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

way-of-transformation

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.

 

 

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

 

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The Rebel

Pamela L. Travers’s psychological resilience in the face of her family’s unsupportiveness is astonishing.  We all know that it is not easy for a child to withstand the pressures of the family mold (it is difficult for many adults), and yet somehow Pamela succeeded in just that! How did she do it? Well, she explained her refusal to give up on her dreams in these somewhat universalised terms, assuming all families were alike:

Families, perhaps luckily, have a unique facility for minimizing capacities and aspirations simply by disbelieving in them, making them butts for witticisms. The wise child quickly learns to dissemble and keep its dream safe and intact.” 

However, if you examine closely the last sentence of this quote you’ll probably agree that it does not really make any sense. Children cannot be wise; they lack the necessary life experience. It seems to me that it would be more appropriate, and closer to Pamela’s personal truth, to reword the last sentence as follows:

The rebellious child quickly learns to dissemble and keep its dream safe and intact.

♥ I believe Pamela benefited to a certain extent from the powerful aid of her Rebel archetype in breaking out of old family (tribal) patterns. But once that accomplished, the Rebel failed to provide her with new and authentic patterns of being in the world. It is this idea that I want to explore in this week’s and next week’s posts.

After the early death of her father, great-aunt Ellie became the authority figure in Pamela’s life (see Pamela’s First Gods Part III). And Pamela attributed her dislike of authority to Ellie and the rest of the old relatives in the family:

It was not my parents but the generation before them, great-aunts and their kind, who sat like black crows on my horizon, old, rich, and righteous. My lifelong dislike of authoritarianism and my predilection for seeing life through my own eyes – these I owe to them.”

Personally, I doubt that one becomes rebellious because of another person’s behaviour no matter how unjust that behaviour might be. Rebelliousness, as far as my own experience of that personality trait goes, is that it is something innate, a deeply ingrained temperamental feature or energetical pattern. Call it what you want. It is something you either have or you don’t.

Pamela rejected the expected role of the helper and supporter of the family. It was precisely her inner Rebel that gave her the strength, at the age of twenty-four, to leave her family behind and cross the ocean in search of her true purpose in life. She returned to Australia only once for a brief visit. At the age of fifty-eight, her mother died and Pamela dedicated her first Mary Poppins book in her memory.

After rejecting the family’s expectations, Pamela’s rebellious nature also disregarded the pressures of the social conventions of her time. She socialized mostly with male artists in smoky pubs; she drove a convertible car with her dog alongside, she lived with a woman for ten years, and when she was forty adopted a child all on her own.

On the surface, at least, it looks like the Rebel provided her with the freedom that comes from living authentically. But was it truly so? I personally doubt it. Despite the obvious fact that she lived her life on her own terms, and made her own life experiences, there is another undeniable fact: her own terms did not make her happy nor the people around her. What blocked her on her path to authenticity?

♥ The Unresolved Relationship with her mother

The answer to that question popped out from the pages of the book The Way of Transformation written by Karlfried von Dürckheim. He was a renowned German psychoanalyst and Zen master whom Pamela (in her sixties) consulted at his Existential Psychological Training and Encounter Institute in Todtmos, Germany.

Dürckheim, many years ago, worded in psychological/spiritual terms what I intuitively felt to be the result of the inadequate nurturing provided by Pamela’s mother:

Psychologically understood, the transforming Ground is, in terms of human existence, the ‘realm of the mother.’ Any unresolved relationship between child and mother causes an obstruction in this sphere and hinders development. The effect is the same when the mother denies the warmth necessary for the child’s growth …. In the first instance, when the child becomes a man, he is inhibited and depressed because he rejects the protests that rise from his depths, defending himself against them by thrusting them down into the unconscious. …. Thus, he becomes wholly dependent on his world-ego, experiencing his repressed depths as frightening forces that either inexplicably attract him or demonically turn against him.”

Pamela was just that, a person caught in her own world ego, looking for meaning and validation from the outside world and depending chiefly on it. This made her (as testified by many who knew her) irritable, touchy and insecure. Even the snobbish façade she presented to the world in her later years did not change that reality.  

So here, I found the confirmation of my intuitive understanding! It was the more covert rebellion against her mother’s needs and the repressed resentment towards her mother, and probably some guilt for leaving her behind, that caused the inner conflict which remained unresolved and repressed deeply into Pamela’s unconscious mind.  

As a young adult, Pamela rejected her bond to her mother and seemed to have chosen the path of her father. As soon as she could, she left her family for Ireland, the land of her father’s fantasies, where she rapidly established contact with the poets whom he admired. Now, that pattern reminded me of something Joseph Campbell said in The Power of Myth, about the journey of the young boy into manhood: She (the young girl) becomes a woman whether she intends it or not, but the little boy has to intend to be a man. …. The boy first has to disengage himself from his mother, get his energy into himself, and then start forth. That’s what the myth of “Young man, go find your father” is all about.

♥  Pamela did just that; she disengaged from her mother and went on a quest to find her father, all for the purposes of finding herself.

