“Mom, tell me a story about a good Witch”

“Stories are designed not only for entertainment, but also to create role models accessible for the children.”

by Lauren Raine, all Rights reserved.

“Mom, tell me a story about a good Witch”:

Witch Stories Israeli Neopagan Mothers and Grandmothers Read to Their Children and Grandchildren

by  

Nili Aryeh-Sapir and Orly Salinas-Mizrahi

Abstract

This article will discuss the various types of ideological messages that are transmitted by Israeli Neopagan mothers and grandmothers to their children and grandchildren, through children’s stories about literary witches that were written during the late decades of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty first century.

The Neopagan Religions

The Neopagan religions are polytheistic new movements that characterize a wide variety of modern traditions and religious movements, particularly those influenced by historical pre-Christian European Pagan religions. These broad ranges of usually non-organized new religious movements emphasize pantheism or nature-worship, by recreating, reviving and/or reconstructing aspects of historical polytheism blended with modern pluralist and humanist ideals. These movements have been influenced throughout the twentieth century by Aleister Crowley, James Fraser, Charles Leland, Margaret Murray, Doreen Valiente and Gerald Gardner. While some of the adherents in Israel do perceive themselves as Modern Pagans (Neopagans), many refute this classification maintaining that the only thing that differentiates them from ancient Pagans is the time period and not their beliefs and that the Gods they revere and their divine creative forces have always existed. As such, they have created the term ‘Eclectic Pagans’ to encompass the various traditions present in the community.

Methodology

The methodology utilized in this article, is a folkloristic multi-disciplinary phenomenological approach consisting of in-depth personal narratives and ethnographic field work. The eight Neopagan women who were interviewed are mothers and grandmothers to children between the ages of one to seven. Each was interviewed separately by Orly Salinas-Mizrahi who has been a Wiccan for almost four decades, within the framework of closed gatherings of the Israeli Neopagan community. The interviewees’ identities will be concealed and no details about them will be given, because most of the members of the Neopagan community in Israel are deep within the ‘broom closet’ for fear of persecution by the religious establishment. Therefore, they will each be identified with a letter of the alphabet that has no connection to their real names. The field informants did not always refer directly and individually to the stories that they read to their children. Rather, they often made general references to stories of literary witches that they prefer to convey. In this article we will consider this characteristic through the examination of the messages which were communicated.

The Interpretive Tool

The interpretation of the interviews was carried out using an interpretive tool called a narrative package, created by Michal Held. The narrative package is generally used within the framework of folklore, for the interpretation of personal narratives. In this discussion we have chosen to interpret through it, the Neopagan mothers’ personal narratives and their life insights in general. A narrative package is a foundation that appears several times in the story’s text, but unlike a motif, which is a fundamental closed element that repeats itself, the narrative package is flexible, and may contain various forms of reference to the same subject. The discovery of every narrative package in the stories varies depending on the changes in the text’s other components. It is possible to create a map of narrative packages, conversing with each other and transmitting messages that emerge from the text. For example, it is possible to set a ‘main narrative package’, which is the central theme of the text, and will be divided into sub-narrative packages, comprising sub-themes of the premier topic (Held, 2009).

Discussion

Neopagans in Israel too, use ritual and magic to heal the rift between humans, nature and the divine. Thus, ritual is the movement’s primary form of worship and its most essential art form (Magliocco, 2001, p. 3). “…operating in the realm of metaphysical and psychological truth, at the heart of this process is the act of transformation to bring about a change or metamorphosis in a situation, condition or person” (Magliocco, 2001, p. 3). Seeking to live in harmony with nature is a common denominator amongst many variants of Neopaganism, as well as a reverence for nature and active ecology, venerations of a Goddess and/or God, the belief in and practice of magic, and the unequivocal equality of the sexes. There are various Neopagan creation myths, their common denominator often being that it is the Goddess who created the world and then created the God who is her male counterpart. Such reasoning enables to understand the importance of the female voice and the egalitarian attitude to both sexes within the framework of Neopagan religions and movements (Cunningham, 1988). Neopagans have no written creed which the orthodox must adhere to, nor do they build temples or churches to worship in. They generally practice their rituals outdoors or within their own private space; alone or in ritual groups called covens. This spiritual system fosters the free thought and will of the individual, while encouraging learning and an understanding of the earth and nature, thereby affirming the divinity in all living things. Most importantly however, it teaches responsibility for actions and deeds that are clearly a result of the choices made (Pike, 2004; Magliocco, 2001; Magliocco, 2004). These characteristics are evident in the daily lives of Neopagans in Israel and in their ritual system.

