We are back with The Seven Ravens! Last time, I talked about why I personally love this story so much. This week, I went looking through my fairytale books and on the internet for what others have said about this tale. There was less to find than I'd hoped. Some of my books didn't mention the story at all, or just gave a cursory recapitulation of the tale. However, I have a few references for you, and, the end of this post, an invitation to a special online event!
I found a short reference in The Uses of Enchantment by psychologist Bruno Bettelheim. This is one of those books that I keep telling myself I simply must read, but then I just don't. Anyway, Bettelheim says:
As works of art, fairy tales have many aspects worth exploring in addition to the psychological meaning and impact to which this book is devoted. For example, our cultural heritage finds expression in fairy tales, and through them is communicated to the child's mind. (footnote: One example may illustrate: In the Brothers Grimm's story "The Seven Ravens," seven brothers disappear and become ravens as their sister enters life. Water has to be fetched from the well in a jog for the girls' baptism and the loss of the jug is the fateful even which sets the stage for the story. The ceremony of baptism also heralds the beginning of a Christian existence. It is possible to view the seven brothers as representing that which had to disappear for Christianity to come into being Of so, they represent the pre-Christian, pagan world in which the seven planets stood for the sky gods of antiquity. The Newborn girl is then the new religion, which can succeed only if the old creed doesn't not interfere with its development. With Christianity, the brothers who represent paganism become relegated to darkness. Bur as ravens, they dwell in a mountain at the end of the world, and this suggests their continued existence in a subterranean, subconscious world. Their return tot humanity occurs only because the sister sacrifices one of her fingers, and this conforms to the Christian idea that only those who are willing to sacrifice that part of their body which prevents them from reaching perfection, if the circumstance requires it [Matthew 5:29- SRL], will be allowed to enter heaven. The new religion, Christianity, can liberate even those who remained at first arrested in paganism.) (Bettelheim, 12-13)
So, in all this wordiness, we see that Bruno Bettelheim understands the brothers to represent the religion and worldview which permeated European culture before the coming of Christianity, and that they have to leave in order to allow the new religion, represented by the little girl, to grow and thrive.
German writer Rudolf Meyer, a contemporary of Bettelheim, whose perspeective is one of theology and philosophy, was a priest in the Christian Community, a movement for religious renewal founded by Rudolf Steiner. He takes a different approach to the identity of the ravens in a chapter on fairytale motifs in his book The Wisdom of Fairytales:
In the myth [of Huginn and Muninn, Odin's ravens] the god loses the ravens; but the fairytale has the human powers of wisdom transformed into ravens that fly away. These are two different views. In the myth the divine powers of through and memory can no longer find their way home. For the gods it is a loss when human consciousness is estranged from the spiritual world. In the fairy-tale the emphasis is on the soul's development: the supersensory powers of thinking tear themselves away from the human being who is awakening to himself. They operate as "ravens" in the outer world, but no longer within the soul. The soul must learn to reawaken in itself the same forces that still weave and live on the earth's periphery. Then the soul will be able to ally itself anew with the divine guiding powers and will once again receive message from the spirits.
I've been turning this passage over in my mind, trying to think of how I could explain it or even start to interpret Meyer's words. Here's what I've got: in this book, Meyer talks about fairy tales as being pictures of the human soul's journey through life, with the goal of uniting our ability to feel and move in the world of sensory experience, with the human capacity for free thought, pure reason, and a connection with the divine. He notes here that the little girl, as a representative of the soul, is on a journey to connect with these spiritual capacities in a conscious, mature way. I welcome better explanations! This is one of those passages I feel I can understand, but cannot articulate.
From an entirely different direction comes Katherine Langrish's book, Seven Miles of Steel Thistles: Reflections on Fairy Tales. Rather than trying to put any kind of religious or spiritual intention into the minds or mouths of storytellers, she reflects upon the tales themselves, and the characters within them.
Fairy tales approve and reward the virtues of innocence, industry and good nature in both female and male protagonists . . . In female characters it can be indicated by extreme youth ... [I}n the following quotation from The Seven Ravens, the heroine is interchangeably referred to as 'the maiden' or 'the child':
There's not much more to it-- just a description of the maiden using her finger to open the glass mountain. Langrish uses this story as one of many examples of the traits and virtues of fairytale heroines. You can read this article in its original form here.
So, dear ones, that's all I've got for you. I appreciate your patience in waiting for this post to be finished.
And now, my fun and exciting announcement. Everyday Fairytale is coming to the interwebs! Later this month, on JUNE 26, we will gather online for a workshop that include storytelling, artistic work, conversation, and joy. You can read all the details here. I so hope to see you! If you can't make the workshop during the time it's offered, that's okay! I'll be making a recording and sending it out to everyone who signs up.
Sara lives in Minnesota with her wife, their son, and a lot of cats and turtles. She coaches waldorf moms and other sparkly unicorns, helping them find wonder, ease, and contentment. Sara writes about parenting, storytelling, and about living a life with stories.