#28 “The Singing Bone”

Analysis and Commentary

by Lois E. Wilkins, PhD, APRN


Historically, a “Singing Bone” was a flute carved from hollowed out bones.  Along with the drum, these have been determined as the first musical instruments developed and used by humans.

The first word in our title to unpack is the word “Singing”.  What is Singing other than vibrations through air with an intentional pattern to communicate a message?  Sometimes the messages in a song are subtle and sometimes there is no escape from their meanings. 

Our next word to unpack is “Bone.”  A bone carries the history of its owner scientifically through DNA messages recorded within its structure.  Symbolically, bones represent, among other things, an existence beyond death (eternity).  Throughout history bones have been used to make flutes. We can anticipate from the title that a “Singing Bone” an instrument, such as a flute, will be making an appearance somewhere in this tale. 

Therefore, this title tells of a bone influencing an instrument such as a flute capable of producing an intentional message (song) that will be communicated throughout eternity. There is no escaping the message of this particular bone’s song.

The Initial Paragraph

We are first introduced to the existence of a Wild Boar,  a “Pig” that has run amok through the kingdom. According to Hartman’s footnote #2: “Wildschwein, literally ‘wild pig.’  For various reasons, I have translated this as ‘boar,’ not pig.  Nonetheless, readers should keep in mind that ‘piggishness’ is what has run amok in this kingdom.  The older brother best personifies this one-sidedness.”  

This Boar has dug up the farmers’ fields and killed both cattle and people with its Tusks.  The Tusks provide our first encounter with the dynamic of gross penetration.  This primitive method of random, chaotic, murderous destruction to  the lands and people caused by this wild boar so frustrates the King, causing him to offer “his only daughter to wife” to whoever can capture or kill it.  Because this animal is so big and strong, no one dares to even approach the woods in which it lives. This desire to put oneself in harm’s way requires the use of the feminine, the King’s daughter, as a prize worthy of such a life-threatening risk. Psychologically, the collective is represented by the people of the kingdom and nature is represented by the cattle, the farmers’ fields and the Wild Boar. We know the kingdom must be rid of its “piggishness,” a one-sided instinctual nature of primitive masculine energy.  In addition, the reader is made aware of the influence of the feminine energy when the King’s daughter is offered as the prize. 

Therefore, in our opening paragraph, we know the kingdom is unbalanced—as the most primitive destructive elements of masculine energy are terrorizing the kingdom. In addition, we know that the King does not have the assistance of a Queen  to aid in restoring the  kingdom to balance and harmony.  Nature, also, has an investment in harmony and balance being restored yet, in order for this to happen, assistance must come from the energy of the feminine for both the King and for nature as we will see as this analysis continues.

Dramatis Personae

In our tale, the Wild Boar with his Tusks alerts the reader to a powerful, primitive, aggressive, and murderous dimension of the instinctual masculine energy.  Containment exists, if at all, for only the most primitive needs and desires of this one-sided masculine energy.  Later, we will see how this is representative of the Piscean astrological age, where patriarchal dominance through religious myths, such as Christianity, have supported dominance of the masculine over the feminine—in support of an overtly patriarchal society.

The King lives out of an imbalance originating from his not having a Queen in his kingdom, and has not developed his intra-psyche Queen. The mirroring necessary for balance, therefore, is not provided to him. He must project out into the world what he cannot see in himself. Only then can he begin that process of reclaiming those aspects and bringing about balance and harmony. The King, holding reign on his patriarchal dominance, is forced to recognize his impotence over controlling the Wild Boar.  He then seeks assistance from other aspects of the masculine (the son) in order to rid the kingdom from such destruction caused by this primitive aspect of the masculine—the Wild Boar.  In addition, he uses the only available feminine, his daughter, as bait.  Psychologically, this shows how his shadow (aspects of himself of which he is unaware and, therefore, projects out into his kingdom) recognizes the need for assistance from the feminine.  His shadow energies collude with his soul’s journey (destiny) of individuation. 

