From Trauma to Wholeness: Brothers Grimm’s Fitcher’s Bird
Here is a version of the story, if you wish to read it: Fitcher’s Bird
It is not necessary to read the story to understand this symbolic interpretation of it, however.
Fitcher’s Bird is one of the Grimms’ relatively short and sweet transformational tales, featuring a few symbolically encoded bits of advice for the masses. In my translation it begins There was once a wizard who used to take the form of a poor man.
Whenever we encounter wizards and witches, we understand magic is afoot, of course. Specifically, ‘magic’ here means transformation, or turning one thing into another; trauma to wholeness in this case. In the magical world, nothing is expected to remain the same; the seeming reliability of the physical bends to the multileveled and unexpected.
This definition of magic explains why centuries old stories like this still appeal, as the shifting nature of reality intrigues the human soul. For this is the truth of the human soul’s experience, these malleable layers and surprising turns. The notable obsession with physicality that characterizes my Euro-Western culture relegated transformational/magical tales to the nursery at some point, seemingly in the 19th century, for children still inhabit the soul's magical realms. Adolescents and adults were left mostly high and dry, certainly in my lifetime, until Harry Potter broke the curse.
This deceitful wizard went to houses and begged, and caught pretty girls. These girls then disappeared. Symbolically, this wizard represents the powerful magic that lies behind a particular adult behavior or perspective, and as common for these teaching stories, it’s revealed in the very first sentence. Specifically, our wizard represents lack consciousness (named scarcity mindset below), the opposite of an experience of abundance.
Lack consciousness is a mode of operation where we can never get enough, where we fret a lot about our ability to survive and therefore we have no energy for thriving. It’s dire predictions, not good enough, I screwed that up, nobody loves me, the grass is always greener on the other side, the world owes me a living, I want more for less.
The wizard is Ebenezer Scrooge basically, or the opposite of Santa Claus. And in that he is not a poor man but taking the form of a poor man, we are informed that it’s not who he really is; the ego or personality has decided for some reason or reasons to assume this way of operating. He begged for a little food. Beggars are folks who have little or nothing, or ought to be, and this begging behavior again describes the inner experience of lack in despite of one’s actual circumstances. When a girl comes to the door to hand him a piece of bread, she is magically forced to jump into a basket he carries upon his back. In this, we are clued into how this lack consciousness comes about.
We can imagine these girls as adolescents. Children are not experiencing lack consciousness in the same way as adults in my culture; we are not born this way. Most of the time, most children are quite unconcerned about the future, about survival in “the world”, about haves and have nots. However, it’s one of the great difficulties of adolescence that some awareness of the burden of making one’s way in a dysfunctional world dawns, and possibly increases to a very neurotic extent by adulthood.
Though its shades are different for each of us, lack consciousness is in part a state of despair and fear around having enough, about supporting oneself and those we are responsible for. Adolescents also are geared to an intense concern for social development, and are easily affected by their milieu. Thus social status and its highly competitive forums loom large. The internet expands our encounter with competition exponentially.
Again, the opposite of the wizard is the magic of Santa Claus, with his evergreen tree, impossible sack of gifts for all, and his believers; children. He comes from the north, the direction of wisdom for the northern hemisphere from which he originates. Santa is the experience of gratitude, and gratitude is wisdom. He represents seeing life, not as a begging opportunity, but as a gift somehow or other.
The deep gratitude of this Christmas archetype is understood and felt by those in the know despite appearances and circumstances, for the contemporary Santa myth is that everyone gets a gift, however small. It’s the Cratchit family “making merry”; enjoying the hell out of their meagre Christmas repast. For the size of the gift matters not to those who understand the point is ultimately not the gift, but the giving and the receiving.
Of course the roots of Santa Claus include a reward and punishment aspect, a perspective that is foundational to lack consciousness, but happily that’s mostly fallen by the wayside.
