Pamela L. Travers and Johnny Delaney

Pamela L. Travers Johnny Delaney 2

The story of Johnny Delaney, another character from Pamela L. Travers’s Australian childhood, and the meaning of the religious references in that story are the subject of this week’s post.

Just as in the story of Ah Wong, which was the subject of last week’s post, the story of Johnny Delaney was written as a Christmas gift for Pamela L. Travers’s friends and was not intended for the public eye. It was only in November 2014 that the story became available for the general reader. Virago Press, with the authorization of Pamela’s estate, published Aunt Sass a compilation of three stories: “Aunt Sass,” “Ah Wong,” and “Johnny Delaney.”

“Johnny Delaney” was published privately during Pamela’s war-time evacuation to the United States. It is dedicated to a mysterious woman by the name of Frieda Heidecke Stern whom Pamela’s biographer, Valerie Lawson, could not identify. Underneath that dedication there is a German sentence which translates to: If one door closes, another opens.

What door had closed back then for Pamela and what door was she hoping would open? Chance did not write that sentence, it meant something. EVERYTHING was a metaphor for Pamela. She even asked once the bizarre question of what a man was a metaphor for.

 ♥ Then it is only logical to ask, what was Johnny Delaney a metaphor for? This post is an attempt to answer that question.

Pamela wrote the story of “Johnny Delaney” at a time when she was profoundly homesick. Likely, it was her longing to return home to a safe and familiar place that prompted her to turn mentally to the earliest memories of her childhood. Probably to the happiest ones, the more magical ones, and the ones that appealed most to her imagination.

The “real” Johnny Delaney worked as a stable boy and a carpenter but to Pamela he appeared as creature from a fairy tale. It is possible that he taught her, just like the children in the story, to spit with artistry, to make whistles from bamboo sticks, and to read the night starry sky. Although small and crippled physically, Johnny’s presence seems to have been magnified by his shadowy personality:

He was before anything else, an antisocial being. He was a man made entirely of blackness and shadow, the quickest-tempered, arrogantest, bitter-heartedest creature that ever stepped out of the County Clare.”

But did the real Johnny have a second sight?  Did he forcefully and unsolicitedly dispense his piece of mind to all who met him? Did he die as told in the story, of binge drinking? And above all, was his “life’s work” real? Somehow that last element in the story feels to me too romantic to have been true. It bears too much of a symbolic resemblance to Pamela’s own relationship with the God from her childhood (see last week’s post). I will get back to that. But first, let me give you a summary of the story itself.

Come to think about it, “Johnny Delaney” is not a genuine story because there is not really a plot in it. It is a character study; a retelling of a childhood memory about a tormented creature.His spirit glared through his dark eyes, a fierce, tormented prisoner.

He was a man who apparently had lost his religion because of some secret pain, and  a man betrayed by God just as Pamela herself felt betrayed by God. Truly, he was a man with His love heavy and silent within him just like Pamela and he also rejected the Church and the priests and kept to himself, just like Pamela:

 “The mere sight of a priest enraged him; and he deliberately pressed his hat a little further on his head when he met Mr. Preston, the vicar.”

 “Ah, what do they know of life at all, them ignorant white angels? Sittin’ an’ sthrummin’ their harps of gold with never a shadow upon them.”

But despite his antisocial behaviours and his heavy drinking, the reader learns at the end of the story that Johnny’s religion was love; love for the family he worked for, love for the people with whom he worked, and love for the wild life that surrounded him. And although he rejected the organised Christian religion, his life’s work (which is discovered only at his death) was a carving of the nativity scene. This is a nativity scene quite different from its traditional representation which dates to 1223 when Saint Francis of Assisi created the very first one to promote the true meaning of Christmas and worship of Jesus Christ.

This is what Johnny’s nativity scene looks like:

There were carved and painted kings and children kneeling beside a stable. No shepherds with flocks of snowy lambs, no angels with folded wings. Instead there were little native creatures – kangaroos, emus, red flamingos; horses and lizards and goats. The kneeling men were cane cutters, offering green cane boughs; …And alone-apart from men and beasts-stood a little bowed hump-backed figure, with a jockey hat in its hand. It seemed to be gazing at the crib…”

Even though his love was strong, Johnny did not believe himself worthy of love. He was forever the observer, the outsider, the misfit: Just like Pamela L. Travers.

The observations about the nature of love in this story have probably more to do with Pamela’s own beliefs than the actual character of Johnny.

