Water and the Wicked Witch of the West

I recently ran across this posting (http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/1984/why-does-water-make-the-wicked-witch-of-the-west-melt) by “Dex,” and felt I needed to express something that’s been bothering me for a while. While Dex’s answer is well written and makes a lot of sense, I feel like it, like every other wizard of Oz analysis I’ve ever read, is missing the obvious.

The casual google user can easily find out that L. Frank Baum was a noted member of the American Theosophical Society, which has roots in studying many different arcane religions, including the resurgent religion of Wicca, and indeed, there were members of the American Theosophical Society that had a hand in bringing Wicca over to the US and creating the Neo-Pagan, American Wicca movement.

Having that background, it seems like a huge oversight not to look at the map of Oz and not see directional and elemental associations. In Standard American Wicca, East is Air and beginnings, South is Fire, youth and beauty, West is Water, change, and travel, and North is Earth, aging, and wisdom.

The story starts in the East (beginnings, remember?) where the ruler of that kingdom was killed by a tornado (Air?). The Witch of the West was killed by water. I doubt very much that this is a comment on an economic drought. The Witches of the East and West were cruel. They subjected their people and were at odds with their own being. As “Dex” mentions, the Witch of the West had no blood, for it had all “dried up.” They were trying to suppress a part of themselves, and they turned that part into the strongest weapon against them (their Kryptonite?).

Take a look at the map of Oz. The Witch of the North is an old woman who meets Dorothy at the beginning and gives her advice. Glinda is a young, beautiful woman who wears red dresses made out of rubies. The Emerald City is, in fact colorless, the neutral center of all four elements. This seems so glaringly obvious that I’m having trouble figuring out why I can’t find a similar analysis online somewhere? Where did all the moderately intelligent literary critics go?

Emerald … colorless … glaringly obvious … right… :smack::dubious:

Not a bad thought. I’d have to go home and examine my Oz maps/books though.

Have you read the book?

IIRC, in the books the Emerald City is only green on the outside. Visitors are told they have to wear special glasses inside, so as not to be blinded. Dorothy notices that the glasses make everything look green. She takes them off and finds that inside, the Emerald city is really colorless.

If Baum was a theosophist, everything in the OP may have been what he intended.

Yeah, in the book, Emerald City is clear and everyone wears green shades to “protect their eyes” from the brilliance of the emeralds. Because the wizard is a humbug. But at least he’s not a dictator like Ozma turns out.

Do you know who else was a Theosophist? :dubious:

Well, not Hitler. I have read (looking for it) that he found the Theosophical carryings on of Goebbels and Himmler ridiculous, but useful.

I thought it was more or less normal colored not colorless without the glasses.

Wicca didn’t really exist until the 1930s but if Baum was a theosophist, he might have been thinking of some similar neo-pagan thing.

Here we go… From The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz:

I feel like I’m misremembering something. I swear there’s a part in one of the books where someone takes there glasses off and finds out that everything not green, but at the very least this quote will suffice to show that Oz isn’t colorless.

The green spectacles are still in use at the time of General Jinjur’s revolt, but are not mentioned afterwards. I have always supposed that, when the girls of Jinjur’s army burst past the Guardian, the secret was let out.

As regards the OP, I don’t believe it for a minute; dearly as I love Baum, he was never that organized in his entire life. The Annotated Wizard of Oz, however, does suggest a way in which the colors of the first book (Gillikin purple is not mentioned until the second volume) could be based on elementary color theory.

Of course. It’s essentially a Theosophist allegory.

And, while I don’t want this at all to detract from your discovery, as you discovered it for yourself and therefore it’s absolutely exciting and worthy of further contemplation, it has been noted before. At least once, by the Theosophical Society.

Baum himself wanted more occult information/inspiration in books:

Another article you might find interesting:

Rebecca Loncraine, in The Real Wizard of OZ: The Life and Times of L. Frank Baum, makes an elaborate case that The Master Key, his next non-Oz book, was totally influenced by Theosophy. I recall that she introduced the subject after the Oz chapter, though. It’s been a while and I was looking up The Master Key so I may be wrong on that.

