La Befana

Here is a holiday story for you this December. Renaissance Press is creating a tour of different websites where authors can showcase their fiction and they invited me to participate and share a short story with readers.


This post is part of the Renaissance Holiday Blog Roll. Find out what it’s all about here and check out some other great stories!!


I hope that you enjoy this story and others!





La Befana

By Derek Newman-Stille

My Dearest Daughter,

We witches have a long tradition and it is a tradition of magic, but also a tradition of misunderstanding. Words are our magic – they shape the world around us, change it, sing it into something new… but words have also been used to trap us, contain us, erase us.

Words of condemnation provoked the burning times. Words spoken out of fear have constantly hounded us, plagued us, and hunted us.

So it is with a heavy heart that I write these words to you, my sweet Sofia, my first and only daughter, because they are words that lay a heavy burden. And the first burden will be the loss of the name that I gave you, pronounced you into existence with.

Now, as I was for many years, you will be called La Befana.

You know what the name means. Some say it is borrowed from the Feast of the Epiphany, but it has a longer line than that. It is the name of the Yule witch, the witch who guides the depths of winter.

You know of La Befana from the ornaments on our tree, the little ones that you used to make out of felt, pounded into the shape of the Christmas witch, old and wandering like the winter itself. But, your job will be more than filling shoes with candy or lumps of coal. Your job will be one of sweeping. That is why you carry your broom. Your job will be to sweep away the cobwebs and dust of rage that settle in homes, that collect in the corners and under the beds… the bits of emotional detritus that fall off of human beings and cling to them if they are not careful.

It is a thankless job.

You will only be remembered for bringing the sweets placed in shoes, which, as you know, a mother does for her children. You may be left a small glass of wine or a plate of food as an offering, but these are only tokens and generally eaten and drunk by parents. They are empty gestures now.

Your thanks will be knowing that all of the darkness of winter is cleared away for joy – to bring something new into the houses you visit and give people a chance, even just a small one, to escape from the shadows of their past. You will be bringing chances of renewal.

Our myths have changed over time. They have shifted to fit new myths and new stories, but our traditions go back over the ages. Now they tell a story that La Befana was found by the three wise men, the magi on their way to search for Jesus. They say that the Magi asked her for directions since they had seen his star in the sky but couldn’t see it any longer. She provided them with shelter from the night, a clean place to rest because she, with her broom, was the best housekeeper in the village. They say that she would have gone with them to see the new child, but she initially told them that she had too much housekeeping to do, locked into her matronly duties as she was, but later in the night she changed her mind, overcome with a desire to see this new child and sought out to find him, but wasn’t able to. So now, she is doomed to wander the world searching for this new baby, this perceived bringer of light, and so she leaves treats for the good children that she comes across in her search. She would come to act as a caretaker for all of the good children of the world the same as she desired to do for the new infant.

Of course, that is only one of the stories about us, and one that imagines us to be immortal rather than believing that we are a sisterhood passing our traditions down from one generation to the next. We date back to before the stories of Jesus and other legends with roots in Ancient Rome, where we were given our duties by Stenia, the goddess of the new year and purification. We were her priestesses, charged with cleaning out ritual impurities and cleansing spaces to make way for new changes and create a place of magic. We would collect twigs from her sacred grove to cleanse with, forming them into a broom and sweep the floors of the temple, not just removing the dirt from the temples, but removing something more complicated, a miasma.

You will find a broom. You probably remember seeing it around our home when you were a girl. It is the dusty old one that looks like twigs held together to a branch. You will need this. It isn’t just a broom, it is a collection of trees – of new growth. It is a manifestation of bringing new growth into the home. You will eventually add your own twigs of new growth to it, contributing to the broom of the new with the broom of the old. The original twigs came from the goddess’ grove and who knows if they still remain. Twigs fall out and new twigs are added. Of course, you will not be able to bring them from the grove. You will have to add them from the trees and bushes that speak to you on your travels… and they will call out to you. You won’t be able to mistake them.

You will start to look like I did… a hag. It is part of the act of cleaning out so much of the past. You become the past that you sweep. Your wrinkles and crevices become a map of all of the histories you sweep out. You will have the permanent look of soot on your face and body that I did. Some of what you sweep away will stick to you, bringing you half into the shade.

No one tells bringers of light that they will have to walk through the shadows and that the shadows sometimes cling to us. But you will still be able to be a creature of cheer. You are the Christmas Witch.