Additionally, Joseph Campbell believed fairy tales to be for children and not at all in the same category as myths which have to do with the serious matter of living life in terms of the order of society and of nature. Pamela would have most certainly disagreed with that standpoint but what is interesting here is Campbell’s generalization of the fairytales: Very often they’re about a little girl who doesn’t want to grow up to be a woman. At the crisis of that threshold crossing she’s balking. So, she goes to sleep until the prince comes through all the barriers and gives her a reason to think it might be nice on the other side after all.

♥ Maybe Campbell’s assertion about a little girl blocked on the threshold of womanhood is not far from Pamela L. Travers’s life experience. Interestingly, Pamela’s favorite fairy tale of all times was Sleeping Beauty, and in her seventies, she wrote her own version of it. All this of course will be examined closely in future posts.

For now, let’s just say that Campbell’s interpretation of fairy tales never occurred to her, nor did Durkheim succeed in healing her mental and emotional torments. How was it that he failed to heal her mental and emotional torment?  I will attempt to answer this question in next week’s post.

 

Pamela L. Travers and the Explorer

mary-poppins-explorer

Following on the theme from last week’s post, Pamela’s search for that enigmatic “something else” began early in her childhood.

The ordinary day-to-day of the Travers’s household appears to have had a numbing effect on her sensitive little heart.

And as I grew, amidst all the abundance, I began to feel a wanting. Lacking nothing, I came to know lack – a longing, even nostalgia for something I had never known. In all the completeness, I was incomplete, a cup only half full. This ache, this lonely weight of heart came upon me always at sunset. There would be Something Else! I would say. Aching, I would say it. But all I knew was Here and Now, and of all, then within the all that Something Else awaited me, unfolded, implicate. Was it an answer to an unheard question? If a question, how would I know the answer?”

This longing for that something she had never known could very well have been the expression of her unsatisfied need for affection and validation from her parents. (Pamela’s First Gods Part I and Pamela’s First Gods Part II). She felt the pain of her heart but she didn’t understand its calling; the call for self-love, compassion, and self-acceptance. Her inquisitive mind took her, on what Mark Nepo calls, the longest journey, the journey from one’s mind to one’s heart. In Pamela’s case, this journey proved to be lifelong and sadly uncompleted.

In 1985 (when she was 86 years old) she wrote again about that “something else:

I am here, Now, a lost child found, with that Something Else, that painful riddle, again at work upon me. Perhaps it is not, indeed, a riddle but rather an intimation. There are things that may not be understood, except by standing under them, watching, waiting and empty, as a shell that the bird has flown.

But for now, let’s go back to her early childhood when Pamela’s inner Explorer manifested itself for the first time.

Pamela’s recollections of her precocious attempts to embark on her hero’s journey of exploration are so well written that I would not dare to retell them in my own words. I am transcribing here Pamela’s own writings so you can appreciate the depth of her longing to escape her ordinary life experience and the charming combination of a child’s naiveté and fierce audacity. 

I was also very pleased to read Patricia Demers’s description of Pamela’s childhood memories in her book “P.L. Travers” because it translates perfectly my own perceptual experience while reading Pamela’s childhood memories.

Among the most engaging of Travers’s essays are those which, without resorting to any contemporary event or pretext, reanimate scenes from her childhood. The perspective is that of the adult looking back. The sense of disclosure and drama is writerly. But for all these marks of the professional, such essays as “Name and No Name” and “Miss Quigley” preserve a certain ingenuousness which takes the reader directly into the world of the child.

So, here we go!

The Children’s Encyclopedia Episode

 “One (opportunity to leave home) came when a special issue of the Children’s Encyclopedia – sent by some relative from England -slipped from the postman’s saddlebags and disgorged a letter addressed to me “Dear Child”, it began sweetly, in a manly human hand, and went on to outline the delectable subjects the editor was preparing, inviting me to explore with him the worlds that were opening up before me and earnestly wishing for my future happiness. It was signed affectionately, Arthur Mee. I had received my first love letter. In vain did the grown-ups rudely assure me that it wasn’t written to me. Thousands of children would receive the same letter which, moreover, was not written by hand but by some sort of machine. I did not believe them. To do so would be to accept betrayal. Here was a man who understood exactly what I needed. So I wrote to this Arthur Mee, explaining my situation -as far as I then understood it – and asked him to send me the fare to England.  (How else could I go exploring with him?) He would not have to provide for me, I assured him, for I planned to sweep crossings, like Little Joe.

The answer was long in coming – and when it came unsatisfactory. He had no real wish, apparently, to go with me anywhere, he had no continuing concern for my welfare; there was no sign of cheque or postal order; merely an injunction to – great’s aunt rather than a lover’s – to be a good girl and help my mother. Signed Somebody Something, Secretary. And not even by hand.

Naturally, I was reprimanded. Not for Soliciting Strange Men but for Bothering That Dear Mr. Lee.

Years later, I was to learn that Dear Mr. Mee had detested children but, according to someone who had worked with him, had delighted in Mary Poppins.”

