The Bard's Grove

"There are times when people need stories more than they need nourishment, because the stories feed something deeper than the needs of the body."
Charles DeLint, The Onion Girl

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Maleficent: Reconnecting to the Divine Feminine Cathy Pagano, M.A.

I have to admit I loved Maleficent the first time I saw Disney’s Sleeping Beauty in 1959.  She had power and a dark beauty that was fascinating.  I loved her even more when I took my daughter to see a Disney retrospective at Lincoln Center in New York City in the early 70s—before VHSs.  My 3-year-old daughter decided she loved Maleficent, was going to dye her blond curls black and then went about terrorizing the other kids at the playground by jumping up and shouting, “I am Maleficent!” 

That’s why I went to see Maleficent and I came away more enchanted with her than ever.  Linda Woolverton’s script shows a deep knowledge of the various sources of the mythic sleeping beauty motif.  Her script is an imaginative, archetypal tale that speaks to our times, finally telling the truth about our patriarchal society’s wounding and rejection of Feminine Spirit, the original wound that caused the tale to be told.

Fairy tales show us the most basic, archetypal story patterns that have shaped our human development through the ages.  Archetypal patterns are the shared instincts that make us all human. And the best way to understand them is through stories.  

Just as it is always a storyteller’s prerogative to shape the story to her tribe’s needs.  Linda Woolverton has done just that with Maleficent.  She tells a story of what was, what is and what might be if we learn to love the things we have been taught to fear.  She tells the truth about how our patriarchal society has sought to strip women of our freedom and power, just as Stefan strips Maleficent of her wings. 

Patriarchal religions have suppressed our relationship to the Earth and any knowledge of our true interconnection with it, because the ancients worshipped the Earth as a Goddess.  Sleeping Beauty, Briar Rose, The Sleeping Beauty of the Woods are all tales about feminine values, Earth values, that are rejected and ‘put to sleep’ by a patriarchal society that doesn’t value the Feminine Spirit of Life or our right-brain consciousness that sees the magic and beauty of the Earth through the eyes of the imagination.  And even worse, patriarchy creates the female witch, turning and twisting our feeling, intuitive life into something harmful and evil—something we are taught to fear.  

In the Grimm Brothers’ version of the story, Little Briar Rose, we find a King and Queen who long for a child.  This kingdom needs new life.  A baby daughter is finally born to them and they name her Briar Rose. At her christening, the King invites Wise Women to come and bless his child, acknowledging that there is still wisdom in the land, wanting his child to be blessed with appropriate feminine virtues. However, the king has only 12 golden plate settings, and there are 13 Wise Women.  So he doesn’t invite the 13th Wise Woman.  

The fact that the King leaves out this 13th Wise Woman tells us that this tale is about the rejection of some aspect of Feminine Wisdom—the part that doesn’t fit into patriarchal expectations.  Patriarchy only wants the wisdom of the wise women when it serves its purpose. The fact that the Wise Woman or Fairy is insulted belittles the truth: in rejecting this aspect of the feminine psyche, patriarchy cuts off a woman’s wildness and freedom.   Of course there’ll be payback.

The number 13 symbolizes the ancient Moon Goddess (whose power lay in the 13 Moon cycles of the year), the feminine wisdom of change and transformation as well as sexuality and psychic power.  Since patriarchy is a solar paradigm, 12 is the number of masculine completion, but 13 becomes a number of evil.  Really?  And so we get all the stories about the evil fairy, evil stepmother, evil Maleficent!

As a mythologist and symbologist, I love the symbolism of the 13th Wise Woman becoming Maleficent, the spirit and protector of her land.  As a young fairy, Maleficent is beautiful, kind, funny, courteous, strong, curious and powerful.  She also has an open heart, developing a friendship with Stefan because of his own original kindness to her.  

Maleficent is a unique fairy, with strong horns on her head and giant eagle wings that help her soar to the heavens.  Horns symbolize supernatural powers, the power of the soul arising from the head.  Horns are attributed to all Mother Goddesses and are often symbolized by the lunar crescent, the power of eternal change.  Maleficent’s horns are magnificent, attesting to her generative power and strong life force.  This connects her to the Moon Goddess as well as the Earth Mother.  No other fairy has them.  Her wings are another indication of her spiritual origins, for eagle wings are attributes of Wisdom and Spirit.  It’s so interesting that patriarchy turned those lunar horns into something to be feared—unless they appeared on Michelangelo’s Moses.

This Maleficent is a nature spirit who guards and protects her land from the greed and violence of the patriarchal king.  Unfortunately, Stefan desires that patriarchal power, just as the king desires to destroy and conquer Maleficent’s land.  Despite their loving connection, Stefan is willing to do anything to achieve power, most hurtfully when he goes against his love and his heart. No wonder he goes crazy!  

