According to Jacob Grimm in Deutsche Mythologie, the soul is a winged being often likened to cacoon, butterfly, cat, weasel, mouse, or snake. In the moody tale of the Little Mouse, a kitchen maid falls asleep and a little red mouse escapes from the dreaming girl’s mouth. The fate of the girl is unguessable, much less the significance of the meager mouse. But when the creature is unable to return to its original place because of the malice of a thoughtless kitchen maid, the sleeper is doomed. The soul is unable to reunite with its body and the girl dies.
The Thumbling of Grimm’s tales is a similar being. It departs from the dying, sinking body and if it returns at all it believes it had been sleeping. In other stories the soul slips out the sleeper’s mouth in the form of small child. This reflects the notion that the soul of a dying person migrates to and then takes possession of a new body.
In some traditions souls marry, or lovers exchange hearts. Or as punishment gods must become mortal in the next life and mortals must become animals after death.
According to Plutarch, good souls hover for some time over the meadow of Hades where they approach truth. The souls of the dead hang from a weak blade of grass above a precipice. In other traditions the soul is pushed to the tip of one’s tongue or many souls balance on the tip of a nail.
Grimm’s Saga No. 248: The Saga of the Little Mouse
The following story purportedly took place at the estate of a noble family at the beginning of the 17th century near the village of Saalfeld in Thuringia. The maids and servants were all in the kitchen peeling fruit when one of the girls was overcome by fatigue. Removing herself from the workers, she lay down on the kitchen bench to rest, not far from the others. When she had lain there quietly for some time, a little red mouse crept out of her open mouth. Most of the workers saw it and silently pointed to the animal scurrying away. The little mouse ran hurriedly to the window that was cracked open, slid out and was gone for some time. Now a saucy kitchen maid became curious. Even though the others warned and tried to dissuade her, the girl approached the lifeless, soul-less sleeper, shook her, moved her from one spot to the next, and then walked away. Soon the mouse returned, ran to the prior spot where the girl had lain and where the mouse had crept out the girl’s mouth. But now the little mouse could only run back and forth, and because it could not find the place it had originally emerged, it finally disappeared. And so the girl was dead and remained dead. The saucy kitchen girl regretted her deed, but it was all for naught. It was said that in the same household a servant was often pressed while he slept by the Trude, or night spirit. He could not get any rest. But this finally stopped when the maid died.