No, I’ve never driven the Märchenstraße … I live – more or less – about halfway between Steinau (where he Grimm brothers are from and did a lot of their work) and Kassel (something like the central point along route). If you drive east from where I live, say, about 5 miles, you can see the 7 Dwarves (a string of basalt cupolas spread across the plain over toward the Wartburg where Luther translated the Bible into German.
Bettleheim’s book is a must read for any parent, as far as I’m concerned. I also highly recommend Erich Fromm’s The Forgotten Language and von Franz’ The Interpretation of Fairy Tales. William Irwin Thompson did a brilliant interpretation of the fairy tale Rapunzel (but I can’t find the reference right now). And if you’ve never read Robert Bly’s Iron John (mandatory reading for my sons-in-law), you don’t know what you’re missing. Not to forget, de Santillana & Dechend’s Hamlet’s Mill is far too often ignored, and Grave’s White Godess is too easily dismissed. And think what one will of Jordan Peterson, I don’t know any contemporary who has uncovered the truth value of myth more than him (cf. his Maps of Meaning).
It’s not about struggling through the suffering to carry on, rather it’s about gaining insight to be able to deal with the inevitable suffering that will come again.
What I learned from Gebser (not that you need read him, but you might just get into him) is that myths (and fairy tales are often condensed, compressed, if not distilled, versions of mythical narratives … as lots gets lost when it is transmitted orally from one culture to the next) are true. It’s not that somewhat childish-minded, not as sophisticatedly developed, sometimes even perceived as primitive peoples made up stories to assuage their fears, rather they spoke their truths in symbolic language that only we moderns, allegedly educated and “enlightened” moderns, are dumb enough to think are literal expressions of something.
Yes, the Enlightenment had as some of its declared goals demythologization and the final annihilation of superstition, but they couldn’t have failed more miserably. Instead, we replaced what was there with cheap, tawdry, sometimes even false imitations that were in turn taken as the non plus ultra of insight … a lot like, as Bettleheim pointed out, the French tried to “sanitize” the Grimm versions of the tales (which are full of blood and death – natural parts of the suffering that it is to be human), but also without real success. We moderns drove out the Devil with Beelzebub and wonder why things are as screwed up as ever.
One of the reasons that we still recount the story of Osiris-Isis-and-Horus, that we find the Gilgamesh Epic still captivating, that Odin’s sacrifice of his eye moves us, and that the Spirit of G-d moving upon the face of the deep holds us in awe is not that they are lies, but because they are all true. How, to what degree, in which manner … the answers to those questions are challenges to us, and for the most part, most folks today are not up to the challenge at all, and so they do what science, for example, does with anomalies it doesn’t want to deal with: they ignore them.
Yes and know. We are not circling as far as I can tell: we’re spiraling. When we return to our “starting point” if you will, we are different, having been changed by the experience of our journey. For some, the will be at a “higher” level of some sort (to merely use a terribly distasteful metaphor as far as I’m concerned), others will be at a “lower” level. If we just return, not change takes place and we neither know that we were gone, nor does it matter. And so round and round and round we go … where we end up, nobody knows.
Keep the faith, and keep to the high ground out there.