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Tangled Up: On Imperfect Motherhood, New Families and Keeping Your Power

"Deb can read to your brother and do a puzzle with you.  Deb can do anything."  This probably would have been a more convincing statement if I wasn't delivering it directly into a couch cushion.  It was a long week with a lot of long days.  The same could be said of most of my weeks lately.  It can be hard to remember why I'm working so hard, let alone to remember I'm capable of altering my universe.  My practice is lacking, my inner life is lacking, I feel lacking.

Logically, I know I'm accomplishing a lot but all I can think of is the next task.  It's hard to be present during leisure times and it's hard to not be thinking of the next thing that has to be done, the next hurdle to be jumped.

Right now my eldest Tiny Charge (a whole three years old!) is into Everything Disney.  Her consumption is carefully regulated but she loves all the music.  "Let It Go" is her nap protest song, we listen to the Frozen Pandora station in the car.  All of the big Princess "Finding Yourself" songs play in rapid success on our way from play school to the park.  

What's a fire and why does it - what's the word?/ Burn!/ When's it my turn?/ Wouldn't I love, love to explore that world up above? 

There must be more than this provincial life!

Who is that girl, I see staring straight back at me/ Why is my reflection someone I don't know?/ Somehow I cannot hide who I am, though I've tried/ When will my reflection show who I am inside?/ when will my reflection show who I am inside?

Here I stand/ And here I'll stay/ Let the storm rage on/ My power flurries through the air into the ground/ My soul is spiraling in frozen fractals all around/ And one thought crystallizes like an icy blast /I’m never going back,/ The past is in the past/ Let it go, let it go/ And I'll rise like the break of dawn/ Let it go, let it go/ That perfect girl is gone

It's kind of a lot having your quarter life existential crisis being summed up into bite sized pieces meant to be consumed by would-be toddlers pretend princesses.  But they won't be princess at all, even though we live in an oligarchy which makes me afraid to think how that's going to work out for Gen Z because . . .I don't know about you, but the fact that 65% of their jobs depend on ethereal "jobs that don't yet exist" seems a bit terrifying.

When it's not Frozen in Toddler Pretend Princessville, it's Tangled.  And I know Frozen is problematic on a lot of levels,  but what really aggravates me is the Disney take on Rapunzel.  In the original version, it seems pretty clear cut that the woman raising Rapunzel isn't a particularly kind woman and what Medieval Era babe doesn't want to get out of dodge to bear a million of some random's babies?  I mean, options were limited to say the least and you were probably going to die of plague if not childbed.  Okay, fine.

But have you seen the end of Tangled?  In a nutshell, Rapunzel figured out that the King and Queen were her real parents, Mother Gothel tries to kill the dude who Rapunzel knew for all of three days who was trying to take her daughter away from her so Rapunzel decides allow her mother to be thrown out a window and to give the last bit of her magic to the random boy to heal him and to live happily ever after with two people she's never before met.

Now.  Certainly Mother Gothel is far from Mother of the Year.  She pulls Marie Calvet competitive/manipulative junk on Ranpunzel every ten minutes or so but does Megan Calvet Draper ever throw her mother out the window on Mad Men?  No.  She does not.  The mother/daughter relationship is a lot more complicated in Tangled than what Disney would lead you to believe.  I highly doubt that fairy tale version Rapunzel was given a gallery, a chess set, paints, books, ballet lessons, pottery lessons, knitting, a guitar, puzzles, darts, a sketch book and the means to sew new dresses which is explicitly stated in the song "When Will My Life Begin?".  Rapunzel is also obviously in good health, well fed and well dressed.  

By now you must be wondering, why is Deb obsessing over this?  Well, for one thing, I'm getting brainwashed myself with having to read this book about twenty times a day.  But more honestly and more truly, I'm obsessed about this because I was adopted by my parents when I was three days old.  My younger sister is biologically their child, it was a fluke that my mom was able to have her.  So!  Let's get some questions out of the way!

