ANIMUS IN FAIRY TALES – Exploring Fitcher’s Bird

Barbara Miller

The analytic psychological interpretation of fairy tales sees the fairy tale expressing typical psychic processes. Some tales dwell on the experience of the shadow; others emphasize the motif of renewal or the unobtainable treasure and these central experiences. Other tales emphasize the experience of animus and anima and the father and mother images behind them. In the following we look at the animus in fairy tales; that is, we look at the specific character of the psychic situation that is contained in the animus image. The animus image speaks of the faculty of judgement in a woman.

For a woman there is a masculine principle at work within her and within a man there is a feminine. The woman’s outer and inner relationship to the masculine and the man’s outer and inner relationship to the feminine constitute part of the individual’s wholeness. Achieving greater wholeness is the on-going process of individuation that includes the differentiation and integration of earlier unconscious elements. The achievement of a satisfactory relationship can be expressing this process of greater wholeness and in a fairy tale can be the ending, “they married and lived happily ever after.” How the heroine got to that happy ending is the main part of the tale. And importantly, we must ask from where did it start, that is, what is the initial constellation? There are not always happy endings to fairy tales, as we all know, and we can expect that the initial constellation will have much to say about where the action leads. In the case of Fitcher’s Bird, we can speak of animus possession. The heroine must and does escape; no more than that can be asked of her. The tale of “Fitcher’s Bird” is number 46 in the Brothers Grimm collection. The following is my condensed version.

Fitcher’s Bird (the fairy tale)

Fitcher's vogel

Illustration:  Grimm’s Fairy Tales. John B. Gruelle,
illustrator New York: Cupples & Leon, 1914.

There is a sorcerer in the guise of a poor man who begs and catches beautiful girls. None of the girls ever return. One day he appeared at the door of a man who had three beautiful daughters. He appeared poor and weak and carried a basket on his back. When the oldest daughter came out to hand him a piece of bread, he had only to touch her, and she was compelled to jump into his basket. He carried her to his house in the middle of a dark forest. Everything was splendid inside the house and he gave her what ever she desired. After some days, he said, “I must go on a journey and leave you alone for a short time. Here are the keys to the house. You may go wherever you want and look at everything except one room, which this small key here opens. If you disobey me, you shall be punished by death.” He also gave her an egg and said, “I am giving you this egg for safekeeping. You are to carry it wherever you go. If you lose it, then something awful will happen.” When he was gone she explored the house. The rooms glistened with silver and gold. Finally, she came to the forbidden door. She wanted to walk past it but curiosity got the better of her, she used the key and opened the room. Alas what did she see? There was a large bloody basin in the middle of the room; it was filled with dead people who had been chopped to pieces. Next to the basin was a block with an ax. She was horrified and dropped the egg she was holding and it plopped into the basin. She took it out and wiped the blood off, but to no avail: the blood reappeared instantly. She wiped and scraped, but she could not get rid of the spot.

Not long after this, the sorcerer returned and the first things he demanded from her were the keys and the egg. With trembling, she handed them to him and he saw directly from the blood on the egg that she had been in the bloody chamber. He said to her, “Since you went into that chamber against my will, you shall go back in, against your will. This is the end of your life.” He chopped her up, throws her into the basin. And said, “Now I shall fetch the second daughter.” The whole sequence is repeated with the second daughter. Then he went and fetched the third daughter, but she was smart and cunning. After he had given her the keys and the egg and had departed, she put the egg away in a safe place. Then she explored the house and eventually came to the forbidden chamber. There she saw her dear sisters chopped to pieces in the basin. However, she set to work right a way, gathered all the pieces and put them together. When nothing was missing, the pieces began to move and join together. The maidens opened their eyes, they were alive again and they rejoiced together. When the sorcerer returned, he demanded his keys and the egg, and when he could not discover the least trace of blood, he said, “You have passed the test, and you shall be my bride.” But, he no longer had any power over her and had to do what she requested. She had him carry the basket to her father and mother. It was full of gold, and under the gold her sisters were hidden. They were to alert her family and send help. In the mean time she invited all his cronies to the wedding. She dressed up a skull and placed it in the attic window. She dipped herself into a barrel of honey, cut open a bed and rolled in the feathers. She looked like a strange bird. She went out to the road and no one could recognize her. The invited quests walked past her and asked: “Where are you coming from, oh, Fitcher’s bird? She answered,  “From Fitze Fitcher’s house, haven’t you heard?” … “And what may the young bride be doing there?”
“She’s swept the whole house from top to bottom. Just now she’s looking out the attic window.” This is repeated when the bridegroom passes her. Once he and all the guests were gathered inside the house, the bride’s brother and relatives arrived. They had been sent to rescue her. They locked all the doors of the house to prevent anyone from escaping and set fire to the house. The sorcerer and all his cronies were burned to death…     end of tale.

