4 ways Walt Disney shaped pop culture magic

Disney parade On one of the days I was at Disney, I had the chance to see a parade go by. People were lined up by the sides of the street and the various parade floats were themed around specific Disney movies. You had characters on the floats and you also had people dressed up in outfits, like the green army men from Toy Story, or ants from A Bugs Life. What fascinated me the most about the experience was the combination of music, the floats, and people watching the parade, getting into the experience. I felt a ripple flow through me and I knew in that moment that I was watching magic happen. The magic of belief, the magic of people in that moment playing a role in a ritual that was unfolding before us in the parade.

Green Army Men

And make no mistake...it was a ritual. It may not have been a magical ritual in the usual sense of the word, but nonetheless what was unfolding before my eyes was an experience of altered consciousness, a warping of space and time, similar to how a ritual feels. All the people, whether they were cast members or people watching the parade were brought into this ritual that was an exultation of Disney and the characters and movies that were in the parade.

Disney parade

At first fascinated by the parade ritual, I ended up becoming part of it, snapping pictures, but also caught up in the emotion of the moment. I felt excited, thrilled, and energized by what I saw and heard.

Afterwards, as I reflected on the ritual of the parade I began thinking about Walt Disney and my experience of Disneyland and how all of this could be part of pop culture magic. I've never been a huge Disney fan, but its fair to say that Disney has some influence on pop culture magic and how we might approach pop culture magic. I thought I would share below 4 ways Disney has influenced pop culture magic.

1. Disney took existing stories and modernized them through media to capture the imagination. Disney understood the power of stories. He also understood the power of using different media to tell those stories. His cartoons and movies took older stories and made them into something new, something to be experienced. And as a result he captured the imagination of the people who watched those movies. Part of what makes pop culture magic effective is how the imagination of people in general are captured by the pop culture. Their attention and imagination, on some level, is locked into Disney. In general, with pop culture, what our imagination is locked into is what makes the pop culture relevant and the significance to that in pop culture magic is that we can draw on what is significant in the imagination and make it into viable magical work.

2. Disney recognized that people want to experience magic, and made it a pivotal part of most of his work. Magic has been a significant element in Disney's work. Whether you agree or disagree with how magic is portrayed in Disney, it's fair to say that one of the reasons magic shows up in pop culture in general is because of Disney and the inclusion of magic. Disney understood the power of magic and how people secretly longed for it. He made that longing visible and allowed people to enjoy the possibility of magic being in their lives (even if only in pop culture).

3. Disney's pop culture sets up characters around specific values and themes that people can relate to. If you look at the various Disney media you see certain themes in play such as good versus evil or the triumph of romantic love. While Disney certainly wasn't the first person to come up with these themes, they nonetheless play an integral role in the work he produced, and also promote the values he believed in. The characters are framed in context to those themes, which makes it easier to work with them on a spiritual level. Disney understood the power of stories and myths and so he's created his own mythology around his characters and the themes that are relevant to those themes.

the spirits of Disney

In Disneyland there's a case (pictured above) with statues. You have the spirit of innovation, the spirit of imagination, the spirit of achievement etc.. These statues embody the themes that Disney wanted integrated into any media produced by his company. As a result the characters can also be matched to those themes. And I think you see those themes come alive in a lot of what Disney media produces even now.

With pop culture magic such themes can be worked with and explored through the characters a person chooses to work with. What's striking about the themes is that you don't necessarily see them show up in just any pop culture media, but in the case of Disney they do show up and that can be useful in developing correspondences and a system of magic around them.

4. Disney recognized the power of belief and how it could shape the experience people have. Throughout my time in Disneyland, it became very clear to me how much Disney recognized and accounted for the power of belief. He wanted people entering the theme park to suspend their disbelief, get in touch with their inner child, and while they were in Disneyland believe in a different reality. I felt like Disneyland was a pocket universe that people would enter into, and for a time, become like children again. This happened because they suspended their disbelief, and embraced a belief in the reality of Disneyland, the reality of experience they were having.

The ability to believe in the experience and allow it to become part of your reality is an important part of magical work in general, but in pop culture magic it is particularly important because it allows you to develop viable magical workings using pop culture. The pop culture becomes something more than just what you've seen on T.V. or played in a game. It becomes a mythology that you take part in and make part of your life. Disney, while he never practiced magic, understood the power of taking stories and making them into something people could identify with and make part of their lives. My visit to Disneyland really helped me appreciate the nuances of pop culture magic and recognize that pop culture will continue to be something we bring into all areas of our lives, including our spiritual journey.

If you're interested in developing your own pop culture systems of magic, check out my upcoming class Pop Culture Magic Foundations, starting on August 9th.