Many of the stories that belong to official children’s literature create strong associations with fairy tales, named artistic fairytales. Since the first half of the nineteenth century, these gradually became one of the main alternatives to traditional folk tales. Browsing through such works reveals increasing diversity in the portrayal of literary witches who are not as clear-cut and stereotyped as the ones in traditional folk tales, and have undergone a process of de-demonization. Some are described as virtuous figures (for instance, the Good Witch of the North in The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum), while others possess diversified characteristics. While not thoroughly good, they are not as evil and ugly as the literary witches of traditional tales. Even when they are described as malevolent, the stories provoke in the reader, a desire to understand the motives for their actions, which are often not as violent and destructive as those of the literary witches of traditional tales. Many of them are therefore round characters, and hence human (Gonen, 1995). Why have literary witches’ descriptions changed? What messages can be derived from these renewed figures? One of the main reasons for the reversal in their characterization in the course of their migration from folk literature to children’s literature is the significant changes in the social dialogue between the individual and the collective, and the individualization processes that has played an increasingly significant role in the modern and postmodern society. Compared to periods in which the individual was embedded in the uniform collective, the voice of the ‘other’ in contemporary societies is receiving increasing literary attention, in ways that would not have legitimacy in a society conducted according to the conventional traditional and religious norms. While the literary witch in the modern children’s literature is still defined as different and unusual, she is no longer regarded as merely a threat to the social order, but as someone who represents the ‘other’, and is worth listening to (Gonen, 1995).

Another reason for the ’emancipation’ of the Witch’s character from its negative image, is the process that has been taking place for women in today’s society, where there are struggles to encourage feminine action and initiatives. Women initiators and activists have begun to be perceived in modern society, at least in the eyes of contemporary women, as role models and not as dangerous individuals that have been defined in religious patriarchal society as evil Witches (Gonen, 1995; Ya’ar, 2002). Moreover, the increased dominance of the rational worldview following the industrial revolution also enabled people to become more open minded and less fearful of such terms as magic and Witches. Consequently, these terms and the satanic quality that was ascribed to Witches have become marginalized or irrelevant (Guiley, 2008). Being also based on geography, some areas of the world have become more tolerant while others haven’t yet. Unfortunately, Jewish state supported orthodoxy which is not tolerant to say the least dominates, thus, the Israeli adherents fear ramifications from the religious establishment. “In Israel the emphasis is on the perceived totalistic, systematic and bureaucratic nature of religion” (Ruah-Midbar & Klin Oron, 2010). Jewish Israeli society moreover is saturated with perceptions of its Jewish origin, which is based upon an encompassing system of binding religious law: ‘Halacha’ that demands for rigidity, obedience and practice.

This article employs Neopagan insights to interpret the literary witch heroines of three contemporary children’s stories. Our interpretations will be based on the interviews (personal narratives) with mothers and grandmothers who belong to the Neopagan community in Israel and on materials dealing with Paganism and Neopaganism. The stories discussed are: Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson (2001), Mrs. Biddlebox by Linda Smith (2007) both in Hebrew translation, and The witch who liked innovations, by Aharon Shemy (1994) an Israeli author. In all three stories, the literary witches stand at the center of the plot. The article will also discuss the story telling events, in which mothers and grandmothers tell these stories, from their point of view. Neopagan ideology, it

