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Witches are a folkloric archetype of character that commonly appears in fairy tales, such as Hansel & Gretel, Rapunzel, and many more.

AppearanceEdit

Witches commonly appear in fairy tales as decrept (usually hideous) elderly women with wrinkles, warts, hunched backs, long noses and bony hands. They often wish to eat children or young adults (with some exclusions) and are well versed in witchcraft, magic and (sometimes) poison, and usually are able to foresee the future.

HistoryEdit

Hansel & GretelEdit

Arguably the most famous fairy tale to feature a witch as the main antagonist, Hansel & Gretel follows the adventures of the two titular siblings after they are abandoned in an enchanted forest by their parents. The Blind Witch lies in wait for the children in a house made of hard cake and candies, with window panes of clear sugar, to lure the brother and sister within with the intention of fattening them up, cooking and eating them. Initially putting Hansel in a cage to fatten him up first, and forcing a chained up Gretel to help her cook and clean, the Blind Witch's poor eyesight leads her to using a string to measure how fat Hansel's finger has gotten in the days or weeks that pass. However, Hansel instead offers her the same bone he found on the floor of his cage again and again (possibly a chicken bone from the food he's fed, but more likely the bone of a previous child victim) so it appears he never gains wait. Eventually losing her patience, the Blind Witch decides to cook Hansel and forces Gretel to help her prepare the oven, telling the girl to check if the oven is hot enough yet. Gretel feigns ignorance, pretending not to know how to check the oven, so the Blind Witch shows her. As this happens, Hansel unlocks his cage with his bone and together both siblings push the Blind Witch into the oven and lock it behind her, letting her burn to death.

RapunzelEdit

The fairy tale "Rapunzel" features a witch as the main antagonist, named Dame Gothel, and is one of the rare instances in fairy tales where the witch is involved in the storyline from beginning to end. Dame Gothel lives next-door to a childless couple and owns an enclosed, walled-in garden that is in perpetual bloom all year round and the envy of every other garden. When the couple are expecting, the wife craves the rampion (or Rapunzel) plant in Dame Gothel's garden and begs her husband to steal it. The first time he succeeds, but the second time he is caught by Dame Gothel, who spares his life only if he gives her what is most precious to him. After the couple's baby is born, a little girl, Dame Gothel steals the child and names her "Rapunzel", locking her up in a door-less tower in the middle of the forest with only a single room and window at the top. Once the girl is grown and her hair grows long, Dame Gothel leaves every night and visits every day, climbing in and out of the tower using Rapunzel's long hair.

However, one day a handsome prince overhears Rapunzel's singing by the window and finds the tower, witnessing the evil witch enter and leave. He does the same, asking Rapunzel to let down her hair, and the two soon fall in love and plan to escape together. In one version, Dame Gothel discovers the betrayal when Rapunzel's belly grows (indicating pregnancy), and in another Rapunzel forgetfully asks why the witch is heavier than the prince when they climb her hair. In both versions, the angered witch cuts off Rapunzel's hair and banishes her to the wilderness, using the severed hair to lure the prince into the tower one final time. When the prince discovers the witch waiting for him instead of the maiden, Dame Gothel curses him to never see Rapunzel again, and the prince falls out of the tower and lands eyes-first in a thorn bush, now blinded. One version ends the fairy tale with Dame Gothel untying the severed hair and accidentally losing her grip, trapping herself in the tower with no way down.

Dame Gothel is unusual compared to other fairy tale witches in that she wishes to raise a child instead of eat them. Some versions of this tale portray her as a malicious witch persecuting the imprisoned maiden and barring Rapunzel from her freedom, while others portray her as a loving mother-figure who wishes to protect Rapunzel from the dangers of the outside world.

Snow WhiteEdit

While never specifically stated to be a witch, the Evil Queen from the fairy tale "Snow White" is described as being "knowledgeable in the dark arts of witchcraft" and uses this knowledge at least once, while fashioning the poisoned apple. The Evil Queen also owns the Magic Mirror, a decidedly powerful magical object of unknown origin that stereotypically only a witch would own.

The Little MermaidEdit

A very unique type of witch appears in the fairy tale "The Little Mermaid", originally known simply as the "Sea Witch". Like most witches in fairy tales, the Sea Witch is portrayed as a hideous old crone, and she lives in the darkest depths of the sea where it is most dangerous to venture. Seeking a way to become human and pursue the love of a human prince, the Little Mermaid seeks the Sea Witch's aid who offers to brew her a potion made with several disgusting ingredients and the witch's own black blood to turn her tail into legs, in return for the Little Mermaid's voice. When the Little Mermaid agrees, the Sea Witch brews the potion and cuts out her tongue so she cannot speak. While the Sea Witch doesn't appear in the fairy tale again after that, she is mentioned at the end. The Little Mermaid's five older sisters traded their beautiful hair to the Sea Witch in exchange for a magical dagger to save the Little Mermaid's life, one she ultimately chooses not to use.

Frau TrudeEdit

A lesser known and short fairy tale features a little girl's encounter with an evil witch named "Frau Trude". A wilful and disobedient child one day decides to visit the home of the evil witch Frau Trude, ignoring the warnings of her parents. However, upon finding the witch's home, the child is terrified and Frau Trude asks why. The little girl explains that on her way, she had met a "Black Man" (a collier/coal miner, Frau Trude explains), a "Green Man" (a huntsman), and a "Red Man" (a butcher). The little girl then explains that before entering the witch's home, she first peered in through the window and saw the Devil with a head of fire. Frau Trude explains that that was her true form, and the witch turns the little girl into a block of wood and throws it into her fire, commenting on how bright and warm the fire had now become.

While depicted as a stereotypical old hag like most witches and persecuting a child, Frau Trude arguably has one quality in common with another famous witch, "Baba Yaga". Frau Trude possibly employs three guardians: the Black Man, the Green Man, and the Red Man, while Baba Yaga employs three (more mythological) guardians: the White Rider (Dawn), the Red Rider (Noon), and the Black Rider (Dusk).

Baba YagaEdit

A common Russian fairy tale character/archetype is the witch "Baba Yaga". Sometimes portrayed as a donor, and other times as a villain (most often straddling the line), Baba Yaga appears in multiple Russian fairy tales. Arguably the most famous one is the fairy tale "Vasilisa the Beautiful" which features many of her most famous qualities; including her hag-like crone appearance, her giant mortar and pestle she flies around in (in lieu of a stereotypical witch's broomstick), her cottage home in the middle of a dark forest that stands on giant chicken legs to walk around (often guarded by a fence of human bones and skulls), and her three (mythological) guardians: the White Rider (Bright Day/Dawn), the Red Rider (Radiant Sun/Noon) and the Black Rider (Dark Knight/Dusk).

See alsoEdit

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