Today, as promised in last week’s post, I am sharing my thoughts on What the Bee Knows, Reflections on Myth, Symbol and Story , the book which Pamela L. Travers was willing to discuss with her biographer, Valerie Lawson. Unfortunately, this discussion never took place.
This blog is an attempt to perform a postpartum inner viewing. Maybe the ideas discussed here will have some healing power, maybe, somehow, they can travel beyond time and space and bring healing on the other side, wherever that might be.
Pamela L. Travers was of the opinion that if you wanted to know a writer you had to study his or her works. She also said, “In everything I write one can read between the lines.” So I started my reading of her works with the fervent desire and hope to receive some insight into her psyche, connect somehow with her, and gain a deeper understanding of her personality.
What the Bee Knows, Reflections on Myth, Symbol and Story, published for the first time by Aquarian Press in 1989, is a collection of literary, and somewhat spiritual, essays most of which were written for and published in Parabola, The Magazine of Myth and Tradition, founded in the 1970’s by a friend of Pamela’s, D.M. Dooling. The focus of the magazine was (and still is) mythology and spirituality. Most of the writings compiled in What the Bee Knows were composed during the “crone” stage of Pamela’s life. She was 77 years old in 1976 when she wrote The World of the Hero for the inaugural issue of Parabola.
♥ To begin with, I was expecting to read a scholarly work. To my surprise, this collection of literary essays revealed itself to be of a different nature; not at all scholarly in a traditional sense. Actually, I experienced this book as a sort of encoded personal soul diary.
In these writings, Pamela L. Travers explores mythical themes with poetical virtuosity and occasionally opens up and recollects events from her childhood, something that she was extremely reluctant to do in the earlier stages of her life. And maybe because her work on myth seems to be so closely entangled with her subjective experience of life and her personal beliefs system, she never gained a serious status as a scholar, at least not to the extent of her aspirations.
Anyhow, I had to read some of the articles more than once and I do not claim to have grasped all of their meaning or appreciated all the subtleties of the mythological references.
♥ After some initial confusion, I sensed that to find what I was looking for I needed to pay close attention to the feelings and emotions expressed by her words instead of focusing on (and being almost intimidated by) the mythical references and sometimes hermetic links.
By the way, I was comforted to learn later on while reading Lively Oracle, The Centennial celebration of P.L.Travers Creator of Mary Poppins that the difficulty that I experienced in reading these essays was not a case of my own ignorance on the subject of myth; even the editorial staff of Parabola sometimes puzzled over her texts. Regardless of these initial difficulties a major theme came into view.
♥ Reading What the Bee Knows, one realises that Pamela was embarked on a quest for self discovery.
What makes me say that? Her constant, compulsive questioning, put in Pamela’s own words, “I will not cease from mental fight”.
Here, read for yourself:
“Who am I?” “Why am I here?” “How can I live in accordance with reality?”
“Perhaps myths are telling us that these endeavors are not so much voyages of discovery as of rediscovery. That the hero is seeking not for something new but for something old, a treasure that was lost and has to be found, his own self, his identity.”
–The World of the Hero, 1976
“Who walks the world under my name?“
–Fear No More The Heat Of The Sun, 1977
“Who am I? What is my purpose? Why through me, Leda, should the fuse have run that exploding, toppled Illium’s towers and made of Sparta a name of shame must cause ever carry on its back effects so much greater than itself, as a grain of sand carries the sea? “
–Leda’s Lament, 1982
“I am lost and astray in the universe.“
–Walking the Maze at Chartes, 1983
“Who am I? I inquired of myself and nothing reply. Oh, then, indeed, I was upside-down, a meare head walking the earth. What shall I do? … Then deep within me something wept – I who had never wept before nor needed the gift of weeping – and I knew what had to be done.“
–The Hanged Man, 1984
“I who had been a mere particle, a scantling of the whole I knew, had now become an entity, separate, a thing in itself, whose reflections threw themselves back at me from a glassy hall of mirrors. Surprised at my new infinity, I turned among the images, delighting in each pose and posture, trying them on as though they were garments to see which was most becoming. Is this I? Or this? Or this?“
–Now, Farewell and Hair, 1985
♥ In the light of these examples (and many more), it is my humble opinion that Pamela L.Travers was experiencing profound identity issues.
This troubled me because she was the one to believe that “For where we know it or not, or wish it or not, we all – like the hero- live in myth, or rather the context of myth. “ So, she knew she was the hero of her own life story but apparently knowing it was not enough to succeed in the endeavour.
♥ All of the above questions formulated at such an advanced age indicate that Pamela L.Travers never successfully completed her journey of finding herself. She never found inner peace.
In the Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell talks about the journey of the hero on a spiritual path, the path on which Pamela traveled. This is what he said,“The other kind is the spiritual deed, in which the hero learns to experience the supernormal range of human spiritual life and then comes back with a message.”
♥ Pamela L. Travers’s overall message (as I heard it) is one of anxiety and confusion.
For now, let me just say that she never became the wise crone, a concept which she so admired and I assume aspired to embody. She hinted of wisdom, she hinted she might know more than what she chose to reveal…but did she?
No one seems to have been interested in understanding the why, what sort of psychological torments she experienced, what caused them and why they remained unresolved despite all her efforts to heal herself.
♥ I beleive that her obsession with myth, fairy tales, and her spiritual gurus are only that, failed attempts to heal her mind and her body .
Throughout her life (and it was a long one, she died at the venerable age of 97) she struggled with anxiety and possibly depression and other physical ailments. And in spite of all these weaknesses, she remained strong in her fragility.
People simply assume she was difficult and self-centered for the sake of being difficult and self-centered. At best, she was and still is qualified as an eccentric.
It was one of her eccentricities that captured my attention. In the article, Name and No Name published in 1982, she made a strange statement:
“But, familiarity to wrench from another his personal name before he has had the chance – or, indeed, the wish – to offer it, is to degrade him, to snatch away his dignity, his private innerness. If there is alive in him some of his old ancestral stuff, it will quiver with apprehension – and withdraw. … The door has to be knocked at gently if we want to know who is within.”
She didn’t like to be called by her real name, Helen Lyndon. Why was Helen Lyndon hiding? I started thinking about the way Pamela L. Travers seemed to have related to her real name throughout her life and how her pen name morphed from Pamela L. Travers to P.L. Travers to finally become PLT.
Then, another question arose as I read the last paragraph of the essay, What Aileth Thee, published in 1983. Here it is:
“For the question is our own question. In our rational, fragmental, technological world, it is we, seeking deliverance, that needed to be asked; we ourselves must become the Grail hero who will set the waters free, not only in ourselves but in others. Secretly we are all sore wounded and need that the wound be noted and the necessary words of power spoken.”
♥ So I asked the question, “What aileth thee Helen Lyndon?” In response, an idea started forming itself.
Could Helen Lyndon’s change of name be more significant on a psychological level than a mere taking on of a pen name?
And, this is where I will pick up from next week. I will explore how Pamela L. Travers related both to her Christian name and her pen name throughout the different periods of her life and where that led me in my explorations.