Thanks for all the info, guys! You’re right, “colorless” may have been a bad choice of words. I don’t remember anything that suggests that the Emerald City was actually “colorless”–it was simply not associated with any one particular color like the rest of the four regions. So in that sense it is “colorless” in terms of associations, but normal-colored in terms of the city itself.

Thank you mostly for the references. Not that I hate to make new discoveries or anything, but I really couldn’t believe that no one had written this before and was genuinely looking for some sources.

You’re right, the Emerald City isn’t colorless…it’s Malkuth! Y’know, Malkuth, home of Sandalphon, who often takes the shape of a wizard or a beautiful princess with a key which unlocks the rest of your path up the Tree of Life when you’re ready to make that step!

It’s Earth of Earth - all the colors, mixed together, that we see around us every day, if we’d only take off our falsifying lenses and see reality.

For the record this is pronounced mawl-HOOT. I’ve heard various people say ‘mal KOOTH or mal KUTH’ and it drives me nuts.

Three points:

  1. I know little-to-nothing of Theosophy, but The Master Key is very much a “boy’s adventure” novel–“Tom Swift and his Amazing Electrical Inventions” type thing. The hero accidentally summons up the spirit of electricity who’s been waiting since the dawn of time for someone to finally do so (the fact that the kid did it by mistake plays in later) and since the kid doesn’t know enough to command the spirit/elemental, the spirit will grant him…um…9(?) gifts of Modern Electrical Wonders–3 sets of 3 gifts given x days apart. Some of the gifts are obvious stuff–a sleep/stun gun, a force-field, a transport device (I don’t remember if it was a teleporter or what), but some are super-lame with the electrical connection. “Electrical food pills–one per day energizes you with all you need” (the kid hates them claiming that he misses the lack of taste. Eventually the kid decides that he’s not able to deal with all this stuff and that humans aren’t ready for it and tells the spirit to go away (and take his gifts) until someone deliberately summons the spirit. The spirit is sad but goes. I dunno if this is theosophical (and…now that I type it out, yeah…it does have a mystic flavor).

  2. Flaw in the OP’s argument. The Witch of the East was emphatically not killed by the tornado (air), she was killed by the house falling on her (wood and gravity and earth.–It’s no more air than saying a sword that’s pounded between hammer and anvil is shaped by air because the hammer has to go through the air. :slight_smile: ).

  3. Between books two and three, Ozma took over and made the Emerald City legit–covering everything in real emeralds–the city wasn’t made out of them, they were just strewn and mounted everywhere. As an aside, this well-and-truly pissed off the Nome King (in later books, but strangely not in book 3 where we first meet him).

I’m the guy who wrote the Staff Report. I’m travelling at the moment, and so don’t have my references (or the Oz books) nearby, I’ll try to get back to this in about ten days. I did a fair amount of research when I wrote that, but found nothing about Baum and Theosophy. At least, nothing that I recall or that seemed to come into play with the witches.




Having suffered through way too many years of my daughter’s Waldorf School (don’t get me started), I cannot stand Theosophy and its turgid racist mysticism pastiche. If Baum adhered to the secretiveness of Rudolph Steiner, he consciously cloaked his beliefs in stories palatable to the general public.

I liked the books though.

This discussion of Baum and Theosophy, to which I have absolutely nothing to add, is quite fascinating.

But I’m going to interject with a much more mundane (perhaps nitpicky) question about the column. Dex references “Margaret Hamilton, who played both Wicked Witches…”

As I recall, we never saw anything of the Witch of the East other than her legs sticking out from under Dorothy’s house. And ideed, Hamilton is credited on IMDb as “Miss Gulch / The Wicked Witch of the West” with no mention of the WWotE.

So, are there any scenes with a living East Witch, or is this an error and she was actually played by a set of prop legs?