by Linda Smith, illustrated by Marla Frazee

seems then, contains the insights that enabled a transformation of the stereotype of Witches over the years. Primarily: the ability to listen and accept the ‘other’ and the different, gender equality and the empowerment of the female voice. The Neopagan mothers and grandmothers that were interviewed define themselves as good (white) Witches. In accordance with their worldview they accept the existence of both good (white) and malevolent (black) Witches. Consequently, they seek to convey to their children and grandchildren messages that concentrate on the image of the good Witch. One of the effective ways they use to achieve this goal is telling stories, in which the heroines/heroes are literary witches who suit their own worldview. They maintain that stories are designed not only for entertainment, but also to create role models accessible for the children. The fieldwork demonstrates that fathers too read such stories but, the mothers and grandmothers are much more involved in choosing the books and reading them. As a result of the interviews it can be deduced that there are six narrative packages. These, that will be discussed below are: changing reality, dialogue with nature, powerful and empowering, making the voice heard, entrepreneurship and between the individual and the collective: independence versus responsibility.

Changing Reality

The main goal in the lives of these women is to change reality (Gardner, 1999; Magliocco, 2004). This goal is defined as the theme of the super-narrative package throughout their personal narratives. The Neopagan mother’s and grandmother’s intention is that everyday reality should be open and flowing, respectful, egalitarian, accepting and conversing with the natural world without harm. Changing reality is also the main goal of the literary witches in the stories read by Neopagan mothers and grandmothers to their children and grandchildren. The literary witches in the stories change the reality around them in different ways with the assistance of their qualities, abilities and manner of conduct. These characteristics and properties will form the sub-narrative packages that arise from the super-narrative package. They help literary witches to achieve their goals and also meet the needs of the field informants who tell these stories. According to K: “The stories are means for changing the thought and perception mechanisms, against the outside world, that claims that Witches and Witchcraft is a bad thing…”

Dialogue with Nature

As mentioned above, nature is at the center of the Neopagans worldview and beliefs. Neopagan mothers and grandmothers acknowledge its central role in the literary witch stories they tell their children and grandchildren. According to V: “There is usually also an attachment to nature, animals…” and B: “Room on the Broom has a

By Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler

message of friendship with the animals.” While P maintained that: “The relationship with animals and attunement to nature occurs in these books.” The natural world is central in two of the literary witches’ stories that are discussed in this article: Room on the Broom and Mrs. Biddlebox. Room on the Broom takes place entirely in the wild. A number of animals take, one by one, a central place by the heroine literary witch, of the story. Towards the end of the story, the animals participate in the magical procedure that eventually creates an upgraded magnificent broom to be used for the entire company. Animals contribute natural objects such as a lily, a pine cone, a twig and a bone, thrown into the literary witch’s bubbling cauldron in order to assist in the creation of the new broom (Donaldson, 2001). Although the literary witch who has lit up the fire under her cauldron says: “…find something everyone, throw something in…” (Donaldson, 2001), she does not guide the animals to bring specific items but uses the term ‘something’, because according to Neopagan ideology nature has the ability to solve problems and balance itself since “the universe operates as an interconnected whole” (Magliocco, 2004, p. 103 literary witches). Mrs. Biddlebox wakes up to a cold and gloomy morning full of mist, humidity and wind. She collects a number of elements from nature such as: dirt and shadows, twirled fog and a sunbeam (Smith, 2008) with which to bake a nature cake. The final magical process in which the desired change for better weather occurs in her stomach, a metaphor for the Witch’s cauldron, that is used to concoct magic (Farrar, 1984).

