Everyone knows that Disneyland is full of magic. But it's brimming with mysticism, too. From numerology and tarot cards, to apparitions and hidden haunts from the Other Side, Pam Turlow tunes you in to the spiritual messages found throughout the happiest place on earth.
For those who believe in something beyond the bounds of our mortal existence, Disneyland is a very active place. Whether intentionally or not, Walt and the Imagineers packed a lot of otherworldly punch into the park.
Beginning in Adventureland, Turlow works her way through each land, pointing out the paranormal in major attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, and even Pinocchio's Daring Journey.
Discover a Disneyland you never imagined.
Chapter 1: The Hub
Chapter 2: Adventureland
Chapter 3: New Orleans Square
Chapter 4: Frontierland
Chapter 5: Critter Country
Chapter 6: Fantasyland
Chapter 7: Mickey's Toontown
Chapter 8: Tomorrowland
Chapter 9: Sleeping Beauty Castle
Chapter 10: Main Street, U.S.A.
Chapter 11: Disneyland Haunts
“You’re off to Disneyland again, Pam?”
“Yep. Off to the Mother Ship.”
Most people call it the Happiest Place on Earth. And it is. But I often refer to it as the Mother Ship, my own personal Mecca, where I can recharge the batteries that power my Inner Imp, my place of reconnection to play, inspiration, magic, and yes, spirit. It’s pretty much my alpha and omega as far as the one destination I’ve visited where all is well, all is good, all is as it should be, where anything and all that is positive and nurturing is available and ready to conspire with.
Walt Disney built Disneyland so people of all ages could enjoy it with equal gusto. I’ve visited Disneyland as a toddler, a young child, in my 30s (yes, there was a 27-year gap between my second and third visits, which I refer to as “the dark ages,” or, to borrow a title from a Sherman Brothers song that always tugs at my heart, “The Age of Not Believing”), my 40s, and I celebrated my 50th birthday there. I’ve visited with my then 40s-ish parents, my hubby (starting in our 30s and joyously moving forward from there), my dad in his senior years, and with friends ranging from toddler to AARP card-carrying member.
I’ve visited on sunny days, rainy days, chilly days, and days I was sure my shoes would melt to the pavement. I’ve been there on days when crowds created rivers that I “salmoned” against, and on quiet, sparse days when my husband and I dubbed it “our park”—and thanked the universe it wasn’t a crazy, crowded day where our mantra was, “Who are these people and what are they doing in our park?”
And every single time, I find something new to explore, whether it’s focusing on a particular land, or a new attraction, or just being open to the serendipitous little miracles that have a way of popping up. And those miracles really started popping up when I visited to write a chapter for my book, The Cotton Candy Road Trip, which celebrated the 40th anniversary of my visit in 1971 with my mom, the sole “girls only” vacation we’d ever taken. Of course, because my mom was a planner (and a bit of a silly goose) in life, she utilized her angel wings she’s been gifted with in heaven, making sure things went very smoothly that day, that all our plans fit perfectly, that we did get in to Club 33, and also that little reminders of her gentle silliness showed themselves as tiny blessings from above throughout the day.
That particular trip brought with it a kind of paradigm shift. I still found the park a place of play and joy, of release and nostalgia and discovery. But since that visit in 2011, I’ve been unconsciously, and then consciously, adding an element to my land sojourns. And that element is magic. And not just what we often relate to as “Disney magic,” but something more ethereal, something that incorporates mysticism, the esoteric, spirituality, and the unexplained. So before a park visit, I ask myself, “Where will the magic lead me today?” And then, the serendipities start lining up and provide me with a kind of invisible FastPass into the mystical side of the park. And I start to see more than the Tiki Room and its classic bird show—I see the Hawaiian gods taking me on a mystical journey. I don’t just thrill to the Indiana Jones ride, but I wonder which dark passageway Mara will send me down this time—and what lesson I’ll glean from the terrifying trip. And a walk down Main Street isn’t only a delightful nostalgic stroll—it can quite possibly include a whisper of inspiration from Uncle Walt himself.
I began to ask myself the question, “Just how deep does the mystical side of Disneyland go?” And so I began taking notes, aided by my own deep interest in world religions, my knowledge of esoteric traditions, and my work with spiritual belief systems. And I came up with the reality that for just about every attraction, there is a mystical side, a legend or superstition that reaches back over the centuries, a supernatural story or belief system that is tapped for its magic, and, on occasion, its light and dark side. Mythologies, lore, superstitions, and religious teachings dot the landscape of Disneyland; Walt was known to have a bountiful library of books that explored those subjects. Peel back the beautiful ground cover, glorious structures, and magnificent theming, and you’ll find the mystical and magical undercurrents of the park that give it a sparkling-yet-unseen field of energy.