♥ Throughout the story, there is a feeling of connection between the child narrator and Johnny. It is as if each one of them recognises himself in the other and a connection that lies between their “blackened by love” hearts.

Now, I don’t know how much of Johnny’s story is true and how much of it is the writer’s imagination. What I know for sure is that Pamela’s early childhood years were not spent on a sugar plantation as narrated in both “Ah Wong and “Johnny Delaney.” I also know that Pamela fancied the idea of telling people that that was the case, and that her father was the owner of a sugar plantation. This is what she told Patricia Demers who wrote a short literary analysis of her works in the early nineties, before Valerie Lawson’s biography Mary Poppins, She Wrote. This is also what some newspapers wrote as her obituary in 1996. Here is an example from the obituary that was published in the New York Times :  

Her father was a sugar planter, and Miss Travers recalled growing up near the Great Barrier Reef in a tropical world of sugar cane, shells and mangoes.”

The truth was different. Pamela’s father was a bank clerk who in his youth worked on a tea plantation in Ceylon. During the first three years of her childhood Pamela’s family lived in Maryborough, near the Mary River, in a two-story home from where Pamela could see the town’s sugar factory. So, there is an imaginative and mischievous stretch of reality on Pamela’s part. She did intentionally mislead people but, then again, people asked for it. She never wanted to be known for the facts of her personal life. She wanted to be understood through her art.

♥ I believe her resistance to reveal the personal details of her life were motivated by fear: fear of being judged, fear of being misunderstood, and a fear of being rejected. She needed to surround herself with a cloak of mystery so to appear worthy of people’s attention and, at the same time, to hide behind it as a protective shield. It was all just a defensive mechanism. What she wrote in “Zen Moments,” an article published in Parabola, confirms just that:

“We sit on our heels on the tatami, the Japanese woman and myself, telling the stories of our lives. One can do this with a stranger. Too near, and the perspective is lost. Only the far can be near.” 

So, what was “Johnny Delaney’ a metaphor for?  I believe him to be the expression of Pamela’s emotional inadequacy and her unfulfilled need to belong to a family, and above all, her need for a spiritual life after the loss of her faith.

Pamela L. Travers and Ah Wong

Mary Poppins Ah Wong

Pamela L. Travers stemmed from a religious soil. She heard readings from the Bible and attended church services on Sundays at St. David’s Anglican Church of England in Allora, Queensland, Australia.

Her parents were pious churchgoers; thus, God was an absolute and uncontestable part of Pamela’s reality:

“…God ubiquitously worked among us, forever unespied – playing the organ on Sundays, his feet bare on the pedals…..Once He looked me at through the gap in the fence with the face of a golden sunflower, awesome, quizzical, resolute. I put up my hand and I picked Him.”

Curious enough, despite her parents’ piety, this almost transcendental experience once shared was dismissed as inappropriate:

No one, they said, could pick God and if they could they would not. It was socially, if not ethically, unacceptable and not the kind of thing people did.” 

Yet, it was not these insensitive comments but her father’s sudden death that shook the foundations of Pamela L. Travers’s religious beliefs. She had no choice but to accept her father’s death, even if the process took her several years. What she failed to accept, however, was a God who allowed for such a loss.  By losing her father she also lost her religion.

Alas, she did not lose her spiritual needs. A deep inner void remained to be filled. And that explains her lifelong following of the esoteric teachings of George Ivanovich Gurdjieff (whom she met in her late thirties), as well as her general restlessness and search for spiritual masters.

Strangely, despite her rejection of the God from her childhood, Pamela kept a faint connection to her Christian upbringing. Some of her less known writings (“Ah Wong,” “Johnny Delaney,” “I Go By Sea, I Go By Land,” and “Fox at the Manger”) contain religious references which leave a vague impression of an ambiguous belief system.  And it is to be noted that Gurdjieff himself called his system esoteric Christianity because of his ideas about sacrifice and voluntary suffering. A similar conclusion can be drawn about her interest in the Durkheim’s system (see post from last week) which is a combination of Christian and Zen concepts.  

However, the major difference between her earlier religious training and the Gurdjieff’s and Durkheim’s teachings is that in these teachings the divine is described in a more mystical manner. There is also a strong emphasis on physical exercises as a gateway to a higher level of consciousness; ritual dances in the case of Gurdjieff and yoga and breathing exercises with Durkheim. In both systems, the process of personal growth is entirely the individual’s responsibility; an experiential inner process to be discovered by the individual on the spiritual path. Truth is to be experienced not known.

