Compassion With Claws

posted in: muse | 2

Mother said be good,/ Father said be nice,/ That was always their advice./ So be nice, Cinderella,/ Good, Cinderella,/ Nice good good nice-/ What’s the good of being good/If everyone is blind/ Always leaving you behind?/ Never mind, Cinderella,/ Kind Cinderella-/ Nice good nice kind good nice-

Everything Zen (I Don’t Think So)

cinderellaWhen I was creating my Red Tent/ Mary M ritual, I wanted to chose the words that could be selected for each sister’s root of power very carefully.  Somehow, the idea of selecting words to describe magic that was already there was more frightening than selection words to describe what was to come.  I wanted the words to be powerful and rich, not just throw away positive-affirmation-cakes.  I wanted each word to potentially describe the root of my power in a way that would be meaningful as well as the rest of the sisters.  Still, I felt compelled to carefully type the word compassion on my list.  I kept making a face and deleting it and then putting it back.  Compassion.  What a bullshit place for your power to come from.  But I thought of my sisters and figured someone would benefit from it.

When I spent my time in the Red Tent, I was the first to select an egg.  I unwound the tiny scroll tied to the egg, took a deep breath and stared into the mirror.  I looked down at my word.  Compassion.

What?  No.  No, no, no.  I knew this was my ritual I designed but the root of my power is compassion?  That couldn’t be right.  I stared at the word uncomprehendingly.  Compassion is for nice girls, Buddhist exboyfriends and other weenies that I no longer have in my life.  When I think about compassion, I think about That Person who is doing things that society thinks of as kind for positive approval from other people and/or God.  Compassion is for people who constantly allow themselves to get run over by other people, compassion is for people who can’t say no and mean it, compassion is for people who spend their lives trying to live up to other people’s images of them, compassion is for people who put others before themselves to the point that they never achieve any of their own dreams.


I slunk back to my seat and waited for my sisters to finish.  Oh, sure they all got perfect words to describe the roots of their power.  They were all pleased for me when they saw mine, waiting for me to be excited too.  “It’s such a weenie word,” I muttered.  “I don’t even think of myself as all that compassionate.”  There was a flurry of cries of disbelief.  Finally, one of my sisters said, “To show compassion is to show mercy.  You need to be in a position of power to show the other person mercy, right?”

I’ve been sitting with that thought for several weeks now and trying to untangle all my resistance, the worst Zen cohn of my own making.  Jow and I go around and around about it but never really get anywhere with it.

It wasn’t until I was looking for covers of songs that I liked that I accidentally stumbled upon a cover of “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)”.

The Life and Death of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl


Now he’s gone, I don’t know why/ And ’till this day, sometimes I cry/ He didn’t even say goodbye/ He didn’t take the time to lie/ Bang bang, he shot me down
Bang bang, I hit the ground/ Bang bang, that awful sound/ Bang bang, my baby shot me down. . .

For those of you who don’t know, the song featured prominently in Kill Bill.  When I was with my exhusband, I was obsessed with The Bride.  What a bad ass, right?  It was also the type of movie he liked and that I got into by being with him.  When we divorced, I completely let go of her.  By that point, I was worn down and exhausted.  Everything about my marriage seemed like a lie, including who I was when I was in it.  The Bride seemed like just one more aspect of that – she was a character written by a man, to appeal to men’s fantasies who was fucked up and broken — The ultimate bloody Manic Pixie Dream Girl.  I knew the feeling.

It wasn’t until I heard the song out of nowhere a week or two ago that I started rethinking The Bride.  For one, Uma did help create her, so there’s that on the back end.  She was also really well organized, made a plan, survived her ex trying to kill her, killed his whole posse, killed him and got her baby back.  If that’s not a survivor, I don’t know what is.  She may have started out as his creature but she became her own in the end.

And so did I.

