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Witches in Folktales

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#1 odalibuc

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Posted 08 November 2016 - 09:34 PM

As I mentioned in another thread a while back, I recently took a fascinating mythology class, and one of our discussions was the role of witches and the understanding people had of them back when the brothers Grimm were compiling them. Everything in those stories was informed by cultural norms and understanding of how the world works (to some extent), especially how witches were portrayed. Here's a few of the most common beliefs about witches and their cultural origins:

 

 

1. Witches are ugly - this stems from an old belief that your appearance was a reflection of your morality. Heroes were handsome and the good princesses were beautiful because it was the fastest way to let the listener know who the good guys were. Same goes for witches; they were ugly because that was the fastest and most well-understood way to say they were the villain without outright saying they were the villain.

 

2. Witches are single - this stems from an old, sexist view of gender roles. Spinsters were heavily frowned upon, and often viewed as a burden by society or even as evil. So to give a fairy tale witch a husband was to instantly make her a more sympathetic character, which was certainly not an option.

 

3. Witches are greedy - this comes from the same viewpoint as above. Single women were viewed as a drain on society, consuming everything without giving anything back. Its why the witch in Hansel and Gretel had a house made of food but still wanted to eat the children. She ignored the good opportunities before her (marriage and a stable household) in order to consume resources other people needed. She was easily fooled, again, because of her greed blinding her to the truth of a life well-lived.

 

What all do you guys think of that? Any other thoughts to share?

 

edited for text color visibility


Edited by odalibuc, 08 November 2016 - 09:50 PM.

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#2 Duchess

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Posted 09 November 2016 - 02:56 AM

I’d argue that the witch in Hansel and Gretel was an opportunist. I mean, once you eat the house you’re out of house and food. But use it to go hunting, you’ve got a home and a steady food supply!

 

The only witch I can think of that doesn’t quite match is Baba Yaga. She does occasionally help the hero instead of eating them.    

 

The more I think about it, though, I can see how these stories work as a strong tool for keeping people, especially women, away from witchcraft; fairy tale propaganda.


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#3 Llyr

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Posted 09 November 2016 - 11:25 AM

As I mentioned in another thread a while back, I recently took a fascinating mythology class, and one of our discussions was the role of witches and the understanding people had of them back when the brothers Grimm were compiling them. Everything in those stories was informed by cultural norms and understanding of how the world works (to some extent), especially how witches were portrayed. Here's a few of the most common beliefs about witches and their cultural origins:

 

 

1. Witches are ugly - this stems from an old belief that your appearance was a reflection of your morality. Heroes were handsome and the good princesses were beautiful because it was the fastest way to let the listener know who the good guys were. Same goes for witches; they were ugly because that was the fastest and most well-understood way to say they were the villain without outright saying they were the villain.

 

2. Witches are single - this stems from an old, sexist view of gender roles. Spinsters were heavily frowned upon, and often viewed as a burden by society or even as evil. So to give a fairy tale witch a husband was to instantly make her a more sympathetic character, which was certainly not an option.

 

3. Witches are greedy - this comes from the same viewpoint as above. Single women were viewed as a drain on society, consuming everything without giving anything back. Its why the witch in Hansel and Gretel had a house made of food but still wanted to eat the children. She ignored the good opportunities before her (marriage and a stable household) in order to consume resources other people needed. She was easily fooled, again, because of her greed blinding her to the truth of a life well-lived.

 

What all do you guys think of that? Any other thoughts to share?

 

edited for text color visibility

 

Yes I agree that the way witches have been visually portrayed to the masses through the media or in books in most stories, all the way up to the past 30-40 years has been dictated by how the Grimms portrayed witches in the 1800's in their published folklore which are now popular fairy-tales.

 

Funny how something incorporated into the creation of a popular fairy-tale for children can evolve and influence the mainstream media and the general population. The thoughts about witchcraft itself didn't help the perception of witches as it was always perceived with a dark and nasty overtone.

 

The witch was always the villain and I totally agree that the quickest way of communicating that to a viewer or reader is to make them ugly and haggard.

 

I can see the logic in witches being single as to have a husband would encourage some thoughts of love and that was never going to happen.

 

The one I am not sure about is the last one, witches are greedy and would second Duchess statement of witches being opportunists!

