Witch-cats and Similar Transformation Tales - Fairy-Tale Witches and Mother Goose

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

Witch-cats and Similar Transformation Tales
Fairy-Tale Witches and Mother Goose

International fairy-tale witches are particularly associated with animal transformation. Although witches are identified with many animals (see ANIMALS), in fairy tales the animal is almost invariably a cat.

Image The cat may be a guise into which the witch transforms

Image The cat may be the witch’s alter ego

Image The cat may be the witch’s fetch (see DICTIONARY) or nahual (see ANIMALS)

Often, in fairy tales, the secret witch’s identity is revealed through the cat’s fate:

Image The cat is killed; simultaneously the witch also dies

Image The cat is killed but its body disappears; the witch’s dead body appears in its place

Image The cat is harmed, often via amputation of a paw; a previously unsuspected witch suddenly and mysteriously sports identical injuries or scars

The classic example combining all the above motifs is The Tale of Kowashi’s Mother, a Japanese story of magical identity-theft. Kowashi and his nice, normal mother live in a small village at the foot of a mountain. One day, all of a sudden, Kowashi notices that Mom’s teeth are exceptionally long, sharp, and pointy. She has also suddenly developed a taste for fish heads and bones.

Their neighbor, a fisherman, comes home very late one night, carrying a basket of fish and is attacked by a pack of wild cats. The fisherman fights them off but the brazen cats refuse to retreat. One shouts, “Get Old Lady Kowashi!

A huge raggedy gray cat appears. The fisherman whacks it on the head. As the sun comes up, the cats disappear. Kowashi wakes up to find Mom in the kitchen, her head all bandaged up, chewing on fish bones. He wonders…

Kowashi goes to school. When he returns home, his neighbor the fisherman is waiting for him and recounts his nocturnal adventure, including the part about “Old Lady Kowashi.”

Kowashi enters his home where his mother, seeing him, arches her back and hisses. Kowashi decides that this cannot be his mother. A witchcat must have killed her and stolen her image or so he reasons. He slices off her head with a sword. At his feet, lies a huge, ragged gray cat.

See ANIMALS: Cats, Transformation.