What does that have to do with compassion?  I’m sure everyone would love to hear that it was a revelation that made me forgive my ex and find compassion in my heart for him.  It didn’t.  It made me think of how hard I let myself get to survive life after him.  My barn had burned down but it took me a v. long time for me to see the moon.  Everything I felt sure of in this life was gone and I wasn’t even sure who I was anymore.  I didn’t get to go on some kind of Eat, Pray, Love/ H is for Hawk upper middle class white girl retreat to find myself.  I had to figure out my finances, where I would live, how I would eat, how I would retire, how I would get medication, how I would get out of credit card debt, how to make enough money to support myself.  The list was tedious and it went on and on and on and doesn’t even get into the emotional damage I had to assess.  I had to start over completely.  I swore to myself that no one would ever have that much control over me ever again.  No one would ever get to break me the way that he did.  I would be self sufficient.  I would see that my dreams were achieved on my own.  No one was ever going to get the drop on me like that again.  Ever.

It wasn’t until I was engaged to Jow and we were taking precana classes that I really started to deeply consider what it would mean to make someone’s needs ranked as important as mine at all times.  I wasn’t even sure I could do it, to be honest.  But the longer we’ve been together, the easier it’s become.

I’ve recently realized it’s time for me to reclaim the parts of myself that I loved that I discarded in the interest of survival.

I used to be a Manic Pixie Dream Girl.  I wanted to heal other people’s hearts up with the power of my whimsy, my quirkiness, my zest for life and my open heart.  I was a living, breathing embodiment of this:

manic pixie manic pixie2

It does get like this after a while:

The term “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” means basically a one-dimensional female character who is a little like Peter Pan. She’s childlike, optimistic, quirky, artistic. She is different than other people in a way that is fascinating to men – she is a mystery. She is like a real-life fairy. She makes the man describing her fall in love with life. We can all see why men would be invested in this fantasy. And it’s men who invented it. But what about the women who want to be Manic Pixie Dream Girls?

Throughout high school and undergrad, I saw myself as That Girl. The carefree, quirky girl who believes in fairies and paints and twirls around in her handmade dresses. I worked hard to cultivate that image – and I was wildly successful. Dozens of men fell in love with me. I was a serial monogamist, in one serious relationship after another throughout high school and college, and no matter who I was dating, there were always at least three other guys waiting for me to break up with whoever I was with and telling me they were in love with me. They called me their muse. They said I was The One. I guess I was The One for a lot of people, because at least 8 different people said that to me over the course of 4 years. And of course it was flattering.

[. . .]

Fantasies with no substance often make you vulnerable to those who would manipulate you. After awhile, I met someone who used my dreams against me to the fullest possible extent. After two years living under the thumb of a man who told me I was ugly and worthless and not good enough in every possible way, I was no longer a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. I was a dead girl. It’s impossible to “see the beauty in everything” when there’s no beauty to be found. But the pain of my dead dreams forced me to face the truth – about my abuser, and also about myself and my fantasy. What I realized was that the MPDG is just another incarnation of the original box I was stuck in. It’s the sneaky version: it looks like the epitome of freedom, the girl who can twirl in a field with the wind blowing through her hair and love life. But it’s really just like the box I left. In either case, women aren’t valuable without a man to confirm it.- “I Was a Manic Pixie Dream Girl”

Needless to say, I wanted nothing to do with that archetype for oh about seven years.  It wasn’t until I was talking about the Muse with some friends that one of them brought up MPDGs.  I was immediately dismissive of that having anything constructive to add to the idea of my beloved Muses.  But the friend surprised me by saying that she loved her time as a MPDG which was surprising because if you knew her, you would not think that she would want anything to do with that concept either.  I’m spent a long time thinking about it and how I’m completely opposed to the idea of being someone else’s Muse/MPDG, but I’m not at all opposed to being your own Manic Pixie Dream Girl/Muse.  If you want whimsy, adventure and open heartedness in your life then do it!  But do it for you.  Do it to bring yourself closer to your goddesses and spirits, do it to be creative, fuck do it to put on your Instagram, I don’t care.  But do it for your own reasons for yourself, not to save someone else.  Which brings us back to compassion.

I Sleep, but My Heart is Awake

Compassion by most people’s definition has to do with selflessness and doing for others even when you don’t want to and forgiving your enemies, blahblahblah.  If that’s your thing, rock out.  If you’re someone who doesn’t feel she has to forgive everyone of everything and compassion is a place you are struggling with in finding your own moral compass, I can share my definition that I use for myself.  Compassion comes from an open heart (sick with love am I).  You can chose for yourself how open or closed your heart is.  You can chose for yourself who you want to open your heart to.  You can have an open heart to the entire world except for x or y.  Your heart is your own stoichiometry equation to solve.  But just as in stoichiometry, if you work at the problem long enough, it will balance out.