 

Interesting to see how attitudes to witches have changed today.... when I think of the film Maleficent, only 1 of the 3 common belief's that you stated still ring true.

 

the witch is beautiful (but dark).

the witch begins as the usual stereotype of evil but shows love.

the witch is still single.


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#4 odalibuc

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Posted 10 November 2016 - 03:16 AM

I think it has something to do with the way societies evolve culturally - I read an article recently that men feel legitimately threatened by a woman with power over them, even if its the power to give them a boner. So I think that newer stereotype of the beautiful single witch is that she is exercising that power over men without allowing them to exercise any over her. I'll have to find that link again, it was really interesting.


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#5 RapunzelGnome

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Posted 11 November 2016 - 05:09 AM

I was listening to some older folk songs around Halloween and I noticed that a lot of songs about "witches" are just referring to old, crippled or deformed women. It's pretty cruel. These songs often make no mention of the So-called witch ever doing any actual witchcraft, or being malicious in any way. Just cruelly makes fun of their physical conditions.

"witch" was definitely a term used to devalue a woman. And they'd use any excuse to do so! Widows and hags were completely ostracized... It's gotta go back to when a woman's worth was only tied to their husband and families.

There's definitely a stark contrast in the way men who practice occult arts are referred to in folk tales (wizards, cunning men, wise sages, shamans and priests) as opposed to the way women who practice are depicted (hags, crones, villains, ugly, untrustworthy, malicious witches).

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#6 Oroboros

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Posted 11 November 2016 - 07:17 AM

I agree with Odalibuc on the cause of this.  Men- in GENERAL - not all- are threatened by powerful women.  That power can come in many forms.  God forbid a woman be beautiful and smart and have any type of talent the man doesn't understand.  

 

And wow I really want to make a political comment but ill chew tongue instead...


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#7 Duchess

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Posted 11 November 2016 - 06:52 PM

I think it has something to do with the way societies evolve culturally - I read an article recently that men feel legitimately threatened by a woman with power over them, even if its the power to give them a boner. So I think that newer stereotype of the beautiful single witch is that she is exercising that power over men without allowing them to exercise any over her. I'll have to find that link again, it was really interesting.

 

In this context, it does make the new cultural narrative of witches as beautiful, powerful women in modern fantasy more interesting. Little girls in my country are more apt to know witches like Hermione or Morwen, than they do the mostly nameless witches in fairy tales.

 

Oroboros: I also will not make a political statement, but you're not the only one firmly holding down their tongue.


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#8 Nera

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Posted 13 November 2016 - 07:56 PM

Still today in some parts of the world people hold these myths about the witches. For example, in a small village where my sister lives with her family, there is a woman that everyone is afraid of. And I mean litteraly scared of even talking to her. This is in a small Eastern European country. I heard about her when she came to my sister's wedding (it's the tradition that everyone is coming to a wedding, invited or not). And I met her and shook her hand. Very peculiar woman, a woman of strong character, that was my first impression of her. It felt like we understood each other at once. I remember people looking at her very suspiciously. I think in their eyes she is an " ugly, mean witch" but to me she was a strong, independent and wise woman which is a rare sight in such a conservative area.
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#9 Autumn Moon

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Posted 19 November 2016 - 12:54 PM

I was listening to some older folk songs around Halloween and I noticed that a lot of songs about "witches" are just referring to old, crippled or deformed women. It's pretty cruel. These songs often make no mention of the So-called witch ever doing any actual witchcraft, or being malicious in any way. Just cruelly makes fun of their physical conditions.

"witch" was definitely a term used to devalue a woman. And they'd use any excuse to do so! Widows and hags were completely ostracized... It's gotta go back to when a woman's worth was only tied to their husband and families.

There's definitely a stark contrast in the way men who practice occult arts are referred to in folk tales (wizards, cunning men, wise sages, shamans and priests) as opposed to the way women who practice are depicted (hags, crones, villains, ugly, untrustworthy, malicious witches).

