I have been asked how come the witch as a Teacher does not appear in most fairy tales. It is a good question. The stories I have used in my book have been carefully chosen as spiritual teaching tales. They are very ancient and seem to have retained their original purpose and meaning, although hidden. The witch or Baba Yaga featured in these stories is a powerful and wise teacher, who must be approached with respect. The Teacher only ‘helps’ when she knows that the seeker is genuine, dedicated and truly on the inner path (the journey of enlightenment).
The Fairy (according to Wikipedia) is a type of mythical being or legendary creature in European folklore, a form of spirit, often described as metaphysical, supernatural, or preternatural. In many ways the fairy and the witch fulfil a similar function in fairy tales. The Dove of the Fairies (in the story of Cenerentola) is a powerful, loving and wise teacher.
In the more modern version of the tale (as Cinderella), the Dove of the Fairies becomes the fairy God-Mother. This is rather misleading, as it gives the impression that to become an evolved ‘Queen’ is just the result of the waving of a magic wand. Cenerentola, in the original story, is given a little date tree which she must nurture and this is her daily practice. As a result of this practice she becomes and is recognised as a Queen. The inner work still has to be done, even though it may seem like magic.
But the scary witch who frightens children is also a powerful archetype, but quite different to the Witch Teacher. There was no doubt in my mind as a five-year-old child, that my heart had been stolen by the wicked witch, and replaced by an icicle, just as in the story my father used to read to me, or should I say, tried to read to me. I just could not bear him telling me this tale (The Blue Pearl by Kathleen Fidler). It was written in the 1940s and was perhaps a manifestation of what happens to the ‘good mother’ in war time.
I find it interesting that in Cenerentola, the good and loving mother had ‘died’, and the step-mother and her daughters became ‘wicked’ in the Cinderella version of the story. In truth, they were not wicked as such but simply not ‘wise’. They were outer directed materialistic women of the world, rather than deeply mystical or spiritual. The step mother did her best, as do our own mothers, but that was not enough for Cenerentola. Perhaps this happens at a certain stage of our childhood, when we realise that our mother is only human, with her own failings. For someone on the inner path, this is not enough, especially when the outer mother has been traumatised or damaged in some way, and we are unable to connect with her.
It was only while writing The Weaving section of my book, that I really understood my mother’s difficult journey and how this impacted on my own. She had been abused and traumatised while escaping Hitler’s Vienna with my Jewish father and must have suffered from PTSD as a result. She was highly anxious and nervous. Children become self-aware at around five years of age, so it no surprise that this is when the wicked witch manifests, as a frightening aspect of mother. At that time, my mother took me through post war Europe (1948) from N. Ireland to Vienna. This was a long and difficult journey – crossing of the Irish Sea, and the English channel, as well as numerous train journeys across borders. My only memory is of dark, cold and fear, waiting on platforms for trains that never seemed to come. My mother must have been terrified, but she felt compelled to visit her much loved sisters and brothers in Vienna. Without my warm and loving father, my mother became the witch who stole my happy heart. These insights have resolved so many things for me and I now feel very sorry for my poor mother, who, like the step-mother in the story, she did her best for me.
Eventually, after much searching, I found my own Teacher and followed my path. It takes a Witch to master a Witch.