When I saw the portrayal of the character Maleficent in Disney's new prequel to Sleeping Beauty, i.e. Maleficent, I realized what that dark character really represents in this old tale. Somehow depicting the characters with actors rather than with animation made me realize how significant the spiralling horns of Maleficent happen to be. With this clue I came to an understanding of the 'mythological' aspect of the tale and I finally got the answer to 'WHY?' Maleficent was so evil and angry in the original story.
The symbolism of the horn carries association with supernatural power, divinity and the power of the soul and life-principle manifesting consciously. Horns are attributes of all Mother Goddesses. The spiral is a universal symbol for various natural powers; it represents the great creative force and its alternating rhythms: life and death, increase and decrease, waxing and waning, expansion and contraction, etc. It is a visual representation of the creative energy in Nature. The double spiral, as the two horns become, depicts the rhythms of nature, yin and yang, continuity between cycles and is connected to the symbolism of the caduceus.
So when I saw the new Maleficent in her realm of Faerie, I realized that in fact, her original mythological role was that of Mother Nature who guarded her children of the Moors: the elementals, the plants and animals. The world of Man coveted the beauty and richness of life enjoyed in Faerie, the Spirit Land of Nature. The King's son, in order to honour his Father's wish to subdue the wildness of the Moors, betrayed Maleficent in love; he burnt her wings off, denied her spirituality. This was the true evil that drove Maleficent to curse the King's daughter to a death sleep. Her wickedness was a valid anger that grew into evil revenge.
As the story progresses, we see a Maleficent who becomes contrite and regrets the curse she laid. She even tries to 'uncurse' the child Aurora. In the end things do turn out happily, Maleficent admits her wrongdoing; she gets her wings back; the King is gone; Aurora awakens to the kiss of love of her evil-turned-good fairy godmother. It is pointed out to the audience that what saved the situation was not an oppositional positioning of forces, but a combination of both the negative and positive. Something like what the caduceus, symbol of healing, represents.
The whole tale then takes on a huge motif that is very relevant to civilization today, that of the necessity for human development and progress to act in co-operation with the Natural forces of our world instead of against them to subdue their power. Humanity must acknowledge that it is part of Nature, treat Her with respect and learn from Her how to live in harmony, riding the ups and downs of Life.