“Her daughters have already begun to internalize the educating messages of entrepreneurship and creativity…”

Powerful and Empowering

According to the principles of the Neopagan religions, the fact that a person is connected to nature teaches him/her to use the energies and forces of nature to perform magical activities (Lutwyche, 2012). This is a long and complex process, which strives to reach a situation that helps to make effective magic, and facilitates the individual self-empowerment, strength, and confidence. Hefzona, the literary heroine witch in the story: The witch who loved innovations by Aharon Shemy is a powerful literary witch for several reasons: she has self-confidence that allows her to break the traditional convention of the connection between a Witch and her broom; and replace her broom with a vacuum cleaner. Witch iconography by the end of the 15th century by Albrecht Durer and the beginning of the 16th century by Hans Baldung-Grien emphasized visual codes of which one of the main ones is Witches flying on brooms (Zika, 2004). This particular visual code still remains at present in movies, drawings and internet sites. Moreover, she succeeds in impressing a whole coven of traditional literary hereditary non-Wiccan witches (these are, according to the worldview of Neopagans, Witches that undergo initiation rites and keep the traditions which are passed on from generation to generation) and make them behave as innovative Witches (these are autodidactic, self-taught Witches) (Hanna 2010.) According to (T, 2016):

Usually these are stories in which the literary witch figure is an open gate to a world full of elements that are not necessarily found in other tales. …a strong female character, who overcomes obstacles, by using powerful internal forces…

While V commented that: “…as a Witch I want to enable my granddaughter’s familiarity with powerful but not evil Witches that can assist with their power and do no harm”. The heroine’s strength in Room on the Broom is expressed on the one hand in her readiness to help the many animals she meets along the way, and on the other hand, precisely in her ability to admit to her weaknesses: “Thank you, oh thank you the grateful witch cried and without you I’d be in that dragon’s inside.” (Donaldson, 2001). A possible interpretation then, is that only a Witch who has the inner strength can afford to be kind, compassionate and grateful. According to D:

…in Room on the Broom, for example, the  message transmitted is one of a sympathetic and capable figure, full of compassion … just the older person I want my children to grow up to become.

Mrs. Biddlebox swiftly overcomes the bad mood that overtakes her on the morning of the gloomy day. Within minutes she gets up, and an idea pops in her mind. What does Mrs. Biddlebox need? “…a little magic and a little imagination…” (Smith, 2008). This is exactly where her power is expressed. Mrs. Biddlebox succeeds, using natural elements from which she bakes a cake, to change the day from dark and gloomy into a bright one. Her ability to independently bring about this change by herself is also an indicative of her power, while her cooperation with nature makes her even more powerful. As V explained: “… they have power and strength, not only in the magic they can perform, but also in their self-confidence…”

Making the Voice Heard

The power that characterizes the Neopagan mothers and grandmothers and also the literary witches that appear in the stories is reflected in, among other things, by the means they make their voices heard. The field informants and the heroines of the stories discussed in this article are independent and strong women who face all types of challenges. As women they have fought long and hard to be treated as equals and have their voices heard, despite still being thought as the weaker gender. First we would like to refer to the conscious and prominent voice expression by the field informants. Field work in the Neopagan community in Israel demonstrates that within the Neopagan family unit there is full cooperation between the parents on the subject of raising children. However, mothers express their voices through this process to a greater degree. During the interviews mothers talked about the central place they take for themselves in regard to the exposure of their children to stories in general, and to stories about literary witches in particular. Moreover, Israeli Neopagan women are acutely aware of the significance of the feminine voice. As opposed to the patriarchal world view that exists in Jewish religion and Israeli daily life, they do their utmost to transmit messages that emphasize this opinion and give it a considerable place, by reflecting their power as women and as Witches (Salinas-Mizrahi, 2016). In all three stories discussed the literary witches’ voices are, as mentioned above, dominant. With the appearance of haste, riding a noisy vacuum cleaner, Hefzona is immediately placed at the center of the story. Although her fellow literary witches are greatly dismayed by what they perceive as a deviation from the traditional procedure that requires riding a broom, she remains determined in her views: “…confident, she enters proudly, as if she does not know what to think about the reason they convened this meeting…” (Shemy, 1994). During the assembly of her coven she delivers her targeted and persuasive speech:

How many places are you capable of reaching during one night? Eight? Ten? On my vacuum cleaner I succeeded to go to thirty nine places during one night. …and that was during a summer night which was not particularly long… (Shemy, 1994).