A major focus of my first book was the concept of “the spirit of place,” the accumulated energies from hundreds of thousands of visitors to a particular location. No park that I visited during my touring and writing topped Walt’s first park in Anaheim as far as palpable, sparklingly, happy spirit. Disneyland has an incredible energy that you truly can feel the moment you pass under the sign that reads, “Here You Leave Today, and Enter the World of Yesterday, Tomorrow and Fantasy.” Now add to that the underlying tapestry of the mystical stories and teachings that Walt built it upon (based upon his interests and readings of the esoteric and spiritual, which you will learn about in this book), and you have a truly magical kingdom built on dreams and mythologies and a spell, a wish put out with intention, to cast goodness and light on “all who enter this Happy Place.”
So sit back, light some incense, pour yourself a cozy beverage, and prepare to learn that Disney magic is real, pixie dust is floating in the air, and that tap on your shoulder might belong to a certain wizard in ethereal clothing you can sense, but might not quite see with your naked eye.
To add an additional level of magic to your experience at the park, and allow you to grasp another dimension of connection and reflection to the aforementioned pixie dust, you’ll find a “Make Your Own Magic” segment at the end of many chapters or major segments of the book. In them, I’ll lead you through a selection of ideas which may seem spell-like. Let’s be clear: I am not purporting a particular belief system. You will find elements of a number of esoteric practices in the suggestions, and that’s absolutely fine if you do because, like the park, they do have magical (or, if you prefer, magickal) correlations. But they’re also simply fun and engaging ways to see the park in a different light, and to use your imagination to create a depth of experience like none you’ve had before at Disneyland. Treat them like a little workbook of wonder. Enjoy them, journal about them, take notes, photos, post about them on Facebook or Instagram—whatever you like. They’re designed to draw you into the magic; rather than simply reading about the histories and belief systems, you can become a part of them.
Now, go forth and be your own wizard…
Pam Turlow is a voice-over artist, spiritual life coach, actor, and writer. Her first book, The Cotton Candy Road Trip, is also available through Theme Park Press. She loves mid-century design, the mystical side of life, and Disney. She lives in the Chicago area with her husband and their dainty beaglette.
No one is going to sacrifice a chicken or attempt to raise the dead in New Orleans Square, but that doesn't meant it isn't there, swirling like thin mist past your ankles, embodied in the drumbeats you can almost hear, the distant voices raised in a pagan chant... Voodoo!
I came armed with camera, recorder, ghost hunting app, and notepad and pen. I really got all Nancy Drew during our January visit to the park, but still I could not find the painting. Legend has it that there is a painting of Marie Laveau, the Creole woman who became known as the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans in the 19th century, somewhere in New Orleans Square, most likely in Pirates of the Caribbean. I asked around, I scoured the attractions and shops, but no such luck. If anyone knows where she’s hiding, please let me know, as I wish to pay her some honor. I have read that her portrait was found in the Haunted Mansion and Pirates when they first opened, but some have said her image is still around.
Or perhaps I did find her, but was not aware it was her because she revealed herself in a covert, unexpected way. Next time you’re visiting and use the restrooms near the New Orleans Square train station, take a moment to look up at the second-floor balcony of the building right across from the building housing the toilets. You’ll see various masks and tribal decorations and you’ll hear what I would describe as a voodoo ritual: rattles being rhythmically shaken while someone is chanting something in a language I can’t quite decipher. Wind chimes, often employed to ward off evil spirits, flutter in the breeze. If this isn’t the revered Ms. Laveau herself, it most certainly sounds like a disciple. In any case, when encountering this resident of New Orleans Square, respect and gratitude must always be employed. Don’t end up with a small, rag doll likeness of yourself hidden in the window display of the Pieces of Eight shop like Captain Jack Sparrow did.
Another one of those shops you walk by again and again, possibly stop in quickly to buy a Minnie Mouse t-shirt, but when you’re there, you neglect to look around at the interior. The Bat En Rouge (a clever take on the name of the city of Baton Rouge) is, quite possibly, the witchiest of the witchy, the place Madame Leota hides out in when not appearing as a disembodied head in the Haunted Mansion, or does her tarot readings, or stores her potions. A quick scan of the space will uncover the following metaphysical paraphernalia: the Wheel of Fortune tarot card, potion bottles, a cauldron, scales for measuring magickal powders (I will use the pagan spelling for “magic” here as, well, it just seems fitting), a mortar and pestle for grinding said powders, several skulls, a candlestick with a pentagram design (reminder: the pentagram stands for the element of earth; it is not demonic), a framed astrological wheel, a sinister raven, a phrenology head (phrenology is the study of the skull’s bumps and shape in order to do divinatory work), a palmistry figurative model, a palmistry book, framed renderings of spiders (the totem animal of creativity, by the way), more peacock feathers, and various items ostensibly floating from the ceiling, including a suitcase and a wicker chair with another raven perched in a menacing fashion (well, okay, they’re attached to it, but the effect is similar).
I was gob-smacked that I, a practitioner of the tarot, someone who has done readings professionally for over a decade, never noticed the tarot card, never quite made the connection that the items used for décor tell a story. Whose story, we’re not sure, but it definitely adds up, in my mind at least, as a magickal sanctuary, a space any practitioner of the esoteric arts would be at home in. Le Bat En Rouge has had many faces over the years, once as the One-of-a-Kind Shop and then Le Gourmet. Its current incarnation is one of incantation—now only if it didn’t house Minnie Mouse items and focused on Haunted Mansion gear. Oh, and Disney marketing, if you’re reading this: a deck of Madame Leota tarot or divination cards would sell out in a week, and likely need to be reprinted again and again.
