The wicked witch. The evil stepmother. The cruel mother-in-law. These three archetypal characters have populated our stories, regardless of the storytelling medium. From our soap operas, to our fairy tales, to our beloved fables and movies–these characters repeat themselves over and over again as antagonists, villains and competitive rivals who seek to possess what is neither theirs nor theirs to possess and keep.
At the core of these stories is a relationship–not between a man and a woman–but between two women. Why did the old storytellers choose to tell these stories in this way? Is there a fragment of truth in these exaggerated and stylised stories?
In modern storytelling traditions, we have attempted to retell and rewrite these stories, taking into account both diversity and plurality. We want to give an equal voice to the evil, the downtrodden and even the nonexistent.
The question I wish to ask is–why did the storytellers of ages past choose to focus on the theme of envy when it came to telling the tales of women? Time and time again, the archetypal characters covet that which belongs to another woman. In the stories, the bad guys or gals always lose heavily after temporary spikes in power. In real life, however, it seems the bad guys and gals always have the upper hand, as they seek to get their hands on whatever they want through unjust, unscrupulous and even unethical means.
At the root of these deep and unspoken feelings of envy are feelings of muted admiration that have been expressed in a highly destructive manner. Feelings of admiration that are expressed as envy are subconsciously potent, laced with poisonous arsenic designed to destroy the object of admiration.
Are women inherently against each other? Or is society constructed in a way that pushes us to compete with each other?
For me, the fact remains that by pitting ourselves against women whom we admire, we lose out on many possible alliances that may have developed and grown if we had supported each other instead of trying to destroy each other.
At the heart of jealousy is a deep sense of admiration that has taken a turn for the worst and transversed into the pits of darkness. If you were to see a woman with a wonderful husband/career/children and wish you had the same, wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could be happy for that person? But, instead, there exists a secret desire for that person’s diminishment. The evil antagonists are the ones who dare to embark upon creating that scenario. They have fundamentally ceased to focus on the abundance that they are meant to create with their own lives and through their own soul mission.
Just earlier today, I remembered a historical norm I once read about. It was about the palace ‘milk maid’. In royal families, women did not breastfeed their own babies and would assign the task to one of their servants. The reasons for this were many fold, but I believe the main logical explanation would be the inability of a royal woman to continue having children if she was breastfeeding. This was not an age of stop at two. It was an age of the more the merrier. This was an age where bloodlines and dynasties mattered. The child would obviously grow up to share a bond with his or her milk mother, which could lead to the milk mother wielding considerable influence in the political arena through the child whom she had raised. As the child grew older, it was not uncommon for the milk maid to be banished or removed from the palace.
I have never heard of stories where the milk maid shared equal standing to the empress. But I have heard stories where the empress was poisoned by the milk maid. I have heard stories of milk maids who would mentally poison the offspring of the empress against their own birth mother. And a lot of the times, their plotting and scheming worked… temporarily, at least. But eventually it would all come to light, leading to their sudden and decisive downfall.
In order to find a sense of balance in this world–between one’s shadow and one’s light–we first need to ask ourselves if our psyche has been corrupted or contaminated by our deeper, darker and more primal destructive urges. There is always going to be more than one perspective to every story. But is there a higher power at play in this narrative? What is the balanced outcome or conclusion we can arrive at?
Perhaps in situations where we have flirted with our primal urges to the point of self-destruction, there is no place else to go. The only solution I can think of is to reach for the light, which is to admit and release what is not ours and what is not for us to covet, possess and keep.
But in that story, there would be no wicked witch, no evil stepmother and no cruel mother-in-law. And perhaps, we will finally have to come up with new stories, instead of merely attempting to rewrite them.