This is not a post about the British rock band! Whitesnake definitely did not get its name from Die weiße Schlange. If you are more familiar with urban legends about the band than with today’s Märchen, here is your chance to read it in German, English, and sixteen other languages.
Märchen (and Myth) Memories
I had never read Die weiße Schlange before this year. But the second part of it reminded me very strongly of another story that was familiar: the Greek myth of Eros and Psyche. After Psyche betrays Eros’s trust, she has to perform four impossible tasks to win him back. She succeeds only because animals — and some supernatural forces — help her. In the end, she gets her husband back and becomes an immortal. The second half of Die weiße Schlange is a similar story: the hero must prove that he is worthy of a great love.
If I had also grown up with Norse myths, the first half of Die weiße Schlange would have made me remember Siegfried or Sigurd. Like the hero of this Märchen, he could understand the speech of animals. And he received this power after drinking dragon’s blood (Source).
The third ancient story that we see reflected in Die weiße Schlange is from the Hebrew Scriptures. A snake that can give you great knowledge and power if you eat it? When our hero took a bite at the beginning of this Märchen, I worried that the next event would be a Fall.
Going Back to Grimm
But snakes are not always symbols of evil. Several thousand years after a serpent tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden, we heard that we must be not just innocent like doves, but also wise like serpents. (Source) And in Die weiße Schlange, we see that after our hero eats the white snake, he is not just wise, but also kind. He is clever enough to save himself and compassionate enough to save others. Although he has served a great king, he does not hesitate to serve the most helpless animals.
It may seem like a contradiction when he kills his horse to feed the baby ravens; but for me, this was his most Christ-like action. I immediately remembered St. Augustine’s interpretation of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, in which the donkey that bears the wounded man is the Body of Christ Himself. (Source) And today I found a similar gloss from St. Bede. (Source) It would have made no sense for the hero of Die weiße Schlange to rescue the ravens by giving them a ride on his horse! But when he sacrifices the horse, which symbolizes his body, the connection to Christ is just as close. And in the end, it is the ravens who bring him the Apfel vom Baume des Lebens — the apple from the tree of life.
Next Märchen Monday: Frau Hölle
Read it here: Link