The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005
The Old Woman in the Forest
Fairy-Tale Witches and Mother Goose
A party riding through the forest is set upon by robbers; everyone is murdered except for one servant girl who jumped out of the carriage and hid. She wanders alone, hopeless and hungry through the vast forest until a white dove appears with a golden key in its beak.
The dove speaks to her, advising that the key opens a lock found on a large tree. The girl opens it and finds bread and milk inside the tree. The dove gives her another key, which opens another tree: this one contains a bed. A third key opens another tree; this one is filled with beautiful clothes, gold, and gemstones. The girl lives happily in the forest with the dove’s protection.
Eventually the dove, asking for a favor in turn, leads the girl to a hut (shades of Hansel and Gretel). Before she enters, the dove offers instructions: inside the hut will be an old woman seated by her stove. Even though the woman will greet her politely, the girl is advised not to answer or even pay attention but to quickly enter another room where she will find a table laden with rings, many with magnificent sparkling stones. The girl must bring back only the plainest ring.
The girl follows these directions although the old woman tries to prevent her. She searches through the rings but no plain one can be found, until the girl notices the old woman slinking away with a birdcage. She runs to see; the bird within the cage holds the ring in its beak. She grabs the ring, runs back to the tree and awaits her dove, who does not arrive. Instead, suddenly the tree’s branches twine around her. The branches transform into the arms of a handsome young man. He had been bewitched by the old woman (now identified as “a wicked witch”), who transformed him into a tree but allowed him to fly around as a dove for several hours a day.
See page 474, Hansel and Gretel; BOTANICALS: Trees.