Continued in "The Mystical Mouse"!
It's a kid's ride, isn't it—Peter Pan? Well, yeah, until you bring in the goatish lust of the Greek god Pan, and the fairies who delight in luring travelers deep into the forests and the bogs at night to die.
“It’s a slow loader,” I tell my hubby. “The line is already long, the wait time is 45 minutes, and it’s only 10 a.m.”
“So? You gotta be someplace?” The wry smile starts to seep in, and the determined boy who’s never grown up (who I happen to be happily, delightedly married to for almost 20 years), digs his heels in and we’re locked in line, weaving back and forth through the queue, edging closer and closer to boarding our very own flying pirate ship to Neverland—where the familiar strains of “You Can Fly” will wash over us, propelling us on our journey, where we’ll fly over the rooftops of London, skim past Big Ben, and encounter wacky pirates, Mary Blairesque mermaids, and a silly crocodile with a clock in his belly.
There’s something about this ride that sets it apart from the other dark rides of Fantasyland. Maybe it’s the way your ship flies over the Darling’s home, over the always-nurturing Nana, and up and away toward the second star to the right. It’s that moment of what seems like free flight; you feel truly a part of the ride, rather than being carried through it. The wind is at your face, the lights twinkle beneath you, the stars above. And Tinker Bell flits along, your trusty companion on the journey, giving you a magical puff of pixie dust, somehow engendering a sense of stability through her magic, while Peter Pan moves betwixt and between worlds—and carries you along into mischief, wonder, and never-ending play.
It’s that ability to pass between reality and the faerie realm, to be enchanted in some way that Peter Pan’s never grown up, that has drawn generations of readers—and Disneyland fans—into the magic of the story. Peter Pan’s name is derived from Peter Llewelyn Davies, an actual child and one of five Llewelyn Davies’ boys whom author J.M. Barrie knew and later informally adopted, and the Greek god Pan. Pan, half man and half goat, is quite the force in Greek mythology, traipsing about with nymphs and playing his pan flute to seduce them. Unfortunately, Pan was not endowed with physical grace or beauty, and had a terrifying guttural growl to boot—so he encountered little fairy romance (Disney’s take to make Tinker Bell a strong force in Peter’s life, yet a source of conflict, echoes this). Pan was an interesting choice for Barrie to use as part of his character of Peter Pan—traveling back and forth between worlds, plus being part man, part faun. Like Peter, the god doesn’t fit into one realm, so switches back and forth. This, of course, is reflected in childhood cognitive and emotional development—and, let’s face it, many of us “adults” are in a never-ending battle between the realms of being a kid forever and “adulting.” It’s certainly something my hubby and I can relate to, especially at Disney.
Then there’s Tinker Bell. In the animated film, she has the power to make humans fly with just a sprinkle of pixie dust—and the directive that they think good thoughts. And this brings us to fairy lore (or faerie, if you prefer). In the fairy realm, there are simply scads of races or types or subgroups of fae. Tinker Bell is referred to as a fairy and a pixie. So, what exactly is she? My studies have revealed the following: pixies are usually mischievous (check), but often to the point where they are dangerous and disruptive (slight check), and usually do not possess magic. Fairies have magical powers (check) and can wield it in positive or negative ways. But, pixies are often depicted, especially in the Victorian era, as having green outfits and gossamer wings (check—okay, now we’re confused).
Let’s go back to the sources. In the original 1904 play, Tinker Bell is referred to as a fairy, but in the Disney film she’s called a pixie. Let’s simply say she’s a cross between both. And, as I’ve mentioned before in my exploration of the Little Man of Disneyland, one should tread carefully with the fairy realm. They’re mischief makers, capable of leading unsuspecting travelers into the mist while walking through the moors, confusing them with their magic, inflicting what has been referred to in European folklore as “the will o’ the wisp,” often chalked up as swamp gas, but thought of as “fairy fire” held in the hand of a “puca,” a type of fairy that gives mischief a new name. In Wales, it is said to portend an upcoming death, or at the very least, it lures an unsuspecting traveler into the marshes by its mystical light, only for it to extinguish at the last minute, leaving the poor soul lost in the murky darkness. In the English countryside of Devon, a similar phenomenon, the “pixy-light,” would confound travelers with its brilliance, and have them end up knee-deep in a slimy bog.
Is there evidence of faires? Fairy photography became all the rage in Victorian England after cousins Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths took a series of photos featuring delicate-winged nymph-like creatures which became known as the Cottingley Fairies, and insisted they had captured actual evidence of the fae, but the claims were later debunked. In the 1980s, the then elderly ladies confessed to their photographic trickery, but, interestingly, they still held fast that one of the series of photos was, indeed, authentic. Which one that was remains a delicious, beguiling mystery.
Continued in "The Mystical Mouse"!