“It was a setback. But children take such things in their stride. They are familiar with the word NO from the time they are in the womb. Another door, I knew, would open.”

If only I have had the chance to interview Pamela… I would have asked her how old she was when she wrote the letter to Mr. Mee. What did she need that he so well understood? How did she explain her situation to him? What was her understanding of her situation back then?

Why did nobody ever ask her these questions?

 The Gypsies Episode

 Walking on the hillside one day, I came upon a group of gypsies. Now, gypsies, I knew, were apt to steal children. The juxtaposition of two such facts seemed to me auspicious. But these were not tinker gypsies. They were creatures such as I had never seen – tall, stately men in blue gowns and women veiled in black. Looking back, I see that they must have been Mohammedans, with their peaked tents and a camel browsing. Any child stolen by such people would be taking part in a pilgrimage – or perhaps a circus, I wasn’t sure which, that would, without doubt, end up in England. So, I stationed myself on the edge of the camp, waiting, like something on a bargain counter, to be speedily snapped up. Nothing happened. The noble people went about their chores, quietly, taking no notice of me and addressing each other in some strange tongue. Shocked at this lack of enterprise, I took the affair into my own hands, marched towards the tallest man and – prompted by an atavistic impulse very far from childish – unlatched my sandals and offered them to him. If he took those-obscurely, I was sure of it – he would certainly take me. A veiled woman gave me a kindly smile as he turned the sandals in his hands to see how they were made. Then he bent down, deftly buckled them on my feet and gently but determinedly directed me to the road. It was impossible to misunderstand. They were not going to take me across the world. I was there for the plucking and the gypsies did not want me.

Not surprisingly, was the dry comment when I reached home.”

There are two significant elements in these episodes. First, there is Pamela’s intense and precocious desire to leave her home and her family which suggests that her bond to her parents was deficient. And second, the inadequate reactions of her parents which also suggest of a flawed bond.  

I would have asked Pamela what beliefs did she think she might have formed as a child from these experiences? Was it a confirmation of her parent’s inability to understand her emotional life? Or was it a confirmation that she was somewhat strange and flawed? Or both?

Apparently though, it was clear to Pamela that her parents were not supportive of her dreams:

“Families, perhaps luckily, have a unique facility for minimizing capacities and aspirations simply by disbelieving in them, making of them butts for witticisms. The wise child quickly learns to dissemble and keep its dream safe and intact.” 

While reading the episode about young Pamela’s encounter with the Gypsies, a passage from Friend Monkey came back to mind:

 “And at last she (Mrs. Brown-Potter as a child) came to realise that what she wanted most in the world was to go and explore those places. She would have to approach her parents, of course and ask for their permission. They would think it a very odd idea, even unsuitable perhaps. But eventually they would agree – and never miss her she was sure.”

I am convinced that Pamela was talking about herself and of her parents. How conscious this link was for her will remain forever a mystery, no one ever asked her that question either.

Her parents (doubtlessly with no such intention) seem to have failed her by not allowing her to create a clear self-image. They failed to acknowledge her strengths, her sensitive heart, her inquisitive mind, and her whimsical imagination and thus they failed to reinforce her self-esteem. Her desire to explore the world was, in fact, a symptom of this need to find herself, to feel grounded in her own person. Pamela never explored the world for the sake of its beauty and wonders. She never really praised those in her writings. She traveled the world compulsively asking questions about her own existence.       

The realization that this outer exploration might have been a road towards an inner place entered her mind only at the very end of her life.

Back then, the stubbornness of the Rebel within supported the young Explorer’s escapist dreams.

“Never for a moment was my intention shaken. But gradually I came to see that “Ask and ye shall receive” is no penny-in-the-slot affair, request at one end, gift-package at the other.”

The Rebel archetype and its role in Pamela’s life as young adult will be explored in next week’s post. 

 

 

 

 

Pamela L. Travers and the Magical Child (Part II)

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Last week’s post finished with the following quote from Pamela L. Travers:

I am glad, therefore, to have kept my terror whole and thus retained a strong link with the child’s things-as-they-are, where all things relate to one another and all are congruous.”

These potent feelings of terror, caused by the early and sudden death of her father and the subsequent suicide attempt of her mother, remained Pamela’s connection to her inner child. However, even before these tragic events, her sensitive mind was predisposed to bursts of anxiety. Snippets of enigmatic adult conversations and the blood freezing fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm fueled her imagination. Pamela, by her own words, developed a fascination with the dark characters of these stories.  She wrote:

 “It was the dark ones, after all, on whom everything depended. They awoke the virtues, imposed the conflict and, by strictly throwing the story forward, brought it to its strict end – the achievement of Happy Ever After.” 

Yet, this vision of the battle between Good and Evil and the necessity of Evil as the hero’s teacher, was not accessible to Pamela at the time when the Grimms presented her with the great dark forces of our human nature; evil so dark that it lit her childhood’s nightmares.

And, what else but nightmarish images could have a story such as How some Children Played at Slaughtering project in her mind?