In 1943, Pamela L. Travers (at that time already a follower of Gurdjieff) wrote the story of “Ah Wong” as a Christmas present for her friends. She did not intend the story for the public eye and it was only in November 2014 that it became available for the general reader. Virago Press, with the authorization of Pamela’s estate, published Aunt Sass a compilation of three stories: “Aunt Sass,” “Ah Wong,” and “Johnny Delaney.” The story of “Aunt Sass” was previously discussed on this blog. It features Pamela L. Travers’s great-aunt Ellie (under the name of Aunt Sass) who was, to a certain extent, the inspiration of the character of Mary Poppins.

Also, just as in “Aunt Sass,” a child’s voice tells the story of “Ah Wong” and again, as in “Aunt Sass,” it contains some biographical elements form Pamela’s Australian childhood.

The Travers’s household in the early years, before her father’s death, employed a Chinese cook who left a lifelong impression on Pamela’s heart.

In the story, Ah Wong arrives out of nowhere, as an angel of providence, just at the right time when the family has lost their incompetent Chinese cook to a work-related injury.  Ah Wong, thin and wrinkled with a long, black pigtail swinging underneath his hat, is described as a benevolent, energetic, and caring force:

 For Ah Wong did not merely cook for the family. It soon became apparent that he owned the family. He darted like lightning about the house, dusting, making beds, sweeping and polishing.”

Ah Wang was the ultimate house elf:

 “Flowers bloomed, green rows of vegetables appeared, watermelons swelled like balloons. It was our belief that Ah Wong blew them up at night.”    

Now, this sweet man remained profoundly engraved in Pamela’s memory not only because of his loving care for the family, but also and probably more so, because he was different in a time and place of Christian homogeneity. Something mysterious was hidden behind a beaded curtain in his room; Ah Wong was bowing to a heathen idol.

Mary Poppins Ah Wong 2.PNG

Thus, Pamela and her siblings found themselves on a quest:

We were going to convert Ah Wang. At this period, we were immersed in those old stories wherein small children of extreme physical debility set so saintly an example that grown-up sinners were thereby brought to repentance.

The rest of the story goes on in a humorous way to describe the children’s efforts to teach Ah Wong the basics of Christianity and get him christened, of course, all without any success. It is in this story of Ay Wong that we glean Pamela L. Travers’s early religious education:

First, she mentions The Book of Common Prayers which I learned is a compilation of related prayer books used in the Anglican Communion, as well as by the Continuing Anglican, the “Anglican realignment,” and other Anglican churches. The book also includes the complete forms of service for daily and Sunday worship.

Book_of_Common_Prayer_1760.jpg

Then, she tells us that her Bible primer was the Peep of Day and that Ah Wong succeeded in learning the prayers. So, I looked it up, and Peep of Day turns out to be a series of religious instructions for young children with illustrative verses written by Favell Lee Mortimer.

Peep of Day

The book is separated in sections as follows:

Section 1: My Family and Me – Body, Parents, Soul

Section 2: Angels – Good Angels, Wicked Angels

Section 3: God’s World – The World (3 lessons), Adam & Eve, The first sin, The Son of God

Section 4: Jesus has Arrived – Virgin Mary, Birth of Jesus, Shepherds, Wise Men, King Herod

Section 5: Jesus at Work – The Temptation, 12 disciples, First miracle, Several miracles, Sinner & Simon, Storm at Sea, Jairus’ daughter, Loaves and fishes, Kindness of Jesus, Lord’s prayer, Jesus foretells his death, Lazarus, Jesus in Jerusalem, The Temple, Judas

Section 6: The Last Meal – The Last Supper (3 lessons)

Section 7: The Final Night – The Garden, Peter’s denial, Pontius Pilate, Death of Judas

Section 8: Jesus Dies – The Cross (3 lessons), The Soldiers, The Grave

And here is a verse from the Peep of Day which we can imagine Ah Wong and the Children sang together:

My little body’s made by God

Of soft warm flesh and crimson blood;

The slender bones are placed within,

And over all is laid the skin

My little body’s very weak;

A fall or blow my bones might break;

The water soon might stop my breath;

The fire might close my eyes in death.

 But God can keep me by his care.

 Ah Wong indulged the children by playing and listening to their stories, but when they described to him the glorious picture of their father at the Church service, trying to convince him to come with them, Ah Wong found the idea of giving money at the end of the service completely ludicrous.

