I decided to interpret this one because it includes some symbolism in common with the last, The Six Swans (a ball/ring, hunting, and the wild), and I want to do one with a masculine child. If you have some experience with the alchemical approach to symbolism, you know that typically the male protagonist needs help with and from the feminine, and vice versa for the feminine protagonist. That's a teaching on the need for balance between opposites and development of all the four elements; masculine fire and air and feminine earth and water. Focus on the feminine is partly the case in this story, with its golden apples and the key under the queen's pillow, but not entirely. This one is more like an instruction manual for the human developmental wisdom-making process from the alchemical perspective, from the soul centered perspective..
My version is in my Grimm's collection, an old Nelson Doubleday edition that doesn't even mention a publishing date. Here is an online version for you, Iron Hans. And another here.
This fairy tale is notorious for spurring the men's movement in the 90's thanks to Robert Bly's wonderful book Iron John; A Book About Men here on Amazon. I have not read Bly's book for decades, so I cannot attest to whether or not our interpretations agree. I do know that I have never read any fairy tale interpretations as alchemical as mine.
Here's a narrated version of the story;
So let's get going on it. It is a bit long, due in part to repetitions;
"Once upon a time there lived a King who had a great forest near his palace, full of all kinds of wild animals."
You may think this king is a very different sort from yourself, but these alchemical stories always speak of the human condition in as general terms as possible; symbolism is the most universal language on the planet. The king is our go-to representative for our unique soul's personal power, you could say. That's why our soul instantly recognizes this castle and royal family stuff; it's the soul's domain or kingdom. We are naturally wisdom seekers from childhood, though in my culture wisdom is not much supported as a pursuit. We have replaced wisdom with other objectives, since wisdom is a long term developmental project and we've lost our long range developmental vision, period.The unwise king or queen is always a tyrant of some sort; using their personal power to push folks around to mundane ends rather than prioritizing the soul's respectful, connected ways of relating to self and other. The wise king or queen values their divinity and the divinity of others; they have joined heaven and earth in alchemical terms. So that's what this story is about; joining heaven and earth, turning lead into gold, developing wisdom, same as in The Six Swans and many an alchemical tale.
The great forest is the inner being, the psyche, and the wild animals are the vital, untamed, natural, soul-connected aspects of ourselves. The king sends a huntsman into the forest to shoot him a roe (small deer), but the guy never returns. Next day he sends out two more to look for the first "but they too stayed away." Third day, he gets all the rest of these servants and orders "Scour the forest through, and do not give up until ye have found all three." Three days, three hunts, looking for the three; the sacred number's repetition blatantly indicates we're talking magic here, inner shapeshifting, not an event in ordinary consciousness. Threes aren't just some whimsical addition; they are a symbolic two-by-four clout.
None of the hunters ever return, and a pack of dogs is lost as well. "From that time forth, no one would any longer venture into the forest, and it lay there in deep stillness and solitude, and nothing was seen of it, but sometimes an eagle or a hawk would fly over it."
The dogs are probably representing the inner experience of self loyalty. Though we are theoretically born with it, self loyalty is one of the toughest of states to reclaim. In our human development we are naturally conditioned to outer referencing, looking to others and our circumstances to determine our experience, and self loyalty is a form of inner referencing. As we're growing up we learn to take our cues from the world as to how we should feel about ourselves. We lose our innate self love and self trust. It's all good; it's existential humanity, part of the game of incarnation.
Both the roe that would be shot and the dogs are animals of the ancient Greek Artemis, an "enlightenment", woodland, hunter-seeker goddess. Just as the king sends his huntsmen out before him, so does Artemis send her hounds- usually depicted as sight hounds; hounds that pursue using vision, like the hawk and eagle. Seeker, seer, insight, knowledge, wisdom...all 6th chakra stuff.
