Tuesday, November 23, 2010
The View from my Bicycle [COLUMN]
The witch of Sleeping Beauty, Hansel and Gretel and Snow White have one thing in common. They're old. And they're bitter and twisted. Their evil schemes are diabolical enough to include murder. You may think fairy tales are just stories, but they have stood the test of time exactly because witches are a common theme in society; more common than we care to contemplate.
And history tells another story. The term 'witch-hunt' refers to a time in history when these objectionable people were put to death, and obviously people got carried away in the panic, with even slightly suspicious behaviour being targetted for execution. The last executions of witches occurred as recently as the 18th century in France and Germany. Witch hunts continue to this day in Sub-Saharan Africa, including South Africa.
Practices to which the witchcraft label has historically been applied are those which influence another person's mind, body, or property against his or her will, or which are believed, by the person doing the labelling, to undermine the social or religious order.
A genuine witch does undermine, through lies, deceit and schemes, to sabotage or circumvent some good or natural process.
What interests me is the metaphor of the witch. A witch is a device used in fairy tales to refer to a mother in law, or a stepmother. In both cases, it is an older woman who makes life a misery for some long suffering younger person.
The wicked fairy godmother, a figure rare in fairy tales, is nevertheless among best-known figures from such tales because of her appearance in one of the most widely known tales, Sleeping Beauty, and in the ballet Carabosse, and in others Maleficent. derived from it. Anonymous in her first appearance, she was later named in some variants
When Maleficent learns that Prince Phillip is in love with the princess, she captures him so that he will be too old and feeble to wield a sword when he can finally free Aurora. When the good fairies help him escape, Maleficent takes over the entire palace and later transforms into a giant black dragon to do battle with the hero. Prince Phillip defeats the villainess with his Sword of Truth, causing her to fall to her apparent death. All that is left of Maleficent is her robe.
Part of the central tenet of the witch in a fairy tale is an attempt to foil or sabotage the happiness of younger lovers.
If killing the witch seems extreme, in the context of American political cartoons it is not. The banking plutocrats were often depicted as vipers (in top hats) battling Andrew Jackson or populist heroes like him. ["The bank," Jackson told his vice president, "is trying to kill me, but I will kill it!,"--this captures the sentiment towards banks.] The vipers became witches in Baum's fantasy of Oz.
Most recently we've seen 47 year old Manda Reyneke ordering a hit on a younger man who both she and her daughter had slept with. Looking at her, and looking at him, it is hard to imagine that even she could contemplate anything beyond a one night stand. But a relationship, and calling it love - despite bedding the same man as her own daughter - shows a woman far out of touch with reality.
On its own this behaviour is already extreme, but given that she sent thousands of sms' to her would be assassins, and threatened for two years to kill her supposed victim it's obvious that she was obsessed and unstable.
Claiming she still loved the younger rugby player, this behaviour is particularly perverse. It's no surprise then that the judge ordered her not to jail but to a mental institution. I know someone who not only looks like Manda, but acts like her too. How these people can walk around in the real world pretending not to be crazy beggars belief.