Waldeinsamkeit—the feeling of being alone in the Woods

I love the word Waldeinsamkeit. It makes me think of fairy tales like Red Riding Hood walking alone to her Grandmother’s house deep in the forest.

As a folklorist, I am always interested in interpretations of fairy tales. Red Riding Hood has been said to symbolize the sun, going red and then eaten up by the night (the wolf) before being cut from the belly of the wolf and dawning again the next day.

Another interpretation states that her red hood is the mark of puberty giving way to maturity. It symbolizes the monthly blood that a woman, now wise to the ways of wolves, will shed.

Still another similar interpretation has Red Riding Hood’s cloak as a symbol for her hymen. The wolf is the ultimate threat to her virginity, seducing her into maturity. In this interpretation, Red Riding Hood leaves her cloak behind.

When looking at origins of the story, some scholars point to the frequency of attacks on children by wolves in the woods and to the myth of the shape-shifting witch or werewolf that preyed on the weak and innocent, coaxing them into lascivious ways.

Still other historians point out that red was the sign of a prostitute in 17th century France and her trip to the woods wearing that color could only result in gaining the attention of wolves.

And an old, oral tradition of the tale told long before the Brothers Grimm or Charles Perrault, had the wolf only partially eating the grandmother and then offering the rest of the meat and blood disguised to Red Riding Hood. Unknowing, she eats it and in doing so symbolically replaces her grandmother as the woman of the house.

I think this is why fairy tales continue to be told to our children. They touch on something deeper, more primal in our nature. They are stories of us and of our continuing attempts to explain the mysteries of our world.

Because we are waldeinsamkeit, and our stories are the only thing we have to keep us safe.

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Aidee Ladnier

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