>>>>

 

From the research I have done, in the villages of England, the Wise and Cunning Women were respected just as much as the Wise and Cunning men. Really, I think the view you mention was promoted more by Hollywood movies than anything else. I think the same stands for the fairy tales...think Author same as Producer or director. I think fear is what drives most of the view of witches in fairy tales, mostly promoted during the witch prosecutions, but then again men were prosecuted as witches too and feared as well. In my wife's cultural heritage, gypsies were feared - whether a woman or a man.

 

As far as powerful confident women go and men being afraid of them...I really don't think so. All of the guys I know are not afraid of them or intimidated by them any more than what they are regarding powerful men...power is power and when someone has power over you, then certain views and emotions go along with that. As far as sexual attraction goes regarding powerful attractive women, I think that is very individualistic...some will be, some will not, and I think there is a LOT more to this equation than just the power and attractiveness.

 

Edited to add:  Any one who is 'different' in some way such as physically, living style etc. will be view cautiously and perhaps with disdain. Also, views of a 'witch' will vary from culture to culture and ethnicity to ethnicity, as well as the 'time period' in which this takes place.


Edited by Autumn Moon, 19 November 2016 - 02:32 PM.

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#10 RapunzelGnome

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Posted 19 November 2016 - 04:05 PM

It's true that at one time cunningmen and women were respected. But from the time of the Puritans onward, there IS a shift in how women of occult knowledge are treated. A dramatic shift in culture...with its roots going back to the King James Bible translation, the inquisition and the Malleus Maleficarum in the 1400's. The songs and tales and folklore that I'm referring to come out of this tradition. LONG before Hollywood. The stereotypes of ugly, haggard, manipulative, untrustworthy, petty, deformed...these are all associated with the word "witch".

On the other hand, men who practiced occult arts in literature (while still considered evil) are portrayed with sense of awe and respect. Or at least given more dignity. Look at how Faust is portrayed. If Faust had been a female character, she'd never been given a name, nor the chance to wax eloquently about the philosophical issues being her occult dabblings.

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#11 Autumn Moon

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Posted 19 November 2016 - 11:24 PM

Certainly those views of witches (primarily female witches) did exist, and I know that these existed prior to Hollywood, but what I was getting at is that the more or less modern view of witches was promoted by hollywood, with a few exceptions of beautiful non-malefic witches. So I guess Hollywood on the whole drew it’s sources of witches from history and imagination. Hollywood is the one responsible for the view that witches are all women and no men...men can only be wizards and sorcerers (but a woman can be also be a sorceress), but I digress a bit as your thread is about the view of witches in fairy tales. That leaves us to figure out where the main authors of the fairy tales drew their view of witches from. It would not seem to be the  Inquisitions as this was a movement against heretics (primarily men). The Malleus Maleficarum, was a direct attack on Witchcraft.
 
Regarding Faust, I think it was a sign of the times, ie. not many females were able to get as much published as men.
 
The Puritans is a whole other story. Their main goal was to purify the Church of England from it's Catholic practices, and in places like Salem it would seem the main impetus was land and property.
 
So that leaves the authors of the fairy tales most likely choosing images and personas of witches that they felt suited their story.
 
There certainly are ugly portrayals of female witches such as this one from 1497: Attached File  980x (1).jpg   308.54KB   0 downloads
 
But there are also very seductive portrayals such as this from from 1878: Attached File  980x.jpg   122KB   0 downloads
 
There are other seductive portrayals of female witches from history such as these: Attached File  800px-Falero_Luis_Ricardo_Enchantress.jpg   275.8KB   0 downloads
 
Attached File  300px-Hypatia_(Charles_William_Mitchell).jpg   46.11KB   0 downloadsAttached File  9801.jpg   197.73KB   0 downloads
 
Edited to add an interesting take on fairy tales: http://fairies.zelun...le-witches.html

Edited by Autumn Moon, 20 November 2016 - 01:22 AM.

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#12 Oroboros

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Posted 23 November 2016 - 08:45 AM

@ A.M.- I really enjoyed those pictures.  Just pulled up the thread and looked at them for the 3rd time since you posted.   I enjoy art in general, but some of those are very nice.  Hypatia is my favorite.

 

You got any newds of male witches? ;)   

--------------------

 I find modern additions of fairy tale books in general to be utterly bereft of decent art work.  I don't understand why.  I still have a falling apart fairy tale book from my childhood with wonderful art work.

