What does it mean when a Witch feels out of place in Fantasyland? What is behind the popular pull of such a place? Join me on a journey to figure out how and why…
Recently my partner and I traveled down to Florida, mostly for a short vacation. We got to spend some chill time with dear local friends for a few days and I taught a Sigil Witchery workshop at the Hidden Spring Oasis OTO (workaholic I am). Then we met up with some of our fellow New England Witchfolk to do the theme park thing.
A Tempest in a Teapot?
We did three days at Disney parks, and I’ve come out of it in a strange place that has my brain spinning. Mainly because I guess I was trying to figure out why I find theme parks unsettling. There’s the obvious things like as an introvert with social anxiety, I generally dislike large crowds of people, being surrounded by very young humans having meltdowns while their accompanying adults try to do triage, and having music and loud noises blared at me in public spaces. But there was something more beyond those things I felt this time.
I want to make it clear before I go any further that I’m not here to yuck anyone else’s yum. I have many friends who absolutely love doing the theme park thing, and I can see how happy it makes them. Anything that brings people joy like that for them is worthy. Seeing other people happy and joyful brings ME joy. I don’t have to like that thing to appreciate that experience for them. The question was more: how come I’m not feeling that way for myself? Being an overthinker-not-so-anonymous, of course my brain went to work on solving the problem.
At first I thought maybe it’s because Disney is not my preferred fandom. I liked some of the movies, but I watched more Warner Brothers cartoons and Jim Henson’s work growing up. Like maybe I would completely lose my shit over a theme park made up of The Last Unicorn, and 80’s movies like Legend, Ladyhawke, and Labyrinth. I hear there’s a Studio Ghibli park being built in Japan, so that intrigues me. But fandom preference didn’t feel like the answer either, because while I find stuff cool, I’m not really hardcore about any fandom.
Then I thought, maybe it’s because I’ve seen how the sausage is made. Years ago I worked for a company that sold jewelry to WDW and I even got them approved to do licensed product, which was a huge goal for them. The company was a small woman-owned business that focused on eco-friendly, sustainable, and humanely-sourced jewelry, so I could get on board with that. As we walked around Disney Springs the other day, the marketing & design section of my personality made note of the “build your own droid figurine” and “build your own lightsaber” bars. I inwardly congratulated whomever came up with those ideas, because I know those are incredibly successful concepts that are spot on for the brand. I remembered that Disney especially wanted experiences that customers could personalize – and outside of a charm bar (which they already had then), there wasn’t much room for that in jewelry. It’s a weird thing to be both intrigued and disgusted by consumerism at the same time. I love good design and I do enjoy shopping, but at the same time, how much more stuff do we need to buy? But this isn’t a thing exclusive to theme parks.
The mystery started to unfold between Animal Kingdom and Epcot. Animal Kingdom has areas that are marked as “Asia” and “Africa.” Epcot has a collection of 11 different countries. I remember absolutely loving Epcot when I was 17 and there for “Grad Night” – my first and only trip ever to WDW prior to last week. I had yet to travel outside of the eastern seaboard (and Arizona), so I loved being able to “sample” places I had never been to. But I’ve been lucky enough to travel to many of the places featured in Epcot and Animal Kingdom over the years. When you’ve experienced the real deal, the fantasy falls flat and can feel really strange. Also, for the amount of money and time it costs to go to a theme park (travel, accommodations, food, souvenirs) – you could actually go visit one or more of those places. I recognize international travel is not in the cards for everyone (though I think we’d all be better off if international exchange was integrated entirely into our educational systems). It’s also a “safe” option in many people’s minds for better or for worse.
But Enough About Me…
So suffice to say, there’s a combination of things that led me to feel out of place – that I think understand better now. But I also had some revelations about people and magic that gave me better insight for the bigger picture. We live in a society that is constantly divorcing us from the world around us. Imagination is dismissed as unimportant and magical thought as pure fantasy. This dangerous cocktail of dissonance has made us unhealthy and unhappy all the while damaging the environment that sustains us. Even within Paganism and Witchcraft/Magical communities, I see that many people have difficulty truly believing in magic.
I see the popularity of theme parks like Disney and Universal as rooted in the desire for humanity to rediscover magic. It’s not just about “childhood” – it’s that innate connection we felt as children with the world around us: the wonder, the possibilities, the potential. Which is still very much present in the world, but society tends to regulate it to designated and approved areas and ages. People want to believe in magic, they want that immersive experience and to be able to play. I think for many of them, that belief and desire becomes socially acceptable only in those manufactured and provided places. They can be surrounded by fantasy, and feel like magic could be real.
Which means to me, as a teacher, that there’s a possible doorway present. If people can see that magic is present everywhere, what would that mean for us and the planet? I have been saying for quite a while now: it’s not the world that needs to be re-enchanted or re-wilded — it’s us. A desire to feel and see magic is a gateway to discovering magic within. There’s a lot of fear and social conditioning to overcome to get there. I’m not saying the path of the Witch is for everyone – it’s definitely not. But shifting society and culture to discovering the truth that art, magic, and science can absolutely co-exist can mean a positive shift for the whole planet. I don’t think there’s any one easy answer, but I like finding that ray of hope and possibility.
I keep thinking back to the chapter of The Last Unicorn where Schmendrick points out that Mommy Fortuna put the spell of a false horn on a real unicorn, so that people could actually see the unicorn. Sometimes people need a bit of help to see the real magic in the world. And that is absolutely OK with me.
(This clip is not the part I mention above, but same chapter and Mommy Fortuna brings it up again):