The Aya and Meredith Reading Group continues. Now we are embarking upon the Brother’s Grimm. Growing up I was really into mythology – all different types of mythology. I was not into folk tales. They did not make sense to me. I am not sure why mythology made more sense, but it did. But there is some deep wisdom in these tales, they are the history of the inner life of Western Europe and western civilization. We began with the two brothers.
I have a very beautiful hardback copy of the Grimm Fairy Tales but in this book, there is no tale of two brothers. Instead, there are 12 brothers and three brothers. Two is the dyad, the twin, polarity: the yin/yang, heaven/earth, animus/anima, eros/Thanatos – and as it turns out 2 is very important.
I loved this story but I have no idea where to begin. It is long and dense – so stay with me here.
This story feels like 4 stories in one:childhood, adolescence, bachelorhood, and marriage. I teach film and I always teach 2001 a space odyssey. My students sometimes say that this film does not make sense. I say, it is not supposed to make rational sense, it is supposed to make emotional sense – so you feel something. Cinematic sense perhaps, or imaginal sense. This story reminds me of that .
- two brothers. Ok the dyad – the polarity,
- one is rich one is poor. The rich brother. is evil-hearted. What does money mean? Is it about generocity? False value?
- the poor brother finds a gold bird and is a bit brutal in trying to kill it and then gives it to his rich brother (why?). This makes me think of ethics and also of nonduality. The poor brother seems like a jerk and an idiot. Why does he try to hurt the bird at all and why give the bird to his brother? But there is sense in the story that the poor brother is acting naturally and so perhaps poor really means simple and rich means cunning.
- the poor one has two sons that through adventure involving their uncle produce gold while sleeping. We have another duality but they do not become differentiated until later in the story. These boys accidentally eat the heart and liver of the golden bird while the uncle roasts it and ths lets them produce gold every night under their pillow. Liver is the life force heart is love – but why does this matter?
- The rich brother tells the poor brother his children are evil and the poor brother puts his children out of his home.
- The brothers are adopted by a HUNTSMAN who teaches them how to hunt and keeps their coins (which keep coming) safe. This makes me think of the idea of stewardship.
- The brothers pass a hunting test and leave the foster-father gives them a magic knife that will rust on one side if one of he brothers dies.
- The brothers go into the world. They are hungry and want to kill a rabbit to eat but do not instead they get two little rabbits – the same thing happens with a bear, wolf, fox, and lion. What is up with these animals? Totem animals? I mean its not astrology. Maybe the 5 centers of human design.
- The brothers split up.
- the younger brother comes to a town covered in black cloth. I though oh no – black plague. But no.
- everything is black because the princess is going to be sacrificed to a dragon. I recently read a book that discussed dragons. Most world myths involve killing. adragon. Sometimes the dragon or dragons blood gives birth to life (or humans). Dragons are also associated with sulfuric caves – that many cultures associate with healing and prophecy.
- the brother defeats the dragon. He first has to drink liquid with a cup and that allows him to pick up a heavy sword and with. thehelp of his animals kills the dragon. The cup is very tarot – emotions. I am always interested in tools – the sword is a great one. The dragon has 7 heads ( the planets?).
- There is giftgiving between the brother and the princess – everyone naps and then the evil marshal beheads the huntsman and forces the process to marry him. The gifts are coral – I wonder about this. It seems strange for a german story. Also headleness comes up again, this is a big theme in magic (the headless rite) and astronomy/myth (orion and solstice)
- the animals get a magic root that brings the other back to life although his head is on backward (temporarily it seems) and then for a year and a day they travel around carnivals – the brother thinks he was abandoned not killed
- He comes back makes a bunch a bets with an innkeeper thanks. to the gold from part 1 of the story and discovers the princess still loves him. She comes. toclaim his hand in marriage and the evil marshall is beheaded.
- The brother is now king and is happy and just and merciful. He goes on a hunt in the enchanted forest against the wishes of his wife.
- He gets lost in the magic forest, makes a fire, finds an old woman in a tree. He invites her to warm by his fire she refuses unless he takes her wand and touches each of his animals. Which he does. They turn to stone and then the witch turns him to stone and carts him away to a cellar or something. why does the brother touch his animals with the wand ??
- The other brother meanwhile, the older one, has just been doing carnie work – no kingdoms for him. He sees the knife from part 2 half rusted and determines to save his brother.
- He ends up in the kingdom – everyone things he is the king. He plays along but sleeps next to his ‘wife’ with his sword between them.
- He researches the enchanted forest and then goes to find his brother. The same thing happens with the witch – but the brother does not touch his animals with the wand. He makes the witch turn his brother back – and then throws her in the fire.
- The brothers reunite. The younger brother chops off his brother’s head when he learns he had been impersonating him and sleeping in the same bed as his wife. He then has remorse and saves his brother with the same magic root vegetable that saved him. They both return to the kingdom, the younger brother resumes the throne, and learns about the sword in bed – and realizes his older brother did not betray him after all. There is a test – the queen has to guess which brother is her husband – she does it successfully because of the coral gifts she bestoyed to the brother’s animals.
Motifs to track
As we read more fairytales I want to track characters and motifs. In this I have identified
- language: parts that sound like songs or enchantments, usually involving repetition and rhyming.
- food (and different animals wine lions, bear sweets)
- roles: huntsman, innkeeper, king, marshal, princess
- brothers, fathers, uncles, daughters
- tongues, livers, hearts
- numbers: 2,5
- an enchanted forest
- evil: brother, marshal, witch
- a witch
- animals: dragon, golden bird, hart/deer, lion, bear, rabbit, wolf, bumblebee, fox
- colors (black and red and gold)
- root vegetables (what is up with this – very promenant in Japanese folk lore too)
What is the esoteric knowledge hidden in this work? What is the ancient wisdom? Lions like to drink.