The Babe With the Power: Blending Healing Magic and Popular Culture
I need to start with a disclaimer: everything I say here is based in my own experience, and one person’s experience should not replace professional help or medical advice. I’m in therapy, but I use magic and charms, too. In the past I’ve been on medication, and regularly practised meditation. Sometimes you use several tools from the box to get well.
Anyway. Back to the beginning: five and a half long years ago, in September 2013, I stopped speaking to my mother as a last desperate act of self-preservation. Our relationship was never good; I am a survivor of child abuse and neglect. But even when I was young, I wanted a mother, so as an adult at the time, I was doing my best to ‘fix’ things with her.
“Sometimes you use several tools from the box to get well.” (click to tweet)
Autumn is always a turning point. That September I was 33 years old, a mother myself, and had been living in a different country. Thousands of miles away from her, for years – yet through the miracle of social media, she was still able to upset me and trigger flashbacks at the touch of a keyboard. The end came when she posted a public rant about forgiving someone else for abusing her kids, then pretended she hadn’t said it when I asked her about it.
A good friend of mine was there to be the voice of reason when I felt confused about whether I was doing the right thing – kind, caring parents don’t say and do things like that, they said. I believe some parent-child relationships can be healed, even when the damage runs deep, and I tried to talk to my mother in an honest, open way towards that healing. She came back with incoherent hand-wringing and ranting about how I don’t understand anything. In the end, I blocked her.
“Whenever I feel desperately low, have flashbacks, nightmares, or any of the other awful aspects of c-ptsd kick in, I think it again. You have no power over me.” (click to tweet)
That didn’t cure my c-ptsd. At first it made it worse because I was always worrying about how she’d next try to get in contact, what she would say, and even how she was feeling (they hurt us, but still we love them). But it was shortly after, when I was watching the film Labyrinth with my sons, that I realised the answer was in Sarah’s final confrontation with Jareth, the Goblin King (spoiler alert, but this film is over thirty years old, so I spoiler with a clear conscience) – she can’t remember the line she needs to say to defeat him, and when she does finally remember, she believes every one of the six words and blows the whole kingdom apart: You have no power over me.
It was soothing; it made me sit up a little straighter. This is a mantra I’ve been using ever since, not just where my mother is concerned, but to counter the after-effects of all the abusers I’ve known (there have been a few, unfortunately). It was magic for the character of Sarah in Labyrinth – a film that, from start to finish, places extreme importance on using the right words – and it’s also been magical for me (but magic, in real life, is a much slower process sometimes).
As for my lovely friend who helped me through this change – when I told them about my small but meaningful epiphany, it was comforting to learn they had a similar feeling about the film Drop Dead Fred: when the adult Elizabeth discovers she is strong enough to break away from her controlling mother, the words are I’m not afraid of you. Both lines had the same effect for each of us, the only difference was which film we connected with best as children.
When my mother tries to contact me – it happens, and always with a strange reason she feels I must speak to her, always with a non-apology built in – I think it again. Whenever I feel desperately low, have flashbacks, nightmares, or any of the other awful aspects of c-ptsd kick in, I think it again. You have no power over me.
“Sometimes things are difficult, it’s ok to admit I struggle, but I keep going. Rearranging my brain because of trauma has been necessary and important work, but one thing it isn’t is painless. It has to hurt if it’s to heal.” (click to tweet)
There have been other quotes, from other films. In the months leading up to starting therapy last year, the line ‘It has to hurt if it’s to heal’ from The NeverEnding Story was – and still is – essential. In this movie, Atreyu is on a quest to save Fantasia – a world built by the imaginations of human children – and finds himself seriously injured along the way, then taken in by an old gnome couple, where the wife tends to his wounds and gives him this important advice. It’s in the broader context of the film I find it helpful as well – he’s saving a whole world. He’s already lost his beloved horse, narrowly escapes death himself, and he keeps going. This quote has kept me from the brink very recently. Sometimes things are difficult, it’s ok to admit I struggle, but I keep going. Rearranging my brain because of trauma has been necessary and important work, but one thing it isn’t is painless. It has to hurt if it’s to heal.
These are only two examples of many in my own life. And countless other people are saved by music, books, tv, films, (video) games, art, comics (the list is, as they say, endless) in a similar way, and to me that’s a big beautiful deal. I know I see it my way because I’m a witch, others will see it as it suits them. It’s psychology, emotions. It’s being human and finding comfort and connections where we can. Speaking to my therapist about writing this essay, she agreed with all of the above – including the magic. And when I was explaining how the potential for such magic is given to popular forms of media in no small part because they’re shared by so many people, she said “they have become our mythologies.”
“…magic doesn’t have to be fancy, but it needs to work. For me, if any of it is going to be effective, the most important part is being able to attach real power from within me and direct it outward.” (click to tweet)
She’s right. They are our myths. And we often weave myths into spells, and it comes back to one important rule in my personal practice: magic doesn’t have to be fancy, but it needs to work. For me, if any of it is going to be effective, the most important part is being able to attach real power from within me and direct it outward. Of course, it’s always been important (and fun) learning the meanings of herbs, crystals, colours, animal and dream symbolism, how stars and planets affect us, and so on – but if I’m not connecting the knowledge to a force of my own, it’s all just decoration. And maybe some would dismiss pop culture talismans and chants and charms, but if you put ten tonnes of power and meaning behind them, they’re just as effective and life-changing – and potentially as spiritually resonant – as anything older.
“…maybe some would dismiss pop culture talismans and chants and charms, but if you put ten tonnes of power and meaning behind them, they’re just as effective and life-changing – and potentially as spiritually resonant – as anything older.” (click to tweet)
Born in Southern Ohio, but settled in the UK since 1999, Kate is a writer, witch, editor and mother of five. She is the author of several poetry pamphlets, and the founding editor of four web journals and a micropress. Her witchcraft is a blend of her great-grandmother's Appalachian ways and the Anglo-Celtic craft of the country she now calls home – though she incorporates tarot, astrology, and her ancestors, plus music, film, books, and many other things into her practice. Her spiritual life is best described as queer Christopagan with emphasis on the feminine and the natural world. She believes magic is everywhere. Find Kate on twitter and IG - @mskateybelle - and at her website.