The fact that these girls (there will be three) are pretty, accents this interpretation, for physical beauty is an abject divine gift, something one either receives or does not. Like love, natural beauty can neither be bought nor sold. Beauty stands in for the concept of gift in lots of old transformational stories, as well as for the eternal soul, which is archetypally feminine. Thus stealing a pretty girl can mean stealing or coopting the soul to one’s egocentric purposes.
In lack consciousness, bread is not a blessing, a gift; we are owed it. We should have it. If we don’t we are angry, depressed, petulant, and/or we steal, literally or metaphorically. Perhaps this particular matter of being owed could use some explanation because of the definition of ‘should’, but I’m not going there now. Point is, the entitled are perpetually ungrateful, for in life it’s not what we do, but who we are when we do it. It’s not whether you have bread, but how you receive it. The entitled are waiting for something “better” to be grateful about, and that’s a slippery slope. Now maybe if I were given a chocolate croissant…
Why a man stealing girls, though? Many of these tales are alchemically based, meaning, that they instruct us on the doings of the masculine and feminine archetypes. Everyone has a masculine and feminine side; we are not here talking about gender, male and female or otherwise. One of the fashionable toxic masculine behaviors is to take advantage of the sacred or archetypal feminine by acting greedy, by literally stealing. That’s what rape is, that’s what colonialization is, what slavery is, what industrial farming often is; forcing some return, some profit, through punishment, rather than giving and receiving. I don’t know about you, but I have an inner slave driver.
If the girl stands in for Earth, she gives the man what he needs; she gives him sustenance, bread as in our daily bread. And he returns the blessing by stealing her away, for the humble, simple gift of life itself escapes the notice of the greedy. Lack consciousness in the extreme is a state where nothing is ever enough, anyway- or not for long. Like unlimited growth economy, the man takes it all, though it’s neither on offer nor ethically correct.
The story lets us know it’s addressing this greedy cultural mode of operation, for the girl is spirited away from her safe and loving home; the girl she once was is never seen more. The metaphor here is that she has been effectively indoctrinated into her society’s value system in regard to lack consciousness; she is lost to it, as most of us are, as the wizard is. For on the magical level the characters in these stories are not meant to be seen as separate, though every story line requires that we describe one character at a time, one action at a time. The greedy wizard is also part of the girl, the girl part of the wizard, and the story is telling us how anyone might typically come to live her life in lack consciousness.
The wizard carries her away into a dark forest; his house stood in the midst of it. This archetypal fairy tale dark forest represents the inner experience, the unconscious, the deep soul realms. Though the wizard has been more or less conditioned to believe in lack and its mode of operation, the soul is untouched by such egotistical goings on, by such play acting. We all have available to us, in our ethereal souls, the many hued experience of abundance; Everything in the house was magnificent.; he gave her whatsoever she could possibly desire… This lasted a few days, and then he said, “I must journey forth… there are the keys of the house ...”
True to the alchemical mode of these tales, opposites must be experienced to further learning, for humans learn through understanding the opposites, alchemically ordered as masculine and feminine. Beneath the lack-based cultural value system of my society lies the opposite: true abundance. It is an innate experience of magnificence that is not dependent upon physical ownership, accomplishment, or any other condition. Indeed there is also material abundance in the physical realms in many cases, but material goods do not by any means always dispel the experience of lack.
Here in the soul-house, desire, an archetypally masculine trait, is balanced with love and respect for the archetypal feminine; he gave her whatsoever she could possibly desire. For it is this love and respect which is missing from greedy desire. It doesn’t grab, it gives. Were Man (humans) to love and respect the Earth and its abundance, there would be no more of the heedless grabfest that is so rampant on the earth today. Notice that gifting is indeed mentioned here; he gave her whatever she desired. Giving (the sun) is actually archetypally masculine; receiving (moon) is feminine. Thus gifts are a common element of these teaching stories, as is abundance.
