The Flight of the Sorceress

The Flight of the Sorceress
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Thursday, June 30, 2011

What do The Flight of the Sorceress and Grimm’s Fairy Tales have in common? A Grimm decision.

Folks, remember that I’m a lawyer, so have a little pity on me as I drag you down the dark path of Scalia-think. I was so bemused when I read the recent First Amendment decision of the Subprime Court, BROWN v. ENTERTAINMENT MERCHANTS ASSOCIATION, which, in an opinion by Antonin Scalia, used the example of the Grimm Fairy Tails as a reason why violent video games that are hawked to children are protected by the Bill of Rights. I couldn’t help but draw a connection between his reasoning an the message of The Flight of the Sorceress.

The Flight of the Sorceress tells a story about the Church’s successful attack on women — one of the big achievements of the Catholic hegemony. The universality of the Church would quickly usher in the Dark Ages.

In The Flight of the Sorceress, the Church declares Glenys to be a sorceress because she knows how to mix herbs, spices and various animal parts and to brew them into poultices and medicines. She was taught these secrets — the healing powers of roots, berries, leaves and minerals — by matriarchs, who handed down this knowledge, mother to daughter since time immemorial. But the new Church could not tolerate such power in the hands of a gender from which it required submission, so it decreed that the skills involved in healing were supernatural as they allowed women to “undo” what God had created, including illness and injury. Women in possession of such power had to be eradicated.

When I think of the Brothers Grimm and their fairy tales, I think mostly of Hansel and Gretel. I think of dark woods, of thick-trunked, gnarly deciduous trees, with their broad heavy leaves casting opaque shadows on a forest floor. I think of tiny, well-kept cottages tucked away in small glens, colorful candies dangling from their eaves. I imagine a pair of wart-faced, elderly women, dressed in black, like widows, flashing gap-toothed smiles like the grins of jock-o-lanterns. They beckon. Their sugar-adorned door is ajar revealing a boiling cauldron within. Pungent smoke billows from the chimney. Everything seems benign, but the Brothers warn things are not as they seem. Ugly old women eat little children!

The witches depicted in Bothers Grimm Fairy Tales icons of evil. They dwell in the woods because they have been cast out of good society, and to a very real extent, such shunning did come to pass in the Dark Ages. Some sources claim that millions of women — a holocaust— were killed for possessing the healing arts because they The ability to mix herbs and entrails into ancient remedies were deemed to be the Devil’s secrets and to possess such knowledge was to be in league with Satan. So the Brothers portrayed them as ugly old crones who lured and deceived innocent, trusting children by plying the inscrutable wiles of women.

The Grimm Fairy Tales survived — flourished indeed — because their tales did not offend the Church. Rather, the iconography reinforced misogynist Church propaganda and the Bible admonition that we should not suffer witches and sorcerers to live. Women, especially elderly, widowed women —females not under the control of men— couldn’t be trusted. If left unattended and free of male supervision such old ladies would use their satanic heritage to lead children astray.

I think his decision came out right, but I have to snicker when I think of the antiquated imagery Scalia relied on to arrive at it. He had to draw on medieval witchcraft precedent to get there. If his Church, beginning in the fifth century, used hyperbolic witchcraft propaganda against Glenys and Hypatia, as recounted in The Flight of the Sorceress, and later in Grimm’s Fairy Tales, to advance its misogynist agenda, then our Founding Fathers must have been thinking about protecting such denunciations from lawsuits by the witch-class under the First Amendment.  

In Scalia-world, big corporations are really not unlike churches. If they want to spout witchcraft imagery to make a buck, well as far as Scalia is concerned, there’s medieval  precedent for protecting that kind of speech. After all, Grimm’s stories are basically eighteen century and for Scalia, when it comes to constitutional precedents, you can’t get any more up-to-date than that.

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