Report from the Secret Garden

The 2021 Fair Oaks Summer Fairy Tale Group

By Marion Donehower

“When did it happen?

Where did it happen?

Did it happen at all?

Is it happening now?”


“All fairy tales are dreams from a distant homeland everywhere and nowhere.”

— Novalis


I already had a close connection with fairy tales, especially the Grimm’s collection. My parents read them every night to me, and it certainly supported my childhood in Germany after the war where everything was destroyed and chaotic. This moment every night created stability and safety as I lay in my tiny wooden room with a big window that looked out on a secret garden.

In my training as a Jungian sandplay therapist, I studied symbols from all over the world – and I also studied Marie Louise von Franz and her thoughts on symbols in fairy tales.

“A Feast of Fables” / books used as secondary literature by the group in the garden

Through studying Rudolf Steiner, I was excited to learn that fairy tales create a connection between the outer world of senses and thinking and the inner knowledge of the spiritual world.

In our modern world, we survive through abstract thinking, but we can overcome this one-sided abstract thinking and transform it into a flowing and living thinking. We must embody this living thinking by means of art and meditation.

This summer during the time of Covid we started a fairy tale group on my porch. We all felt that the group supported us in this time through the exploration of fairy tales. As anthroposophists, we all knew that Steiner said that fairy tales were healing and that they help to build a solid foundation for human development. We pondered his remarks that we would come through fairy tales to the pure imagination. Steiner points out that we need clear thinking as an important tool to create structured imagination, because otherwise we are in danger to be lost in fantasy.

“. . . fairy tales can help counter illnesses . . .” – Rudolf Steiner

So how can we create that true imaginative picture that we want to come to?

As we met as a group, we all picked a fairy tale – not too long or short – that we presented to the group. Afterwards we sat for a while in silence and let the tale sink into our being. This can happen more easily in a calm and pleasant environment.

It is helpful to hear the fairy tale aloud. To avoid over analysis of the tale, it is good to hear the tale at night near time of sleep. Thanks to Rudolf Steiner, we are all familiar with the time between waking and sleeping. This time in between is one of great relaxation. Before going to sleep we can experience a heaviness and a lightness. We are still able to think and to hear a fairy tale. After listening to the fairy tale, we can fill our mind with pictures and then experience the afterglow that Steiner points to in his description of the Rose Cross Meditation. Steiner tells us that this is the time when the real meditation occurs. The after-effect is created during stillness of the mind and the calming of analytical thought. The same happens with the fairy tale as with the Rose Cross Meditation. We can create the after effect in a quiet moment of meditation.

I believe that it is wonderful that the children in the Waldorf School hear the fairy tale several times. It is also helpful for adults to hear the story repeatedly. It becomes like a close friend.

In our fairy tale group, we read the fairy tales for meditation and for their value in a social gathering. I discovered that this is a perfect tool for a social event. Before our group, I never knew that fairy tales bring out laughter and humor. We certainly do not analyze or add too many ideas – we let the fairy tale flow and sink in. We also have very humorous discussion: for example, why is the devil’s grandmother so nice and her grandson so nasty? Does the devil have more than three golden hairs? This kind of discussion is a wonderful respite from a world in turmoil.

More about Fairy Tales and the Section… 

“My time of fairy tale reading from age eight to ten coincided with the experience of the air raids of the second world war. In the air raid shelter as the bombs were exploding all around, a fear arose in me for everything that made up my world – my parents, my brothers and sisters, my house. I sat and read fairy tales, gruesome ones too, against the fear. They helped me because they were conscious of evil and did not belittle or disguise it, but nevertheless were able to pit stronger forces against it. They were in touch with evil and showed me saving powers that broke its spell.”
— Ingrid Riedel, from Witches, Ogres, and Devil’s Daughter