Märchen Monday: Marienkind

Unless you’re German, you’ve probably never heard of today’s MärchenMarienkind 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!

Märchen Memories

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

2 thoughts on “Märchen Monday: Marienkind

  1. An interesting story. It has a ring of truth to it, in that people really do sometimes go a lot to avoid having to confess that they did something wrong.

    There are some significant differences in the Spanish translation in the description of heaven. The English, French, Italian, Finnish, and German (and, if Google Translate is to be trusted, the Japanese, as well) say that behind each of the twelve doors was an Apostle, and the Trinity behind the last. But the Spanish puts royal thrones behind the twelve and the statue of a magnificent kind behind the thirteenth. I wonder why.

    The punishment of silence strikes me as being a lot like excommunication — while not cast out, she cannot participate fully in the community. While I don’t know that that analogy can be pressed very hard, I think it’s interesting that all the doors to the rooms with the Apostles are permitted, and the one door that’s not is the one directly to the Trinity. So perhaps the danger is trying to have heaven except through the Church — in which case confession is needed to rejoin with the Church.

    1. Cristina @Linguavert

      Silence as excommunication is an interesting interpretation. I think the original readers would agree immediately, but I had to think about it. Excommunication may still carry all the spiritual weight it used to, but it’s no longer the social punishment it used to be. Instead of the loss of one’s voice, now it’s more like the turning off of one’s microphone. And one can always find an alternative microphone and keep talking!

      What a terrible change for the Spanish version! Marienkind gets so much from the mystery of why Our Lady would forbid her child to open a door that leads to the Holy Trinity. But if the Lady is just forbidding her to look at some magnificent statue, then she isn’t reflecting a mysterious heavenly law, but making up some arbitrary one.

      Your last point about only having Heaven “through the Church” reminds me of a point that I heard a priest make recently. He explained that that Mary is the first “rung” on our “ladder” back to God. So it’s not that Our Lady’s child may not go by herself to the Holy Trinity, but that she cannot. Just as God came to us through Mary, we also have to go through Mary to God.

      Perhaps the child’s failure as a mother is also commentary on Protestant churches. There can be only one Mater et Magister! But it’s worth noting that Mary shows mercy to the children, who should not suffer because of their earthly mother’s sin.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *