Thursday, August 22, 2013

Three fictional modern-day witches

I have always liked reading stories about witches, especially modern-day witches.

I no longer read such fiction just for enjoyment and escape: I am looking for examples of and information about various types of unseen influence.

I remembered some books I read long ago that feature modern-day witches, and have been re-reading them in the hope of finding relevant material. I already have enough for several articles: there are many connections to be made between some fictional modern-day witches and people I have encountered, and there are scenes in these books that remind me of incidents I have experienced myself.

It is interesting that some of these witches were created by men, although two of them are often assumed to be women on the basis of their first names.

I will start with three very different modern-day witches of interest created by three very different authors.

John Masefield’s witch: Sylvia Daisy Pouncer
The Midnight Folk and The Box of Delights, two children’s classic fantasy novels written by John Masefield, contain a character called Sylvia Daisy Pouncer, who is publicly a governess and secretly a witch.

She is said to have been modelled on Masefield's aunt, who raised him and his siblings after their parents died. She disapproved of his love of reading: she sent him as a teenager to live on a naval training ship to cure him of the filthy habit! She is also said to have been inspired by a hated governess who taught Masefield and his siblings.

I can well believe that Sylvia Daisy Pouncer was based on a real person: she has some familiar personality traits. She is strict, over-particular about grammar and correct speech considering the age of her pupil, and has a false, icy-sweet company manner. She is intolerant of noise and fidgeting by children. She is ‘put out’ i.e. inconvenienced by unexpected visitors.

This reminds me of something I read about the writer Antonia White: if her daughters went out, they had to tell her the exact time they would be back and ensure that they were neither early nor late. They were so afraid of her reaction if they arrived at an unexpected time that they hid in a cupboard if they came home too early, and emerged only at the time they had told her they would be back home. My stepmother hated having unexpected visitors: we soon learned not to bring any home.

Sylvia Daisy Pouncer delivers a cruel thrust when she mentions her pupil Kay’s habit of inconspicuously slipping his slippers off under the table and moving them around “Just as though you were playing a game with them.” He was playing a game, which is not a crime: he was bored with his lessons. Her contempt for natural, normal behaviour shows a great lack of understanding of children.

Picking up someone’s unexpressed hopes and fears and mentioning them as if they were deviant and despicable is characteristic of a certain type of person. “Anyone would think that you were hoping someone would see you and adopt you”, is an example of an unjustified spiteful remark I once heard someone make.  Neglected, ill-treated children often do desperately wish for someone to save them and give them a better life: of course they want to get away from a victimiser who adds insult to injury in this way.

Sylvia Daisy Pouncer is always looking for pretexts to deprive Kay of food, and she confiscates his beloved toys. It may be important to ensure that children learn good behaviour, but some people seem to be more interested in inflicting punishments than in helping, encouraging and rewarding children so that they reach the required standard. Such people are not on the level: you need to look at their actions and the effects over a period of time to understand what their real goals are.

It is significant that she does not like it when people use words such as ‘magic’ and ‘witch’. People who hide their real selves do not like to hear anything that threatens their false image: energy vampires are another group who do not like to be identified in this way.

Beverley Nichols’s witch: Miss Smith
Unlike many of the readers of his Woodland Trilogy and the fourth book in the series, The Wickedest Witch in the World, I always knew that Beverley Nichols was a man. His children’s stories are modern-day fairy tales and are very entertaining. I don’t know where he got his inspiration from, but the witch Miss Smith and her three toad friends are a wonderful creation. She is more of a caricature than a real person, amusing and sinister in a typical wicked witch kind of way – she sets traps for children and entices them with pretty but poisonous things - but there are some familiar aspects to her personality and behaviour that qualify her for inclusion in this list.

Miss Smith usually makes a very good first impression: she is stylish and appears to be young and beautiful – provided that no one looks too closely - and has a sweet, girlish manner. She flatters, charms and manipulates people: she tells people what they want to hear and knows exactly what to say and offer to people in order to trick them into doing what she wants.

Some people do soon sense something strange about her, something that is difficult to put into words. Such intuitions should never be ignored. Some people ignore or explain away odd occurrences and clues to the real Miss Smith; they deny the evidence of their own eyes and ears and say they must have imagined something, or that such a wonderful, beautiful person could not have told a lie. We all need to learn how to look for red flags and dead giveaways, to trust our instincts and not be so dazzled or fooled by someone that we fall under their spell.

Miss Smith casts a spell to make someone sign over a valuable business in return for a worthless potion; the scholar and witch Dr. Melanie Powers attempts a similar hypnotic exercise in L.M.Boston’s An Enemy at Green Knowe. Some people do have a hypnotising, paralysing, pressurising influence that makes us do things against our interests, things that we would never do if we were in our right minds and a healthy state.

She draws all the evil entities and kindred spirits in the neighbourhood to her: they sense her presence, and like attracts like. This power is greatest at twilight, another point of interest. Conversely, she leaves a trail of withered and blighted plants and flowers in her wake. Beware of anyone who leaves a trail of destruction behind them and whose circle consists primarily of negative people.

It is interesting that Miss Smith has problems when communicating with normal humans: she always has to bear in mind that their good is her evil and vice versa. She has to pretend to be good and to like things and people that she hates, just to create the right image. She lives in an upside-down world where she has to try to play the part of a decent human being, just as cruel, abusive parents must try to play the part of good parents.

She emits puffs of green smoke from her nose when she becomes excited, upset or angry or has been in the company of humans for too long: in her world this is evidence that she is a witch. Similarly, some real people seem to emit a poisonous dark cloud and make very spiteful or angry remarks when they are under pressure or can no longer suppress their real feelings and selves and keep up the appearance of being a good person: this is evidence of their negativity.

Miss Smith avoids inquisitive people: she has a lot to hide and knows that people who ask questions will eventually discover her secrets. She lives in a permanent state of fear in case her sins should find her out. Cruel, abusive parents often avoid decent people for exactly this reason.

She sabotages a magic compass that has been given to two children for protection by putting it into reverse: when they use it to see if someone is a friend or foe, it points to the opposite of the truth. Where it would formerly have indicated ‘Danger’ and ‘Beware’, it now says ‘Peace’ and ‘Happiness’ and vice versa. This reversal, the suggestion that black is white, is characteristic of evil. Some parents re-tune their children’s inner moral compasses in this way.

Miss Smith and her unpleasant accomplice Sam trick their victims into wasting their resources by buying attractively packaged empty boxes and digging for a non-existent treasure. She enjoys the idea of watching people unwittingly digging their own graves. There is something symbolic here.

Another point of interest is that Miss Smith hates using the telephone because they give out blue sparks when used by a witch, all the more if the person on the other end is a witch too. She gets a phone-call that makes her feels that her world is collapsing in ruins, at which point she gets cut off.  I have seen disturbed, mediumistic people affect electrical appliances and have experienced such disconnections myself: this will be the subject of another article.

Miss Smith devises plans for revenge and gain that involve inflicting the maximum amount of suffering on people she hates. It is not enough to simply destroy them: she wants to have some fun too. She wants to break people’s hearts by giving them hope then taking it away. She indulges in cruelty for its own sake.

For me, the episodes that are most painful to read are the ones involving the pony Snowdrop. Miss Smith behaves lovingly towards him in public, but is cruel to him when no one else is around. His only crime is to be good not evil. She spends hours devising new tortures and torments. She breaks his spirit. She adds insults to injury by punishing him in private for looking miserable in public; she orders him to appear happy and look lovingly at her when people are around, even though she barely gives him enough food to keep him alive. This reminds me of an anecdote I read about Joan Crawford: she made her children, her ‘puppets’, say “I love you mommy dearest” after she had treated them very cruelly.

The pony appears plump and glossy to observers, but this is caused by the magic pills that she feeds him: without them his true form would be revealed and people would see his injuries and skeletal frame. Some people in the real world have the power to cast a smokescreen so no one notices anything; they can divert attention away from neglected children or make them appear healthy and happy to casual observers.

I suspect that Miss Smith was inspired by a real person. I wondered at first whether Beverley Nichols had a horrible governess or an evil stepmother, but discovered that he was fond of his governess and his mother and did not have a stepmother.

Diana Wynne Jones’s witch: Biddy Iremonger
Diana Wynne Jones has written many wonderful books. Witch’s Business aka Wilkins’ Tooth is not one of her best works, but it does contain a witch of interest. She is called Biddy Iremonger.

When I read the description of Biddy, I was immediately reminded of someone who used to live not far from me. Biddy wears dirty, jumble sale clothes, has bare, purple and swollen legs but speaks with an ‘educated’ voice. She appears very poor and a bit mad, but is very well-educated indeed: she knows Greek. Someone who looks like a bag lady or street person and has a sharp, learned voice like a teacher is an anomaly I have seen a few times, and I have learned to treat it as a big red flag.

Ostracism and persecution of someone who does not meet our standards or just happens to have come down in the world is cruel and evil; avoiding someone who makes our warning bells ring and has a bad effect on us is self-preservation. I always used to feel very uncomfortable after encountering this woman, which only happened when I was feeling under the weather – another warning signal.

Biddy lives in chaos and squalor, both inside and outside her hut. So did this woman who reminds me of her. This may be done to keep people away; it may be a way to attract evil entities and thus gain more power.

Biddy is a very vindictive person. She tries to destroy a family because the father, the man she had hoped to marry, chose someone else:

“He could have married me and he married a fluffy girl instead. I sent her away.”

She even says:

“I won’t stop until the lot of you are squashed beneath my feet like woodlice.”

I have in real life encountered people who behave, quite inappropriately, as if others were theirs to command. They feel entitled to punish anyone who does not obey their orders, give them what they want or perform as expected. I have written elsewhere about what happened to an attractive young man who was not interested in a certain female colleague who was interested in him. Such vindictive women are often out of touch with reality where their hopes of relationships are concerned.

Biddy curses and puts an evil spell on the whole family. Not only does she get her successful rival, the mother of two little girls, sent to a home for mentally-ill people, she also gets the others turned out of their fine, big house. They move to a damp, unhealthy place that smells of mildew. There is no electricity and the rooms are dark and gloomy.

The curse has a withering, blighting effect on the health, personalities and appearance of everyone in the family that Biddy has it in for, and it affects the way that people perceive them. The father is considered strange; the girls are considered peculiar too. The two little girls are pale and old-fashioned looking. They both appear thin and hungry; one has a limp that she blames on Biddy’s evil eye.

The father is in thrall to and runs errands for Biddy and acts as an informer for her, even against his own children. He is under some kind of compulsion; he often appears vague and does not react when confronted about the neglect of his children. Biddy, typically, is outraged when he disobeys one of her commands.

Biddy asks why she should care about a little boy she has harmed; in An Enemy at Green Knowe, when kind and caring old Mrs Oldknow loses her protection while under attack by an evil witch, she too asks why she should care about a boy. I have heard negative people make similar sadistic remarks myself: "Why come to me about it?" and "Why should I care?"

Biddy steals and conceals a lot of the family’s money and treasures. Many stories about witches show them casting spells and enchantments to make ugly things appear beautiful and rubbish look like treasures; Biddy does the opposite: she makes an emerald necklace look like a rusty old bicycle chain. Much of the old rubbish outside her hut is actually gold and silver heirlooms that belong to the family, all hidden in plain sight.

Witches and curses in real life
Diana Wynne Jones wrote from personal experience: she had an appalling childhood and her fictional witches are said to be based on her abusive mother. This book reminds me of my horrible stepmother and the effect on everyone in my family after she left for ever: I can well believe that she put a curse on us out of sheer spite and in revenge for her disappointed expectations and thwarted – and unrealistic - hopes and dreams. All her secret plans had come to nothing and she blamed everyone except herself for this, making scapegoats of young children.

The first step in solving a problem is to admit that it exists. Before we can even start to think about breaking such curses, we must accept that they exist. Making connections between what we read in books and what we have seen for ourselves is the best way to start the proceedings. Realising that we have something in common with bewitched people in books and defining our experiences in terms of witches and curses has the effect of breaking the evil spells.