Readers of this blog know several things about me, one of which is my love of the 1939 MGM movie The Wizard of Oz. To me, it’s the most wonderful combination of fairy tale, hero’s (heroine’s) journey and a musical. There are lessons galore throughout the film and I’m always finding more. This month in honor of Halloween (which deserves more than a one-day celebration, don’t you think?), I am focusing on the Wicked Witch of the West.
Margaret Hamilton was horrified when she saw the final cut of the film and how frightening she was. I have a former roommate who even as an adult would not stay in the same room when she was on the screen. She is such a great character that thanks to Gregory McGuire she has her own book series and a musical of her own. She is the stuff of nightmares – literally so for Dorothy – and one of the great story villains of all time.
Why is she so timeless? I think it is because she is a complex character who represents so many things that frighten us on both a surface and a deeper level. From threats to our family and friends to the fear of not being able to have what we want, she embodies frightening truths that chill us long after the initial scare is gone. One of the things the Wicked Witch most represents is power.
Our first reaction to power is often wishing we had more, but the truth is there are many forms of power which scare us deeply, as the Witch shows us. Over and over again she displays the type of power we find most intimidating and challenging – power over us. Power Over is the direct opposite of Power Within as well as Power With (I’m choosing to capitalize these to help them stand out as concepts, not just two words). It’s important not only to know the difference but to also be able to recognize when one is influencing our lives rather than the other or when we’re in need of the ones that lead to empowerment.
Mary Parker Follett, 1868-1933 an America social worker known as the “Mother of Modern Management” was the first to write about and discuss the difference between power over and power with. She stated that:
Power over is a traditional relationship in which one person has power over another person or one group over another group…. It is a traditional relationship in the sense that dominance and coercion are used time and again before other alternatives are sought. One side vies for power over another, at best trying to influence the other to concede its position, at worst using brute force to have its way.
This is certainly what the Wicked Witch uses to intimidate and get her way with Dorothy. A win-lose mentality. Dominance, coercion and brute force which comes in the form of threats to her dog, her friends, and her life. Dorothy is right to fear her and the power she wields and we are right to be uncomfortable with this both in the movie and in our lives.
So what defeats this form of power?
First, is Power With which is what Dorothy finds with the help of the Scarecrow, Tinman, and Lion (and even Toto).
Power with is at once relational and collective. It creates new possibilities from the very differences that might exist in a group. Unlike brute force, which must be continually reinforced to sustain itself, power with emerges organically from the participants involved and grows stronger the more it is put to use.
Once Dorothy finds people she can trust (and this is key), she is able to create solutions and resolutions that would not have been possible if she took her journey alone. So too for us, if we are facing challenges of someone trying to exert power over us, when we connect with those who support us and understand our goals, a different outcome is possible. Dorothy is able to go home. We can go back to whatever our personal “home” is.
The other positive power is Power Within, a power Glinda reminds Dorothy she “always had.” Although sometimes difficult to tap into and intimidating in its own way, this is the power that most defines our lives and our results. Dorothy gets within sight of her goal because of the help of her friends, but ultimately it is the power within her, her own heart’s desire, which allows her to have what she wants.
Throughout the movie, we see Dorothy learning – in part thanks to the Wicked Witch – of the power she has within her. She is kind, helpful, caring, determined, a fierce friend, and someone not to be ignored. To the Wizard she calls herself “the small and meek”, but over her journey, we see she is anything but.
This is true for us as well. Our journey shows us all the ways we are strong, the places and ways we have Power Within. We are capable, passionate, committed and loving. We are driven, inspiring, intelligent and unique. The more we tap into this part of our power and own it, the less threatening any outside power becomes.
Acceptance of our glorious Power Within – especially combined with Power With – is an unbeatable way to reach our heart’s desire.
No Wicked Witch could ever stop this.