 “….our father, in his white silk suit with the crimson cummerbund, taking round the plate. This, to us, was a sight ever glorious. Sunday after Sunday we thrilled with pride as, singing the last hymn in a roaring baritone, Father took up the collection.”

Whassa dam-silly-fellow nonsins? he shouted wrathfull. ‘Boss take-im money? I don’t tink so. Boss not take-im Ah Wong’s money.”  

After this incident, we learn that Ah Wong is saving his money to return to China. Soon after that, the tone of the story abruptly changes and becomes darker. The father suddenly dies and the family must leave its sugar plantation and its Chinese cook. Many years later, the child narrator, now a young journalist, meets Ah Wong on board of a ship sailing to China. Ah Wong is part of the ship’s cargo, a dying stock of old Chinese men on the way to their homeland. The story ends on a somewhat lyrical reflection about life and death being one river:

The same flood that was flinging me into life was taking Ah Wong home…

Next week we’ll talk about Johnny Delaney and the Nativity scene.

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)

brothers-grimm

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.

 

 

The Lover Archetype and Friend Monkey (Part II)

pamela-l-travers-hanuman

This week, we’ll continue the exploration of the Lover Archetype. We will also get acquainted with the myth of Hanuman and his remote cousin, Friend Monkey, the favorite creation of Pamela L. Travers. In fact, she loved Friend Monkey more than she loved her famous character Mary Poppins.

Pamela without a doubt was a lover of myth and fairy-tales. She even attempted to write myth like stories at three separate occasions. First in the “Fox and the Manger” (1963), the second time in “Friend Monkey” (1971) and a third time in “About the Sleeping Beauty” (1975).

♥ However, none of these conscious efforts to create myth worked out as successfully as her more unconscious writing of the Mary Poppins character who turned out to be the one intrinsically mythical.

For the purposes of this week’s and next week’s posts we’ll focus our attention on the story of “Friend Monkey“. The other two books will be examined in future posts.

♥ Pamela believed that we all have our own personal myth. She wrote to friends that hers was the myth of Hanuman, the monkey god of the Hindu mythology. I believe that because Hanuman is the embodiment of the Devoted Servant Archetype and because he exalts love to a higher sphere, Pamela’s Wounded Child mistook Hanuman for the Lover Archetype.

The myth of Hanuman

Hanuman’s mother was a vanara which means in the language of Hindu mythology a subclass of human being; a human with tribal, instinctive, wild, animalistic nature. Illustrations of vanaras show them as humans with monkey faces. Although a vanara, his mother was endowed with spiritual qualities and prayed the Gods that she would give birth to a son who will help all humanity. Her prayers were heard by the God of wind, Vayu, who impregnated her in the sacred way of the Immaculate Conception.

Thus, Hanuman was born a boy with a monkey face but also with a mixture of divine elements. He possessed the ability to shrink and increase his size, to be weightless or to increase his weight, to travel anywhere, to leap as high as he wished, to acquire anything, to master all creatures, and ultimately to become godlike with the power to create and destroy.

When Hanuman was young, he saw the sun in the sky and thought it was a fruit and, being a monkey, he wanted to get it.  Indra the god of thunderbolts struck Hanuman on the chin with a thunderbolt and knocked him from the sky in order to preserve life that would have been destroyed had Hanuman succeeded in his selfish plan. Afterwards, because of his mischievous nature and all the troubles he was creating, wise men put a spell on Hanuman and made him forget about his powers until later when he was reminded of them.  Then, the Sun becomes Hanuman’s Guru. After his schooling with the Sun, Hanuman comes to be the devoted servant of Ramachandra, an avatar of Vishnu, who himself is one of the most widely worshipped Hindu deities and the embodiment of chivalry and virtue.

At one point in the story, Ramachandra’s wife Sita is abducted by the demon Ravana and Hanuman must lead the monkey army to help Ramachandra recover his wife. When Ramachandra is wounded in battle and needs medicinal herbs, Hanuman uses his godlike powers and leaps to the Himalaya to gather the needed herbs. When he comes back, instead of bringing only a sprig of the herbs, he comes back with part of the mountain.

♥ It was Hanuman’s inability to do things by halves that fascinated Pamela.

The story of Hanuman is obviously a symbolic description of the journey of spiritual awakening from an animalistic self-centered person to a being with a higher consciousness that is motivated by love and the desire to serve others for the benefit and enhancement of their lives.  For Hanuman never used his godlike powers for his own benefit.

It seems to me that Pamela overlooked the spiritual aspect of the personal growth and maturity in the story and focused her attention on the loving aspect of the Servant Archetype.