However, there is more to learn here in the soul realms, and the wizard leaves after a few days of this balanced experience of abundance. He gives her keys, and when keys appear in such stories, our ears perk. For one thing, a key and lock are symbols for human heterosexual union, as well as for the sperm penetrating the egg. In short, keys are the masculine ability to desire, then enter into or explore, some untapped potential, making it available. Colonialization and European “exploration” of other continents is the same, really. They were tapping into resources of abundance, from their perspective. The problem comes when this masculine power is violent, heedless, exploitative and greedy, and thus toxic.
There are experiences of abundance that the girl has never encountered; this is what the rooms contain. Abundance of love, abundance of time (an important one in my society), an abundance of feeling, abundance of inspiration, an abundance of play, an abundance of beauty, an abundance of health, of loving connection, of joy, and on and on. In this archetypally balanced house of abundance that lies beneath, we are gifted opportunities to unlock all kinds of magnificence, as the story describes it.
There is a caveat to the keys, though, for she is instructed not to enter a particular room. “There I forbid thee to go on pain of death.” He also gives her an egg and said, “Preserve the egg carefully for me, and carry it continually about with thee, for a great misfortune would arise from the loss of it.”
The forbidden room and the egg are connected, as we will find out. To begin with, the death he threatens is to be understood as a death within this soul realm. It is a kind of soul death, for we are not in the physical reality here. Though the wizard will be responsible for this death, it is actually what he represents as an aspect of a greedy, disrespectful society that murders the girl’s soul. The egg is a little bit more of a symbolic conundrum, since an egg has lots of symbolism.
We can start, however, with the fact that women do indeed carry eggs within them, and physically as well as archetypally/magically a man cannot cocreate abundance without the potential held within the egg. Desire is nothing without an object thereof. So here is a basic lesson in alchemical magic; both masculine and feminine are required for healthy creation, as in creating a healthy, abundant experience of life. Without the love and respect of the feminine, our creations lead to suffering- and our individual life is actually everybody’s main cocreation.
Paint all the paintings you want, make all the money you can, own all the houses you like, but without the experience of abundance it is ultimately meaningless, hollow, for the soul is not there to enjoy it. Abundance is truly an inside game, and the soul does not understand lack; lack is a dualistic concept, and the soul is unified. This unbalanced alchemy, the separation of masculine and feminine that characterizes lack consciousness, leads to soul death. It’s the “great misfortune” the wizard warns against, should the egg be lost.
Masculine is also gifter in creation, giving sperm or the DNA needed to spark life in the woman’s egg, which must be received or opened for fertilization to take place. This creation symbolism is a little complicated by the male testes being egg shaped as well. So perhaps the wizard’s egg could be also his creative power, which must be carefully guarded within the mother upon and after conception. Symbolic language doesn’t always stop at one interpretation, as it is nonlogical.
In any case, the egg is creative potential. And inspired creativity is the provenance of the unified soul, from the human to the collective to the planetary cocreative processes and systems. That’s why we are conducting this lesson in the middle of the forest; it’s a peek at what goes on from the soul perspective.
When the wizard leaves, the girl goes all over the house, inspecting everything. There’s a nod to the alchemical nature of this tale in The rooms shone with silver and gold. Silver and gold are the precious metals that represent feminine and masculine archetypes, as do moon and sun. If you have doubts concerning whether you have an alchemical tale on your hands, such a reference is meant to clinch it.
Of course the girl must open the forbidden room, for her personal growth and development depend upon it, as in the princess finding the old spinner in the castle tower in Sleeping Beauty. A great bloody basin stood in the middle of the room, and therein lay human beings, dead and hewn to pieces. She is so shocked that she lets fall the egg into the basin, and it’s irrevocably stained with blood. No matter how she scrubs, she cannot remove the stain. It turns out that the terrible tragedy the wizard warned against has already happened, countless times, for lack and greed has dismembered humans for long centuries.
This room being locked and forbidden indicates something very damaging has happened to the soul on a deep level, we could say. Because it is a huge container of dismembered humans, we can assume it’s symbolizing the opposite of both individual and collective wholeness, a term bandied about plenty in popular self help venues these days.