 In said book is "the White Cat"- which, is not called a witch in the story, but clearly fits the bill in my mind.   She is young, beautiful, pale, with long white/blonde hair, when not in her cat state.  The white cat performed quite impressive magic.  However, she was a cat during the major part of the story because she had been "cursed."  The woman who cursed her is described as an "ugly old woman" and alternately in place on the story and "old fairy."  It goes that the queen (who is cursed to become the white cat) had been traveling near a fairy castle and had taken some of the fruit from the garden without permission and hence was cursed by the "ugly old fairy." 

 

I tend to think a lot of the negative imagery about witches is a result of Christian church fathers wanting to be very clear that witches, being in league with satan and all, could only end up being ugly rotting old hags, if they weren't that way to begin with.  The only exception to this being of course, the beautiful seductress who is tempting the man "as Eve did."  And in any story like that it is still likely the woman's "true form" would be something grotesque.


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#13 RapunzelGnome

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Posted 23 November 2016 - 03:55 PM

Oroboros, I still have my worn out falling apart copy of that book also! By far the most beautiful illustrations I've ever seen. I've never met anyone else who had heard of that book actually, what a cool coincidence.


I never thought of it from a witchy perspective before...

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#14 Autumn Moon

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Posted 24 November 2016 - 02:59 AM

:lolol:

@ A.M.- I really enjoyed those pictures.  Just pulled up the thread and looked at them for the 3rd time since you posted.   I enjoy art in general, but some of those are very nice.  Hypatia is my favorite.

 

You got any newds of male witches? ;)   

--------------------

 I find modern additions of fairy tale books in general to be utterly bereft of decent art work.  I don't understand why.  I still have a falling apart fairy tale book from my childhood with wonderful art work.

 In said book is "the White Cat"- which, is not called a witch in the story, but clearly fits the bill in my mind.   She is young, beautiful, pale, with long white/blonde hair, when not in her cat state.  The white cat performed quite impressive magic.  However, she was a cat during the major part of the story because she had been "cursed."  The woman who cursed her is described as an "ugly old woman" and alternately in place on the story and "old fairy."  It goes that the queen (who is cursed to become the white cat) had been traveling near a fairy castle and had taken some of the fruit from the garden without permission and hence was cursed by the "ugly old fairy." 

 

I tend to think a lot of the negative imagery about witches is a result of Christian church fathers wanting to be very clear that witches, being in league with satan and all, could only end up being ugly rotting old hags, if they weren't that way to begin with.  The only exception to this being of course, the beautiful seductress who is tempting the man "as Eve did."  And in any story like that it is still likely the woman's "true form" would be something grotesque.

 

@ Oroboros  Ha - only of myself, here ya go  :kat: LOL

 

I think I would be pretty hard pressed to find any old paintings of newd male witches  - after all,  only females are witches  ;)

 

I think you are right about the origin of the concept of the 'ugly' witch.


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#15 Oroboros

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Posted 24 November 2016 - 03:13 PM

Is there a long low whistle emoji?
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...From ev’ry depth of good and ill , The mystery which binds me still...— Poe

#16 Autumn Moon

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Posted 24 November 2016 - 04:21 PM

... So the whistling female spirit I have in the house that gave me the cat call whistle when I had undressed and was totally naked, may not actually be a Spirit of a deceased person, but an astral travelling witch then?  ;)


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#17 Oroboros

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Posted 24 November 2016 - 06:30 PM

I'd like to take credit but I think that particular event was MW.:)
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...From ev’ry depth of good and ill , The mystery which binds me still...— Poe

#18 Autumn Moon

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Posted 24 November 2016 - 09:03 PM

Ha...I think I'm going to have a talk with that peeping Thomasina  :nono: .., no astral travel or remote viewing of nudy Autumn Moon, LOL.


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#19 Ravenshaw

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Posted 24 November 2016 - 10:59 PM

Wait, are there other reasons to travel? I've been doing it wrong.... ;)


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#20 Belwenda

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Posted 24 November 2016 - 11:28 PM

Perhaps in the Grimm, HC Anderson etc...era fairy tales- the fairy plays the part of the normal witch :cool_witch: - the one who can work for good... or not, depending on her whim and the ugly, greedy witch simply plays the villain. 


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