Q. Do you feel your parents treated you differently because you were adopted and M. wasn't?

A. No.  Mama Castellano's love is not biologically driven, if anything it's merit based.  We have both earned and lost points based on our actions many, many times.  More seriously, my mom still calls me her gift from God.  So if the Almighty gave me to Mama Castellano as a special present, on what planet am I going to feel less loved?

Q. Do you want to find your biological parents?

A.  Ehhhh?  At one time I did kind of and my mom was supportive about it.  But I heard a lot of horror stories about how bio-moms tend to not be super stable Mabels so I've never been all that interested in general.

Q. Can people tell that you were adopted?

A.  Nope!  And that probably made things somewhat easier for me.  I look enough like my family that my sister and I are often told how much we look alike.  We both smirk at each other (the ultimate inside joke) and say, "Thanks!"


This obsessive need for Rapunzel to find her "real" parents rubs me all sorts of the wrong way.  My bio-mom isn't my "real" mom, Mama Castellano is my real mom.  She's been my real mom for about 99% of my life.  She's financed my hopes and dreams and my mistakes, she's the one I call almost every day, she's the one who gives me encouragement or a smack down as needed.  I'm grateful to my bio-mom for having me but she's my bio-mom, she's not my real mom.  Was my mom perfect?  No, of course not.  She absolutely did the best she could and always loved me which is all any parent can do, really.  We were too much alike during most of my twenties and we would get into Brave confrontational poses a lllllllllll the time.

Classic Deb and Mama Castellano Faces

Like it or not, Mother Gothel was Rapunzel's real mom.  She raised her for sixteen years, set boundaries and gave her as many advantages as she could and loved her the best way she could in a completely flawed manner.  

You think that when I was 23 and all, "You can't tell me what to do, MOM!  I'ma split from Catholicism and become a idol worshipping heathen and I'm going to marry that boy you hate!  WHAT!  Nothing, nothing!  You can't do nothin' about this!  So there!"  that if my mom had some kind of spell to lock me up in a tower and dictate my entire life in that moment that she wouldn't use it?  Um, no.  She would have done it so fast I would still have some Wasband spit in my mouth.  Is that the right thing to do in New Parenting?  No.  Would I be seriously tempted myself if I ever had a Tiny Deb giving me that face?  Um, yeah.

I think it's really messed up that the message being sent to young girls is 1. if you don't like the parent(s)* you were given and the rules they are giving you, hold out that maybe you have estranged royal parents to come in and take you away and 2. You should give the last bit of magic you have immediately to the first boy you meet that you like.

Dear sweet baby Ganesha, if I had done that, my loser high school boyfriend would still have all my magic and if that's not a terrifying thought, I don't know what is.

We need to teach our children to look to save themselves, not to look for a prince to save them.  We need to teach them to hold onto their magic and their power and not give it all away to the first people who claim to love them.  And if we ourselves haven't completely received that message for ourselves, we need to work our hardest to assimilate into our bones right now.  Today.  Because holding onto your power is one of the most fierce kinds of magic you can perform.  And if you've given pieces away as we all do, I can't recommend The Iron Pentacle Mediation in T. Thorn Coyle's Evolutionary Witchcraft enough to take your pieces of yourself and your power back.


* I'm not talking about abusive situations here.  Obviously, that's a completely different kettle of fish and one you should seek help for.

Last modified on
Deborah Castellano's book, Glamour Magic: The Witchcraft Revolution to Get What You Want (Llewellyn, 2017) is available: . She is a frequent contributor to Occult/Pagan sources such as the Llewellyn almanacs, Witchvox, PaganSquare and Witches & Pagans magazine. She writes about Charms, Hexes, Weeknight Dinner Recipes, Glamoury and Unsolicited Opinions on Morals and Magic at Charmed, I'm Sure. Her craft shop, The Mermaid and The Crow ( specializes in goddess & god vigil candles, hand blended ritual oils, airy hand dyed scarves, handspun yarn and other goodies. She resides in New Jersey with her husband, Jow and their two cats. She has a terrible reality television habit she can't shake and likes St. Germain liquor, record players and typewriters.