As a result of making her voice heard, she succeeds in convincing her fellow literary witches to forgo the traditional practice of riding a broom and adopt her innovation of using a vacuum cleaner instead. “A few days later the skies were filled with witches riding their vacuum cleaners” (Shemy, 1994). Stereotypically, Witches do not express distress. The literary witch in Room on the Broom, while escaping from the dragon that is chasing her, is not ashamed to call for help. As mentioned above, she also knows how to express her gratitude to all the small animals that rescued her from the dragon. Her ability to openly admit her difficulty and weakness and express gratitude to her saviors is yet another example of the close discourse between making one’s voice heard and inner strength. Despite her bad mood, Mrs. Biddlebox is determined to confront the bleak morning. “I will cook this rotten morning! I will turn it into cake! I will fire up my oven! I will set the day to bake!” (Smith, 2008).  Throughout most of her magical process, then, she is making her voice heard mostly without words, performing a series of practical and targeted actions, to achieve her goal.

Entrepreneurship

A key characteristic in the personalities of Witches is what might be called ‘entrepreneurship’ which includes ‘thinking outside the box’, imagination and creativity. One can find several types and levels of entrepreneurship: the most significant initiative is characterized by the ability to ‘invent the wheel’, which is not based on existing ideas. Next in line is the ability to upgrade existing reality. This is followed by the ability to identify opportunities and the courage to use a new invention or upgrades and recommend them to others. (Miner, Smith & Bracker, 1992). Mrs. Biddlebox’s initiative belongs to the most significant type: she decides to bake a cake from the gloomy morning. As a literary witch, she understands and is very much aware, that using only the dark features of this morning will not help her to achieve her goal. Consequently, she takes a sunbeam as well. The shining sunlight, baked with the other dark ingredients enables her to reach balance and the much sought-after change in reality which is the basis of every magical act. One of the methods for performing magic is to collect ingredients into the Witch’s cauldron, and mix them, while reciting the correct spells until an intermediate or final result is obtained and then upgraded into the final product. “…working for essence is magic as cultural critique; not waving a wand to get a desired result, but a focused process of self-examination, reflexivity and creative problem-solving” (Magliocco, 2004, pp. 116-117).

K, who is a powerful Witch, related to the quote mentioned above from her own personal experience:

…just saying the words is not enough, you have to intend something very specific… …when making magic the intentions are paramount because that is the precise energy you send into the universe. …it’s not like in the Harry Potter movies where they just wave their wands and recite spells they have been taught.

The book’s illustrations also depict the multistep magical process Mrs. Biddlebox initiates for the purpose of changing the weather. After collecting the various ingredients into the cauldron she makes dough out of them, rolls it, and puts it into the oven. While the dough is baked, Mrs. Biddlebox creates (according to the illustrations) a magic circle between the worlds in order to reach the desired results.

As an archetypal symbol, the circle has unique properties; it is indivisible and indestructible, hence it is eternal. The circle also symbolizes the Garden of Eden, the blissful state of unconsciousness and innocence that mankind experienced before falling into the stony realities and the womb in which we were all contained as children. (Nichols, 1980, p. 39).

This is the key characteristic of all Neopagan rituals, which creates a situation of “time out of time and place out of place” (Falassi, 1987) to implement magic for the desired results. While eating the cake she baked, Mrs. Biddlebox reaches the final phase of the magical transformation that takes place inside her stomach, thus altering the weather. By the time she is done, the evening sky is full of bright stars. The literary witch in Room on the Broom can also be defined as an entrepreneur, but she belongs to entrepreneurs of the type that upgrade what already exists. She fills the cauldron, and sets fire below, telling her animal companions: “…find something everyone, throw something in…” (Smith, 2008). The upgraded broom that she creates includes, as shown in the illustration, a seat for each passenger (for her, the dog and the cat with seat belts), a nest for the green crow (in the Hebrew version) and a tub with a shower for the frog, enabling them all to take off, on the wonder broom. Hefzona too, as mentioned above, is an entrepreneur, but she does not have an invention. Her entrepreneurship is expressed in her ability to identify a need, and bring forth an upgraded solution. Entrepreneurship of all types by young children, within all facets of daily life is welcomed by Israeli Neopagan families and quite often shared in the community’s Facebook pages. The stories they read their children enhance the young ones’ abilities. As my field informants expressed: “These stories introduce an element of abstract thought development, which I think is always important” (T), and “… in the substratum, the Witch is referred to as a power outside the consensus, outside of the classic social power centers that are familiar to a child” (V). According to S:

I can already see the impact of these books. My twin daughters are not only rich in imagination but also in creative solutions. They create stories, and invent imaginative games with dolls and figures… I also see how they draw their interest in magic and magic powers from stories. This is something that helps them cope with social situations, especially when experiencing frustrations or desires. They tell me things like: ‘I have the power of fire so I can burn the monster that terrifies me.’ or ‘Mom, I want to make a potion so that the fairies will guard our home.’

S’s daughter’s reference to burning the monster, relate to her fears of a monster that she thought was hidden in her room. The girl, who has heard many literary witch stories for children and attended Neopagan rituals from an early age in which the elements of air, fire, water and earth are evoked with their positive and negative characteristics, has learned to use the destructive aspect of the element of fire to help her defeat the evil monster. Her other daughter has no difficulty whatsoever, to come up with the idea of making potions for fairies in return for the protection of the family’s home. S’s account demonstrates that her daughters have already begun to internalize the educating messages of entrepreneurship and creativity as a result of being exposed to the stories about literary witches, magical creatures and rituals from early infancy, and have embraced, the direct connection between these two theories. Fear of monsters hidden in the closet or under the bed is common for many children (Harris, Brown, Marnoff, Whittall & Harmer, 1991; Bauer, 1976; Sayfan & Hansen Lagattuta, 2009). But it is important to remember that Neopagan children are brought up with an unrestricted understanding of the world, where the boundaries between reality, magic and imagination are blurred. They learn to relate to magical reality, (which is considered by non-Pagan worldview as imagined reality) as a possible reality and in this respect the existence of supernatural beings in the world is not excluded. “…it remains a difficult topic to tease out the complex relationship between belief and experience because they are intricately entwined” (Magliocco, 2004, p. 180). Therefore, the Neopagan educational approach is different on this topic from the conventional educational approaches in Israel. It must be noted that educators and child psychologists differ in their views on the subject of exposure to supernatural elements in children’s books. There are those who maintain that such exposure can harm the young ones, while there are others who uphold that such allegorical exposure can assist the children to deal with their frustrations (Karkavi-Gerasi, 2006).

Between the Individual and the Collective: Independence Versus Responsibility

A significant feature of the entrepreneurial personality, which is usually individualistic, is independence. However, the fundamental conception of morality that occupies a central place in many Neopagan groups maintains, as already mentioned above, that when one is an entrepreneur who lives in a group, one needs to take responsibility for the entrepreneurial processes and the extent of their potential impact on those who belong to the group. One should take into consideration the impact, therefore, with attention to the dialogue between him/her as an individual and the collective around, and try to give their best to the collective. Mrs. Biddlebox lives alone on an isolated hill, but the collective reality is felt in the realm of her private domain (according to the illustrations she gets a newspaper, has a mailbox and a TV). She initiates an action to help herself individually, but there is no doubt that this act affects the collective that exists around her. Mrs. Biddlebox is an independent literary witch, a free soul, yet she benefits not only herself but also all those around her, although we do not meet them in the story. The literary witch from Room on the Broom lives a full and independent life with her cat. She gives a ride on the broom to each animal that helps her retrieve one of her lost objects during her flight. As a result of the aid she receives from the animals when the dragon attacks her, she takes them with her and eventually adopts them creating a home on a broom. As B explained: “…in Room on the Broom there is a message of kindness, problem-solving skills based on friendship…” Each animal receives the best conditions that are suitable to its needs, while the heroine literary witch guards them as a mother or spiritual leader/high priestess, (Farrar, 1984) of the group. She even places, according to the illustration, safety lights at the front and rear of the broom, and makes sure that the animals fly with their safety belts on. She is ready to adopt a new way of life for herself and share it with all the animals, that are, it is important to emphasize, animals that are not supposed to get along with each other in nature. Moreover, she wholeheartedly accepts into the group an extraordinary animal: a green crow (in the Hebrew version) which proves that these literary witches are more than ready to accept those who are different. This was emphasized by L who said:  “Notice that the crow is green rather than black or gray, meaning, it is different and everyone accepts it as it is. That’s the message. No matter if you’re different or not, we welcome you.”