I want to learn to be more compassionate.  I want to be more compassionate to the people I love because I love them and they deserve my compassion just as I deserve theirs.  If I am going to do things I don’t want to do because I could be doing something more fun or interesting, I want it to be for the people I love because then my heart can open like an oyster shell through the force of that love.  When my heart is open, my life is better.  My magic is better, I’m happier and I’m better for it.  But it doesn’t have to be an open door policy and I don’t have to be run over by it.

And maybe, just maybe, if my heart is open, I can be that (Manic Pixie Dream) girl I once was.  For myself this time.

Deborah Castellano
Deborah Castellano's book Glamour Magic: The Witchcraft Revolution to Get What You Want is available for purchase through Amazon, Llewellyn and Barnes and Noble.
Her frequently updated catalogue of published work is available on Author Central.

She writes about Glamour Magic here at Charmed, I'm Sure. Her podcast appearances are available here.

Her craft shop, The Mermaid & The Crow specializes in old-world style workshop from 100% local, sustainable sources featuring tempting small batch ritual oils and hand-spun hand-dyed yarn in luxe fibers and more!

In a previous life, Deborah founded the first Neo-Victorian/Steampunk convention, SalonCon which received rave reviews from con-goers and interviews from the New York Times and MTV.

She resides in New Jersey with her husband, Jow and their cat, Max II. She has a terrible reality television habit she can't shake and likes St. Germain liquor, record players and typewriters.  


2 Responses

  1. Compassion is a uniform I purposely pluck and don every morning, each time I perform an act of compassion I have to pull it in front of me, focus on it, and consciously walk myself through it. It’s a coat that doesn’t fit, it’s a shirt that isn’t my style, it has nothing to do with me but it’s everything I need. Jow can tell you who I was in my youth, a bright little flame that jumped from one thing to another and loved everything deeply and ceaselessly until the next thing came along. I lived selfishly, and the only way to avoid facing that was to leap onto the next flammable thing and stay a step ahead.

    Finally I broke, it was an absolute mess, and I spent a few weeks hugging my knees in a sparse room at my mother’s house, insensate to almost everything. Kuan Yin stepped into my life while I stared at the ceiling, wrapped an arm around my shoulders, and calmly asked “Well, what now?” She listened quietly and nodded as a stream of babble poured out of me – confessions, hopes, fears, anger, heartbreak – everything. I felt completely empty after that, not filled with a light or a warmth, but empty. Blank, and able to get up and start inching forward.

    I pulled myself together in time, but I wouldn’t have found the bag to dump my jagged pieces in without her. So as ill-fitting as compassion is on me, I recognize and honor it’s extreme transformative power and through sheer force of will make myself Kuan Yin’s daughter and vessel of compassion each day. I can’t claim to be a scholar on my goddess, or even to know all of her stories, but I do know I belong with her and that’s enough for me. Compassion can be revelation of cruel truths, it can be the blade that severs, it can be the disappointment that stings. It’s often considered a warm and fuzzy thing, but it only means helping others achieve their enlightenment without superimposing any selfish goals of your own you may have kicking around.

    In short, I do think you’re compassionate. Yours may be a little tight in the shoulders too, but it looks good on you. 🙂

  2. Compassion is…
    It’s like a kind of two-footing, where you can have empathy for someone who’s being a total douche, or who’s making Very Bad Decisions, without having to LIKE that they’re doing this. It’s “Yes, you can crash at my place seeing as you just got yourself evicted” but, simultaneously, “That said, you have to find a new place within the month, because I still get to have boundaries”.
    It’s being able to understand that the person who is treating you like shit is doing it because they’re scared-as-fuck and grieving and trying to find any way available to control the situation… and also getting that the way they’re doing it is completely horrible and that you don’t deserve that crap.

    It’s not something “polyanna”, I don’t think. It’s fucking hard. It’s hard to find that balance, to stick up for yourself and protect yourself without *hating on* someone else, or whole-sale dismissing them.

    I think your definition of compassion as being open-hearted is a good one. (I know – thanks, Brene Brown – that I can relate to the link between open-heartedness and empathy, so there’s that, too).
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