Now, I must warn you that what follows is quite graphic so if you have a sensitive stomach I suggest you jump over the next four paragraphs.

In the first part of this story, a group of children led by the butcher’s son decide to play at slaughtering a pig. And who plays the pig? A little boy who gets his throat cut by the butcher’s son while another little girl gathers his blood in a bowl. A councilman walking nearby sees the terrible scene and takes the butcher’s son to the house of the Major who summons the council. An old wise man advisees the council to offer the boy an apple and a golden coin. If the boy takes the coin, he is to be killed. When presented with the gifts, the boy joyfully picks the apple and thus can run free.

What an apparent injustice! I assume that would be the moral of the story for a child like Pamela, left alone to deal with the matter as well as she could. No one was there to explain the deeper meaning of the story or to tell her that the boy was simply imitating his father. And, no one was there to tell her that the boy did not understand the irreversibility of death nor his own mortality and that he was immature thus had no clear understanding of his actions and even less so about the consequences of these actions. And, that what seems to be unjust, is in fact just because the butcher’s son had no ill intention and therefor was undeserving of punishment. But what is to be said about the victim, the boy who played the pig? The story also deals with the apparent randomness of life events; of simply being at the wrong place, at the wrong time. It tells us that, sometimes, bad things happen without there being a guilty party. Or that one bad decision (accepting to play the role of the pig) can have fatal consequences.

In the second part of this Grimm’s story, the reader is taken to an even much darker sequence of events, at the butcher’s house, where the butcher’s wife is bathing her baby while her other two sons are playing the pig and the butcher outside in the yard. The older brother cuts the throat of his younger brother who plays the pig in the story.  When the mother hears the cries, she comes outside, and horrified and enraged by the scene, she takes the knife from her son and kills him. Then she goes back upstairs to her baby, only to find him drowned in the bathtub. What else is left for her to do but kill herself? When the father comes back home and sees what had happened, he becomes so despondent that he dies soon afterward.

Now, how do you explain such a tragic story to a child? Because even if one explains the dynamics in play; a child still remains a child and is simply not ready for certain truths.

Maybe, if Pamela didn’t read these stories at such a tender age, she would not have experienced the panic attacks that often occurred at sunset. When the day was over, and darkness was on it’s way, Pamela knew she would be left alone in her bed with the monsters in her head.

 Will the sun come up tomorrow?” Pamela kept asking her parents. The question was simply brushed off.If someone knew and understood how anxious I was about the sun, what a help it would have been for me.

Unfortunately, her parents did not understand what it all meant. 

Pamela wrote once that if only she bothered to bring her questions to her parents they would have explained things as they are and released her from the grips of her anxieties. However, her recollections of her childhood often contradict her comments about her parents. Here is one other such example.

Pamela’s voracious reading appetite extended itself to the Bible and “Of course, if you let a child read the Bible it will inevitably put the grown-ups in precarious positions.”

This is one such funny occasion. It is one of the rare recollections from her childhood that made me smile:

“What,” I asked my father once, “what is a concubine?”

“Er-hum -!” he responded. “Why do you ask?” Clearly, he was playing for time.

“Well, it says in the Bible that David took him more concubines and Solomon had three hundred.”

He inwardly groaned, but grappled with it. “Well, David was the head of the house, he needed people to look after him and the concubines-er-did.”

Three hundred! I thought to myself. One would need a very big house.

“What a pity, father, that you have only two!”

He was astonished. “Two what?”

“Two concubines-Kate and Bella to cook and make beds.”

“Katie and Bella are not my concubines.” Here was a child being childish, which was something he did not like.

“Then, Nellie, what about her?” Nelly was slightly wanting, and came to help with the washing.

“Certainly not.” The idea was repugnant.

“Well, father, who are your concubines?”

“I have no concubines!” he roared and stormed out of the room. And so I was left to deal with the mighty question myself.

Reading was Pamela’s exploration tool. Her inquisitive mind needed to make sense of the world. So, she read, without discrimination nor restriction. She read everything that came into her hand, even the missionary tracks of her piano teacher.

When I was a child the only way I could learn about other countries was by reading missionary tracks given by my pious piano-teacher, so that today almost every quarter of the globe has for me a faint flavor of old hymn-books.

These tracks and her fathers’ Celtic fantasies might have caused her thirst to see other lands. Undoubtedly, the foreign worlds seemed more attractive and alluring to her than the ordinary day-to-day of the Travers household.  

There must be something else I would say, not at all knowing what it was, but knowing, too, that as far as the wind blows and the sky is blue I would go and find it.”

I wonder, could her search for that enigmatic something else have been a reaction to her parents’ lack of nurturing skills? Could this inner tug have been the expression of her aching heart?

If that was so, it is possible then that Pamela relied on the help of the Explorer Archetype, another energetical pattern in her psychic arsenal, to relieve her from the emotional pain. The soothing attempts of the Explorer during her childhood are both charming and funny as you’ll read in next week’s post.

