Can a Grimm’s Fairy Tale Offer Spiritual Direction for Men?

Rober Bly in his book on the same title, retells the story of Iron John. We find this ancient myth, which portrays every boy’s journey to manhood,  now encased in the collection of Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

Bly speculates that it originates as far back as ten or twenty thousand years and locates it first written in Babylonian literature as early as 700 B.C.  Since then, he notes, the story has evolved and been adapted into various streams of tradition. In fact, contemporary authors like John Eldgridge (Wild at Heart) rely heavily on Bly and his modern interpretation of this ancient myth.  Most books on Male spirituality will make mention of Iron John if not devote whole chapters to the rich tale of masculine identity.

One of  Rober Bly’s  quintessential observations about life includes the power of traditions, symbols, and myths for the unfolding human.  In them, Bly observes,

But human beings, sensing how much flexibility they might need in meeting new situations, decided to store this [wisdom] outside the instinctual system; they stored it in stories.  Stories, then—fairy stories, legends, myths, hearth stories—amount to a reservoir where we keep new ways of responding that we can adopt when the conventional and current ways wear out.”

Thus, Bly’s book retells the ancient myth about Iron John, the Wildman, pieced into eight chapters. He uses each chapter to recount the myth, interpret its meaning for the contemporary man, and at each juncture hints at possible ways we can recapture the ancient practice of male initiation rite, which includes 8 stages of the journey from boyhood to manhood:  1. taking the first wound, 2. doing kitchen and ashes work, 3. creating a garden, 4. bringing wild flowers to the Holy Woman, 5. experiencing the warrior, 6. riding the red, the white, and the black horses, 7. Learning to create art, and 8. receiving the second heart.

I would highly recommend this book and fairy tale for any man seeking to find growth on their spiritual journey.