Friend Monkey is really the favorite of all my books because it is based on a Hindu myth of the monkey lord who loved so much that he created chaos wherever he went.

Her Wounded Child’s needy nature mistakenly identified itself with Hanuman’s acts of service. But Hanuman’s help was selfless and did not expect anything in return. The Wounded Child expected plenty. I couldn’t find any indication anywhere (be it in her biography, in the documentaries about her life or in her own writings) that she ever acted in a selfless way. How could’ve she? Her unrecognized Wounded Child could not act as a mature individual, it needed to be healed first.

♥ And, I infer from the quote above that she interpreted her neediness as the excessive expression of her love. One thing is certain; she created chaos in all her intimate relationships including the one with her adoptive son.

As for the story of Friend Monkey, I couldn’t quite make the link between Hanuman and the character of Friend Monkey, besides the fact that they are both monkeys and have the same physical appearance: white fur around the neck and a white spot on the forehead. What is more, it is Friend Monkey who needs to be saved in Pamela’s story.

♥ However, I found some intriguing material in the story of Friend Monkey which I believe to be Pamela’s unconscious expression of her Wounded/Orphan Child Archetype. And this will be the subject of next week’s post.

The Lover Archetype and Friend Monkey (Part I)

Pamela L. Travers lover.JPG

This week’s post will explore how Pamela L. Travers’s Wounded and Orphan Child archetypes overpowered the positive expression of her Lover archetype.  (For those of you who are coming to this blog for the first time, note that I am using the energetic archetypal models elaborated by Caroline Myss)

So, let’s start. What is the Lover Archetype and how can you tell if you have it in your psyche? You have the Lover in you if you not only are romantically inclined, but also if you exhibit great passion, devotion, and intense affection and have appreciation of someone or something that influences the organization of your entire life and environment.

For Pamela writing and fairy tales proved to be the true love of her life. However, there is more to the inner workings of her Lover archetype and its interaction with the energetical patterns of the Wounded and Orphan Child than this obvious manifestation in Pamela’s life.

Pamela was needy of others love and acceptance. Her neediness expressed itself in the form of exaggerated demands and unrealistic expectations from others. When these expectations were not met, it only confirmed her inner beliefs established during her early childhood: she was not worthy of love and people cannot be trusted.

♥ Love was not safe. This is what Pamela had to say about the Lover Archetype:

The loved can sit in the lap of time and play with their toys and sleep. The lover has to watch and pray. He is involved with the nature of things, simply by being a lover. He has to grind his own grain; no other bread will feed him. It is he, going forward against the thorn, who needs to be treasured and cared for; the loved are always safe.”

The same message is spoken by the character of Johnny Delaney, the hero of a short story inspired by Pamela’s childhood memories. These are his warning words to the parents in the story:

Yez must watch her keenly when I’m gone.” But our mother had her eye on her darling, the beautiful second sister. “But surely, Johnny,’ she protested, it’s she we must watch.”

Johnny eyed her viciously. “She’s safe. She has her nose in herself. But this wan’s black with loving.”

Black with loving! It says it all! Pamela’s neediness is almost palpable.  And just as Johnny predicted it, Pamela did get in trouble. Her lifelong search for love was messy and sorrowful.

♥ I suspect that the unsatisfied, unconscious needs from her childhood distorted her Lover Archetype. It manifested itself in Pamela’s life as intense, obsessive passions (be it with men, women or myths) that I believe had a destructive effect on her mental health.

As soon as Pamela arrived in England, in her twenties, she established contact with George Russell, one of her father’s worshiped poets, and the editor of the renowned literary magazine The Irish Statesman.” She sent Russell some poems and he wrote back. Afterward, he introduced her to Yeats (another admired poet by her father) and into the Irish literary society. He also initiated her in the meaning of fairy tales, myth, the spirit world, and Eastern religions.

Russell, although married, loved women and was always courting the young ones. As much as he was encouraging Pamela in the pursuit of her creative expression, I doubt that he had a beneficial effect on her self-esteem. He called her Mary Poppins, Popkins, and he wrote to her about his other flings, and I don’t know of any woman who would like that. He did not make her feel special in that way, just like her parents never made her feel special in her childhood:

You know I have much discrimination in girls, I have known many, and always made friends of the nice ones, like you.

This is an excerpt of a letter he sent to one of the nice ones: “I am a poet and I fall in love with every pretty face and I am not fickle for I remember them all and never turn away from them.”