Likewise the term “trauma” is a prominent word in the wellness industry of late. And indeed, this basin, this wizard’s cauldron, is a metaphor for trauma, for encountering abuse of all kinds is traumatic. In very broad terms abuse is some form of forcing, stealing, or aggression, and aggression is archetypally masculine. Human created trauma is simply Man’s (including women) inhumanity to Man. Humans have souls, and are all worthy of at least a modicum of respect and love for having received that gift; for having been created out of the magnificent eternal essence of the cosmos. They are not minions or chess pieces to be pushed around for the maintenance and benefit of dysfunctional power structures; for some form of perceived profit.
When we are traumatized, we are frightened away from our soul, basically, for the soul cannot protect us from physical harms. The soul, in fact, seems to lead us into trouble, particularly in our youth, like a child running into the street after a butterfly. Tragic romantic attractions, unprofitable dreams, dangerous excesses- for some, adolescence and young adulthood are a mine field of mistakes, from the perspective of mainstream society.
As my society is not soul centered, it is indeed very challenging for the soul centered ones to leave behind their nourishing inner connection in order to operate as adults in an egocentric society; the two realms are often quite at odds. Thus the most soul connected ones may sell their souls, over and over again. The good news is that they are also best equipped to find their way back to a personal wholeness that transcends their culture’s norm. It’s the wounded healer archetype.
Yet there is purpose to trauma. For example, our abundance would never be so deeply and well understood without experiencing and parsing out the trauma of a lack-focused society. When we do figure it out, we are bringing light to darkness, and that’s what enlightenment is. Enlightenment is part of natural human development, so anyone with any soul connection will experience some enlightenment in the span of the average human lifetime. And from our soul deep understanding issue the gifts of healing levels of empathy and compassion for self and other, healing on levels individual, tribal, and global. I would never be able to write about it if I had not experienced lack consciousness, for example. Not that I am done with it; yet I do know it when I see it.
When we learn about trauma and its workings, we don’t have to have a lot of literal trauma or anything. We can learn a lot through observation, if we are sincerely interested. We learn from history, from teachers of all stripes, from Nature, our close friends and family, from stories of healing like Fitcher’s Bird! I have learned much about healing/enlightenment from symbolic stories and their encoded wisdom.
As we age away from childhood, then, we may become fearful and hypervigilant and focused on physical survival needs. We become fragile, like the egg; life is dangerous. We are befouled with the blood of shame and regret and envy, which hold us away from compassion for self and other, from deeper understanding of our life experience. In our self abandonment, life becomes tainted by our suffering as the egg is stained by the blood, and the ability to give and receive freely and without fear of losing once again is gone. We cannot love ourselves in this state, thus the dismemberment. Many will die in this same dismembered state, stuck in the cauldron, even should they live for a century. My depressed father in law was wont to say, life’s a bitch, and then you die; lack consciousness in a nutshell.
Of course that’s why the upperworld wizard character who steals girls does what he does; he does not love and respect himself, and therefore has lost the ability to extend the same to the feminine aspect of self and other. The proverbial sins of the fathers (and mothers, for we all have the potential to toxic masculine behaviors) are visited through the generations. Though it seems that greed and lack consciousness is a social condition, it always begins and is maintained and passed along on an individual basis, the wizard touching the girl.
Though the adolescent starts out looking forward to fulfilling their dreams and may envision a life of exciting cocreation, love, and beauty, their visions of abundant life are often heartbreakingly lost in traumas encountered, sometimes in childhood. For the cruelties we endured or witnessed as children are chickens that often don’t come home to roost until adolescence and adulthood, when we get the key to the door that reveals our brokenness. This is the way Gaia’s developmental system functions for humans.
Time for a break! I will finish up in a second installment, where the symbolic third sibling will figure it out for us. No worries, all is not lost, for the sisters or ourselves!