Let us look at the initial situation. There is a sorcerer who takes girls away and they never return. There is a father and three daughters. There is no mention of a mother, nor of the brother, who are both mentioned at the end. Without a mother, but with a sorcerer and a father we may think that the initial situation speaks of a father complex in a woman of marriageable age. This father complex could be seen as having two poles: one being the father image that encourages growth and another father image that entices away from growth. Just as we see that a witch can be the negative pole of the mother complex. The witch says, for example, in Hansel and Gretel, “They’re mine, They’ll never get away from me!” The witch has lured Hansel and Gretel to her by a house made of cake and sweats. The witch plans to eat them. We could say that the witch is that regressive pull in a person that says “You don’t have to grow, you can just sit on mother’s lap, eat sweats and not bother with anything further.” The sorcerer could speak of this regressive pull, but then in its masculine form that is an extension of the father image. In other fairy tales we see this same constellation, as in Fitcher’s Bird, of a daughter, a father and a magician/sorcerer. And typically in these other tales where the daughter is enthralled to the magician, she can not choose a marriage partner, and/or the potential partners loose their lives.

Jung writes about such a constellation in Collected Works, Volume 4, “The Significance of the Father in the Destiny of the Individual.” Jung explains that there is a double aspect of the father-imago that is characteristic of the father archetype. The father complex is woven with the personal father’s virtues and faults and the archetype. And there appears on the one hand a sublime deity, and on the other hand the devil, the effects of which are diametrically opposite. This double aspect of the father imago acts ambivalently on consciousness. Jung gives an example of the ambivalent behavior of the father-imago in the love-episode from the Book of Tobit. Sara, the daughter of Raquel, desires to marry. But her evil fate wills it that seven times, one after the other, she chooses a husband who dies on the wedding night. It is the evil spirit Asmodeus – by whom she is persecuted – that kills these men. She prays to Yahweh and the eighth bridegroom, her cousin Tobias the son of Tobit, is sent to her by God. Jung writes, “This fable has become a classic example in my analytical work, for we frequently meet with cases where the father-demon has laid his hand upon his daughter, so that her whole life long, even when she does marry, there is never a true inward union, because her husband’s image never succeeds in obliterating the unconscious and continually operative infantile father ideal” (Jung, CW 4, footnote 26 § 744).

In our tale the sorcerer appears with feminine attributes: he carries a basket on his back and later he has a large basin. In a similar way the witch has masculine characteristics, often a sharp long nose and hairy arms. The lack of differentiation suggests their position in the unconscious. We can also view this situation as expressing animus possession, in which the woman is robbed of her feminine attributes. The beggar asks for food and the girl responded. She has pity, which presupposes or creates an identification – a participation mystique. In the role of a poor man or a beggar, the animus induces the woman to believe that she herself has nothing. So there is experienced a poverty in conscious life, that results in endless self-criticism. The animus can be experienced as a voice commenting on a woman’s behavior and more extremely as issuing commands and prohibitions, as we see in our tale. The sorcerer sets forth the law, ‘do not enter the room.’ Viewed from the outside, the symptoms of animus possession have a double aspect. On the one hand there is a laming leading to absent-mindedness, and the woman can appear charmingly feminine. On the other there is aggressiveness and the woman can appear assertive and masculine.

The sorcerer also gives the girls an egg. What symbolic meaning does the egg have? Eggs have potential. In some creation myths there is the Cosmic Egg, the origin of the universe. In Coptic churches the egg depicts creation, life and resurrection. In alchemy the egg is also the sealed hermetic vase in which the Great Work is consummated. In some myths the god is born from an egg. We can wonder how it is that the sorcerer has the egg to give to the girls. Perhaps he has something of the mother; she was missing at the beginning of the tale. I think of how in the symptoms of our neurosis, or the compulsive working of our autonomous complex, there is hidden that which we must realize. We can feel trapped or in prison when caught in a projection, while if one has a constant alertness to the Self one is no longer caught.

We see in the tale that the sorcerer is very repetitive, always out for the next girl. One can view the activity of the sorcerer and the dismembered bodies as the workings of an addiction, or animus possession of the autonomous complex. We see this in the repetition that brings death and no memory. The heroine breaks the cycle. She uses memory, she ‘re-members’ her sisters. And prior to this she is disobedient to the sorcerer’s laws. She puts the egg somewhere safe rather than carrying it with her, and she enters the forbidden room. If we see the sorcerer as addiction, then she is well advised to be disobedient to the inner voice that says “Oh, just one more won’t hurt.” And by doing what she does, the sorcerer has no more power over her, as when we are released from an addiction.

