Gold is a piece of metal representing treasure throughout the ages, but is also understood as a material representing human greed as the word ‘gold almighty’ suggests. Gold mainly performs a function of leading human beings to ruin in myths and legends. However, gold in folk tales entirely does different functions. The meaning of gold in folk tales is very positive, and characteristic. It is associated with a heroine in particular, and gold in folk tales appears as a symbol which shows the maturity of a heroine who grows into a main and genuine character.
It is because the view of the world in myths and legends are different from that of folk tales. Earth can be put into the same category as women and night. Gold, too, functions as a symbol representing the productivity of women and earth. In Frau Holle, for example, a girl goes deep into the well to take out a bloodstained reel and, in reward for her efforts to help a grandmother, comes back soaked by golden rain. It means that she has matured like gold under the ground. When a girl bleeds in folk tales, it means that she experiences menstruation or has reached a mature, marriageable age. It also means that she came to have production capacity.
Therefore, gold in folk tales is used as a motif meaning maturity and the truth of a girl.
In a myth in particular and a legend in general, gold is considered to have developed into an icon of ruin that a human being should not possess.
In a German myth Edda, Andvari casts a spell, saying, “All the people owning gold will be ruined” and the whole world, including that of gods, is wrapped in flames.
Like the case of Heldenlieder, the latter part of Edda, the extraordinary heroes in Das Niebelungenlied, die after being embroiled in fights over gold amid strifes and betrayal. Nevertheless, gold in Edda is not a decisive factor that brings the world of gods to the end. Although gold in German myths was a detestable matter that cheats people and brings about disaster, gold in Edda is utilized as a spiritual existence. Because many gods including Odin have the golden magic tools (weapons) that could help redouble their strength and capability.
It is a legendary situation that gold was recognized as treasure which make human beings covetous of property. Gold also functions as the possession of a legendary hero. In Siegfried, gold symbolizes the absolute treasure which a hero must have with a sense of heroism and absolute power. However, the legendary hero can never own the treasure.
Although gold is categorized as metal, it functions differently according to German folk tales, myths, and legends in terms of meaning and aspects.
Whereas folk tales focused on the productivity of earth and the moon, myths and legends were mostly based on the world view of the sun and therefore disparaged the elements worshiped in folk tales and transformed them into the image of devils. Therefore, gold is one of the most important motifs that could explain the changes of the solar and the lunar views of the world and the characteristics of folk tales.