Workshop on Fairy Tales

Lecture by Dennis Klocek
February 2007, Kindergarten Teachers Conference - Marin, CA
Related to Education, Spiritual Paths
Type: Transcription | Posted Nov 23, 2021

The workshop started with a puppet show of the “Queen Bee” Fairy Tale. After that, the lecture begins.

This is the way that the deepest mysteries of the mystery schools were taught. The idea of the puppet is that as we make puppets move, so God makes us move. 

But what is the purpose of these stories now that we have individuality? What is the purpose of showing these kinds of images and fairy tales in the modern day? What do they bring into the soul of today, especially to children of kindergarten age?

These kinds of images, the qualities of the movements and the rhythms of the reciting help to develop a kind of absorptive quality for the deep mysteries behind the stories. The different characters are not characters per se; they are what Carl Jung would call archetypes. They represent facets of each person’s soul life. And the drama itself represents the great struggle.

Joseph Campbell said that all legends, myths and fairy tales have within them the same idea. The idea is that the hero leaves home, faces a challenge, and then returns. That includes all the different steps of maturation that a human being has to go through…to leave the spiritual world, to go into the visible world, to go back to the spiritual world and then to return again for another birthing in order to become truly human.  

In “Knowledge of the Higher Worlds,” Rudolf Steiner calls this ‘the building of the hut,’ which is to create a spiritual womb to bring to birth a new human being or spirit embryo. The purpose of human life is to give birth to that being.  So humans leave the womb to go into the physical world; but they have to return again to the spiritual world. In the Christian tradition, this is called “being born again” or the second birth. It is the purpose of human life to be born again. That is the fundamental teaching of all the mystery schools: you must be born again out of the spirit.

So you could say that all fairy tales are searching for a hero or heroine to leave a condition of certainty for a condition of uncertainty…to face a situation where they have no knowledge or understanding and must complete tasks that they have no hope of accomplishing. But that they must somehow accomplish. And then they return again after having gone through this condition where they are bereft of knowledge.

In the ancient schools, this second birth was initiated by “the temple sleep.” I was in Germany a few years ago at an ancient initiation site. Carved into the rock was a crypt with a stone bed that would be filled with straw. At the head of the bed was a natural hole going through the rock up to another chamber. The person who wanted to be initiated would go into a sleep in this little coffin for a few days. And the hierophants would speak down through this tube what needed to happen and would guide the person into an altered state of consciousness in order to meet the manikin, who represents all the things you don’t know. 

You could say that this is the fundamental mystery of the mysteries. Can you face being totally annihilated in terms of who you are and what you know in order to become a new person? According to Joseph Campbell, this is the archetypal gesture in all myths, legends and fairy tales.  It is the mystery drama of the birth of a new consciousness.

Another aspect is that it’s not just a new birth into physical life because you only get one of those per incarnation. That birth is by nature. But the second birth cannot be by nature. It can only come out of your own initiative. You yourself have to be the sperm and the zygote and the womb and the gestation of the second birth. There is a bridegroom, who in this case is Christ. There is a marriage. There is a honeymoon.  There is a seven-year itch and a drama. And out of all that comes this task of becoming more human than you are now.

To accomplish this task, the hero has to approach a threshold. In the ancient world, thresh was what was put on the floor after the gathering of the wheat. They would thresh the wheat and what was left was straw. And since they had dirt floors, they would put the straw on the dirt floor. Then they would throw food scraps there for the chickens and pigs. After a while, it got messy, and so they would throw more thresh on the floor. And then more thresh, layer after layer, until it started pouring out the door. Then they would put a big log in the bottom of the doorway so they could keep piling more thresh in. And that log became the threshold.

In the spring, they would remove the threshold and would scrape out the winter thresh into a pile for the fall.  So a threshold has the quality of now it’s there and now it’s gone. It’s like a swinging door.  It means you don’t know if you’re going to make it. Once in a while the door is opened, and what’s inside goes outside, and what’s outside goes inside. And it starts all over again.      

So the hero has to approach a threshold. And on the other side of that threshold is a mystery. And there is always a keeper of the mystery. Rudolf Steiner called that being the guardian of the threshold. The guardian knows when the door is up and when it’s down. But you don’t.  