The heroine’s disobedience being so essential to the course of this tale, I want to go into disobedience more extensively. And for this we look at two other tales, one from Grimm, “Mother Trudy” (tale number 43) and one from Apuleius’ The Golden Ass, the fairytale “Amor and Psyche”, for which I have employed the translations in Erich Neumann (1956) and Marie-Louise von Franz (1992). The tale of Mother Trudy tells about a girl who visits the witch against the advice of her parents and ends up in the witch’s fire. Mother Trudy is a witch. The girl enters the (forbidden chamber) house and asks Mother Trudy about what she has seen as she came in, whereupon Trudy changes the girl into a block of wood and throws it into the fire. In this case, disobedience was not a good idea. We could imagine that the girl is too young, too undeveloped to act on her curiosity successfully. She still needs her parents to make distinctions for her. And further, she asked the witch to make distinctions by asking “what was it that I saw as I came in?”. This is certain death. The girl abdicates her animus functioning to the witch. The witch will certainly not encourage the child to use good judgement – the witch being that which would use the child for an own purpose.

In Fitcher’s Bird, the heroine puts the egg in a safe place. She is exercising her own judgement. After this act of discretion there is no longer a repetitive pattern of destruction. Further, we can imagine the use of the faculty of judgement as the task of sorting – we find sorting in the tale of Cinderella, where Cinderella must sort the lentils from the ash.

In Amor and Psyche, Psyche is forbidden by Amor to view him. They are lovers in the dark of night. We might say Psyche is in the paradise of unconscious union. But her jealous sisters awaken curiosity in her, telling her that her husband must be a monster. She takes a light and sees Amor in all his glory. She is so transfixed that she forgets that she holds the lamp and a drop of oil falls on Amor awakening him, whereby he tells Psyche that he is leaving and will never see her again. However, Psyche goes through a number of trials and is finally reunited with Amor. The first of Psyche’s tasks is to sort seeds. We can note that Psyche’s disobedience and expulsion from paradise is similar to the Biblical story of the Garden of Eden. Psyche’s viewing of Amor was an increase in consciousness for Psyche and it was achieved by disobeying Amor. Amor had removed Psyche from her outer life and the danger was that she would not make a next step in development and rather regress to an undifferentiated level of togetherness. The tale Amor and Psyche is of the genre “Beauty and the Beast.” Well-known for this genre is the tale of the frog prince. After the frog is kissed by the princess, he transforms into a handsome prince. In these tales we can speak of a budding animus and in this case the heroine must not be too quick in making decisions. She needs to suffer the ‘not knowing’ for some time. In Amor and Psyche we see this suffering in ‘not knowing’ in the second half of the tale where Psyche goes through many trials and animals play a role. We see that the animal’s advice works positively, so we may conclude that it is correct for Psyche to follow her instinct.

Von Franz in her introduction to the symbolism of alchemy writes that in the instinctive functioning of man there is “a super-rational awareness of things about which we could not know rationally, and that therefore it is helpful, healthy, and very important to pay attention to such impulses. They seem not only to work for the survival of animals and human beings, but to have a further extension, namely that of working for the higher development and maturity and psychological welfare of the person, which is what we call the unconscious in its preserving and healing aspect” (Von Franz 1980: 97).

Fitcher’s Bird is of the genre “Bluebeard.” Some of the difference between the two genres we can see by the radically different endings. In a Beauty and the Beast tale the beast can be transformed and they marry and live happily ever after. In a Bluebeard tale not so, Bluebeard cannot transform his wives or be transformed himself. Bluebeard must be destroyed, and the heroine must manage to slip out of his clutches. I think the logic is as follows: in the Beauty and the Beast, beast and husband are one, so the beast can transform.  In a Bluebeard tale, father and sorcerer/magician are one, so no transformation is possible, she must just ‘get out’. The progress that the heroine of Fitcher’s Bird has made in the course of the tale is evident at the end of tale. Not only has she saved her sisters and escaped, her brother is now active. The brother being a same age masculine figure suggests that the animus image has progressed and is not held by a father figure.

What inner dynamics does the tale of Fitcher’s Bird help us to conceptualize? The function of the animus is to make distinctions and to judge. However, Jung emphasizes that the animus “does not belong to the function of conscious relationship; his function is rather to facilitate relations with the unconscious” (Jung CW 7 §334). Additionally we can consider the personification of the animus. Jung writes, “we can just make out that the autonomous complex of anima and animus is essentially a psychological function that has usurped, or rather retained, a “personality” only because this function is itself autonomous and undeveloped. But already we can see how it is possible to break up the personifications, since by making them conscious we convert them into bridges to the unconscious. It is because we are not using them purposefully as functions that they remain personified complexes. So long as they are in this state they must be accepted as relatively independent personalities. They cannot be integrated into consciousness while their contents remain unknown. The purpose of the dialectical process is to bring these contents into the light; and only when this task has been completed, and the conscious mind has become sufficiently familiar with the unconscious processes reflected in the anima [animus], will the anima [animus] be felt simply as a function” (Ibid. §339).

