Frau Holle

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Frau Holle, illustration by Hermann Vogel

"Frau Holle" /ˌfr ˈhɒl/ HOL (also known as "Mother Holle", "Mother Hulda" or "Old Mother Frost") is a German fairy tale that comes from the book Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children's and Household Tales) collected by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm.[1] "Frau Holle" is the 24th story in the first volume of the book published in 1812 as part of Children's and Household Tales.


Frau Holle in the Efteling

The legend itself, as it was eventually passed to the Grimm Brothers, originates from oral traditions in Central Germany in what is now known as Hesse. It was told to them by Henriette Dorothea Wild (whom Wilhelm Grimm married in 1825) with more details, which were added in the second edition (1819). It is still a common expression in Hesse and beyond to say "Hulda is making her bed" when it is snowing, that is, she shakes her bed and out comes snow from heaven.

In the second edition of the book in 1819 they added some details, most prominently the rooster's greetings, provided by a correspondent: Georg August Friedrich Goldmann from Hanover.[2] Like many other tales collected by the brothers Grimm the story of Frau Holle was told to teach a moral. In this case, it is that hard work is rewarded and laziness is punished.


Frau Holle

A rich widow lives with her daughter and her stepdaughter. The widow favored her younger biological daughter allowing her to become spoiled and idle while her older stepdaughter was left to do all the work. Every day the stepdaughter would sit outside the cottage and spin beside the well.

One day she pricked her finger on the point of the spindle. Leaning over the well to wash the blood away, the spindle fell from her hand and sank out of sight. The stepdaughter feared that she would be punished for losing the spindle, and in a panic she leapt into the well after it.

The girl found herself in a meadow where she came upon an oven full of bread. The bread asked to be taken out before it burned. With a baker's peel she took all the loaves out and then walked on. Then she came to an apple tree that asked that its apples be harvested. So she did so and gathered them into a pile, before continuing on her way. Finally she came to a small house of an old woman, who offered to allow the girl to stay if she would help with the housework.

The woman identified herself as Frau Holle, and cautioned the girl to shake the featherbed pillows and coverlet well when she made the bed, as that would make it snow in the girl's world. The girl agreed to take service with Frau Holle, and took care to always shake the featherbed until the feathers flew about like snowflakes.

After a time, the girl became homesick and told Frau Holle that it was time for her to return home. Frau Holle had been impressed by the girl's kindness and hard work so much that when she escorted the girl to the gate, a shower of gold fell upon the girl. She also gave her the spindle which had fallen into the well. With that the gate was closed, and the girl found herself back, not far from her mother's house.

Her mother wished the same good fortune for her biological daughter. She also set her to sit by the well and spin, but the girl deliberately threw the spindle into the well before jumping in herself. She too came to the oven, but would not assist the bread; nor would she help the apple tree. When she came to Frau Holle's house, she likewise took service there, but before long fell into her lazy, careless ways. Frau Holle soon dismissed her. As the lazy girl stood at the gate, a kettle of pitch spilled over her. "That is what you have earned," said Frau Holle, and closed the gate.

Other versions describe the first girl having a piece of gold fall from her lips every time she speaks whilst the second has a toad fall from her lips everytime she speaks.

* That is why, in Hessen whenever it snows they say that Frau Holle is making her bed.[3]


Marija Gimbutas names Hulda (or Holda, Holla, Holle) as having originally been an ancient Germanic supreme goddess who predates most of the Germanic pantheon, including deities such as Odin, Thor, Freya, and Loki, continuing traditions of pre-Indo-European Neolithic Europe.[4]

As Christianity slowly replaced Scandinavian paganism during the Early Middle Ages, many of the old customs were gradually lost or assimilated into Christian tradition. By the end of the High Middle Ages, Scandinavian paganism was almost completely marginalized and blended into rural folklore, in which the character of Frau Hulda eventually survived.