And the guardian has a task that requires you to deal with three things. These are often unrelated in fairy tales but they have a common root in the work of the mystery schools, where the pupil is a simpleton. The simpleton has an advantage in that he is just a simpleton. The world loves fools, and bad guys love virgins. Innocents and fools have a pass to go across the threshold because they have already started on the way to a change. They are not cunning.

If we look back at the original story of the three brothers in Western mythology, the first brother is Cain, the first son of Eve. When he was born, she said, “The Lord has given me a man.”   She didn’t say, “Adam has given me a man.”  In the Temple Legend, Rudolf Steiner talks about Cain as begotten by an Elohim, a creative spiritual being. It is Cain who has the destiny to become a spiritual being as a human.    

The Bible says that Cain was a tiller of the fields, meaning that Cain changed things. Cain used tools. He made knives and ploughs.  That’s why Jehovah, who was a “my way or the highway” kind of god, said to Cain, “I don’t like what you’re doing.” Cain had in him the spark of the Elohim.

The second son, Abel, had a natural birth. Eve doesn’t say that the Lord give him to her. So Abel is a natural person. He follows the sheep. When the sheep die, Abel makes a sacrifice.  Because it’s part of the natural order, Jehova approves of the sacrifice: “You’re giving back to me what I’ve given to you.”

But Cain changed things. The task of Cain was to develop technology. Rudolf Steiner gives us the picture that Cain in a later incarnation becomes Christian Rosencreuz. 

So of the first two brothers, we have a technologist and a natural person. And we know what happened then: Cain killed Abel. The natural being was killed by the technologist. There’s a picture for you.

Then the third son, Seth, came.  Seth had the task of going back into the spirit to get the oil of mercy for Adam. Seth had to find a fruit on the tree of life in Paradise. He had to take the seed from that fruit and put it under Adam’s tongue so that it would sprout into the Tree of Life and would eventually become the Tree of Jesse, a hereditary tree that would give rise to Jesus.

Seth, the third son, was a kind of simpleton. He had to go into this place where he didn’t have a clue. He had to go back into Paradise and talk to the Cherub with the flaming sword. If you read Genesis, Seth is the one about whom, Eve says, “The Lord gave me another man.”

The third son is the potential new man, the one who will transcend the other two, who will find a way into Paradise in a particular way. These three brothers are three steps toward the transformation of the soul. We will see them mirrored in the three great tasks that appear in fairy tales in different guises.

The mystery school says to change in yourself the faculties you were given as a human.  You have to change them. You can’t just use them as they were given because there is a problem with them, and you have to overcome that problem. You have to leave the security of thinking you understand these three things and go into a place where you don’t understand them. And if you go there with a good heart, it will be revealed to you.  As Rudolf Steiner said, “Have faith in the ever-present help of the spiritual world.” That’s what the simpleton does. And that is not to be disdained. It is to be cultivated. But it has to be cultivated in a particular way.

These three tasks are the three pillars of mystery training.

1. The first is metanoia, which means to change your thinking. “Noia” comes from “nous” or mind. We have to change our thinking from:  “I win/you lose;” into…“How can I awaken in thee?” That is what a simpleton does as a natural faculty because he has compassion for the ants and the ducks and the beasts. The simpleton can awaken in them because he would not suffer that they be harmed. That is a curious way to say it. It means, “I suffer if they are harmed.” That is the bodhisattva, the compassionate Buddha speaking.  That is metanoia: to change your thinking.

2. The second great task is connected to what Rudolf Steiner calls gemut. In literal terms, it means “warm-heartedness” or “heart-thinking.” The most fundamental heart-thinking is gratitude. Mystery pupils had to cultivate gratitude to such a degree that they could become grateful even for their suffering. And when they became grateful for their suffering, they became free of their suffering. That does not mean that they did not suffer. It means that they were free of it because they had found the magic key.

