The originator of quantum theory, Max Planck, argued in one of his famous lectures that our world must be populated by what he called “spirit beings.” He reasoned that behind every energy there would have to be assumed an intelligent spirit as a primordial source and without spirit, there would be no material matter. But since spirit as such cannot exist per se either, but rather must belong to a being, we are compelled to accept “spirit beings.” (Archiv zur Geschichte der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft/Archive on the History of the Max Planck Society , Abt. Va, Rep. 11 Planck, Nr. 1797)
The invisible world in fairy tales is the dwelling place of the intelligent spirit. In folklore it often gets called “the otherworld.” All tangible things in our realm stem from that other world, which is rather hidden behind a veil. Fairy tales report of gates opening at midnight during the Christmas season, when suddenly a human is allowed into the mountain to take a peak of the treasures normally concealed from the human eye. This time of year is equivalent to the Winter Solstice in pre-Christian times.
The folk tales always model the relationship between the invisible and the visible, the human and the otherworld. A German tale for example speaks of the time around Christmas, when a young farmer carried out a little ritual, which he had learned from his forefathers. It was to call back the creative forces in nature, the light at the Winter Solstice. The farmer calls Mother Hulda, or Mother Holle, who once was the goddess of his ancestors, to re-awaken the saps of the earth.
Mother Hulda blesses the Earth
Again, it was Christmas time. A young farmer put on his coat and boots and pulled his cap deep down over his ears and stepped down into his orchard. He did what he had seen his father and his grandfather do for many years, when they were still alive. First, he shook an apple tree so that the snow fell on his shoulders in a fine dust, then he went over to a pear tree muttering, “Little tree, little tree, wake up, Mother Hulda is coming!” Suddenly, he heard a subtle rustling, felt a sudden stir in the air and snow was whirling around his face. In a white cloud he saw Mother Hulda standing in front of him, changing into a white dove before his eyes. She flew up, once around the pear tree, then she flew over to the apple tree, encircling it and then she flew over all closed buds and around every single tree in the orchard. Then she flew without a sound over the whole garden, and further on to the farmer’s fields. A bright glow seemed to accompany her flight over the bushes and the trees, the fields and the acres. With her wings she was awakening the bulbs and roots slumbering deep down underneath their snowy blanket. The farmer knew that now they could sprout again, that they would grow in springtime, as soon as the sun would warm the earth and melt the snow. He also knew that where the dove had landed and rested, the most gorgeous flowers would unfold their blossoms to cheer everybody’s heart.
Here, as in all folklore, the intangible gets named and depicted. The intelligent spirit appears as the man’s goddess in a white cloud and then changes into a white dove, awakening nature’s slumbering creative force. You might argue that nature awakens every year without humans performing any rites. But still, a vast love for all things shines through in this tale. The young farmer loves his garden, the trees, and the fields, and by doing this ritual, he gets to witness the workings of the divine. He gets to take a peek behind the veil.
When the protagonist of a fairy tale interacts with nature, nature responds. Such is an animistic way of perceiving the world, as it can be found in indigenous cultures from all over the planet. It seems to be a natural consequence of living close to nature and her cycles. Since we all were indigenous at one time or another in history, the animistic way of looking at life seems to be deeply rooted as an innate knowing in our human experience.
Especially during times such as Christmas, which still is celebrated as the return of the light - the Winter Solstice -, we too are invited to take a glance behind the curtain. It can touch us at our very core and change the way we perceive the world.
©Andrea Hofman, 2018
Some of the material in this blogpost can be found in my recent book "The True Hero's Journey in Fairy Tales and Stone Circles". Order it directly from here.
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European indigenous wisdom tales