Hefzona, too, is an independent literary witch who can also be described as a rebel. This is evident from her decision to use a vacuum cleaner instead of the traditional broom, and her New Age clothing seen in the illustration that consist of turquoise-colored sunglasses, headphones and tights with pompons. In spite of her innovative and contemporary approach, she has the ability to communicate with traditional literary witches of her coven, and she takes the role of a trailblazer. Her intent is to benefit the literary witches by upgrading their conduct in the world, just as she bettered herself.

Story Telling Events and Their Significance from the Mother’s Point of View

Story telling events are social gatherings, in which stories are narrated orally or read aloud to the public (Georges, 1969). Story telling events, in which parents tell stories to children, are a common practice in Neopagan families as well as conventional families. Thus, it is also common in Israeli Neopagan families to read aloud stories to children before bedtime. Sometimes the children approach their mother with a book in their hands, and ask her to read them a story. A third option is to read such stories during periods of inactivity or stress. In these families, at least some of the many stories that are read to children (Israeli Neopagans as a rule, love to read and try their best to endow their children with the same trait.) deal with content that has Neopagan characteristics. These include, as mentioned above, also stories about literary witches. During the story telling events most of the Neopagan mothers and grandmothers take time to go over the illustrations in the children’s books. Like most mothers, they derive from the illustrations empowering messages that amplify the significances that emerge from the verbal texts (Gambrell & Jawitz, 1993). K mentioned during her interview: “…the pictures are so powerful, quite often even stronger than the words.” Additional observations by the Israeli Neopagan mothers and grandmothers include: “Have you seen the literary witch’s ribbon from Room on the Broom? It is really a little girl’s ribbon! Yellow with red dots! (L)” and “Mrs. Biddlebox has cool underwear, pink with lace, like the ones for little girls (K).” While looking at the illustrations and drawing the children’s attention to significant details in them, the Neopagan mothers and grandmothers place the literary witches in the stories at the direct eye level of the recipient children. Thus, the literary witches become human. Moreover, this enables the children to identify with them, because they have pieces of clothing that children use as well. In her personal narrative K explained: “The illustrations in the books encourage conversation, and also stimulate the imagination. They liven up the story telling event, and strengthen the beliefs, traditions and customs that characterize the group”.

Reflexive Statements

Orly

Having been a Wiccan for almost four decades, I raised my two sons according to Wiccan beliefs and practices, all the while stressing the fact that according to Jewish religious law they are considered Jews. They grew up in a multicultural environment where respect for diversity is accepted as a valued way of life. Unfortunately I did not have children’s books on contemporary literary witches at the time. During the process of preparing this article, I was exposed to contemporary literary witches’ stories and their strength as an educational tool, whose messages help the next Neopagan generation to get to know, understand and accept valuable and important insights on our system of belief. I identified with the high level of awareness of the Neopagan mothers and grandmothers about the effectiveness of this tool, and intend to use it myself with my future grandchildren.

Nili

During the years, in which I was exposed to the information on the Neopagan community in Israel (as Orly’s supervisor in her MA and PhD dissertations) allowed me to listen deeply to their voices, and strengthened my ability to open up to a significant variety of beliefs and worldviews. The writing of this article has further sharpened my listening mechanisms, and brought me as a person and as a researcher in contact with a language modern humanity has forgotten, and that Paganism and Neopaganism are trying to remind us of.

