About the Owl Witch

Fernanda Braune

Last month I watched an animated movie called Song of the Sea. It is based on a Celtic folk tale about the Selkies, seals that turn into humans when they approach the coast. Ben and Saoirse, the two main protagonists, have very interesting storylines about self-discovery. However, the plot that really caught my attention was the one referred to the Owl Witch, the villain of the movie.

Watching her son suffer from a long lost love, she decided to take away his feelings, which ended up turning him into stone. She then made the decision to do the same with the rest of the world’s magical creatures and Ben and Saoirse’s mission was to stop her. When Ben met the witch, he wanted to save Saoirse, who was already having her emotions taken away by the owl’s assistants. The dialogue they shared at that moment was very intriguing, because the witch was sure she was doing no harm to the little girl. The villain believed that without her emotions, Saoirse would be in a much better condition.

When the owl’s assistants drained the creatures’ feelings, they would put them inside magical glass jars that could only be opened by the selkies’ song. Saoirse, who was herself a mute selkie, had to learn how to find her voice, sing and free those feelings. Obviously, it happened and the witch, absorbed by a rush of once-strained sentiments, thanked the kids for making her realize how important it is to have emotions and how their uniqueness help us build our own story.

I was shocked after watching this scene, and a sentence kept popping into my head: I am an owl witch. One single “child” movie made me realize how I’ve been trying to freeze my feelings, to hide them from people, transforming myself almost into stone. God knows how difficult this has been for me, specially coming from a Latin family that raised me with love and understanding. However, since I was very young, I remember having to slow down the flow of my feelings and deal with emotional outbursts from time to time.

While reflecting about this issue, I started reading Milan Kundera’s book Immortality. During the homo sentimentalis chapter, he describes a certain type of human being that equalizes feelings with values. This homo sentimentalis has such deep, big feelings inside him that they can come out as outbursts of hysteria, uncontrolled flow of emotions.

Kundera also shows disagreement with the sentence “I think, therefore I feel”, arguing that, since there are too many people and very few ideas, thinking doesn’t make us unique human beings; feelings do.

“The foundation of the ego isn’t the thought, but the suffering, which is the most elementary sentiment”, he wrote.

Both the movie and Kundera are talking about the same thing: feelings are part of who we are. Even though we may try to conceal them, they will escape one way or the other. So, better not to hold it, but instead let it flow its normal course. But how?

The western culture, the culture I grew up in, does not value feelings. It values numbers, strong personalities and iron, nonchalant and happy people.

Ever since I started school, I was a good, high-grade student. What should be a compliment, turned out to be a nightmare. People’s opinion about my school performance made me feel a lot pressured and I didn’t give myself the chance to fail a test once. Worse than this, I couldn’t show them how nervous and afraid I was in every exam. Needless to say that passing tests became a life priority and the fear of failing grew more with each school exam. It took me a couple of years in therapy to accept this fear, and voice it without feeling ashamed.

Life has also taught that crying is for babies and spoiled girls. I was 13 years old when I watched A Walk to Remember for the first time. It was a Sunday evening and I couldn’t stop crying. It was such a flow of emotions that I woke up the next day to go to school and my eyes were extremely swollen by the avalanche of tears from the day before. I was ashamed and I had to lie to my parents that I wasn’t feeling well to go to school, because I simply couldn’t appear there that way. For the record, it was the only time in my life that I did that and this is the first time that I’m voicing this episode of my teenage years.

Then I decided to be a journalist. What a bad choice for “crying babies” like myself. The challenge is: how am I going to tell a story without being involved with it? Involvement requires emotions, which sometimes can lead to tears. How is it possible to call a mother, whose daughter died in an airplane accident, and not be touched when she tells me about her lost girl? I spent the whole interview almost mute and my voice faltered every time I had to say something. I couldn’t cry. I had to be with the “crying ball” stuck in my throat.

I could continue telling you stories like these forever. Truth is we live in a society that represses intense feelings, like anger, regret, sadness, nostalgia, fear and panic. We have to be happy, ambitious, optimistic, outgoing, and with a high self-esteem. Obviously, these feelings are all very important in our lives, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t also learn from anger, regret, sadness, nostalgia and fear episodes. It all comes in the same package and we must not deny it, because if they are not also expressed, they will accumulate somewhere else. Welcome to both depression and anxiety, which are the new harm of this #postonsocialmediarightnow world.

It’s difficult to change, but finding your voice, like Saoirse did in the movie, is always worth it. The process of breaking the enchanted glass jars is both frightening and exciting. It is a never-ending process, where you will be surprised with your inner-self-discoveries, like the Owl Witch. As Kundera exposed in his book, feeling, suffering is part of who you are, and allowing yourself to experience different emotions will also benefit the flow of sentiments and you will stop having outbursts of feelings/hysteria moments. Voicing what you want and who you are can also help with controlling anxiety and stress.

Owls are usually associated with wisdom. Let’s be owls, let’s be like the new Owl Witch, and watch ourselves against repression, judgement and social media guides. Let’s use our wisdom to be creative, to spread goodness, and to help other people to also find their voice.