Novalis & The Healing Art of Fairy Tale

Our local group in Fair Oaks did not meet for discussion this week. Instead, the Section sponsored an evening presentation at the Faust Branch in Fair Oaks: “Novalis & The Healing Art of Fairy Tale.” Some of us also attended the Zoom production of The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare on Friday November 20.

“At a Glance . . .”

Watch the Meeting Presentation Video “The Healing Art of Fairy Tale”

“Tell me More . . .”

“The fairy tale is the touchstone of poetry . . . everything poetic must be like a fairy tale. The poet worships chance.” — Novalis

As noted several times in past meeting summaries, Novalis thought very highly of fairy tales. Much of what Novalis says about the spiritual importance of fairy tales is echoed by Rudolf Steiner one hundred years or more after Novalis died. This is entirely in keeping with the extreme importance that Rudolf Steiner gave to Novalis — for example in the Last Address.

One of the most arresting statements made by Rudolf Steiner about the fairy tale is that “fairy tales can help counter illnesses.” We find this statement in the book The World of Fairy Tales, which is featured in the Books section of our local group’s website.

And, following the insights of Novalis and the early romantics, Rudolf Steiner emphasized that fairy tales are not simply for children. Adults need them too! In a lecture from 1913 that we find published as Fairy Tales in the Light of Spiritual Investigation, Rudolf Steiner gave several indications.

“Genuine fairy tales originate from sources lying at greater depths of the human soul than is generally supposed, speaking to us magically out of every epoch of humanity’s development.” — Rudolf Steiner


“. . . fairy tale sources lie far deeper down in the human soul than do the sources of creativity and artistic appreciation otherwise. This applies even with regard to the most compelling works of art — the most moving tragedies for instance.” — Rudolf Steiner

“. . . what comes to expression in the fairy tale is so deeply rooted in the soul that we identify with it no matter whether as a child in the first years of life, whether in our middle years, or whether in having grown old.” — Rudolf Steiner

“Poor child, who has not yet loved!”

I’ve always been fascinated by a remark made by Novalis in which Novalis said that Goethe’s fairy tale is “Narrated Opera.” Not opera in a total musical form, but narrated opera, Novalis says. Spoken opera. Usually when I tell my musician friends that I am making fairy tale videos with speech artists in Fair Oaks – tiny “narrated operas” – they smile and say: “Oh good! I’ll give them to my grandchildren.” But these tiny narrated operas are for adults! As Novalis and Rudolf Steiner pointed out, every adult needs to hear a true fairy tale in the right way! Every adult has a child inside, as Steiner pointed out – a child who needs to hear the true fairy tale, repeatedly. But maybe the adult doesn’t let the child listen to such stories. Oh my! How sad! The adult would rather explain the deep hidden meanings in the fairy tale and say wise things or teach lessons – but the child only wants to enjoy a narrated opera.

“Göthes Märchen ist eine erzählte Oper.” — Novalis, Logologische Fragmente

The picture above is by William Blake. Contemplate it for a moment. (Blake and Novalis have a lot in common — they were contemporaries.) Contemplate this picture and imagine that you are carrying on your shoulders a child such as this. Is the child happy? Sad? Frightened? Worried? Angry? Sick? Is the child having a fit, or maybe is it afraid of the world?

“There is a great difference in whether or not one has as a child grown up with fairy tales. The soul-stirring nature of fairy-tale pictures becomes evident only later on. If fairy tales have not been given, this shows itself in later years in weariness of life, in boredom. Indeed, it even comes to expression physically: fairy tales can help counter illnesses. What is absorbed little by little by means of fairy tales emerges subsequently as joy in life, in the meaning of life – it comes to light in the ability to cope with life, even into old age. Children must experience the power inherent in fairy tales while young, when they can still do so. Whoever is not capable of living with ideas that have no reality for the physical plane, “dies” for the spiritual world.” — Rudolf Steiner

“Fairy tales and sagas are comparable to a good angel, granted human beings as a companion from birth on their life’s wanderings, to be a trustworthy comrade throughout — offering comradeship, and making life inwardly into a truly ensouled fairy tale!” — Rudolf Steiner (after Wilhelm Grimm)

After you have quieted yourself a bit and settled into the sort of soul mood that Rudolf Steiner seeks to evoke with these words – and after you have allowed William Blake’s picture to come alive inside you imaginatively – then watch and listen to the tiny “narrated opera” fairy tale “Hyacinth and Rosebud” by Novalis. I included first the English production and then the German.

“In a genuine fairy tale, everything must be miraculous, mysterious, and interrelated; everything must be alive, each in its own way. The whole of Nature must be wondrously blended with the whole world of the Spirit. In fairy tale, the bonds between anarchy, lawlessness, freedom, the natural state of Nature make themselves felt in the world . . . The world of the fairy tale is a world which is opposed throughout to a world of rational truth, and precisely for that reason is it so thoroughly an analogue to a world of rational truth, as Chaos is an analogue to finished Creation.” — Novalis

“Where children are, there is the Golden Age.” — Novalis


“Am I in earth, in heaven, or in hell?
Sleeping or waking, mad or well-advised?
Known unto these and to myself disguised?
I’ll say as they say, and persevere so,
And in this mist at all adventures go.”
— Wm. Shakespeare, The Comedy of Errors

“Let the poet’s realm be the world, pressed into the focus of his time. Let his plan and execution be poetic—i.e. poetic nature. He can make use of anything—but he must amalgamate it with spirit—he must make of it a whole . . .”
— Novalis, from The Poet’s Realm, 1796


Written by Bruce Donehower
November 20, 2020