Pamela L. Travers and the Magical Child (Part I)

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As a young child, Pamela L. Travres believed in magic; as an adult, she wrote about it.

As a young child, she believed that everything was possible; as an adult, she deemed nothing was to be expected from life.

As a young child, she possessed the ability to see the potential for sacred beauty in all things; as an adult, that capacity morphed into its opposite.

As a young child, she believed in God; as an adult, she practiced a more impersonal cosmic oriented spirituality.

The reasons for theses drastic changes in her outlook on life will be explored in future posts. For now, let’s concentrate on the emergence of the Magical Child and the role it played in the first years of her life.

Pamela was the oldest of three children. Her younger siblings occupied most of her mother’s time while Pamela was dispatched to her great aunt Ellie (the inspiration of the Mary Poppins character) and to other friends and relatives. As for her father, he struggled with his alcohol addiction, a battle which cost him his life.

Pamela was a lonely child, misunderstood, and often cast aside by her parents. She always knew her mother favoured her sister Biddy, the prettiest one, and she secretly hoped to be her father’s favourite. Her relationship with her parents in her early childhood is explored in Pamela’s First Gods Part I and Pamela’s First Gods Part II.

♥ I believe that the strong presence of the Magical Child in her psyche helped her make sense of the world and compensated for the lack of parental guidance in her early childhood.

Her biographer, Valerie Lawson, reports that Pamela found solace in books. Stories stirred her soul. The first stories she heard came from the washerwoman of the household, Matilda, who was notorious for telling the “Grims.”  

As soon as Pamela learned to read (at the early age of three or four), she discovered that “Grims” was not a generic word for narrative but a collection of fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm. And were a collection of two volumes, “squat, red, sturdy volumes, coarse of paper, close of print, discovered in my father’s bookcase.”

Now, I don’t know if you are familiar with the folk stories collected by the Brothers Grimm, I am only discovering them now, and let me tell you, they are grim and sometimes downright bizarre: a nightmare kind of bizarre or subconscious waters bizarre.

Children cannot easily grasp the meaning of these folk stories. And, even as adults, we can find the task difficult. To understand folk stories and myths, one needs to have accumulated at least some life experience.

Pamela held that: Fairy -tale is at once the pattern of man and then chart for his journey.

That might be so; however, young children are incapable of understanding patterns of human behaviour, even less so when they are expressed in metaphors. Pamela admitted that she was left to deal with the “Grims” as well as she could:

 “…I seem to remember that I was grateful for books that did not speak to my childishness, books that treated me with respect, that spread out the story just as it was – Grimm’s fairy-tales for instance- and left me to deal with the matter as well as I could.”

Pamela fancied the idea that children have strong stomachs and that they can handle the unbowdlerized truth of the fairy tales (not the Disney versions!!!). I lovingly disagree with her. Young children are not equipped to understand metaphors and allegories. Thus, when she read the Brothers Grimm, she wasn’t equipped either.

It is quite possible that her knowledge of fairy-tales and myth, acquired later in her life, influenced her recollection of her early reading experience. Scientific research indicates that memories are not stored somewhere in our brain but reconstructed each time, and that with each reconstruction we alter the structure of the memory. How exactly we reconstruct the memories is still a mystery, but it appears that our knowledge influences our recollection. We alter memories to reflect our current understanding of the recollected circumstances.  

Nevertheless, these folk-tales had a strong imprint on Pamela’s fertile imagination and it is probably because of this early experience that later in her life she wrote:

“Those who have heard the fairy-tales have a very different understanding of what they hear from those who have only read them. As a child listens, the story goes in simply as a story. But there is an ear behind the ear which conserves meaning and gives it out much later. It is then that the listener, if he is lucky, understands the nature of the dragon, the necessity of the hero’s labors and who it is that lives happily ever after.”

♥ So, she admits that the meaning of these stories was revealed to her many years later. Not only that, she had the input of a mentor in the person of George Russel, and after his death, she spent the rest of her life studying myth and fairy tales.

Luckily for us, when Pamela, in her later writings, slightly opened the door to her childhood, she allowed us a few glimpses of the inner workings of her imaginative little head; glimpses that appear to have remained authentic and unaltered by her life experience.  And what’s more:  these recollections prove exactly my point! Back then she was not equipped to interpret the information she was ingurgitating so avidly through her reading. Everything was taken literally on its first level of meaning, which is quite charming and endearing. 

♥  This is how Pamela described the dynamics of her inner child: “By putting two and two together – fragments of talk and his own logic -he (the child) will fashion the themes for himself.”