Just kidding. It's about an inner event of course. Artemis is a virgin goddess, so part of her practice is going to be awareness of unbridled human desire. When we find it's about to overwhelm us, we nip the energy in the...er...bud. It points out that when we dedicate ourselves to reclaiming true self loyalty (the dogs) we must be ruthless. The one who is seeking to be made whole by actions in "the world", by objectifying and claiming the object of desire (Acteon), will get nowhere in Artemis's enlightenment game, since it's all about discovering who we are beneath or beyond "the world". When we hunt anything worldly we must objectify it, make it "other"- the world as porn, something to hunt and then to own. Spiritual seeking is a movement away from objectification, towards oneness. There can be no prurient curiosity in the soul, as there is no "otherness" in its domain.
Enough about dogs, who are, like humans, hunters, and have a lot of archetypal cache'. Maybe they're even seeking psychospiritual development with us- who knows?
So we begin with a static situation: a man who is a seeker has a lot of his seeking power tied up in the unconscious psyche. He's not getting anywhere in his seeking because he's lacking awareness of a big part of his psyche that's in the inner "wild forest". We might get a clue as to how this happened in the next bit;
"This lasted for many years, when a strange huntsman announced himself to the king as seeking a situation, and offered to go into the dangerous forest. The King, however, would not give his consent, and said, 'It is not safe in there; I fear it would fare with thee no better than with the others, and thou wouldst never come out again.' The huntsman replied, "Lord, I will venture it at my own risk; I have no fear."
Since the symbolic forest and its dark, yin, inner space is archetypally feminine, men are often much more frightened of it than women are. Masculine energy is outward directed, radiating, the sun compared to the sometimes invisible, reflective moon that Artemis governs. In contemporary American culture, just about everyone's afraid of inner space. However, you can't get inner conflicts and fears resolved, discover their origins, reclaim personal power and authentic self, if you're afraid of your own shadow (Jung called the inner dark psychic material the shadow)! Which you naturally are, since the psychic shadow is partly composed of what frightens us. In the story of The Sleeping Beauty, the prince who ends up marrying the sleeping princess says the same thing; that he is not afraid. The father who got the stagnant situation (the whole castle's arrested development) in that story happening was also fearful, of his daughter's death the banishment of the spindles. I interped Sleeping Beauty on a HubPage here.
But here comes an inner figure that's unafraid. As an aspect of our king, let's just say the big guy finally made the move. Maybe he's gone to a good therapist or whatever. This forthcoming hunter aspect has got his dog- the self-loyal aspect we all need in order to venture inside, where there is none but ourselves to make choices, no one else to blame. The dog sees some game "and wanted to pursue it,; but hardly had the dog run two steps when it stood before a deep pool, could go no farther, and a naked arm stretched itself out of the water, seized it, and drew it under."
Unlike the king, this huntsman isn't sitting off somewhere safe letting someone else have his adventure; he's on the ground, on the job, up close and personal with the dark inner wood, and that's the story's first bit of advice for the fearful king. He's got some archetypally feminine earth element working for him. Because he's willing to go face the fear, he witnesses the disappearance of his dog. As I was saying, the king is discovering the origins of his fear, his self betrayal. It's an "Aha!" moment; it's also a connection with the inner figure the story is named after.
This unafraid inner figure is also going to demonstrate a little rudimentary facility with water element;
"He went back and fetched three men to come with buckets and bail out the water. When they could see to the bottom there lay a wild man whose body was brown like rusty iron, and whose hair hung over his face down to his knees."
Note another set of three.
So this figure is obviously an inner figure, and one which is of the soul (water element). We can be pretty sure also that he's of the soul since he is a wild man. Our wild side is that which has not been conditioned yet; conditioned and tamed are the same thing. It means that someone or something fits into the beliefs, values, and behaviors of a given society.
Here's another cool painting, of a yeti, another wild man figure- I did not know that the yeti is an Eastern European or Slavic mythical character/god! A spirit of the woods...got it from a blog ilovetheyeti but no artistic credit.
Enough for today- we got a good start.