Pamela L. Travers and the Rebel Archetype (Part II)


When it happens that a human being grows up under difficult circumstances, or from lack of loving and understanding he inevitably becomes distorted. He is thrown back upon himself. Inevitably, he reacts to such conditions by developing postures which are the result of continuous adaptation. By means of this he protects its natural ego, but always at the expense of the growth of his individual essence.

                                                                         Karlfreid von Dürckheim, The Way of Transformation

We know now that Pamela L. Travers did grow up in difficult circumstances and that she never felt loved nor understood by her family. And, as discussed in last week’s post, one of the major causes for Pamela’s psychological blockages stems from her repressed feelings of resentment towards her mother.

A bothersome question now arises.

Did Dürckheim, who was aware of the consequential dynamics of the unresolved relationships between a child and a mother, identify the issue? This is quite possible, if we assume that during their meetings Pamela opened up about her childhood experiences, something that she was reluctant to do, at least in her writings, until she was in her seventies and eighties.

But if he did identify the cause of her blockages, did he point them out to her? Or did he choose to “…. call him (her) to enter upon his (her) innate Way in order that his (her) essential self may begin its struggle towards the light?” 

Translated in ordinary language, did he encourage her to recognize her inner nature by delving deeply into herself by means of breathing and meditating exercises, hoping that she would eventually experience healing inner insights? He seems to have privileged that route: The man who feels himself lost in utter darkness in the world which, so long as he is caught in his ego, thrusts him into fear, despair and loneliness, may be the one uniquely ready to hear the call of his essential being -ready to respond to the summons that, breaking through his ego-shell, brings him to awareness of his inner core.” Did he feel that Pamela was ready to break through her Dark Night of the Soul? Did he anticipate that a more directive approach would only strengthen the defense mechanisms of her ego?

Of course, there are no certain answers to these questions; no answers at all actually. There can only be speculations.  Although, judging by the continuality of Pamela’s tormented mental and physical states until her death, at the venerable age of 97, it is not so futile of an assumption that regardless of his chosen approach, the treatment failed.  But why?

Dürckheim held that to go trough the Wheel of Transformation (his model of spiritual and psychological growth which will not be discussed in this post) a person must first be firmly grounded in himself and in life.

And proper grounding begins with a proper nurturing. He also believed that the body needs to adapt a proper posture so to allow the life energy from the earth to circulate through the body and allow a person to adapt to the forces from above.

The physical grounding center, the gravity center of a person according to a concept Dürckheim borrowed from Zen teachings, is located in the belly.

This is what he writes about that center: That power which enables us to be truly centered lies, physically, in the middle of the body, in Hara, or more accurately, in the pelvic region. Hara refers to an attitude by means of which man is anchored ‘below’ in such a way that he is freed from habitual restrictions brought about by being tip-heavily centered ‘above’ in his world-ego. This setting-down into strength within man’s own being to support and mould him, and to give direction to his life.”

Curious enough, Pamela L. Travers experienced health issues related to the lower parts of her body. She had digestive troubles and bowel problems which affected her throughout her life. She also wrote notes to herself about the fear she experienced in her body. Her biographer, who was so fortunate to read her personal papers reports:

“…the fear within often felt impenetrable, solid, separating the upper parts and lower parts of her body. She felt as if she was becoming this black fear, which at its worst extended dark rays into the other parts of her. Even when she wrote of the fear, to herself, her breath came up too quickly to her chest.”

(I must say, I do envy Valerie Lawson for having the chance to look at Pamela’s personal papers. Maybe one day I will have the opportunity to go to Australia and look at her papers which are now preserved in the Mitchell Library in Sydney. It is on my Bucket list for sure!)

I heard an excerpt from an interview Pamela gave once in 1988 in which she tells the interviewer, in an old woman’s shivering voice: “I was born I think saying get me out of here, because I knew from the very beginning that I was not going to stay there.” Obviously, her father’s Celtic fantasies had something to do with it.  

♥ Then as she grew older the ungrounding process continued to operate and climaxed with Pamela’s rejection of her mother and her decision to leave her homeland and family to establish herself in England.

♥  There is also another aspect to her blockages and that is the shattering of her faith in a benevolent God.   

Her biographer reports that after her father’s sudden death, young Pamela searched the night sky waiting for his return. It took Pamela a few years to accept her father’s death. Her son Camillus said in an interview that his mother never understood as a child why God would take away the most loved person in her life. Obviously, God had betrayed her.

♥ In the Way of Transformation, Durkcheim gives the example of a female client (without disclosing his patient’s identity) who is reluctant to pray. Could that have been Pamela? Never in her writings does she pray for God’s help. Never does she give herself up completely. She wrote that there was nothing to be expected from life; that life was a trickster who must be faced. She also liked to say that one has to carry one’s full cup without spilling it over.

It is plausible to assert that Pamela’s spiritual search and her lifelong fascination with the Gurdjieff teachings had to do with that early experience of loss. She had lost at once, her father and her religion, although some remnants of her Christian upbringing do come out in some of her writings.

♥  It is probably not so much Dürckheim’s failure to help her ground herself as her own obstinate following of the Gurdjieff’s teachings that caused the failure of the treatment. In my opinion, the Gurdjieff’s teachings were intentionally designed to keep troubled minds ever more confused about their own identity. Something she wrote about the symbol of the inverted tree in relation to Gurdjieff’s teachings comes to mind and is most significant in the context of the questions of this week’s post since it is in total contradiction with the grounding in the earth principle of Dürckheim:

Clearly the message of this many faceted symbol (the inverted tree) is that the roots of man are not on earth but in Heaven and his meaning is that of the Prodigal Son, who, once he arrives at the lowest level, must, if he is to save his life, arise and go to his Father.”

So here it is again (see reference to Joseph Campbell in last week’s post), this motif of the male initiation into manhood: the journey of finding the father and disengaging from the mother. Pamela was clearly on the wrong spiritual path.



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