And this is how her Magical Child solved this mathematical equation:

“Go and play, children” Grown-up talk was not for our ears. Therefore, since like all children we were natively scandalmongers, we lusted eagerly after it. So, we crept back, whenever we could, to hear how they lived in that other world – how for instance Major “Bingo” Battle had a habit of lifting his elbow, which mysteriously was why he was so often seen holding on to tree or fence as he staggered along the road; how Mrs. Scott-Campbell’s baby not being wanted by Mrs. Scott-Campbell – the nods and becks made it clear to us- was not allowed to be born; we thought of that infant with commiseration, sitting forever in its cramped dark place, no exit allowed to it through Mrs. Scott-Campbell’s navel; how Mr. Farquhar “wasted his substance away”, and yet, to our eyes, grew not thinner but fatter. And how Mrs. Quigley’s broken heart had to do with a fair-haired soldier whose portrait hung on her drawing room wall. Crack! Like a Dresden cup it fell; we could almost hear it shattering against the wall of her bosom”

Or:

One of them (talking about one of her great aunts), it was said – or rather, it was whispered, the rumour being so hideous – one of them lived on her capital. What was capital, I wondered, wild with conjecture, full of concern. And the dreadful answer came bubbling up – it was herself, her substance. Each day she disappeared to her room, it was not to rest, like anyone else, but secretly to live on her person, to gnaw, perhaps a toe or a finger or to wolf down some inner organ.

Well, believing that a baby is trapped in a dark whole without any hope of ever seeing the light, or imagining her aunt eating her bodily parts must have been a profoundly terrifying experience. And reading the “Grims” and other apparently dark writings (Twelve Deathbed Scenes and Heinrich Hoffmann’s Struwwepeter) only increased her fears.  At night, Pamela watched the shadows climb up the walls and slip along the ceiling and listened to the old house’s noises. She imagined that a cruel army captain was hidden behind the bedroom door, scraping the wall with a pencil. Her mother’s reassurances were lost on her. Pamela’s mind was filled with the most frightening monsters and creatures.

Pamela wrote once that she might have taken away her anxiety by taking the questions to her parents. They could have explained things as they are but she didn’t. She seems to imply that it was by choice; she didn’t want a rational explanation because she liked her own world, “this world is infinite, the sun shines up from the abyss as well as down from the sky, the time is always now and endless and the only way to explain a thing is to say that it cannot be explained.”

And then she goes on and adds:

I am glad, therefore, to have kept my terror whole and thus retained a strong link with the child’s things-as-they-are, where all things relate to one another and all are congruous.”

This statement deserves to be examined more closely and this is what we’ll do next week in the second part of this blog post.

Nature Child to the Rescue  

nature

In this week’s post, I want to explore  the idea about the activation of the psychic energies of the Shadow Orphan Archetype in Pamela L. Travers’s life. 

As previously mentioned, the models of the archetypal energies are inspired by Caroline Myss‘s gallery of archetypes (which in turn is inspired by the work of Carl Jung). If you are not familiar with the concept of the energetic archetypes, I invite you to read the post about Pamela and the Wounded Child Archetype and investigate the links that are embedded both in that previous post as well as the links herein.  

Again, I am just playing with these ideas and concepts with the aim of articulating my intuitive understanding of Pamela’s personality. It is a personal interest and a first time writing experience; one that I find quite enjoyable. 

If this is your first visit to this blog, I sincerely hope that you too will find the content enjoyable and that you will follow my weekly attempts at untangling Pamela’s psyche.  

♥ Not a lot about her was known by the pubic twenty years ago, although a lot has been said since. Still, much more remains unsaid and unexplored. 

The Orphan Archetype 

Now, about the Orphan Archetype. This energetical pattern is activated by the experience of loss of one or both parents at an early age. Because such an experience is extremely terrifying and painful, the Orphan Archetype is often in the company of the Wounded Child Archetype. (Note that emotional neglect or abuse from the child’s care givers can probably also trigger this archetype.) 

Orphans are left on their own devices and must develop independence early in life. The absence of nurturing and guidance compels the Orphan Child to construct its inner reality based on personal judgment and experience.  

Orphans who succeed at finding a path of survival on their own are celebrated in fairy tales and folk stories as having won a battle with a dark force: the fear of surviving alone in this world.   

When the Orphan fails on her path towards independence, the shadow aspect manifests itself through feelings of abandonment and rejection. This, in turn, stifles the maturation process and often causes the Orphan to seek surrogate family structures in attempt to experience tribal union. Often therapeutic support groups or religious organizations become shadow tribes or families for an Orphan Child who knows deep down that healing these wounds requires moving on to adulthood. 

Feeling outside of the family circle 

Pamela seems to always have felt left out and as if she was not a part of her family. This feeling can be traced in her writings and I will give one example here from The Fox at the Manger, a Christmas fable Pamela wrote and published in 1962: 

“And I dearly wanted a black lamb. For, without him, where are the ninety and nine? Flocks, like families, have need of their black sheep – he carries their sorrow for them. He is the other side of their whiteness. Does nobody understand, I wondered, that a crib without a black lamb is an incomplete statement.” 

She also experienced loneliness and abandonment prior to the sudden death of her father and the suicide attempt of her mother.  

When Pamela was a small child, her mother was busy raising Pamela’s siblings and her father was busy drinking. No one was available to take care of her emotional and intellectual needs. Her parents, unable to address those needs, made her feel somewhat inadequate and different from her siblings.  

