The Use of Sound and Music in Fairy Tales

Illustration by Hannah Baek Wha

I was much struck by the mention of sound and music in some of the fairy tales I worked with in my upcoming book ‘The Witch as Teacher in Fairy Tales’. This book came about when Murshid Nawab, many years ago, told us an ancient Chinese Han Fairy Tale, as an allegory for Service, at our Summer School. I was so taken with the idea that even ancient stories from other faraway lands and cultures, contained an understanding of mysticism and spirituality, even though this was hidden. So, I begged Nawab to send me the full story of Golden Chisel and the Stone Ram: and I then interpreted it using a Jungian understanding of the symbols but from a Sufi perspective. This was published in Toward the One Journal of Unity in 2007. Following this Nawab sent me four other stories to work with, each one containing an increasing focus on the hero’s quest for the Beloved or Soul. These five stories became the core of my book. When I decided to write a prologue, this expanded into, what became the main part of the book – the Weaving – a weaving of the elements or strands of these five fairy tales, into our modern lives.  They are just as relevant now as they were when they were told hundreds and perhaps thousands of years ago.  At the same time, I was able to work through some mysteries of my own in relation to the character of the Witch. It was mentioned to me that some of the wonderful Sufi Saints would disguise themselves as magicians or witches, in Sufi teaching tales. When I heard this, I suddenly understood the role of the witch as a Teacher in fairy tales.

Another strand of meaning which I found in the stories, was that of Sound and Music – in fact I quote extensively from Murshid’s book, The Mysticism of Sound and Music.  We work with music and sound in our Sufi practices: The Chromatic Zikar especially opens and resonates the various centres or chakras by use of particular sounds, Like a sounding of the chakras.

In Zikar we move and chant to a special rag – a most powerful practice. And of course, we have a practice of hearing the inner sound.

The first story to specifically mention sound, that I came across was The Little Humpbacked Horse. In this, Ivan, the hero, is initially portrayed as singing a merry song to a dark-haired beauty. This dark-haired beauty is the only mention of the feminine, until much later in the tale. Ivan ‘wins’ his little humpbacked horse in a massive battle with a ‘demon’ mare. This little horse became his steed and his guide.

Ivan also sings as he feeds and cares for his magical horses. Our reluctant hero is tricked and forced into catching and bringing the fabled Firebird to the Tsar. Ivan’s little humpbacked horse is, for him a voice of guidance, which always helps and advises him. In a beautiful glade in the forest, the Firebirds come, every dawn, to drink water from the stream. Ivan puts out special food for the Firebirds and waits, but his little horse tells him to ignore the chatter of the birds and seize the nearest one. This he does. In our inner life, one of the first things we must learn is to ignore the chatter of our mind, so that we can focus on the ‘work’ at hand. To catch the Light of the Firebird is our first task in the inner life.

Ivan is again tricked and forced into going on his next quest to find the glorious Tsar Maid for the Tsar. She it is who later in the story becomes the Tsar in her own right, with Ivan as her consort. A female Tsar (not a wife or consort)! She represents the Soul / Beloved in all her Wisdom and Beauty. Ivan, after finding the Tsar Maid on the sea shore, lures her with sweetmeats, laid on a golden service, within a golden tent. He is warned by his little horse that when the Tsar Maid takes up her musical instrument and plays on it, he is on no account to fall asleep, otherwise he will fail to catch her. When we are on our inner spiritual journey (in meditation, or contemplation), we must not be lulled into sleep, by the wonderful music or song of the Soul. But of course, Ivan does drift off to sleep (we all do) and is woken by his horse furiously neighing – yet another sound – a warning! This time Ivan has one more chance and he manages to overcome his sleepiness by becoming angry with the Tsar Maid for trying to cheat him. The energy of anger does have its uses, even on a spiritual quest.

Sound is again used in this story, right at the climax of this great tale: where Ivan is forced to accomplish his final feat of transformation, on behalf of the Tsar. His little horse whistles loud and long three times. This piercing sound has a profound effect on the psyche, directed towards the crown chakra – it becomes the sacred sound of Hu. At this point in time, Ivan plunges in and out of the three cauldrons (one boiling, one icy cold and one just right): he emerges completely transformed, beautiful and handsome. On seeing Ivan’s transformation, the Tsar himself dives into the cauldrons and is boiled on the spot.  Ivan had done the inner work, transformed, and thus became the consort of the Tsar Maid.

