Snow White - Fairy-Tale Witches and Mother Goose

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

Snow White
Fairy-Tale Witches and Mother Goose

The most familiar version of this story is now Disney’s animated film. The “witch” is the star of both versions. (The fairy tale is devoted to her attempts to kill Snow White.) But is she, in fact, really a “witch”?

In the Disney version, she’s explicitly identified as one; Grimms’ version is slightly more ambiguous. Whether she’s a witch or just viciously evil depends upon perceptions; she is never explicitly called a witch but is initially introduced as the woman who weds Snow White’s recently widowed father. She is described as a beautiful lady, but proud and unable to tolerate the thought that anyone might be more beautiful. Why she feels so passionately is never made clear: is this just vanity or does perhaps her status, marriage or even life depend upon her being the fairest in the land?

The queen does have a magic mirror. Is possession of a magic mirror sufficient to be identified as a witch? Interaction with the magic mirror is the single magical action performed by the queen. It is a pivotal action: the queen’s attempts to kill Snow White are all predicated on the mirror’s responses to her famous question:

Mirror, mirror on the wall Who is the fairest of them all?

Although she can communicate with the magic mirror, the queen is never observed casting a spell. Her attempts on Snow White’s life rely entirely on violence and poison. If the queen is a witch, then she corresponds to the classical Greek definition that doesn’t distinguish between witches, herbalists, and poisoners.

In Disney’s version, Snow White is under a spell, finally broken by the prince’s kiss. In Grimms’ version, Snow White is the victim of sophisticated poison: she appears to be dead but isn’t, somewhat like a zombi. Because she still looks so beautiful and lifelike, the seven nameless dwarfs can’t bear to bury her underground but craft a glass coffin for her. Snow White lies in that coffin, the story says, “a long, long time,” but her body, like that of a miracle saint, does not decay.

When the handsome prince stumbles upon her gravesite, he falls in love with the beautiful corpse and begs the dwarfs for the body. They acquiesce and the prince, who has no expectations of her resurrection, has his servants carry the dead woman home. During the journey, however, the coffin is jostled. The jolt dislodges the poison apple caught in Snow White’s throat and she awakens. Nuptials are planned for Snow White and the prince.

When the wicked queen hears of the wedding, she cannot stay away but feels compelled to witness it herself. Who’s casting spells now? Coincidentally perhaps, the wedding party is anticipating her arrival: iron shoes have been heated over burning coals. The queen is forced to don what the story calls “red-hot” shoes and dance until she dies.

See BOTANICALS: Apples; CREATIVE ARTS: Film: Disney Witches; DICTIONARY: Pharmakon, Zombi.