SeeStan ChapLee

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Which is a witch?

Jadis, the alien Witch-Queen

In Mere Christianity (bk 1, ch. 2), the usually trustworthy CS Lewis defines witches as "people (. . .) who had sold themselves to the devil and received supernatural powers from him in return and were using these powers to kill their neighbours or drive them mad or bring bad weather." Nowadays -- he explains -- we don't execute witches any longer not because our moral patterns have changed, but because "we do not believe there are such things."

The syllogism might stand, but is the major premise true? The definition, in fact, summarizes the worst prejudices of the late Renaissance, in line with the infamous Malleus maleficarum. But what about Ariosto (Orlando Furioso 43) calling the legendary witch Manto a "fairy," and defending her against persecutions?

Quite unexpectedly from him, here Lewis falls into a short-sighted and patronizing Enlightenment/liberal attitude when he 'saves' witches by saying, as a matter of fact, "Leave them alone! They are just fools." In The Great Divorce (ch. 9), by the mouth of George McDonald, he explicitly mocks "the poor daft women [why only women?] ye call mediums" the moment he states that their experiences with ghosts are real . . .

And yet, all in all, in spite of his statement that "it may be a great advance in knowledge not to believe in witches," he seems to miss them if he creates even three of them in his Chronicles of Narnia; three, considering Jadis and the White Witch as only nominally the same, but very different in almost everything. They increase to four if we add the Hag of Prince Caspian, who is the only 'hag' among them, while many readers have probably fallen in love with the beautiful and energetic Jadis.