Maleficent: The Dark Feminist Fairy Tale

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Once upon a time, before time, lived a young fair folk called Maleficent. Her story has more roots in reality than you might think, like the graceful swan effortlessly swimming on the loch there is far more going on under the waves that her cool and graceful exterior hints at.

The Moors – Step across the threshold, between the worlds

The young Maleficent is a faery, one of the fair folk but is adorned with no gossamer shiny wings or glitter, she wears a huge set of ram-like horns and wings almost the height of her body. She lives in the Moors, a place inhabited by other fantastical creatures, which in Celtic mythology they would be called the Sidhe, the creatures of the land.                               A Telegraph reviewer described night in the Moors depicted as ‘ nuclear-grade sweetness’. Sure there are luminous colors glowing, flying and swirling and dancing the darkness but have we forgotten that we once saw the divine in everything, each creature large or small, buzzing insect, blade of grass, the wind itself, imbued with the divine, this is the belief of indigenous people’s the world over.

What is clear from the wonderful creatures of the Moors and in stark opposition to a land gripped by the rule of a king in his castle without the fair folk, is that this is a place of two worlds. The Moors requires no king or queen, Maleficent is not their horned queen, she wears no crown, she is their mother, their protector. She knows and loves each flower spirit, each troll, each Gillie-dhu, and she protects them with a fierce love. The king, on the other hand, rules with an iron fist and as he lies on his death-bed he utters a quest, which to each male present is an intoxifying consuming quest, one for ultimate power. These two worlds are divided by a boundary, a threshold marked by giant sentinel stones.

The original trauma

The young Maleficent makes friends with a young human, son of the king. Their relationship grows. On the other side the king leads many quests to claim the lands of the Moors for himself, Maleficent stops him at every turn. As protector of the Moors she will do anything to protect her lands and the creatures within so she magically summons an impossible thicket of twisted thorny gnarly trees.

The king, now lying on his deathbed announces that his Kingdom will be passed to whoever can kill Maleficent. The king’s son plots his revenge. One night while in the Moors he drugs the young Maleficent, and as she lies there in her drugged coma he hacks off her wings. The power offered by his father overcomes his love for his friend. When Maleficent awakes you can’t help but feel her pain when she realizes the full horror of what has been done to her, a bone jolting, goosebumping horror, felt through the primal anguish, the screams and the sobbing, the rape – which is wholly unexpected in a PG film. It is a fitting parallel to the loss of a young girls voice in our culture, work where Carole Gilligan explores why a once confident young girl becomes a self-conscious teenager.

“At the buried core of women’s identity is a distinct and vital self, first articulated in childhood, a root identity that gets cut off in the process of growing up female” (Hancock 1989, p. 3).

The loss of voice, of confidence, which happens as a young woman awakens (albeit unconsciously) to the patriarchal system. This comes about by how she is treated by others, the role models offered to her and expectations portrayed in the media.

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This rape also represents the downfall of the mother. Once upon a time, before time, we lived in harmony as life is played out on the Moors. We honored our mother, the earth in a matriarchal power structure as outlined by Marija Gimbutas , there was a balance between female and male energies, both working together. The divine mother took her form in trees, the stars, the owl, the snake and the caterpillar as we saw her in the eyes of each and every human. She was the great mother, she gave birth to the cosmos and in death, we returned to her, she was the great regenerator. She created meaning out of nothing, was the creatrix.

Maleficent with her horns and sweeping huge wings as she sweeps down over the king’s army is the Morrighan, the goddess of chaos and death, she is Kali. The one who lives in the thresholds, one of the old ways, the healing ways, now misunderstood and named evil, bad, wicked.

In cutting off her wings the king’s son vilifies her power, it is now she who is cursed, is spat upon, is burned at the stake, she who is the wise woman. She is the great mother demoted to the king’s consort, mother of his children yet she really is the wise woman with her knowledge of the healing ways of herbs (earth magic), the witch, the keeper of the old stories, the traditional ways. We need a balance of both light and darkness, and what we have banished to the darkness isn’t dark at all but an essential part of ourselves. In taking her wings the king’s son chooses power, by violence. What we have lost seems unimaginable but we only have to look around us at the values of our society to see how things went wrong.

“There is no coming to consciousness without pain. People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own Soul. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” Jung. 
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True loves kiss

While it was Maleficent who cursed Princess Aurora, it is she who breaks the same curse. Not the soppy sickly sweet prince of the original tale, but a fierce mothers love (albeit it fairy-godmother). Our mother is the earth, we are her children. A Telegraph review writes that Maleficent ‘ lacks the enchantment’, does it? This is the greatest story ever, one that tells the story that we have lain asleep for thousands of years, creating a modern myth around us while we remove mountain tops, have changed the planet’s climate, and now as we run out of resources our greed gets frantic, desperate  as we begin the dirty process of tar sands removal, fracking, poisoning drinking water aquifers.

We need to return to balance, awake from our sleep, break the curse, embrace our primal mother, tell her story and see how her vilification has affected each and every one of us. This story teaches on so many levels, as Jolie herself explains that maybe this movie will help kids see that when bad things happen it silences us, abuse makes us feel different and this tale highlights how abuse changes us.

Thousands of years of abuse have affected us, not just women but the land itself and all those wingeds and the four-leggeds. Our cultural values abuse us, patriarchy abuses us we women are awakening and working to break the curse patriarchy has unleashed on the world and we do this work with a fierce mothers love burning in our hearts.



2 thoughts on “Maleficent: The Dark Feminist Fairy Tale

  1. Pingback: Cailleach. Session 3. Evolution and embellishment. | testingnebula

  2. Thank you for resending. This is a powerful post and I wanted to keep it around! I watch this movie often and sob every time when Maleficent wakes and realizes her wings have been cut! Blessings!

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