Archives for January 2020

How do Hansel and Gretel teach us the meaning of Love?

As we continue our journey into fairy tales and the wisdom they show us, let’s look at Hansel and Gretel. This well-known German fairy tale was published by the Brothers Grimm in Germany in 1812 and belongs to a group of European stories especially popular in the Baltic regions in which children outwit ogres who want to eat them. It is also a profound story about physical union. However, the origins of this tale shine a rather different light on its meaning. It started in the medieval period of the Great Famine (1315–1317) when desperate people abandoned young children in order to survive. When the stepmother decides to leave the children in the woods, the Grimm brothers portray her as wicked, but might she simply have been trying to increase the odds of her and her husband’s survival by dividing their scant food rations between two rather than four?

Image by b0red from Pixabay

Once upon a time, a poor woodcutter lived with his wife and two children but the children’s mother was dead and their stepmother was very cruel to them. Because they had so little food, the wicked stepmother persuaded her husband to take the children into the forest and leave them there. Confused and frightened, the children wandered away from the path for many hours until they arrived at a cottage made of sweets. Starving, they ripped at the walls and roof and ate as much as they could.

But they didn’t realise that this was the home of an old blind, crippled witch. When the witch invited them into her home and gave the exhausted children beds to sleep on, they willingly agreed but when they found they had been tricked. Hansel had been put into a cage to be fattened up so he could be eaten while Gretel was now forced to become a servant and do all the cleaning and cooking.

Each day, the blind old witch would ask Gretel to give him one of Hansel’s fingers to see if he was becoming chubby but Gretel outwitted her, giving her a bone to feel instead so that he never appeared to put on any weight. Eventually the witch grew tired of waiting for Hansel to grow fat so she ordered Gretel to heat the oven so she could finally cook her feast. Gretel did as she ordered but managed to push the wicked witch into the hot oven and kill her instead. She rescued her brother from the cage and, reunited at last, they returned home.

Image by Couleur from Pixabay

There are many teaching morals in this story. One is not to trust strangers and another is not to disobey your parents but it is also about unconditional love. Hansel and Gretel demonstrate trust and loyalty in a committed relationship and they also show us how to balance physical and spiritual love. There are also many symbols in the story. Hansel represents the spirit – the eternal consciousness of a human that exists even after death, while Gretel represents the soul – the divine spark in each of us. The father represents weak willpower while the step mother represents selfish desires. The woods are the unknown paths in life world which take us away from the straight and narrow. They lead the children to the cottage made of sweets which represent the temptations of the material world.

Image by Pipeman from Pixabay

As for the blind, crippled witch, she symbolises the dark parts of the intellect which are blind to the nature and growth of the eternal in the human being.

Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay

Most importantly, however, is the story of the deep union we all seek with another person which requires us to open our hearts and develop unconditional love. We can see this either as the divine marriage of male and female within ourselves or the sticking together of two people through thick and thin, no matter the trials before them.

So, in this month of St Valentine, look at your relationships, see which are worthy of enduring love and then do all in in your power to enrich them. Be discerning about who offers you things and what it is they offer you and don’t be greedy. Oh, and by all means eat some sweets and chocolate but be careful where they come from…!

Next time, we’ll look at Peter Pan and what happens when you refuse to grow old. Meanwhile, happy Valentine’s Day and enjoy February!

Love Laurelle