Mother Holle, Guest Post by Joel Le Blanc

February 8th, 2012

Mother Holle

Sometimes it is really difficult to remember what ever bewitched me to begin on the creative road. Most people who attempt to turn their creative pursuits into their career know the feeling -- when maximum effort yields minimum rewards, and the numbers just don't ever seem to add up to more than a handful of small beans.

It's at these junctures that I slow down my troubled mind and return to the things that move and inspire me and make my spirit dance. Ever since childhood, that thing for me has been fairy-tales. Stories of myth and magic and dark forests and witches. Like a bramble of blackberries, fairy-tales wrap their way around my heart and mind, thorns and all, and perform the most important task -- they remind me about the things I care about.

One such story that has recently helped to inspire me to keeping going on my creative endeavors is the Grimm's brothers story of  "Mother Holle." This is a lesser known fairy-tale, but it is based on ancient Germanic folklore about a crone goddess known as Hulda -- a sort of patron spirit of children, the art of weaving, and the seasons.

In the Mother Holle story, we are introduced to a woman with one daughter and one step-daughter. As fairy-tale fate would have it, the daughter is lazy and selfish while the step daughter is hard working and kind. After a brief but painful encounter with a sharp spindle, the industrious step-daughter falls down a well by accident and finds herself in a strange meadow she does not recognize. While exploring the meadow she encounters a talking loaf of bread and a talking tree, and completes tasks for them both.

Lastly, she encounters a old house and an old woman with large, fearsome teeth. This is Mother Holle. The old woman puts the girl to work in her house -- but unlike many other stories of witches, this old woman treats the girl kindly, feeds her well, and asks the girl to shake out the feathers from her blanket each day. Whenever the feathers from the blanket are shaken out onto the breeze, it snows in the real world.

Finally the girl requests to go home, and Mother Holle guides her back -- but not before rewarding the girl's industrious efforts with piles of gold.

After the girl returns to her family, her step-mother sends the step-sister down the well to repeat the adventure, hoping to get even more money from Mother Holle. However, the lazy daughter is idle once she arrives, and refuses to do many of the tasks given to her by Mother Holle. In return, Mother Holle covers the girl with black soot and sends her back home.

Often stories and books come to me when I need them most; speaking in silent whispers, "Open and read me!" when there is something relevant in the pages within. That is what happened with the Mother Holle story just recently.

For the first time I am realizing, this story is more than just a moralistic tale about working hard. It's about being authentic and honest about who you are, and what are your reasons for doing what you do. Sometimes work is difficult. Sometimes being a creative professional is hard. Sometimes it really does feel like you are shaking out the feathers of a freaking heavy blanket.

But if I am just being a creative person (a writer and a poet and sometimes painter), for the money, then maybe my motivation is too shallow to carry me through the bad times. If I am writing and making art just because I love to write and make art, I will continue to do just that -- and whatever financial rewards come to me will be a wonderful and welcomed bonus; the icing on the cake to a flavorful and happy life.

And if I am steadfast and hardworking and honest with myself each step of the way, who knows what small beans might turn into?


1. Surlalune Fairytales; Frau Holle (Mother Holle) A German Tale; 2003

Joel Le Blanc is a freelance writer, poet and medical herbalist. He has published articles on health, alternative medicine, literature, art and food, and is currently completing a BA in English and Creative Writing at the University of Canterbury. Joel runs a blog for creative people wanting to learn more about natural and alternative medicine at The Wormwood Files.

9 Responses

There’s something fascinating about the old tales, especially when you get beyond the point where they are stories for children and begin to recognise the underlying layers.
Thanks for an inspiring article – but you had me hooked from the start with the moon-gazing hare :)

What a gorgeous post! I, too, am a lover of fairytales (and, along with myth and fairytales, they were the foundation of my Master’s work). This – Like a bramble of blackberries, fairy-tales wrap their way around my heart and mind, thorns and all, and perform the most important task — they remind me about the things I care about. – is absolutely quotable. May I?

You seem to have arrived at a very sensible solution to life. I wish you well with your art and everythig else you emark upon.. Your ‘blue’ painting is looks like a hare and that’s funny as I saw one close up today and enjoyed every second of my encounter with him.

Thank you for this post. Its is a lovely one.


What a wonderful post, I can really relate!

Loved it!!!

Yes I love that story and so many others too…so great to read these lovely stories to myself and my boys. Barefoot stories are a great collection too, and so well illustrated. Take care and keep on with the magic of painting, reading and following your path. xx

Thank you for this post! It’s beautifully written and so inspiring. I will want to reread it over again because it is just the boast I need right now. I have been a little stuck which is frustrating to me. You have a wonderful storytelling style. Best wishes for your success.

Thank you Joel for the folk tale and your words of wisdom. I am a teacher and though I enjoy it, I have been doing it for 23 years. Teaching is exhausting and yet rewarding at the same time but it is becoming not enough for me as a person. I appreciate your words that being true to oneself is the key to the long journey of life. As I prepare to start a new career in art – what I really wanted to do in the first place, I am learning to be at peace with what I do creatively and look not for the reward of earnings as the only reason to be creative. It will be hard since I am my sole income but I am learning to be ready to meet that challenge. Art first – that is my mantra now. Thanks again for your thoughts – they have helped to spur me on. Cheers

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