  • Xiao Rong
    Xiao Rong Tuesday, 03 June 2014

    Hi Deb, I completely agree with you that Tangled has many problematic aspects. But one thing I will say is that Tangled is probably one of the best representations of emotional child abuse that I have seen in popular media. When I first watched it, my blood ran cold because it was so similar to my childhood. The deceit, manipulation, isolation, controlling behavior, putdowns -- that's textbook emotional abuse that can be just as, if not more harmful, that physical abuse (not to mention child abduction). It's true that Mother Gothel went to great lengths to keep Rapunzel in good health, well fed, and supplied with toys and books and other sundries. There are many abusers who aren't monsters all the time, and there are many children who are emotionally abused, even if you wouldn't know it to look at them (they get good grades, are well-dressed, etc.); they instead show signs such as low confidence, anxiety, eating disorders, etc. For those of us who are child abuse survivors, it causes a lot of mixed feelings that are hard to resolve, precisely because the same person who nourishes you, clothes you, feeds you, gives you gifts is the one who tells you that you're worthless, a crappy human being, unloveable by anyone except for the abuser. I also think that Rapunzel expresses no desire to find her "real" parents until she realizes that she was abducted as an infant and was lied to and used by her kidnapper her entire life, so ... Yeah. I don't really have a good conclusion to this, just trying to provide an alternate perspective; as a survivor of child abuse, I found Tangled to be a rather liberating experience (even if I wish the ending hadn't revolved around Flynn/Eugene's self-sacrifice. In my headcanon she becomes a healer queen who is renowned for curing diseases with her tears!)

  • Gemma SEymour
    Gemma SEymour Thursday, 05 June 2014

    ' But have you seen the end of Tangled? In a nutshell, Rapunzel figured out that the King and Queen were her real parents, Mother Gothel tries to kill the dude who Rapunzel knew for all of three days who was trying to take her daughter away from her so Rapunzel decides allow her mother to be thrown out a window and to give the last bit of her magic to the random boy to heal him and to live happily ever after with two people she's never before met.

    Now. Certainly Mother Gothel is far from Mother of the Year. '

    I honestly cannot believe I just read this.

    Mother Gothel isn't Rapunzel's mother, SHE'S RAPUNZEL'S KIDNAPPER.

  • Nova
    Nova Thursday, 05 June 2014

    That's true but as the writer states she took care of Rapunzel quite well and who knows, if Rapunzel was raised by the Queen or King would she be as lovely and kind as she would have been being raised by mother Gothel. Nope probably not, she'd probably be another spoiled princess. I also agree Mother Gothel's was in certainly in the wrong. Kidnapping a baby like Nic Cage did in Raising Arizona, yes it's wrong. Though did she deserve the death punishment... I don't think so.

  • Morgan Ravenwood
    Morgan Ravenwood Thursday, 05 June 2014

    I too thought that Rapunzel took the death of the woman who raised her a little too casually. Kidnapper, yes, but she WAS the only mother Rapunzel had ever known. The scene just rubbed me the wrong way.

  • Nova
    Nova Thursday, 05 June 2014

    To be honest when I was a child I used to “like” Disney. Being poor and being able to read very well at young age. I got most of my fairy tale knowledge from books. My grandmother and father encouraged me to read the books that Disney turned into “Happily Ever Afters”. They would say that's now how it ended. Of course my curious had me reading the original tale and agreeing. These fairy tales were magical all in their own. However most tales ended with tragedy, understanding back in the days they were written life wasn't as easy and scaring kids not to certain things seemed to be the easiest method back in those days. So I understand why Disney is changing these fairy tales to a more positive light that it's almost to the point of butchering the original fairy tale.

    I understand your point. My stepfather raised me half my childhood and my younger sisters even more. We're not biologically his yet he supported my mother, sisters, and I. Even now during college he won't kick us out even though he could. He's as real a father as much as my biological father, both flawed both very deserving of love. He respects, treats us well, and helps us out.

    To be honest the older I'm getting the more I'm starting to dislike Disney. I'm actually pretty sure I'm going to be heavily regulating which Disney flicks they do watch. I want my child to believe in magic but to also understand that not everything is going to end in “Happily Ever After.”

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