Dear Befana,

I wish you so much luck and joy in your quest because there is so much joy to be had and you need to revel in that joy. Drink the wine that remains as offerings that parents don’t gobble away first. Take time to see the happy smiles on children’s faces as they wake to sweets left in their shoes because it isn’t the treats that matter – it is what you have done, that sweeping away of collected miasma. And remember me. We are all La Befana. When you crawl across rooftops and down chimneys to sweep houses of detritus, we are all sweeping them with you. But don’t let words define you. Don’t let even my words define you. I feel as though I have pronounced a doom upon you, and perhaps I have. We have been at risk so many times before for what we are. People see the shades that cling to us. They see the soot before they see that we are cleaning for them… and everyone seems to fear an older women. They fear that knowledge we have acquired over the course of our lives. They fear that we know something that they don’t… and, of course we do. You will know more than all of us, just as your daughter will eventually know more than you. We add our wisdom generation after generation. But there is always something lost as well. I hope that you understand why I am allowing that loss and the important role you have.

Your mother, always and forever,

La Befana


What Happens When the Magical Girl Grows Up?

A review of Nicole Chartrand’s Shattered Starlight # 1 
By Derek Newman-Stille

We’ve probably all heard of “Magical Girl” stories – figures like Sailor Moon. “Magical Girl” stories generally feature teens who are suddenly called upon to fight forces of evil, given superpowers and magical items, and through their fights learn about responsibility, friendship, and the power of community. But.. what happens when the “Magical Girl” grows up? 
Nicole Chartrand’s Shattered Starlight comic explores a woman who used to be a Magical Girl and has grown up. She still has her powers and her mystical hockey stick, but she also has all of the issues of an adult – having to deal with problematic bosses, watching friendships change and fade as people get older and find out new things about themselves, and dealing with moral grey areas. 

Arcturus, Guardian of Heaven contrasts with many of the magical girl tropes. Her magical handler is an alcoholic who no longer provides much in the way of guidance. Her teammates have mostly gone their separate ways, challenging the Magical Girl trope of community and friendship. Now everything is about to change for her. Her role as a Magical Girl turned woman is shifting and she is told by her boss that she should think of the change in her role as being like a new job.

Chartrand wrote and illustrated the comic, illustrating her proficiency at both. The characters, drawn with huge eyes and expressive faces as well as incredible costumes evoke the golden age of Magical Girl stories, and also show how hard it is for Arcturus to fit in with her contrastingly simple outfit. At times she is overwhelmed by walls of previous magical girls in typical costumes, dwarfing her and portraying her as a small part of a larger tradition. Chartrand illustrates the complicated fit of Arcturus in this world of magical girls. 

To discover more about Shattered Starlight and Nicole Chartrand, visit

Although this is a review of the physical first issue of the comic, you can read the webcomic at

Planets Contaminated

A review of Crystal Yates’ “Earthsong” (Overmorrow Media)
By Derek Newman-Stille

“Earthsong” is an incredibly beautiful and chilling fantasy graphic narrative. Crystal Yates plays with light and images of fabric to create a comic that, while dealing with serious issues, also feels like a warm blanket wrapped around the reader. 

Crystal Yates’ “Earthsong” is an interplanetary fantasy where the planets themselves take on life and consciousness. Some of these planetary spirits interact with their creations, their children, but most have been content to sleep. Many of them have slept right through a crisis that has been happening throughout space and on their own surfaces. A contamination has leaked onto the surface of planets that attaches itself to various of the planet’s sentient children and, if unchecked, will destroy the lifeforce of the planet itself.

The planets got together to deal with what was occurring and decided that the best way to solve the issue of contamination is to remove contaminated people from their planet and place them on a new planet and the planet who named herself Earthsong has become a host for all of this misplaced travellers. These planet children end up on Earthsong without their memories, dropped into a complex battle they know nothing about.

Yates explores ideas of quarantine, contamination, the loss of selfhood, and the desire to learn about oneself in “Earthsong”, creating a narrative about planetary contamination that isn’t about pollution but reminds us of the fragility of our place on our planet nonetheless.

To find out more about Earthsong and read some of the online comic, visit

Tales of Her Own

Tales of Her Own
A review of Emma Donoghue’s Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins (Joanna Cotler Books, 1997).

By Derek Newman-Stille

In Kissing the Witch, Emma Donoghue casts a web around traditional fairy tales, drawing them together into one narrative thread by having a character from each tale introduce the next tale as her own. Characters both narrate and are narrated about. These are tales about the telling and about the power of narration itself to reveal, conceal, and create the self.

Donoghue invites her characters to ask who is allowed to tell their tales and who is constructed through the telling of tales. Characters resist the narrative ark of “tradition”, imagining new possibilities for their own deviation from the text. 

