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What’s the difference between a fairy godmother and a witch? Sleeping Beauty had an evil fairy godmother, so it’s not about benign or malevolent intent.


Simplia cocked her head and gave it a little shake, as if to let a startling new concept settle in and get comfortable.

“Say some more,” Sagacia prodded.

“I don’t know how,” said Simplia. “I’m stymied. Bewildered. And I think I feel some outrage starting to bubble up.”

Murzik jumped from her lap over to the arm of the chair Sagacia sat in. Simplia continued…

“In a fairy tale, whenever a nasty old woman eats a kid, she’s not called a cannibal. She’s called a witch. And she’s always evil.”

“Well,” said Sagacia, “eating children is pretty heinous.”

“That’s not my point,” her friend objected. “Whenever there’s a beautiful seductress who manipulates people into acts of self-destruction, she’s not called a  sociopath. She’s called a witch. And somehow, she’s always more to blame for their self-destruction than they are. Not only that, but the witch that helped Cinderella get to the ball is called a fairy godmother. I wonder if Faithful in Fairbanks objects to her children hearing stories about fairy godmothers.”

“You’re ranting, dear,” Sagacia observed. “What is your point?”:

“My point is that people like Faithful in Fairbanks have made the word ‘witch’ a pejorative term. And right here…” she pulled a tea-stained letter out from under her saucer. “…Barra the Bard calls her own grandmother a witch, and you can tell she means it in the nicest possible way.”

My granny was a white witch, defined in our family as one of the fey (the Irish say one of the dark ones (that adjective having nothing to do with hair color), but in her case she was careful not to ask for recompense for any of her midwifery and nursing, herbal simples or wise advice. If the person she had benefited chose to give her a gift, that was different…but not a fee, unlike a witch of the black arts, who was mainly interested in power and control (and often hindering or vindictiveness), not in using his (a warlock if a male) or her talents to help. I remember in the early 60s, Jeanne Dixon was suddenly in the news as a psychic. Granny’s comment was, “if she takes money for her gifts, she’ll soon no’ hae any.” These abilities were meant to be used for good, not for getting, or God would remove them. My grandmother was known to predict the sex of unborn children, often before the mother knew she was pregnant, and until she went blind, she had The Sight-–a very unpleasant and painful ability. When she partly regained her vision after cataract surgery at 80, she was relieved that she couldn’t see well enough to See. –

“That’s a pretty awesome and heavy gift to be born with,” Sagacia said after she had read and re-read the letter.

“Yeah. And no question about it, she was definitely one of the good guys. They don’t let many benign witches into fairy tales these days, do they?”

Sagacia said, “Now that you mention it, I think you might have something there. So maybe if we took care to include more stories with characters like Barra’s grandmother, we’d see less objection from parents like Faithful in Fairbanks.”

Simplia shoved her laptop over to her the other side of the table so Sagacia could read an email that had just come in.

“Not if you believe what Megan Hicks has to say about it.”

Thirty years ago, working as the resident Story Lady in a library, I was approached by parents who were afraid fantasy and fairy tales might confuse their children’s moral compasses. They wanted their children’s exposed only to real stories depicting real people doing things that actually can happen in the physical world.

Faithful in Fairbanks, I wonder if, thirty years ago, you were one of those protected children. I wonder if you grew up to fear what might have tested you and made you stronger. With all due respect, I feel that you are more afraid of the occult (another word we have turned into a pejorative), the mysterious, the unexplained and unexplainable than your children are. Had your caretakers allowed you to be pushed beyond your comfort zone, had they been willing to stand behind you and support you as you wrestled with the inexplicable, perhaps today you would not need to regard that which you don’t understand as Evil.

Your children don’t need to be shielded from the knowledge of occult goodness and evil. They need loving guides who are confident that they will grow into people who can cope with a world where “good” and “evil” are not as easily defined as “black” and “white.”

Sagacia snapped her fingers and said, “I just remembered. Julie Moss Herrera weighed in again. It’s in a similar vein.”

So, I am rereading for the third time (because I was not ready to finish it before) Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ “Women Who Run with the Wolves;” and I found in the Introduction a possible reason why adults are afraid of things that go bump in the night. The Wild Woman, who is present in all women, guides us when we free her to live the life we were meant to live. Perhaps the adults who are afraid have not allowed the Wild Woman her freedom. That is what they are really afraid of, but can’t put into words. So the “Things that Go Bump in the Night” symbolize all their fears and they try to protect their world as best they can which is, of course, through censorship.

“Let’s get all these great observations and words of wisdom to the postmistress,” said Simplia. “It’s supposed to storm tonight. If we time it right, we may get to take a walk in the rain.”