Conclusion

Neopagan mothers and grandmothers read stories about literary witches to children that are still very young (between the ages of one and seven). It is possible to detect the results that emerge from the transmitted messages with the older children, while with the little ones it is still difficult to know how effective the messages are. However, in spite of the fathers being less involved, mostly because of technical reasons like very long work hours, the mothers and grandmothers have strong opinions regarding the roles of literary witches and storytelling events in their lives and the lives of their children and grandchildren, during which the stories are told. From their point of view, reading stories about literary witches to their children and grandchildren is an important educational tool whose, main goal is to expose the children to diverse observations of the world. As practicing Witches, it is essential for them to counteract the conventional Witch stereotype. The goal is to assist their children and grandchildren to form a deeper understanding, of a world which includes both good and evil Witches. As S accurately pointed out in her personal narrative: “Literary witches, come in all shapes and forms: young or old, beautiful or ugly, good or evil, exactly like all human beings.” The literary witch heroines of the children’s stories discussed above are complex characters who listen to nature and respect it. They have the ability to open-mindedly listen to the voice of the ‘other’, the strange and unusual, while making sure that their own voices are powerfully heard. They resolutely fight to achieve their goals in creative ways and employ ‘out of the box’ thought processes, especially in times of crisis. All of them are independent women who take care of their own needs, but during the magical processes that they create, they also help the collective around them. They therefore, fulfill fundamental insights at the base of the Neopagan worldview. The narrative packages identified here assist in discerning the characteristics of the heroines, even if these are expressed differently in each of the stories; they are central to the characterization of all the Witches. The fact that all of them are women makes them especially well suited in the eyes of Neopagan mothers and grandmothers to transmit the messages mentioned above. The mothers and grandmothers want to emphasize that they too have such characteristics, and/or that they are interested in such skills. They especially want to impart these to the next generation, transmitting their Neopagan values and system of belief from generation to generation. At the beginning of this article we noted, that the mothers tend to get from these stories insights of a general nature. It seems they do it in order to particularly emphasize the essential characteristics of their worldview. Being goal oriented to transmit these values and messages that have been explained above, in most cases, they are the primary story tellers and the ones who buy the story books because they technically spend more time with the children in spite of being working mothers. According to them it can be concluded that they recognize the story telling event as a tool to strengthen the family heritage. As K explained:

I believe that reading such books it is part and parcel of passing on the family heritage… …the function of bonding with the child… This is a part of the exposure to content that he/she is not exposed to, on a daily basis or exposed to in a distorted manner.

In fact, the interviewee’s words reflect the traditional understanding, that the family is responsible for transmitting messages shared by the entire group, and also strengthens the relationship between members of the group (Alexander Fraser, 2004). However, it is interesting to note that the mothers use the traditional pattern: children’s education within the family framework, (Araki- Klorman, 2014) in order to go against traditional conventions that characterize large parts of society.

If the Witch was the opposition to right society, then revival Witches embraced her as an oppositional character, a force that could change aspects of culture they found distasteful and bring about a new moral order which included feminism and environmentalism (Magliocco, 2004, p. 2).  

In our opinion, T’s words perfectly conclude, the Neopagan mothers’ and grandmothers’ view of the literary witches’ place in the life of their children and grandchildren: “…maybe the content itself …in combination with the familial mood of ‘story time’, will help to link concepts about Witches and the feeling of ‘home’ and ‘mother’.”

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Dr. Nili Aryeh Sapir is a researcher in the fields of ethnography, folklore and qualitative research. In folklore she specializes in folk literature, ceremonies and personal stories. Her publications deal with these fields. She teaches in Levinsky College in the department of children literature and Hebrew literature (BA) and in the language education in a multicultural society program and the instruction and learning program (MA).  

Dr. Orly Salinas Mizrahi is a Wiccan and a researcher in the fields of folklore, ethnography, and qualitative research. She studied her BA, MA and PhD in the Contemporary and Jewish Folklore Department of the Hebrew University Jerusalem. Both her M.A. and PhD research were performed on the local Israeli Neo-Pagan community which is deep within the ‘broom closet’ because of fear of retribution from the state supported religious establishment. She currently lives in Jerusalem, has two sons and a newborn grandson.