In the story of the Fairy of the Dawn, Petru, our hero, is on a quest from consciousness, through various realms, towards the Centre, where the Fairy of the Dawn guards the sacred spring, from which Petru must take the water of life and bring it back to his father the Emperor, so that his ‘sight’ will be cured. In the process Petru too has gained a horse – a magnificent brown horse, which now guides him. After many battles he arrives at the copper woods, the silver woods, and the golden woods. In each of the woods his horse guide tells him, that he must not pick the flowers on either side of his path. Each time he cannot resist and must fight a monster – a Welwa, in a fearsome battle. Each time he overcomes the Welwa by gaining mastery over it, and each time the Welwa turns into a beautiful horse – another voice of guidance. Towards the end of his battle with the Welwa of the golden woods, the Welwa ‘uttered a sound so loud that Petru thought he would be deaf for life.’ This loud sound which the Welwa made is one which accompanies a great moment of transformation. It is very real and very loud.

Petru now journeys through the realms of the three great and fearsome goddesses. First through the realm of the female aspect of Mercury – a freezing cold realm, related to communication and intuition. Then through the super-hot realm of the goddess of Thunder, where the sound of thunder and of drumming is so powerful on the inner journey. Finally Petru comes to the realm of Venus / Freya – a place which is neither too cold or too hot, like the three bears story. Here the great and glorious Goddess Venus or Freya, is in the aspect of an old hag; she has been relegated to the depths of our unconscious, when the patriarchy took over. Freya was a powerful pre-Olympian Goddess. When something is repressed, it erupts in a distorted fashion. However, Petru treats her with great respect, as he sees in her the beautiful Venus /Freya that is really is and was. She gives him a tiny flute: whoever listens to this flute goes to sleep and nothing can wake them. He is instructed to play this flute while he is in the land of the Fairy of the Dawn. Here is the final part of the tale where sound is most important. He has control of the great Beings in that most inner realm, by use of sound. As Petru played his tiny flute everything in the domain of the Fairy of the Dawn was asleep – not only the giants, lions, tigers, and dragons, but the fairies themselves who lay among the flowers. At one stage, Petru needed to stop playing the flute, so that a giant would awaken, long enough to be of help to Petru, in getting across the river, and into the magical castle of the Fairy.

Petru finally enters the castle and finds the Fairy of the Dawn in the forty ninth room (7 x 7) – a powerful magical number, deep in the heart of the castle. In the centre of this most sacred space is the Well, and by the Well slept the fairy of the dawn herself. As Petru looked at her, the magic flute dropped by his side and he held his breath. He had been warned not to look at the Fairy as she was terrible to behold. As Petru gazed at her, a mist came over his senses and the Fairy opened her eyes slowly and looked at him. At this stage he completely lost his mind and his sense of himself, but he did remember his flute, and playing a few notes on it, the Fairy went to sleep again. So it is that when we are deep on our own inner journey, it is vital that we have mastery over our self, and of the sacred inner sound. As we are a drop in the ocean of consciousness it is easy to lose our sense of who we are / our sense of dropness and thus become lost for ever. Working with sound, as in the singing Zikar, Wazifas, and the Chromatic Zikar, we learn mastery, so that we too can discover the sacred ‘water of life’.

But the story does not end there. On his way back through the realms of the goddesses, Petru is warned to trust no one. But he cannot believe that his own brothers could betray him and try to kill him, for this sacred water. They wanted their father’s power for themselves. Just as Petru was about to be pushed into a lake and drown, his horse neighs – Petru knows what this means and saves himself, returns home to his father the Emperor, and cures his blindness, so that He and the whole land is healed and in harmony. So at the very end it is the warning sound of his beautiful brown horse, his beloved guide, which saves him. In the same way, we can take the story of this as journey into our own lives and learn from it. To remember the sound of silence and to listen to the inner voice.


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