Hansel and Gretel: Overcoming Trauma

Jul 14, 2022

Image Credit: 1909 illustration by the British artist Arthur Rackham

Fairy tales are fierce narratives of human shadow and its transformation. Hansel and Gretel depicts raw childhood trauma: parents abandon their children in the forest in order to feed themselves. Then the children discover a magical, edible cottage, only to be entrapped by a cannibalistic witch. Everyone is starving, a metaphor for psychic insufficiency. The children’s loyalty to one another gives rise to strategy and bravery, yielding riches and redemption—the reward for engaging danger with valor. Marie-Louise von Franz, one of Jung’s closest collaborators, recognized that fairy tales are maps of everyone’s unconscious. This tale invites us to consider how we handle our internal hungers. What might we be starving for? Have we abandoned inner children to the wilderness of the unconscious? Does a witch within threaten to devour tender potential? Or can we, like Hansel and Gretel, rise above our primal forest with consciousness and courage and find the treasure of wholeness?

Here’s the dream we analyze:

“I’m on an ocean beach looking out to my one-room house that juts out on a dock above where the waves break. The house could use some work and a coat of paint, but there’s a feeling of pride as I gaze over it. I look down and notice I’m wearing a peasant dress, which is not at all my style and better suited for a little girl. A craggy cliff looms to the left side of the beach. From around the cliff, two sea monsters appear swimming, nearing my house on the water. I wasn’t afraid of them, but watched them calmly. As they approach, they begin to rock the walls of the house, and I continue to watch powerlessly as they wrest it from its dock and tear it out to sea. The sea monsters retreat over the horizon and the house begins to sink. I am then inland but not far from the beach, at a pub in a seaside town. I see my parents in a booth, engaged in a fiddle contest. They are my parents, I know this to be sure, but they are monstrous apparitions, soft as puppets and with frightfully large heads. I try to tell them about my house and that it is gone, expecting some kind of comfort or perhaps an invitation to stay with them. They glance my way but they don’t acknowledge me or that I’m in distress. The fiddle contest goes on uninterrupted. The barkeep tells me that if I’m not there for the fiddle contest, then I will have to leave. The dream ends as I struggle to breathe.”


M. Night Shyamalan Film: The Visit, : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YfQnRjkuvaY

Erich Neumann: The Origins and History of Consciousness. https://www.amazon.com/dp/0691163596/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_050QS0734HKDZG2S7BJD

John Hill. At Home In The World: Sounds and Symmetries of Belonging. https://www.amazon.com/dp/1685030211/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_E3T32X59A0E42D239D26


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  1. Todd

    Agree… because the cycle of aggression is perpetuated when one is not in conscious relationship to aggression… repressed aggression can be murderous and very very dark indeed. Serial killers are often very repressed individuals that suffered abuse at the hands of their parents…acting out the unconscious repetition compulsion through ritual killing.

    As you say, the key to breaking the cycle of personal and familial trauma is ironically to learn to acknowledge and channel aggression consciously, whereas one may be persuaded (esp. if one has suffered as a child in an abusive household) that the solution is to repress violence, aggression and to banish it far away (dissociate from it). The father here is an example of that type of dissociated person as he abandons his kids to the evil mother…he’s powerless to protect those he loves.

    This can happen whether it was the father or the mother who was abusive…not sure it’s limited only to the negative mother…can also be a negative father complex…however maybe with slightly different effects.

    It’s a paradox…and unexpected…in that one has to in some way know and embrace one’s inner killer (one’s will to power) in order to avoid becoming a unwitting killer in real life … two other folks that wrote about the hated child: Stephen R. Johnson in Characterological Transformations (healing the hated child)…and Donald Kalsched in The Inner World of Trauma

  2. Glenn Melcher via LinkedIn

    Good morning Charlotte,

    the particular sentence that caught my eye
    was how these tales are maps of our consciousness …
    I have never been a fan of Grimm ..

    I am not a fan of inflaming or exacerbating fear..

    This did clarify for me why I have never been a fan of Grimm..
    I always learn from Your shares ..

    Have a fabulous Saturday

  3. Mamie Allegretti

    Hello Joseph, Lisa and Deb,
    Interestingly, both my husband and I thought of Hansel as very cunning. He used the objects he had (pebbles and bread) to try to lead them back home. Deb surmised that it was kind of childish for him to use the bread, but he also had to use something that would not be visible and obvious to the parents. For example, he couldn’t find some paint and draw a line! He used the resources he had. And it worked. They stayed alive. Also we might think of Hansel as kind of compensatory to the father. The father is emasculated by the overbearing wife (She gave him no peace until he agreed to the plot.) and no longer has the life energy to provide for the family. However, Hansel has a great deal of energy, resourcefulness and craftiness (and courage!) to put his plan into effect. His the stronger one who uses his intuition (when the moon rises) to put his plan into action. Gretel cries and says this is it for her! He is a good model for Gretel to use her craftiness in the end because he tells her that God will kind of tell her what to do. She recognizes that moment and shoves the witch in the oven. So, both children NEED each other. Each one helps the other and plays his/her role in staying alive. If Hansel doesn’t do what he does early on, Gretel won’t be able to do what she does later on. When Hansel turns back and says he sees the cat and the pigeon, the mother calls him a fool. But he wasn’t foolish. He was looking back at the pebbles to get a sense of how to get back. The mother was in fact the FOOL because she didn’t SEE his craftiness. This mirrors the witch saying that she is going blind. She is blind because she can’t see that Gretel is asking her to do the exact same thing that she wanted Gretel to do – get into the oven!!! So the mother is blind to the resourcefulness of her children just as the witch is blind to the children’s cunning. Hansel also plays the trick of letting her grab the bone. So, before you attempt to kill some parts of yourself, wait to see if there’s anything that might be of resource there! Thank you for this episode! We had fun discussing it.


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