Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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Quest for Witchhood

 famous lines from the Wizard of Oz movie | The Enchanted Manor

Wizard of Oz: The Scariest Moment


As a child, there was one scene in The Wizard of Oz, a film not lacking in scary scenes, that I found uniquely terrifying.

No, not one of the transformation scenes: when Miss Gulch on her bicycle, caught up into the winds of the tornado, becomes the cackling Wicked Witch of the West on her broom, or that awful moment in the Witch's Tower when the one that Dorothy loves best of all, Auntie Em, seen remotely in the crystal ball, transforms into the one that she fears most of all, the Witch herself.

No, nor the moments of sheer weirdness: the Wizard's disembodied head—as green as the WWW herself, be it noted—on his throne flanked by roaring gouts of fire, nor even the “Fly! Fly! Fly!” scene in which the Witch unleashes a skyful of shrieking, flying monkeys.

(Gods: what's creepier than the flying monkeys? So weird. So blue. Winged monkeys, so blue, dressed in weird little bellhop uniforms. And they're so blue!)

No: for me, the moment of deepest fear was existential.


Dorothy, fleeing the tornado, finally manages to get back home. Auntie Em, Uncle Henry, and the farmhands have already gone down into the storm cellar. Dorothy stomps frantically at the door, but with all the noise of the cyclone, they can't hear her.

For the sheltered little kid growing up in the protected suburbs that I was, that was the most frightening moment of all. You're in trouble, you finally manage to make it back home, and even there they can't protect you.

Kid, you're on your own.


Masterpiece that it is, WoO (the Movie) is a film about the terrors (and joys) of growing up.

In it, Dorothy's quest is twofold: both finding Home, and escaping it.

(Salman Rushdie remarks in his truly brilliant Guide to the Wizard of Oz that, for a film supposedly about getting back home, the real theme is the simultaneous need to escape home as well. As a boy growing up in Bombay, he knew the film so well that it influenced his dreams. He describes one particularly terrifying nightmare in which, looking out his bedroom window, he sees a broom-riding Miss Gulch morph into—who else—Indira Gandhi. “The Wicked Witch of the West,” he observes wryly, “transformed into the Wicked Witch of the East.”)

The ineffectual father (Uncle Henry/the Wizard of Oz), the over-controlling mother (Aunt Em/the Wicked Witch): these are the parents/un-parents from whom Dorothy longs to escape, and with whom she longs to be reunited.

No, mom and dad can't protect you forever, kid. You've got to grow up and make it on your own.

So Dorothy does. She makes allies, interestingly, with the primal powers: Animal (Lion), Vegetable (Scarecrow), and Mineral (Tin Man).

And so she achieves her quest.


Icon of three witches: Dorothy, Glinda, the WWotW.

(“Who, me? I'm not a witch at all,” Dorothy tells Glinda in Munchkinland. Oh, but she is; she just hasn't figured it out yet. Witchhood is all about growing into your own power.)

Can you say “Maiden, Mother, Crone”?


So hold on to those ruby slippers, kid.

It's time to take up your broom and fly.


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Tagged in: Wizard of Oz
Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


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