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Dissertation Title:

The Miracle of the Bones Themes of Shamanic Initiation In “The Robber Bridegroom”


Colleen C. Salomon

Date, Time & Place:

March 30, 2021 at 11:00 am


This dissertation analyzes “The Robber Bridegroom,” as it appears in the 1819 edition of the Grimms’ collection of fairy tales, Kinder- und Hausmärchen. Questioning the assertion of some scholars that it is a “Bluebeard tale,” a close comparison of the two stories reveals that key elements present in “Bluebeard” are absent from “The Robber Bridegroom.”

In fact, the story appears to be older than “Bluebeard.” The Grimms and other scholars posit the story is related to, and some say, shares its origin with “Fitcher’s Bird,” a story type which can be traced back between 2500 to 6000 years ago. If so, elements of “The Robber Bridegroom” are ancient.

Its age, along with central elements of the plot, indicate that the story may be, at its core, a description of a shamanic initiation in medieval or early modern European dress. Numerous scholars hold that shamanism persisted as “witchcraft” in Europe into the early modern era. Scholars Emma Wilby and Wolfgang Behringer offer convincing research to that effect, as do others, particularly in Eastern Europe, where abundant and comparatively recent shamanistic folk beliefs support the connection between early modern witchcraft and prehistoric shamanism. I follow their lead, comparing shamanic initiatory practices with the events in the story.

To do so, I include the work of numerous scholars of shamanism, others on shamanistic folk beliefs in Europe, the use of hallucinatory plants in ritual, and shamanistic cannibalism. In addition, German language, society, and culture, particularly in the early modern era, are of central importance. At every turn, I refer to the works of the Grimms themselves. Yet the story itself remains my compass and North Star.

Finally, I consider the effects of the initiation on the maid and examine the story from a psychological and alchemical perspective, seeking to better understand the role of trauma and the numinous in the process of individuation and, perhaps, transcendence.

  • Program/Track/Year: Mythological Studies, I, 2015
  • Chair: Dr. Evans Smith
  • Reader: Dr. Jacqueline Feather
  • External Reader: Dr. Mathew Mather
  • Keywords: Fairy Tale, Individuation, Initiation, German, Grimms, Hallucinogenic Plants, Henbane, Psychotropic Plants, Shamanism, Trance, Trauma, Witchcraft