Stefan is the most stereotypical character in the story, seemingly a mouthpiece for the violence and madness of the patriarchal paradigm. It’s hard to have any sympathy for a mindset that only wants power.  Both Stefan and his predecessor have no connection to the feminine—we barely see Briar Rose’s mother, Stefan willingly gives his daughter over to the 3 fairies instead of defending Aurora himself, he disregards the Queen when she is dying in his madness and his fear, and when Aurora comes back to him, he locks her in a room instead of welcoming her.  Where is the concern for others?  Where is the love? Stefan is the very image of the negative father, which is what patriarchy has become.

Stefan represents a mindset where there are no redeeming feminine feeling values, creating an imbalance that needs to be rectified.   Everything is tuned to violence, and perceptions are based on fear and projection because Stefan has stolen Maleficent’s wings and imprisoned them.  He has repressed his own feeling life and his soul’s power, and now it is turned against him and his kingdom.  His power cannot last in such a state.

After Stefan’s betrayal, devastated by the loss of her wings, Maleficent makes Diaval, the Raven, her companion and her wings.  Diaval is a marvelously sympathetic character to both Maleficent and Aurora, ready with advice and concern.  In fact, Diaval is the redeeming masculine figure in the story.  He represents a new masculine energy that is aligned with Feminine Spirit.

Who would have thought that old grouchy cartoon raven would be so wonderful!  Ravens are magical birds with the ability to shape-shift—they are birds who are connected to birth and death, magic and mysticism.  Two ravens were Odin’s messengers—Hugin (thought) and Munin (memory).  Ravens are Moon birds and companions of great magicians, giving them the intuitive information they need to make decisions and create spells.  Diaval does this for Maleficent, shape-shifting to accommodate her needs.  Awakening her memories, questioning her purposes.

The scene where Maleficent arrives at Aurora’s christening has been modeled on the cartoon version, and it is well done indeed.  But when Maleficent curses the baby, she is the one, instead of the last fairy, who changes the curse from eternal sleep, giving Aurora the chance to awaken with true love’s kiss.  She does this to spite Stefan, since after her betrayal, Maleficent no longer believes in true love.   And of course, Love is the main issue in the story.  Without the nurturing power of Love, nothing grows. 

I enjoy the fact that Maleficent and Diaval find the 3 fairies and baby right away instead of on Aurora’s 16th birthday. These fairies want to help Stefan—an apt symbol of how patriarchy uses feminine gifts for its own purposes.  The 3 fairies are dim-witted, argumentative and self-absorbed, and seemingly have very little to do with raising Aurora—another result of suppressing the feminine.  Patriarchal women often forget how to nurture life!  That is left to Maleficent and Diaval, an interesting and quite accurate archetypal transformation.  This is the beginning of the healing between Aurora, who symbolizes the new feminine feeling life, and Maleficent, who personifies Nature.  

Angelina Jolie is a perfect Maleficent, facing Aurora with a cool distain that masks her wounded love nature.  She falls in love with Aurora.  And Aurora falls in love with her.  Maleficent is afraid to love again but Aurora’s trusting nature sees Maleficent’s beauty and kindness beneath her gruff exterior.  And we see the truth of Maleficent’s love when she tries to revoke her own curse.  But to her sorrow, it holds.

As the curse takes effect, we see some role reversals from the original story—giving us a clue of what is to come.  It is Maleficent who must make her way through the iron thorns that Stefan has erected around his castle to save Aurora, braving pain and iron burns to get inside to the sleeping beauty.  She is the one who brings Prince Phillip to Aurora’s bedside to break the curse.  But how can such young ‘love’ be true love?  It is not tested yet.  It is all projection and expectation.  And so Phillip fails.  Aurora sleeps on.

True love’s kiss can only come from a complete knowing and acceptance of a person’s soul.  So it is very satisfying that it is Maleficent’s kiss that awakens Aurora, just as it is archetypally perfect that it is Aurora who frees Maleficent’s wings and brings about Maleficent’s healing.  The Divine Feminine can only heal us and be healed through our human feminine nature and consciousness.

Aurora is the vehicle of Maleficent’s transformation and healing.  When the spirit child and the human child form a bond of love, magic happens.  Aurora—the new dawn—brings about a healing in the kingdom as well, uniting both her father’s world and the world of Faerie.  

This wonderful story is about reclaiming the 13th disregarded Wise Woman—the Wise Woman of the Moon.  I hope women everywhere reclaim our own 13th fairy, renewing our connection with the Divine Feminine.  It will bring healing to all our lives if we do!

Maleficent gets 3 thumbs up.

1 comment:

  1. I loved the film and it's one I want to see again. While there are hundreds of meanings for Maleficent's tale, this one really hits the mark when it comes to the empowerment aspect. Well done. :)