Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales - Fairy-Tale Witches and Mother Goose

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

Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales
Fairy-Tale Witches and Mother Goose

Hans Christian Andersen (April 2, 1805-August 4, 1875) did not collect folktales like the Brothers Grimm. He learned them at home from his mother.

Most famous for his 124 fairy tales, Andersen would have preferred renown for his novels and poetry. Many of the fairy tales are his own creations; all were embellished though some are based on ancient folktales. The shamanic quality of many of these stories emerges, perhaps despite Andersen’s intentions.

Andersen grew up in Denmark amidst terrible poverty. His father died when he was eleven. His mother, Anne Marie Andersen (c.1774-December 1833), is usually described as an “alcoholic” and intensely “superstitious.” She may indeed have been an alcoholic but she was also a devoted, protective mother who made it a condition at the first school Andersen attended that he was never to be beaten.

Descriptions of Anne Marie as “superstitious” may be understood to imply “rooted in pagan tradition.” She practiced divination with Saint John’s wort and consulted fortune-tellers, sending her son to them in times of crisis. In April 1816, when Hans was eleven, his father was deathly ill. His mother did not send Hans for a doctor but instead sent him to a wise woman, Mette Mogensdatter, who performed what one of Andersen’s biographers describes as “magic tricks.”

Anne Marie’s own mother, Anne Sorensdatter (born c.1745), bore three daughters out of wedlock. Although at the time this was associated with ignorance and promiscuity (as indeed it was by her deeply embarrassed grandson), it was also associated with Paganism or, conversely, with lack of devotion to Christian piety and ritual. Sorensdatter spent a week in prison in 1783 because her daughters were born out of wedlock.

Andersen, a devout Christian, was embarrassed, ashamed, and disapproving of his maternal background, yet he also drew on the wealth of tales learned at his mother’s knee to create his own fairy tales. Andersen’s fairy tales reveal his conflicting emotions towards Pagan spiritual traditions and female sexuality and power.

His stories often shock modern readers. Female characters suffer tremendous physical pain in his tales; some suffering physical mutilation. Intensely tragic, sad stories, few possess anything remotely like happy endings. The little match girl freezes to death; the girl in The Red Shoes is “saved” by having her feet amputated.

Among Andersen’s stories with themes related to witchcraft are the following.