In Germanic Pre-Christian folklore, Hulda, Holda, Holle and Holla were all names to denote a single being. According to Erika Timm, Perchta emerged from an amalgamation of Germanic and pre-Germanic, probably Celtic, traditions of the Alpine regions after the Migration Period in the Early Middle Ages.[5] Hulda is also related to the Germanic figure of Perchta. She dwells at the bottom of a well, rides a wagon, and first taught the craft of making linen from flax. Holle is the goddess to whom children who died as infants go, and alternatively known as both the Dunkle Großmutter (Dark Grandmother) and the Weisse Frau (White Lady), elements which are more typically associated with the Grimms' fairy tale as well. Her connection to the spirit world through the magic of spinning and weaving has associated her with witchcraft in Catholic German folklore.

Frau Holle is one of Germany's most durable female legendary figures and represents a pre-Christian deity who survived in popular belief and in the memory of common people well into the nineteenth century.


The Grimms say Perchta or Berchta was known "precisely in those Upper German regions where Holda leaves off, in Swabia, in Alsace, in Switzerland, in Bavaria and Austria."[6] According to Jacob Grimm (1882), Perchta was spoken of in Old High German in the 10th century as Frau Berchta and thought to be a white-robed female spirit. She was known as a goddess who oversaw spinning and weaving, like myths of Holda in Continental German regions. He believes she was the feminine equivalent of Berchtold, and she was sometimes the leader of the Wild Hunt.

According to Erika Timm, Perchta emerged from an amalgamation of Germanic and pre-Germanic, probably Celtic, traditions of the Alpine regions after the Migration Period in the Early Middle Ages.[7]


Like many of the other tales collected by the Grimm brothers, "Frau Holle" personifies good behavior and bad, and the appropriate reward meted out for each. Even so, it also exhibits a number of contrasts with other stories. Typically, the magical beings who appear in the tales must enter the real world and appear to the protagonists before any intercession can take place. Moreover, these beings are almost always anonymous and therefore difficult to correlate with figures in pre-Christian mythology. By contrast, Frau Holle resides somewhere above the earth, and the protagonists must go to her, paradoxically by diving into a spring. When she makes her bed, loose feathers are 'stirred up' and fall to earth as snow, and so this fairy tale is an origin myth as well. Comparison between Frau Holle and a weather or earth goddess is inevitable. Jakob Grimm[8] notes that Thunar (Thor) makes rain in a similar fashion, implying for Frau Holle a very high rank in the pantheon.[9]

Though not unique in this respect, the Frau Holle story is also notable for the absence of class-related motifs such as palaces, balls to which one may or may not be invited, and the rise to the status of the nobility through marriage.

According to the Aarne and Thompson classification system of fairy tales, Mother Hulda is a story of type 480, The Kind and the Unkind Girls. Others of this type include Shita-kiri Suzume, Diamonds and Toads, The Three Heads in the Well, Father Frost, The Three Little Men in the Wood, The Enchanted Wreath, The Old Witch, and The Two Caskets.[10] Literary variants include The Three Fairies and Aurore and Aimée.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Frau Holle (Mother Holle) (A German Tale)". Retrieved 1 April 2015.
  2. ^ "Wilhelm Grimm". Bio. Retrieved 25 March 2015.
  3. ^ Frau Holle, translated by D.L. Ashliman
  4. ^ Gimbutas, Marija, The Living Goddesses (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001)
  5. ^ Timm, Erika. 2003. Frau Holle, Frau Percht und verwandte Gestalten: 160 Jahre nach Grimm aus germanistischer Sicht betrachtet.
  6. ^ Grimm, Jacob (1882). Deutsche Mythologie 4th ed. [1875]. Trans. James Stallybrass Grimm's Teutonic Mythology Volume 1.
  7. ^ Timm, Erika. 2003. Frau Holle, Frau Percht und verwandte Gestalten: 160 Jahre nach Grimm aus germanistischer Sicht betrachtet.
  8. ^ Jakob Ludwig Karl Grimm, transl J.S. Stallybrass.Teutonic Mythology. George Bell, London 1882, pp 263f.
  9. ^ Grimm (1882) p268
  10. ^ Heidi Anne Heiner, "Tales Similar to Diamonds and Toads"
  11. ^ Jack Zipes, The Great Fairy Tale Tradition: From Straparola and Basile to the Brothers Grimm, p 543, ISBN 0-393-97636-X

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