I suggest that the inner dynamics portrayed in Fitcher’s Bird speak of the step in a woman’s life of marriageable age where she will choose a partner and choose for a sexual relationship. However, she is still ‘ruled’ by her father complex. She has not yet taken the step of making distinctions (she has not, as in Cinderella, sorted the lentils from the ash, or as in Amor and Psyche, ‘seen’ her husband). She has not chosen. How could we imagine the outer and inner life of this woman? She is perhaps married, but has lost her connection to her instincts. She is dependent on her husband’s or her boss’s approval, and is consumed by an inner critical voice. She may blame her husband or boss for this state of affairs, but this opinion only concerns outer relationships and it does not help her. She still feels caught and torn. She has not (yet) used her discretion to sort out her (own) inner dynamics of ‘ash’ (after death) and ‘lentils’ (life giving). Has she in early life, perhaps, skipped an important mourning process?

Fitcher’s Bird gives us some hints for this woman’s inner constellation, and in addition, I have considered dreams that present this same Bluebeard imagery of ‘death and dismemberment behind a locked door’. In making the next step of development we potentially meet again a missed earlier development. How this missed earlier development plays havoc with the next relationship is my interpretation for the deathly dynamics of the sorcerer in Fitcher’s Bird. Behind the locked door is death. I suggest that this imagery is evocative of ‘the return of the repressed.’ The lack of mother in this tale can speak of an early deprivation of mothering for the woman. This deprivation will be met in the next round when the woman desires again (the return of the repressed). Due to the lack of mother there may be an over importance of the father, which plays a role in this constellation of the father complex. Also, the actual father may have communicated to the young girl that she need not develop away from his influence. In this constellation, the woman’s autonomous father complex works to take her out of life and tells her that she has no value. We could speak of a ‘daimon-lover’ (see Kalsched 1996) at work within this woman, as mentioned by Jung (see above) in his interpretation of Sara and Asmodeus in the Book of Tobit.

In the tale of Fitcher’s Bird the heroine can change the destructive cycle. She effects the change by her treatment of/attitude towards the egg, perhaps an indication of the heroine’s instinctive knowledge concerning correct nurturing. And hereby, the problem of the absent mother is surmounted. The successful hatching of an egg has much to do with an inner reverie. Timing plays a crucial role. The mother bird must not be too long away from the developing egg. The early experience of mother’s ‘coming and going’ is one of the developmental challenges for a child. Insufficiently met by the mother and unsorted by the child, this challenge destructively ‘haunts’ future relationships.

The activity in the first part of this tale suggests animus possession related to the autonomous father complex. In the development of the story, the actions of the third daughter, the heroine, initiate change that we may interpret as the movement towards the integration of the father complex by her employment of her animus function. In the tale, the heroine decides how to treat the egg; she is now the one who can be ‘tricky’ and then the sorcerer his no more power over her. In conclusion and as a cautionary note we can look at Jung’s formulation of the functioning of the animus archetype:

“The autonomy of the collective unconscious expresses itself in the figures of anima and animus. They personify those of its contents which, when withdrawn from projection, can be integrated into consciousness. To this extent, both figures represent functions which filter the contents of the collective unconscious through to the conscious mind….[T]he effects of anima and animus can be made conscious,… [but] since they are archetypes….they themselves are factors transcending consciousness and beyond the reach of perception and volition….The unconscious as we know can never be “done with” once and for all. It is, in fact, one of the most important tasks of psychic hygiene to pay continual attention to the symptomatology of the unconscious contents and processes, for the good reason that the conscious mind is always in danger of becoming one-sided, of keeping to well-worn paths and getting stuck in blind alleys” (Jung CW 9 part II, §40).

The psycho-dynamics of ‘keeping to well-worn paths and getting stuck in blind alleys’ is well expressed in the initial constellation of Fitcher’s Bird, and the tale’s development expresses a new attitude of ‘attention to process.’

January 2009

*Barbara Miller is Jungiaans analytica in Hilversum


Jung, C.G., The Collected Works (Bollingen Series XX), trans. R.F.C. Hull: eds. H. Read, M. Fordham, and G. Adler, Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Kalsched, D., (1996) The Inner World of Trauma, London and New York: Routledge.
Neumann, E., (1956) Amor and Psyche, (Bollingen Series LIV), trans. R. Manheim, Princeton: Princeton University Press.
von Franz, M-L., (1980) Alchemy. An Introduction to the Symbolism and the Psychology, Toronto: Inner City Books.
———-  (1992) The Golden Ass of Apuleius, Boston and London: Shambhala.