Using his daughter as bait, the King accepts the offer of the two brothers to rid the Kingdom of the Wild Boar. Later, because he is not yet conscious of the need to integrate within himself his masculine and feminine natures, he is easily fooled into the belief that the older brother kills the Wild Boar, when in fact, it is the younger brother who has killed it.  The result of this deception allows the older brother to accept the prize of the King’s daughter to wed.  

When the King learns from the Singing Bone that the older brother has killed his younger brother and presented himself as victor over the Wild Boar, he kills the  evil brother. This retribution occurs out of the process of his intra-psychic balancing of the masculine and feminine energies.  In other words, he is able to start the processes of containment and recognition of all the energies available to him.  Evidence of this is when the King has the evil brother sewn “up in a sack and drowned alive.” We can recognize that the symbol of containment is shown by having Son #1 sewn into a sack.  No longer will “piggishness, run amok in the kingdom.”   Sewing secures closure when contrasted with tying. The strength of containment is now secured and available to both the King and the kingdom. To sew something is a symbol of mothering or caring for something, so in the case of the King and his kingdom, an aspect of feminine caring is available and used by him now that more of his internal feminine nature is present.  This act of retribution places the King in the role of ridding the kingdom of yet another aspect of the deceptive/evil energies of the masculine. Psychologically,  instead of projecting the piggishness of the Kingdom onto the Wild Boar, the brothers force the King to recognize that this “piggishness” is in himself as well as in human nature and, therefore, throughout the kingdom.  Balancing and harmonizing aspects of the feminine now exist in a conscious, recognizable manner, both in the King and the kingdom.  

The King’s Daughter is used as bait to attract a hero so that the kingdom can be freed from the destruction that the Wild Boar causes. Her feminine nature enters the tale as necessary for bringing about balance.   The powerful, primitive, aggressive, and murderous dimension of the instinctual masculine energy calls forth the need for the balancing feminine.  By using his Daughter as bait, the King is beginning the process of recognizing the need for support from feminine energies currently projected out into the world and, as yet, unavailable to him intra-psychically. 

Characters and Symbolism of Images Found in the Tale 

Son #1 is the eldest and described as “wily [deceitful] and clever.”  Out of arrogance, he presents himself to the King claiming his desire to pursue the Wild Boar.  At the King’s instruction, he is to enter from the “evening side of the woods,” which we can infer to be the West. This provides a clue for this character’s role in the direction of the tale’s energy, as the West is symbolic of endings. His ending occurs when the King learns of his deception in how he acquires the Wild Boar, kills his brother, and gains the King’s daughter to wed.  We must also note here that, in fact, Son #1 never enters the woods but stays on the outskirts in a house, “drinking and dancing” in his attempt to gain the courage to enter.  In other words, he does not go on a transformational journey.

Son #2 is “innocent [pure] and dumb” as Hartman describes in his footnote #3  having “the double meaning of being not intelligent and also inarticulate or incapable of speech.”  At the instruction of the King, he enters the woods on the morning side, or the East.  Here, our clue is given to remind us that the East, the morning side, represents new beginnings.  A new beginning comes to this son/brother as he will find a way of speaking—through his bone which, when carved into the mouth piece for the shepherd’s horn, begins to sing the story of his demise. With this song his energy follows, even after death, a transformation journey—of redemption.  Vibrations, through his life’s song, penetrate the King’s awareness and bring about another dimension  of harmony and balance to the Kingdom and the intra-psychic realm of the King, as now the King can integrate both the wily [deceitful] and innocent [pure] aspects of his own nature.

The Poor Man is the father of the two sons/brothers—because of their poverty—they are willing to accept the King’s challenge to rid the Kingdom of the Wild Boar.  Here,  a trinity of the masculine finds representation with the father and the two sons.

To understand poverty from a psychological perspective, we can see the “Poor Father” as primitive, much like our Wild Boar.  Unable to facilitate the necessary balance of healthy masculine development, he has projected the splitting of good and evil onto his sons, rather than assisting them in living more holistically.  As our tale moves forward, we see how this initial trinity of the “poor” masculine ultimately becomes the integrated trinity for the King at the conclusion of our tale.

