Unless you’re German, you’ve probably never heard of today’s Märchen — Marienkind or Our Lady’s Child. It’s easy to see why it has remained obscure: it’s the most explicitly Catholic story in the Grimm brothers’ collection. (The irony is that “Catholic” comes from the Greek adjective “καθολικός,” which means universal.) Read it with us for the first time in German, English, or any of the sixteen other languages on GrimmStories.com!
I may not have any memories of Marienkind, but it reminds me very strongly of two stories I did read as a child: Bluebeard and The Six Swans. (According to GrimmStories.com, the Grimm brothers also rewrote both these stories; but they are not in my Gesamtausgabe or complete edition. I know that some Märchen in the very first edition of 1812 were not included in later printings, because they weren’t German enough. Der gesteifelte Kater or Puss in Boots, for instance, was originally French.)
In Bluebeard, a husband gives his wife the keys to all the rooms in his home — and a clear instruction never to open one specific door. But she cannot resist, opens the door anyway, and learns a terrible secret from her husband’s past. It’s an unusually dark story for children, because the blue-bearded husband represents the devil.
As for The Six Swans, it’s the story of a sister who saves her brothers from a curse. She has to make each of them a shirt and to stay completely silent until the curse is broken. But then someone accuases her of a gruesome crime and she cannot defend herself. Marienkind also has a curse, a silent woman, and an awful accusation — but it combines these “ingredients” differently.
Going Back to Grimm
It is hard to write about Marienkind without referring to Bluebeard. They’re very similar, but also complete opposites. In Bluebeard, the husband clearly keeps one room locked so that his wife never discovers how evil he is. But what is the reason for forbidding the child in Marienkind from seeing the Holy Trinity? It’s as mysterious as the one law in the Garden of Eden.
After Our Lady’s child is banished from heaven, the story starts to look like a regular Märchen. She lives miserably in the wilderness, unable to escape, until a king saves her. It’s perfect symbolism for the soul before the coming of Christ. But another mystery of Marienkind is that marriage to the Bridegroom is not enough. Even after the king frees and falls in love with Our Lady’s child, she does not regain her ability to speak.
Later on, after the birth of her first child, she also gives up her ability to be a mother. This is really interesting to me because by this point she also represents Holy Mother Church. So the surprising moral of Marienkind is that the Church cannot be a good mother to her children unless she first admits that she has sinned. It’s literally the only condition: She must admit that she has sinned . . . to Mary.
“. . . Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”
Next Monday: Die drei Spinnerinen
Read it here: Link