arrive at Rumpelstilzchen, which is the German name of this fairy-tale. Variants of the story are found all over Europe from Norway to Spain and Ireland to Hungary and Russia, and even as far afield as Japan and South America. It has been suggested that the story is derived from a children's game called 'Rumpele stilt oder der Poppart', first mentioned by the 16th century German scholar and humorist, Johann Fischart. In old German a 'poppart' was an evil goblin. Children took it in turns to impersonate the poppart and thoroughly frighten their fellows by chasing them around the house. The game sounds very exciting but I doubt whether it was the inspiration for this story which, as I said just now, is found all over the world, not just in Germany.
Like the two previous stories I've analysed, this one bears the unmistakable signs of having been derived from the Ancient Mystery Teachings. Each of the three main characters is prepared to sacrifice the miller's grandchild for personal gain. The miller wants to impress the king, the king is greedy for gold, and the goblin demands a living 'thing', a strange desire I'll come back to later. This reminds me of a most unusual Indian parable published by Occult Mysteries as their afterword to Mel Cairn's short story about Liberty which, like Rumpelstiltskin concerns three protagonists who each want to murder an innocent child for personal gain. If you haven't read this short parable you will find the similarities with this fairy-tale striking. But I am getting ahead of myself! Let's start at the beginning with the miller's boast that his daughter can spin straw into gold.
Straw is wheat, and this had considerable esoteric significance as the fruit of experience in the mythos of ancient Egypt as well as in the religious doctrines of other nations. So we may say that spinning straw into gold is a metaphor for reaping spiritual wisdom from earthly experience. No one is born with this ability. We have to learn, or be taught how to accomplish it. Enter Rumpelstiltskin who, though ultimately a 'baddy', is the means by which the miller's daughter escapes the awful fate the king has threatened her with should she fail in her task. But there is no such thing as a free lunch; the goblin wants something in return. In fact he takes three things from the miller's daughter. Firstly her necklace, then her ring and finally, after her marriage to the king, he covets her unborn child. This reminds me of the interpretation of the story of Ishtar which I wrote for Occult Mysteries that I mentioned earlier. In that story or legend, the goddess has to give up her necklace and her earrings in order to pass through the gates of the underworld. This is the age-old allegory of giving something up in order to gain something of greater value. In Ishtar's case she is re-united with her Soul, symbolized by her 'lover', in this fairy-tale it is the life of the miller's daughter and that of her unborn child that is at hazard.
I have emphasised the number three as it appears several times throughout this fairy-tale. Rumpelstiltskin turns the spinning wheel three times. The king takes the girl into three progressively bigger rooms filled with straw, giving her three chances to prove her skill. The 'little man' appears for the third time to demand the promise of the queen's unborn child. Finally, Rumpelstiltskin gives her three days to discover his name. Three has been called the number of Wisdom because it symbolises the Holy Trinity common to almost all religious systems, so it is not surprising to find it cropping up repeatedly in this tale as well as in many other fairy-tales. Three wise men are mentioned in the Biblical account of the Nativity. Peter betrayed Jesus three times. There are three kinds of Light known and recognised by occultists. The Abstract and Absolute Light, which is Darkness to our physical sight, the light that illuminates the Astral World, and thirdly the light we are familiar with on Earth. Do not neglect numerology if you want to discover the hidden meanings in fairy-tales!
The successful resolution of many fairy-tales depends on discovering the name of the adversary and Rumpelstiltskin is no exception. This refers to the universal superstition that knowing the name of something or someone gives the possessor power over it or them. Much magical lore depends on the application of this principle. In ancient China it was common to change one's name at certain times during life in order to obtain good fortune and avoid bad. J. R. R. Tolkien uses it to great effect in The Lord of the Rings to circumvent the designs of Sauron, and it's the essential ingredient in magical evocation. In strict Judaism the letters YHVH are used as a substitute for the name of God which must not be spoken. In the Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling, the evil wizard Voldermort is referred to as 'he who must not be named' by his followers and enemies alike. Putting a name to evil was not only to invoke it but also to disarm it by gaining power over the thing named. It is probably for this reason that when the queen reveals that she has discovered Rumpelstiltskin's name, he kills himself. In the edition of 1819 I have used he does this by tearing himself in two.
This seems a rather odd way to top oneself! In the first edition published in 1812, he runs away angrily, and "never came back." In the oral version of the story originally collected by the Brothers Grimm, he flies out of the window on a ladle. All three endings are equally satisfying emotionally, though as a child I wanted Rumpelstiltskin properly punished; running away wasn't nearly bad enough! So why was the ending changed? I have no idea, though if you read the version I have reproduced in my afterword, this is the ending the Brothers Grimm used for the second and all subsequent editions. Let's look at it again. We read: "The Devil told you that! The Devil told you that!" the little man screamed, and in his rage he stamped his right foot so hard that it went into the ground up to his waist. Then in his fury he took his left foot in both hands and tore himself in two." It's almost as if the two brothers did have some occult knowledge, or rather a lot of occult knowledge. The left and right sides of the body, and especially the left and right feet are very ancient ways of referring to the lower and Higher selves in the special allegorical language of the Mysteries. Perhaps it was just a lucky guess on the part of the two German folklorists or inspiration from the fiery ocean I mentioned earlier. We will never know. What I would say is that this is too suggestive of the separation of the two minds — one going one way, and the other another after death — to be a coincidence.
Before I end this analysis and my investigation I would like to draw your attention to something Rumpelstiltskin says when the queen, in her agony, she promises him all the riches in the kingdom if only he will let her keep her child. He replies: "No. I'd sooner have a living thing than all the treasures in the world." Now whether he intended to sacrifice the child to appease the Devil or had some other aim in mind, the fact that he chose a 'living thing' is not without significance, for Life as occultists know and understand, is the Alpha and Omega of all things and beings. Life is the true Elixir, greater than material power, wealth or fame. The miller cared more about power than his own daughter; the king cared more about acquiring gold than the life of the girl; but the evil little goblin valued Life itself above all else. I wonder whether the Brothers Grimm realized the irony of letting the devil deliver this piece of Wisdom?
You can find a full list of the stories I've written for Occult Mysteries at the end of the sidebar together with some suggestions for further reading about symbolism, allegory and mythology. These often overlooked and misunderstood subjects are three of the most important keys needed to unlock the hidden meaning in fairy-tales.