The Small Manikin (Dwarf) (according to Hartman in footnote #3, the German text, Kleines Männlein, is literally translated as “a small little man”) presents himself to Son #2 with specific instructions for killing the Wild Boar.  This specific instruction includes the Black Spear as the weapon the Small Manikin (Dwarf) gives to Son #2, saying, “I give you this spear, because your heart is innocent and good.  With it you can attack the wild boar with confidence: it will do you no harm.”  This Spear is a tool for killing by intentional penetration.  The dynamic of penetration, allowing something new to enter, has not been receptive by the King, the Poor Father, or the two sons until now.  The fact that Son #2 is able to receive the instruction with the spear from the Dwarf provides a paradigm shift, moving away from the one-sided expression of the masculine energy, as first he had to be aware of the “small man” available to him.  Out of his innocence he did not question the existence of such assistance available to him and, therefore, is able to benefit from its presence.  We can see by the instructions from this Dwarf that he functions as a divine guide for Son #2.

The Woods is the habitat for the Wild Boar and is the setting for Son #2’s victorious conquest over the Boar.  The Woods represent the unconscious often associated with the archetypal mother where unknown aspects of the ourselves are awaiting discovery. These woods hold the King’s shadow—attributes of his most powerfully primitive masculine energies:  aggression, murder and penetrating chaos representing the behaviors mirrored in the behavior of the Wild Boar.  Unconsciously, the King is receptive to the support of the feminine dynamic in the Woods, both in the archetypal nature of the woods and in the brothers’ assignments to go into the woods from opposite directions.

At the edge of the Woods is a House where the elder brother has been dancing and drinking wine with others. He uses the excuse that he is doing this in order “to summon the proper courage” to go in pursuit of the Wild Boar, which he never does.  Before he can find his courage, his younger brother comes to the House with the slain Wild Boar.  This House, on the edge of the Woods, provides a container that does not support the energies of transformation; in fact, it acts as a place of avoidance [stagnation and ultimately, putrification].  By the elder brother’s behaviors of avoidance and resistance to the task of actively pursuing the Wild Boar, he does not enter into the woods of transformation.  Instead he remains compartmentalized around the energies of self-serving evil and does not enter into the transformational process. 

The Bridge over the Brook is first, the setting for the murder of the youngest brother, then his burial (under the bridge) and, later, the discovery site of his snow white [pure, innocence] bone.  The first two tasks are brought about by the evil older brother, and the final task is performed by the Shepherd in need of a new mouthpiece for his horn. As predicted from this tale’s title, a musical instrument appears in the form of the Shepherd’s horn in need of a new mouthpiece. 

The Bridge connects good and evil and, therefore, the two realms of light and dark.  The Brook, as a small body of water, flows naturally and, as such, it is more gentle and very easy to cross. It is at this gentle setting where the evil older brother aggressively gives the younger brother a blow from behind which kills him.  Unlike the Wild Boar, however, the elder brother is intentional with his evil act of murdering his unsuspecting younger brother. The younger brother lives and dies a life of innocence and is buried along a gentle, natural flowing [life promoting] body of water.  This water will allow one of his bones to surface and be seen by the Shepherd.  This Bridge brings about what the poor father is unable to do—the transformation of the innocent younger son. The evil older son remains unchanged.  

We know from our story that the younger son is buried by the Brook, which allows his bone to be discovered at a later time. The Shepherd discovers this Bone, picks it up, and carves it into a mouth-piece for his Horn.  Immediately, the bone begins to sing a song on its own:

“Oh, you shepherd dear,
You blow on my little bone here,
My brother struck me dead
Laid me under the bridge to bed
For the wild boar’s sake
The king’s little daughter to take.”

