It is time to make plans for the long Yuletide festival, which starts around December 21 and ends on New Year’s Day.

A traditional ancient Nordic version of the holiday involves making sacrifices and smearing your great hall with blood, but you will probably take a more modern route and use a nice red tablecloth, some evergreen boughs, and a few bells, and serve eggnog and a wassail of hot spiced cider.

The guest list sets the tone, so you need to give it some thought. As chronicled by writers from Hans Christian Andersen and C.S. Lewis to P.L. Travers, George R.R. Martin, and Amy Schlitz, the witches who rule through winter are not generally known for generous gifts and warm hugs, but they do want to be included. Villainesses can make for entertaining conversation, if they are well placed among witches with better manners—or at least somewhat more human qualities.

Everyone has a story to tell. You might ask what your guests could be celebrating, and how. Then plan your own feast and rituals accordingly.

The Celts: Cailleach and Brigit

On behalf of all winter witches, consider paying homage to a couple of archetypal Celtic goddesses of ice and fire: Cailleach, the crone of winter, and Brigit, whose inspiring flame breaks through the pre-solstice darkness.

Stern and implacable, Cailleach creates the landscape and governs the winter weather. Her name originally translated as “the veiled one,” but in modern Gaelic, it has come to mean “the hag.” Unsurprisingly, she fights spring and the idea of rebirth as hard as some of us fight ageism. In Scotland, where she is known as Beira, the Queen of Winter, she is responsible for the creation of mountains. The rocks fell from her basket as she hiked, and she is still hammering them into shape. She carries a staff that freezes the earth, and she brings on winter by washing her great plaid in a whirlpool off the Scottish west coast. When it is pure white, snow blankets the land.

Brigit (a.k.a. Brid, Brighde, and the like) is not just the goddess of fire; she is also the patroness of healing, wisdom, and poetry, and the inventor of
a whistle that calls through the night. In short, she is the goddess of stories that add dimension to the long, dark hours. Pour her a libation and invite your literary guests to tell their own tales. The Fate: Andersen’s Snow Queen The beloved Dane’s Snow Queen is the face of impersonal fate in a cold universe. She does not give a fig who you are or what happens to you once she has collected you, and yet she is irresistible.

When young Kay hooks his sled to her sleigh’s runner, you might say he gets what he deserves, but the formerly sweet little boy has been afflicted with a shard of a devil-goblin’s evil mirror in one eye and can no longer see the beauty in what he once loved. The Snow Queen’s frosty kisses go “to his very heart, which was already more than half ice; he felt as if he were dying.” After that, Kay does not feel fear or the cold anymore, and he develops a sudden and no doubt handy ability to do math in his head.

That’s all to the good, but the Queen is a fickle mistress. She enjoys Kay’s company on the long trip to her castle, then leaves him arranging tiles of ice into “Puzzles of Reason.” His task to form a word that she promises will win him “the whole world and a new pair of skates.” Capriciously, she takes off to whiten the volcanoes of Etna and Vesuvius.

The story’s true hero is Gerda, a young neighbor girl whom Kay has scorned. Her quest to find Kay leads through a witch’s flower garden, a princess’s castle, a robber’s castle, and the homes of Sami and Finnish peasants. Turns out that Gerda has everything she needs inside to prevail. Her considerably warmer kiss shatters the splinter in Kay’s eye; the shards fall into the shape of eternity, and Kay and Gerda are home. Or are they? Andersen is not known for happy endings, but he did trade in illusions …

What happens to the Snow Queen, we do not know. When a volcano turns white, that usually means it has erupted and caked itself in ash. Would that be good or bad in the world of the story? Neither—the Snow Queen will not be judged in those terms. And she probably won’t stay long at your party; she has a rather short attention span. Just don’t let her kiss you goodbye.

Studio publicity still from The Chronicles of Narnia- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe Tilda Swinton, Skandar Keynes © 2005 Walt Disney Pictures Photo by Phil Bray

The Goddess: Her Imperial Majesty Jadis, Queen of Narnia, etc.

If the Snow Queen had a daughter, or stole one, she would be the White Witch, who wreaks havoc on Narnia in C.S. Lewis’s novels The Magician’s Nephew and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. She will be one of your most difficult guests, for she is not only cruel but also a prideful braggart. One example of her hubris: She tries to outwit Aslan himself.

When Polly and Digory (the eponymous nephew of the first book) stumble into a castle in the dying world of Charn, they are fascinated by a museum of sculptural portraits. One is very special, especially seen through Digory’s eyes: “very tall …, with a look of such fierceness and pride that it took your breath away.

Yet she was beautiful too.… You could see at once … that she was a great queen.”

This is Jadis, onetime warrior princess and future White Witch. The French word jadis means “formerly,” and once Digory strikes the bell that awakens her, she is a version of the formerly all-powerful primeval Goddess, cruel and self-serving and accustomed to getting her way.

Like most megalomaniacs, Jadis becomes a comic figure when taken out of her home context. So when she hitches a ride back to the children’s world, her grandiose idea of herself is deflated in the London of 1900. She is no longer magically strong, and her bare arms and stolen jewelry attract the wrong kind of attention. Londoners pass judgment as if she is a demimondaine, calling her both “a dem fine woman” and “a shameless hussy.” Alas, the old gods cannot survive the modern world.

It is no wonder, then, that our girl looks for a new one to conquer. When Jadis seizes control of Narnia, as documented in the second book, she casts the land into a Cailleach-style winter, and any creature who might even potentially protest her regime is sent to her castle to be turned into stone … until she sweeps one Edmund Pevensie into her sleigh and plies him with Turkish delight. Then the rest of the Pevensies step through the wardrobe to look for him and to force Jadis to face something the Snow Queen never will: consequences.

The upshot: Anything Jadis wants to celebrate will be short-lived at best (worst). If she shows up with a box of Turkish delight, thank her graciously and put it aside in your pantry; it’s probably not something you want to serve. Do not set her place with sharp knives.



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Susann Cokal is the author of four novels, including the award-winning Kingdom of Little Wounds and her latest, Mermaid Moon, in which a mermaid goes ashore to find her mother, only to fall into the clutches of a witch who wants to harvest her magic. Cokal also writes short fiction and essays about oddities, and she lives in a haunted farmhouse with cats, peacocks, spouse, and unseen beings who bump in the night. “I’ve always suspected there was more to mermaids than the shipwrecks and love stories that lead them to land,” she says. “I’m glad I had the chance to figure them out in these changing times—both in the novel and here among the creatures of Enchanted Living.”