If you are interested in learning more about her relationships with her father and her mother, these are explored in the posts Lyndon’s First Gods Part I and Part II.

♥ For the purposes of this post, let me reaffirm that my understanding is that her inner child was fragmented and that the different aspects, namely the Nature Child, the Magical Child, the Wounded Child, and the Orphan Child came at odds with each other as Pamela grew older. Thus, her Child Archetype did not fully integrate and never truly matured. 

In her early childhood, Pamela found solace from her loneliness in nature and in books. These two sources provided a gateway for the expression of the Nature Child and the Magical Child aspects of her inner child. It was these two archetypal energies that assisted her in constructing her inner reality, and for a while, succeeded in overpowering the negative forces of the Orphan Child and Wounded Child Archetypes. 

The Nature Child 

Pamela fits this archetype perfectly.  

As a young child, she used to spend her days in the fields of weed next to her parent’s house in Maryborough, busy making nests and pretending to be a mother hen laying her eggs. Her biographer, Valerie Lawson, reveals Pamela to have been a child “much closer to animals than people; she took care not to step on an ant or a beetle.” She “felt surrounded by the spirits of the trees, by the grass and stone but most of all by stars.” 

♥ Pamela suspected trees of gossiping amongst themselves but stopping once they saw her arrive. This sensibility to the living world around her and the invisible realms is profoundly touching and apparently not so far apart from reality.  

(As an aside, I just started reading The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from A Secret World. I notice lately that somehow everything I read is connected in some way to my blog project. This is probably because my mind is so immersed in the subject that it makes links with apparently unrelated subjects. Pamela used to say that thinking is linking…)  

Anyhow, back to the subject of this post.  

♥ A few years later, when the family moved to Allora, Pamela spent her time playing in the paddock close to the house making small villages out of leaves and branches.  At night, she would lie in the grass while watching and listening to the stars humming.    

Thus, The Nature Child operated throughout Pamela’s entire life. However, as the events of her life unfolded, the energies of the Wounded Child and Orphan Child downplayed its beneficial forces. Gradually, what she once experienced as a feeling of connectedness to the universal life force and awe at the mystery of creation became secondary, and at best, a southing landscape and comforting activity.  

Indeed, Pamela wrote the first two Mary Poppins books in a bucolic cottage in Sussex where she had to move for health reasons.

pound-cottage-gallery

Parks and stars are recurring elements in these stories. She also took up gardening, with herbs and flowers being her predilection.  

♥ Yet at that time in her life, Pamela’s prior attention was on other matters. She was longing for a love connection. Additionally, the shadow energies of the Wounded Child and the Orphan Child were creating havoc in her relationships and forcing the Nature child to express itself in peculiar ways. Her fascination with the stars found resonance with the cosmic mythology of Gurdjieff, her guru’s work. She even based her decision of adopting her son on an astrological chart. 

In the end, Pamela proved to be as tough and resilient as nature. She died at the venerable age of 97, despite the many physical ailments and mental torments she suffered since her mid-twenties.

♥ At night, she laid still in her bed looking at her curtains specially chosen for their “whirly night sky pattern,” says her biographer, and imagined herself being a tree. She even affirmed knowing how it felt to be a tree… 

Still, the Nature Child alone could not have accomplished the task of explaining the outer world to young Pamela. It was greatly assisted by the Magical Child which will be the subject of next week’s post. 

 

The Lover Archetype and Friend Monkey (Part III)

Friend Monkey 2.jpg

 

The writing of Friend Monkey

In 1966, when Pamela L. Travers was just starting to write the story of Friend Monkey, some friends asked her to look after a family of three Tibetans visiting London. The visitors stayed in her writing studio for a few weeks and after they left, her manuscript of two-hundred pages had mysteriously vanished.

Her biographer, Valerie Lawson, reports that Pamela even called in two dowsers, who went over the house with two pendulums. They searched everywhere, even in hatboxes and luggage, in the bathroom, the garden, under the sofa. Nothing.” The manuscript was gone. Pamela was dispirited.

However, whoever or whatever wanted to prevent Pamela from writing that book underestimated her zeal. Eventually, she rewrote Friend Monkey and the book was published in 1971.

The book did not attain much success at the time of its publishing, especially in the United States, and today few people know about the story of Friend Monkey. This lack of success crushed Pamela and she wrote to  friends:

Here it is not understood except by rare people…I feel that I have written a sort of testament. In England, it is much better understood but the U.S. reception has thrown me into the deeps. That something so clear, so obviously to do with love and loving isn’t seen!  So that I have lost a lot of faith in myself. Am I a writer? Do I know anything about the myths? Who am I? And what? Shall I ever write anything else? (This is a common sickness among writers but I am having a bad bout of it and no medicine or reassurance seems to assuage it. I need a whole new set of impressions, I expect.) 

The reference in the last sentence in the quote above about the “set of impressions” alludes to the teachings of Pamela’s spiritual teacher Gurdjieff but her allegiance to his work and its influence on her writings will be explored in future posts on this blog.

Now back to Friend Monkey.