This Song propels the Shepherd to take the Bone mouthpiece and, therefore, its message of the  circumstances surrounding Son#2’s demise to the Lord King.  At this point in our tale, we become aware of the King’s judgment which brings about the demise of Son #1 (the evil brother) for his deceit and murderous deed.  The King also orders a Proper Burial for the murdered younger son in a beautiful churchyard grave.  Here, the more honorable attributes of the masculine, found in the younger son, are returned to righteousness with a Proper Burial in the churchyard.

Bones carry messages, as Kim Condon states in her illustration comments, “To the trained eye, the right bones can disclose age, gender, chronic disease, and more. To an archeologist, bones can tell the story of an ancient people. To a paleontologist, the fossils paint a picture of life on Earth millions of years ago. To a forensic anthropologist, bones can give a victim a name, and disclose ‘who dunnit’ and how. So how apt that the bone of the ‘innocent and dumb’ brother, once carved into a mouth-piece for a shepherd’s horn, literally sings the tale of his murder.”  With this  description of the significance of bones, we have yet another example of how nature often reveals truths that humans have thought long buried or, at least, concealed.  In our tale, the older brother does not intend for his deceit to ever come to light.

The Shepherd, as in the  “good shepherd,” knows how to care for his flock.  In our tale, the message once heard, through the song sung with the bone of the murdered brother, represents what has been entrusted to the Shepherd—truth.  Truth over deceit is what he is responsible for shepherding to the King.

Psychologically, it seems apt to recognize the polarizations of life and death, good and bad, light and dark, innocence and evil as energies necessary for consciousness to evolve.Innocence and evilare most overtly represented by the contrasts found in the two sons/brothers. Symbolically, these contrasting energies are represented by the Wild Boar, the Poor Father, and the King, as the unaware King projects his evilness (piggishness) onto the Wild Boar. The Poor Father is unable to facilitate the integration of each of his sons.  Often this tale is framed around the expressions of sibling rivalry.  Perhaps, because of my background in depth psychology, I don’t see a lot of evidence of this from the tale itself, other than the fact that the evil brother kills his innocent younger brother.  Such a gross label of sibling rivalry, for me, would need to have more detailed, rivalrous interactions between the two boys.  This is important in looking at how the King projects the untamed, chaotic, primitive, aggressive aspects of himself onto the Wild Boar.  No one would anticipate that a Wild Boar would behave in any other manner.  When left fending for himself and not contained, the Wild Boar must be true to his nature.  Nature often reveals truths of which humans are unaware, whether these truths exist in the unconscious of the individual or  have been deliberately suppressed, buried or, at least, concealed from consciousness.

The Numerology of the Fairy Tale

The number one (1) is the number of destiny.  It is the destiny for truth of the murder of the younger brother at the hands of the older brother to emerge.  Another destiny dynamic is for the unbalanced King to provide balance to his kingdom by reclaiming his projections onto nature, and/or the Wild Boar.  This reclaiming of his projections brings forth potential balance and harmony to the kingdom and to the King. 

The number two (2) is the number of the feminine.  In our tale, the feminine is evident both in the King’s daughter and in the symbolism of the Woods. Also, the number two (2) provides a quaternary structure of wholeness by representing vertical dualities and horizontal polarities.  Dualities and polarizations are seen throughout our tale: in the two brothers with their contrasting characters of innocence and evil, beginnings and endings hinted at by the manner in which the brothers are instructed to enter into the woods, in the bone hidden in a dark grave and finding light on the surface of the sand, and in the recognition of deception and truth.  Recognition of dualities supports the evolution of consciousness by forcing the ability to embrace paradox.  The feminine recognizes the both/and of a paradoxical situation, ultimately allowing for an individual to live out of both masculine and feminine energies.

The number three (3) is the number for the masculine.  Our tale has several masculine characters—the King, the Poor Man, the two sons/brothers, the Wild Boar, the Manikin, and the Shepherd. All representations of the masculine are in pursuit of the feminine. So, the direction of this tale, even from the very beginning when we were first aware that there was not a Queen, tells us that the feminine must emerge in order for balance to be restored.