These are liberating fairy tales, opening up possibilities, and giving women voices in these tales where the traditional tales limited the options open to women. These are tales of shifts and changes, allowing women to chart new territories through the fairytale landscape, changing their circumstances. Often set at the cusp of womanhood, these tales explore the relationship between bodily and social transition. 

Donoghue evokes the power of witches, those othered and ostracised women, for changing the world around them, opening critical questions, and encouraging women to recognise their power. She resists the impulse to tie her stories up with a heterosexual “happily ever after”, and instead imagines new narrative possibilities, creating lesbian couples, women content to be without sexual relationships. 

Her tales reimagine Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Snow White, The Goose Girl, Rapunzel, The Snow Queen, Rumpelstiltskin, Hansel and Gretel, Donkeyskin, Sleeping Beauty, and The Little Mermaid. Donoghue illustrates that an intensive knowledge of folklore allows one to play with the tropes of the tradition, imagining new possibilities. 

You can discover more about Emma Donoghue’s work at 

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 55: Canadian Arthurian-themed Music

In this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio, I explore Canadian musicians who have been inspired by the myth of King Arthur and incorporate his stories into their music. I examine the way that music adds to the power of the myths being retold and the interest in mythic re-tellings. I focus on the work of Heather Dale and Loreena McKennitt, and particularly examine the way that both artists work a spell-like melody into their music.

Because of copyright laws, I only share a sample of each of the works I discuss. You can explore the full songs on the websites of Heather Dale and Loreena McKennitt (listed below).

You can listen to this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio at the link below.



This audio file was originally broadcast on Trent Radio, and I would like to thank Trent Radio for their continued support. I would also like to thank Dwayne Collins for his consistent tech support and help with the intricacies of creating audio files.

Make sure to allow a few minutes for the file to buffer since it may take a moment before it begins to play.


You can discover more about the work of Heather Dale at her website

You can discover more about the work of Loreena McKennitt at her website

Grey Areas

A review of Tanya Huff’s ” Gate of Darkness, Cirlce of Light” (DAW, 1989)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Tanya Huff’s Gate of Darkness, Circle of Light is a rare novel in that it features a type of protagonist that is rarely displayed in literature, and particularly urban fantasy literature. Rebecca is a woman with an ID (intellectual disability, sometimes called a developmental disability). Unlike most portrayals of characters with ID, she is not a supporting character nor a throwaway character meant to garner audience sympathy, instead, she is the central character of this narrative. Like most people with ID, Rebecca regularly experiences discrimination and assumptions about her capacity from the people around her. Ableist people around her constantly express the belief that she should be institutionalized, and the belief that she is at risk and vulnerable. Rebecca resists these assumptions about her, constantly displaying that she is the hero of this narrative, a character who serves as the touchstone for the various people that she has attracted into her party of people fighting against a darkness that has infringed upon the city. 

Rebecca has the ability to see the magical all around her. She sees all of the mythical creatures that inhabit the city of Toronto that no one pays enough attention to in order to be able to see them. Her observations about this mythical world are constantly overlooked as imagination by the people around her and dismissed as the imagination of a woman with ID, but when darkness invades her world, Rebecca is able to teach a select group of people how to See the supernatural. Rebecca encourages her friend Roland, a musician, and her social worker Daru to join her battle against the darkness eventually invoking an adept of the light to battle against the darkness. This adept relies on the combined strength of these characters to prevent darkness from overtaking the city of Toronto, particularly drawing upon Rebecca’s strength.

But this battle is not just one of light versus darkness, but an internal struggle for all of the characters to learn more about themselves. Roland undergoes questions of his sexuality as he experiences his first attraction for another male in the form of the adept of the light, Evan. He becomes uncertain of himself as he experiences his first gay crush. The darkness exploits this uncertainty initially until Roland is able to face his own understanding of himself and accept himself. Along with the big issues of good versus evil, characters go through those little transformations and little struggles with the grey areas of their existence, struggling to find themselves and discovering that even the small acts in their lives have meaning and shape the world around them.

Gate of Darkness, Cirlce of Light is a novel about facing the complexity of existence and learning about oneself and one’s biases in the meantime. It is a novel that situates itself as one of binary opposition (good versus evil) but explores the complexities of life and the awareness that we always live in the grey areas in between where we need to constantly learn more about the world around us to make moral decisions. 

To discover more about Tanya Huff, visit her website at

Quote – Fairy Tales Prepared Us For If We Wandered Into Their Land

“I’m not sure, to be honest. I think the tales we grew up on served to both warn us of bad faeries, but also prepare us to accept their magic and wonder, in case we ever wandered to their land. Or were kidnapped.”

-Marie Bilodeau, Nigh Book 3