The story of Friend Monkey

The main characters of the story are Friend Monkey, a little monkey abandoned by its tribe, and Mr. Alfred Linnet, a ship-checking clerk. Mr. Linnet is a powerless family man living with his wife and three young kids in the house of the old and grumpy Uncle Trehunsey. One day, Mr. Linnet discovers in the cargo of one of the ships on dock a little monkey and takes him home instead of giving him to the suspicious Professor McWhirter who presents himself as animal fancier and collector. While in their home, Friend Monkey, quite unintentionally, sets the house of Uncle Trehunsey on fire. Mr. Linnet’s unconventional neighbor, Mrs. Brown-Potter (a former explorer), shelters the family. Meanwhile, Professor McWhirter follows Friend Monkey and tries to snatch him from his adoptive family. Then, one day, Friend Monkey runs out of the house and disrupts the Jubilee Parade of the Queen which becomes the cause of Mr. Linnet’s down fall. The family is left without resources and no one wants to hire disgraced Mr. Linnet. Thus a difficult decision must be made. The family, along with Friend Monkey, Mrs. Brown-Potter, and her adoptive little African boy Stanley, embark on a ship sailing to Umtota with the intention of starting a new life in a new place. In a turn of fortune, the ship never reaches the intended destination. The ship’s crew is employed by Professor McWhirter who is in the business of stealing animals from zoos and freeing them on a deserted island. At the end of the story, Mr. Linnet’s new job is to be the watchman of the island. And as for Friend Monkey, he is greeted by his monkey tribe and treated as their King.

♥ I can’t say the story plot is particularly engaging and it has some slow moments. It also lacks the magic of the Mary Poppins stories because, in my opinion, it is mostly a conscious writing on Pamela’s part. The descriptions of the characters and their emotional states sounded a little preachy at times.  I can see why the book did not receive the expected praise. It is not Pamela’s best work; although, it was her favorite one.  

Nevertheless, there are a lot of interesting hints about Pamela’s inner workings that seem to have escaped everybody’s attention.

First, let’s talk about the character of Miss Brown-Potter.

Valerie Lawson, Pamela L. Travers’s biographer, finds similarities between Mrs. Brown-Potter, Mary Poppins, and Pamela’s Great Aunt Ellie.  

And, although it is true that the personality of Mary Poppins reflects to a certain extent that of Aunt Ellie as discussed in a previous post, and that some aspects of Aunt Ellie’s upbringing coincide with the upbringing of Mrs. Brown-Potter, the resemblances stop there. The discrepancies between the temperaments of Mary Poppins and of Mrs. Brown-Potter make this assumption implausible.

Instead, the similarities between Pamela L. Travers and Mrs. Brown Potter are much more striking.

♥ Mrs. Brown-Potter is unconventional just like Pamela, she travels to explore the world just like Pamela (although Pamela traveled the world to explore herself), and lives alone with her African adopted son just like Pamela lived alone with her adoptive Irish boy Camillus.

♥ At the same time, there are striking opposites in the characteristics of Pamela L. Travers and Mrs. Brown Potter and these contradictions in character make me believe that Mrs. Brown-Potter is an expression of the Higher Self of Pamela – the ideal towards which Pamela was striving.

Mrs. Brown Potter is calm and content. Pamela was anxious and restless. Mrs. Brown-Potter is loving and compassionate, even to the unlovable Uncle Trehunsey. Mrs. Brown-Potter has no expectations of reciprocation, she just does what needs to be done. Pamela was demanding and self-pitying.

♥ Another interesting aspect in the story of Friend Monkey is the relationship between Mrs. Brown-Potter and her adoptive son, Stanley. Stanley is deaf and cannot speak but he and Mrs. Brown-Potter have a connection that Pamela never experienced with her own son who had no speech impediment. Her heart must have ached when she wrote:

For twelve years they have lived together in harmony and mutual affection…

She and Stanley exchanged glances, and at once, working as one person, they set about getting bowls of soup, gathering up the scattered bundles, lighting lamps, making beds.”

The part about little Mrs. Brown-Potter is the most unconscious expression of Pamela’s psyche in the book. Little Mrs. Brown-Potter is the portrait of Mrs. Brown-Potter at the age of ten. The little girl comes momentarily alive and steps down from the frame to commiserate with Friend Monkey.

He wrapped his arms more closely about him, not so much remembering as feeling in his whole body that he had been left alone.

And Miss Brow-Potter at the age of ten, mumpish in her white muslin, stepped down from her portrait frame and came and stood beside him. For a long time or a short time-neither could have measured it – the two of them communed together, motionless as a painted child and a painted monkey.

♥ It is conspicuous that the little girl in the story is framed in time and space at the age of ten, the age at which Pamela’s mother attempted suicide. It is almost as if little Helen Lyndon (Pamela’s real name) was showing a glimpse of herself. I believe both Friend Monkey and little Mrs. Brown-Potter express the emotions of the Orphan Child within Pamela herself.

Next week’s post will explore the Orphan Archetype and Pamela’s need to belong to a tribe.