The number four (4) represents wholeness.  Wholeness is restored when the King regains his balance by reclaiming the projected aspects of himself and, also, when the innocent younger brother rids the kingdom of the untamed masculine by killing the Wild Boar and, again, when the truth of the younger brother’s murder and the older brother’s deception come to the King’s awareness. The actions taken by the King upon learning of Son #1’s deceit are that he kills Son #1 by sewing him into a sack, demonstrating his ability to use a feminine action (sewing) to contain the evil.  He also honors the slain Son #2, by giving him the proper burial (a care taking behavior), which infers salvation and eternal life.  The balanced King has found his intra-psychic Queen.

The Colors in the Fairy Tale

This tale, although not providing specific colors other than that of the black spear and the snow-white bone, is a tale of light (pure) and dark (evil) contrasts.  The King, in his instinctual, primitive power at the opening of our tale, is contrasted with the King’s emerging recognition of images of light, illuminating aspects of his shadow.  Because the Poor Father is not psychologically evolved, he is unable to provide the balance of innocence/goodness and evil in both of his sons, rather, in a primitive manner he compartmentalizes, which results in Son #1 as all evil (dark) and Son #2 as totally good/innocent (light).

The Alchemy

Carl Gustav Jung said: “He who looks in the mirror of the water, first sees his own image. He who looks at himself, risks to meet himself. The mirror does not flatter, it shows accurately what is reflected in it, namely that face that we never show the world because we hide it by the persona, the mask of the actor. This is the first test of courage on the inner path, a test, which is enough to frighten most people, because the encounter with oneself belongs to those unpleasant things, one avoids as long as one can project the negative onto the environment.”

This quote by C.G. Jung can help us decode the alchemical process found in our fairy tale of “The Singing Bone, in this manner. The King, like all of us, requires the mirroring—that ability to see oneself reflected back to us.  We know initially the King did have a Queen, or he wouldn’t have a daughter to use as bait for the brave sons to kill or capture the Wild Boar.  

Since the King once had a Queen, we project a time of balance existed in the kingdom.  The ability of a couple to mirror for each other those aspects unknown to conscious awareness is an important task for the individuation process.  The individuation process of transformation is the ever-unfolding process of growing in consciousness according to our own destinies (often assisted by dreams, active imagination, free association, etc.).  It is a completely natural process necessary for the integration of the psyche.  As a natural process, when the mirror of the Queen is removed, the King seeks the needed mirroring through nature—the Wild Boar, the Poor Man, the Two Sons, the Manikin, and the Shepherd.

Alchemically, the task of each individual is to find the Gold (think goal of individuation/transformation) through their uniquely assigned destiny journey.  Perhaps, in his first reflections with the psychological mirror, the King sees himself out of the lens of self-acceptance—those facets of self-reflection well known to him.  Here, we can imagine a balanced experience of a newly beginning paired relationship, perhaps between a husband and a wife, when both see the other in the best, most highly esteemed light.  Then something happens to shine or distort the light of desirous recognition, causing a dissatisfaction to occur. In our tale, it could be the Queen is no longer available to the King, and he is forced to look out into the world for such reflection. Thus begins the process of projecting both known and unknown facets of himself onto nature and the others in his kingdom. The Wild Boar, as the most primitive, chaotic, reckless, piggish masculine energy of the King, must be dealt with—either captured or killed.  Interestingly, at this part of the story, a Poor Man makes an appearance with his two sons; one, the older, is clever and wily and the other younger son, is innocent and dumb.  The three of them represent a poor (psychologically primitive) masculine trinity, as none of the three have any relationship with the feminine and, as is true in the energy of the masculine, it is in constant pursuit of feminine energy for wholeness.  Here, the Poor Man does not have a wife to assist him in bringing about the integration of the polarities projected upon the two sons and, as such, the sons are destined to live out their lives in an unintegrated manner, constantly reflecting only opposites for each other.  Psychologically, this is a very exhausting, primitive way of living.

