Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Cinderella was a Witch and friend to the Fairies

Article by Ty Hulse

The moral of the French version of "Cinderella" seems to be 'have rich friends.' And indeed this story was written for the wealthy of the French court, only loosely based on fairy tales. Which is perhaps why I've always found this story to be a little boring as the heroine in it doesn't do anything, a fairy godmother just shows up and all her troubles are solved.

This isn't, however, the version collected by the Brothers Grimm.

Most people who study this version obsess over the punishment of the sisters and wicked Stepmother, what fascinates me is that Cinderella is very clearly a witch in this tale.


A witch was a person who had a close relationship with spirits, aka the fairies, which Cinderella has. In the 1812 version of the story published by the Grimm Brothers Cinderella's stepsisters torment her by demanding that she sort various seeds, the good from the bad. Of course the only way she's able to do this is through the help of two birds with whom she can speak.

Birds in the lore of ancient Europe were often used as forms for the spirits of the dead and or as familiar spirits, that is as stand ins for the fairies. So like the shamans of Europe's past Cinderella has two helping spirits, in the form of birds. Later when these birds ask Cinderella if she wants to go to a ball the following takes place;

"Oh, my goodness," she said, "how could I go in these dirty clothes?"
"Just go to the little tree on your mother's grave, shake it, and wish yourself some beautiful clothes. But come back before midnight."
So Cinderella went and shook the little tree, and said:
Shake yourself, shake yourself, little tree.
Throw some nice clothing down to me!
From this we see another common European belief, that the souls of the dead could grow up into the trees over their graves, that they could become fairies. So once again we see Cinderella interacting with the fairy realm.

In an Irish Version of the Cinderella story called "Ashey Pelt;"

She cried alone, and the black ewe came to her from under the greystone in the field and said, "Don't cry. Go and find a rod behind the stone and strike it three times, and whatever you want will come."

This in particular reads very much like nearly any other witches encounter with their familiar spirits, when a witch sorrow and distrait meets a snake, a sheep, a dog, or some other animal which offers to give them magical gifts. There is another Irish version of this story in which the Cinderella character receives help from a Henwife (witch) so may not really be one herself.

In one of the Scottish versions of this story "The Sharp Gray Sheep" Cinderella's sheep friend comes to her and says;

"They are going to kill me, but steal thou my skin and gather my bones and roll them in my skin, and I will come alive again, and I will come to thee again."

This is how Thor brought her own goats to life, and it's even similar to how the Kalasha fairies would break Ibex to life, so it is a common means for magical figures throughout Indo-European lore to bring their pets to life.

In the Russian version of the story "The Wonderful Birch" the Cinderella character;

went in her sore trouble to the birch tree on her mother's grave, and cried and cried, because her mother lay dead beneath the sod and could help her no longer. In the midst of her grief she suddenly heard her mother's voice speak from the grave, and say to her, "Why do you weep, little daughter?"

"The witch has scattered barleycorns on the hearth, and bid me pick them out of the ashes," said the girl; "that is why I weep, dear little mother."

"Do not weep," said her mother consolingly. "Break off one of my branches, and strike the hearth with it crosswise, and all will be put right."

If you want to make these stories a little more interesting, however, consider what happens when the witch Cinderella becomes a princess who is able to speak with fairies, the spirits of the dead, animals, etc. After all the spirits are unlikely to leave her at this point and often such spirits demanded that those witches they worked with help the poor and take revenge on their enemies.


TitusL said...

Great Post, I thought youd like my new machinima animation
The Faerie Trees;
By Leaf and Bough, Bright Blessings ~