3. The third great task is the cultivation of silence. In the Christian tradition, this is called “waiting on the Lord.” It simply means that I know that I do not know. And I know that when I need to know, I will know. This is to cultivate in the soul a waiting gesture until the answer is revealed. This is silence. It doesn’t only mean being quite with your mouth. It means being quiet in your soul, knowing that all will be revealed when it is time. That is a different kind of will. It is Pauline will.  It is not my will, but thy will be done. That is inner silence.   

These are the three motifs that stand behind the drama. They are the symbolic fountains, so to speak, of mystery wisdom. 

Now let us look at the story. When you tell stories, especially mythic stories about heroes and heroines on sacred journeys, there are always stages in the development, turning points in the plot. There are several points in the story where you wait for the turning, and the children know this. If you can be aware of where these points are and what they represent, then it helps to integrate the story. This can help to place the emotional gestalt into context.

There are four turning points in every story. If you pay attention to them, you can tell when the mood is moving to another octave.  Between these points, there is a kind of jumping between emotional octaves through the story.

1. The first point is the earth level of the story. This is fact and narrative… Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water. The narrative sets the stage. It tells where and when the story happened.  It says, “You are here.”

2. The next point is the squeeze… And Jack fell down. This is where the violins begin to play. What is going to happen now? The squeeze means that something has to change. In a good story, the squeeze goes on and on. 

3. The third point is the crisis…And broke his crown. In a crisis, there is always a reversal. It works best with a short, dramatic crisis.

4. The fourth point is the resolve. The crisis either gets worse or it gets better… And Jill came tumbling after. The crisis comes to a head, and you have a sense of what happened. In between the crisis and the resolve, you never know if the hero is going to make it or not.  

All stories have this sequence of how a person is living their unexamined life, when suddenly a squeeze happens.

So behind the stories and the images, we have a kind of bulwark of three fundamental changes that have to be made by the hero or heroine in the becoming of the new human being. And the drama unfolds in this archetypal sequence.

And then we come to the object of it all: the beautiful princess. In these legends, the beautiful princess represents the soul that has not yet awakened to its divinity. The princess has golden balls and beautiful clothes and sweetmeats to eat. And dad is the king; so life is good.

That is the natural soul living in the gifts of the Creator, what Meister Eckhart called “the virginal soul.” The virginal soul has one quality- expectation. The virginal soul is dreaming of what it will be like when Prince Charming comes. He will be handsome. He will have lots of property. There will be a great wedding.

This is the soul of a human being living in the natural world, expecting that simply by nature, they will be back on the road to God, to apotheosis. Apotheosis is the goal of the three tasks. “God is out there, and I’m going to find him.” Apotheosis is always the teaching of a mystery school, which is that some day you can be like unto a god. . 

So the virginal soul expects that just by living, there will be apotheosis. That is the princess, a representation of natural beauty and potential.

Meister Eckhardt describes another kind of soul that he called “the married soul.”  The married soul has lost all expectation. It is dirty dishes in the morning, and soccer mom spending her life in her car. The married soul has lost expectation but is able to deal with responsibility.

The responsible soul realizes that it is responsible for taking its own development in hand. That is why the hero has to leave. If the hero stayed at home, he would remain a virgin soul. He has to put that in jeopardy and go out into another world.

In the responsible soul, the married soul, the heroine and the princess become the same person. The princess marries and becomes a mother who brings new life.

That is what these stories are about, in all kinds of variations. They are initiation stories about going from unawareness into deep communion with the eternal all.  

In today’s world that is very far away from the images our culture is bringing. It is a great gift that you bring to children as teachers when you give them these stories. When you do that, you are teachers in a mystery school.

(End of Friday evening lecture)


  1. Diane David on January 1, 2022 at 9:21 am

    Thank you Dennis for giving us this lecture once again – it has been wonderful revisiting it.

  2. Chrisula Fillios on January 3, 2022 at 11:49 am

    Thank you Dennis, I look forward to your presentations online..happy 2022 to you and your family..cheers Chrisula

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Dennis Klocek, MFA, is co-founder of the Coros Institute, an internationally renowned lecturer, and teacher. He is the author of nine books, including the newly released Colors of the Soul; Esoteric Physiology and also Sacred Agriculture: The Alchemy of Biodynamics. He regularly shares his alchemical, spiritual, and scientific insights at soilsoulandspirit.com.

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