Our King knows something must be done about the Wild Boar and only has the assistance of his daughter to call upon to bait the less-than-ideal aspects of the masculine energies.  Once this call for assistance is accepted by the brothers, true to their natures, one enters the woods of transformation from the West and the other is to enter from the East, again representing the different world views from which they live.  The younger brother, being more receptive, is able to 1) accept the instruction from a representative spirit guide in the form of a Manikin, 2) use the provided spear and successfully kill the Wild Boar and, then, 3) take possession of him.  In contrast, the older brother remains outside of the woods, never entering the process of transformation.

This act by Son #2 of not only killing the Wild Boar, but also taking possession of it, is psychologically important to the process of transformation. In our tale, this is  contrasted with the family of origin, where the Poor Father cannot hold the container for the two sons to grow in an integrated fashion.  Rather, the sons are  relegated to either all good or all evil attributes. Taking possession of the Wild Boar not only insures the prize of the King’s daughter, but, also, promotes the ability for containment of this most primitive aspect of the masculine energies, which ultimately results in transformation. This primitive energy is no longer unconsciously denied but, rather, accepted as part of being fully human.

The Singing Bone was the manner in which the dumb younger brother finds his voice after being gestated (buried) in Mother Earth.  Here, he receives the needed  influence of the feminine.  After finding his voice through the mouthpiece of the Shepherd’s horn,  his story of murder and betrayal is brought to the King. Now, the younger son is able to complete his transformational individuation journey within the salvation of the beautiful churchyard grave.  With his ability to receive the vibrations of gentle penetration of the murdered son’s song of betrayal, the King can live out of balance and harmony, as can the kingdom.  The King is now able to return to his balanced place of reigning over his kingdom with knowledge of both evil and virtue contained within him and his subjects. This movement of psychological integration supports the astrological evolution from the Piscean age of patriarchal dominance toward the Aquarian age of balance and harmony.

Chakra Significance in The Fairy Tale

The most prominent chakra recognized in this story is that of the Fifth Chakra, the throat chakra, otherwise know as the vishuddha chakra—the center of purificationWe see in our tale, the significance of the Singing Bone as the authentic voice of Son #2, through its penetrating vibrations influencing, thereby transforming, the heart of the King.  Keep in mind that none of the chakras work in isolation. Being aware of other chakra influences within this tale, the Fifth Chakra permeates the messages throughout the tale.

Spirituality in the Fairy Tale

In a sense, the King in our tale can be seen as a symbol for Creator energy.  In this manner, his blind spots must be brought into his line of vision by others.  In our tale, those “others” are:  aspects of the feminine, the Wild Boar, the Poor Man and his Two Sons, the Shepherd, and the Woods of transformation.  We also see how the Creator/Destroyer energies are polarized, and until those polarizations can be brought into balance, the dynamic of salvation cannot occur.  Just as the two sons carrying the either/or energies of innocence and evil, the creator/God energy is kept in a separateness of Creator and Destroyer rather than integrated into Creator/Destroyer, or both/and. 

In this fairy tale, we get the sense of a trinity with the King being godlike and needing his disciples (subjects) and Mother Earth.  At the same time, we find the King’s subjects needing Mother Earth, much like the younger son, who had to gestate within the earth before he could find his voice. Our trinity is complete with God’s lamentations, as in The Answer to Job, where God confesses that He needs man for completion as much as man needs Him—and this is the definition of co-creation—in its multidimensionality, it is both either/or and also both/and.

The trinity movement that is so evident in our tale, grounds the fairy tale in the Piscean astrological age.  In the beginning of our tale, the deep chaotic penetrations exhibited by the Wild Boar tells us the need for the opposite, gentle harmonious penetrations which come through The Singing Bone (the voice found by Son #2). It is only when we recognize the importance of the fourth (the feminine) bringing about the completion for the King, for his subjects, for God, and yes, even for Mother Earth, that the equation moves into the Aquarian age of balance and harmony.

© 2019 Lois E. Wilkins, PhD, APRN