Briar Rose - Fairy-Tale Witches and Mother Goose

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

Briar Rose
Fairy-Tale Witches and Mother Goose

This German version of Sleeping Beauty has one significant difference: lack of fairies. The king is so delighted by the birth of his long-awaited daughter that he invites not only his relatives, friends, and acquaintances to a feast but also twelve Wise Women. Significantly, although there are thirteen Wise Women in his kingdom he only has twelve golden plates for them, and so one must stay home.

No specific reason is given as to why the thirteenth Wise Woman isn’t invited; it is the number thirteen itself that seems to be the problem.

Image Thirteen is associated with the traditional number of witches in covens

Image Thirteen is traditionally identified as an anti-Christian number, hence the superstition against thirteen at table and the perception of thirteen as an unlucky number

Coincidentally or not, when the disgruntled thirteenth Wise Woman gatecrashes the party, her curse is that at the age of fifteen, the princess will prick her finger on a spindle, ancient emblem of Women’s Mysteries, and die.

In response, all spindles in the kingdom are destroyed except for one. The princess is kept ignorant of her history and is not forewarned. She can’t even recognize a spindle when she finally sees one nor does she know enough to be wary. In essence, she is not rooted in women’s spirituality and thus lacks its protection. (The story could also be interpreted in the opposite way, read as a warning suggesting that these forbidden women’s traditions, which persist right under authority’s nose despite vigorous attempts at their extirpation, are dangerous to young women.)

The day she turns fifteen, her parents are away and the unsupervised princess spends her birthday exploring the castle. She discovers one room with a rusty key in its lock. (Red rust is a traditional substitute for menstrual blood in many spells and rituals.) Using the key to open the door, she discovers an old woman spinning. Ignorance is what really “kills” the princess. She doesn’t know not to handle (or how to handle) what is dangerous or taboo for her.

Of course she doesn’t die but merely falls into a faint. A hedge, symbol of shamanic witchcraft, grows protectively around the castle to serve as a test: the only one capable of breaking the Wise Woman’s curse, the prince who is worthy of Briar Rose, proves himself by his ability to navigate this hedge.