Witches in the Woods

Artist Rima Staines writes about illustrating the tale The Old Woman in the Woods:

The Fly Agaric Mushroom (Amanita Muscaria), that little white-spotted red-cap growing deep in the forest that appears so very often in fairy tale illustrations is a mushroom long revered by northern Shamans as a gateway to the Other World. Its hallucinogenic properties could take you to realms of deep knowing, beyond the everyday. I would like to here make the connection between this striking red and white fungus and the ‘little hut’ in the forest that belongs to that old woman. Both are found deep on the dark woodland floor, both are alike in shape, both take you to the other world. In some tales (such as Hansel and Gretel) children are tempted to directly eat of the house. In others, the journey to find the old lady’s dwelling, losing oneself in the forest along the way and facing the terrors within the ‘hut’ could all be symbolic of the shamanic initiation process one would go through as a result of ingesting the Fly Agaric mushroom. To enter iron-toothed Baba Yaga’s skull-lined chicken-legged house, or to approach the devouring wolf inside the hut of Red Riding Hood’s grandmother are perhaps to face, whilst in Fly Agaric reverie, the fact of one’s own death and other dark truths of nature.

One often finds fly agaric in the company of the Witch. Here’s another image, this time of Baba Yaga specifically, which you’ll also see in the header of this blog. (Painting by Ivan Bilibin.)

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