Was it the age difference between them or Russell’s self-awareness that prevented the consumption of the relationship? This will remain a mystery but it is probably the lack of physical intimacy that allowed their relationship to evolve into a friendship that survived for a decade and until Russell’s death. There might have been an additional reason for the duration of the relationship. Pamela was pragmatic too. She needed protection and she needed his contacts and recommendations. That must have helped her to accept his emotional unavailability.

It was for another Irish poet, Francis Macnamara, a few years later to crush her heart and her hopes of ever finding a husband. Macnamara was younger and much more attractive than Russell.

Pamela described him as “very beautiful, fair, highly intellectual, loved by women and envied by men.

Macnamara was a true Don Juan, a serial adulterer. He had no true interest in Pamela. When he married for a third time with a woman younger than his own daughter, Pamela was truly distressed and started experiencing dizzy spells. She was 38 years old and that was way past “finding husband” time. It is also around that period of time that Pamela began to think about adopting a child, but this shall be the subject of a future post.

I believe that Pamela experienced Macnamara’s rejection as yet another proof that she was not good enough or deserving of love. Additionally, his rejection only made her more obsessed with him.  In the last years of her life, she began dreaming about him and as reported by her biographer, “One night, she imagined that she was alone with him. They could never speak of their love when he was alive. In her dream she was free to do so. Macnamara listened, nodded, and murmured that he understood completely.” 

♥ I suspect that Macnamara’s poetic aura appealed to Pamela’s Wounded Child. He was the only one to come close to Pamela’s fantasy of the ideal man; the idolized picture  of her father. Travers Goff did not write poetry (at least not that we know of) but he loved poems and Irish poets. “He was proud and haughty, terribly gay and terribly amusing and poetic and always singing and quoting poems and weeping over them.” He also had good looks and loved the bottle, just like Macnamara, who was remembered as “a boozer happy in a pub.” Neither men ever accomplished anything of significance and both men died unsatisfied with their lives. 

This unconscious inner connection remained in Pamela’s blind spot. 

After Macnamara, no other man (other than her adopted son) entered her life. This was, in all likelihood, because she was not in her prime youth, had an adoptive son, and suffered from many physical ailments related to her anxiety issues.

There are speculations and some suggestive hints in her biography that point to Pamela entertaining romantic relationships with women although there is no clear proof of that. There was her long-term roommate Madge Burnand, then Jessie Orage and Gertrude Hermes. All these relationships are reported to have been intense and they all ended on a bitter note for unclear reasons. The implied turbulence (and even violence) in some of these relationships could be the indication of some co-dependency patterns.

♥ Disappointed by all her relationships Pamela escaped into myth, obsessively seeking a road map for her life.

In her apartment on 52nd Street, she opened her old books on myths, pored over them into the night, felt the satisfaction of studying a jigsaw of names and connections that helped her make order of her own life.

Fairy tales were Pamela’s escape route during childhood. They fed her imagination and her rebellious nature. Unfortunately, they proved insufficient aid in her adult years.

Pamela, for all her fertile imagination, was unable to keep her feet firmly on the ground. This is the reason why her obsession with myths and fairy tales was neither healthy nor helpful. Myths provided no answers to her questions or any practical applications in her life. Rather, they alienated her from others and made the ordinary world feel unsatisfying and depressing. She was always looking for something else, something behind the ordinary but I doubt she really got a glimpse of it.

♥ Pamela liked to think that we all have our personal myth and that hers was the myth of Hanuman. In an undated letter to friends, Pamela writes about her book Friend Monkey:

You know how long I have brooded on Hanuman. The book is about that aspect of him (not him but as it were a thousandth descendant of his) that is excessive, that can’t do anything by halves, the ever loving and self-forgetting creature that because of his ever-love creates difficulties inevitably in the world around him; and his effect on the human beings who minister to him. Maybe it’s a book about learning to love.”

Or maybe it is a book that reveals more about Pamela L. Travers’s unresolved childhood issues. Friend Monkey will be the subject of next week’s post. I hope you’ll come back and read some more.

 

Pamela L. Travers and The Wounded Child Archetype

 

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In this week’s post, I will discuss how Pamela L. Travers’s early childhood wounds activated the Wounded Child energetical pattern in her psyche. There are probably other ways of seeing, understanding, and explaining Pamela’s inner workings: however, as I was reading her biography and watching the documentaries about her life, the concept of the archetypal energy patterns (as developed by Caroline Myss) kept coming to mind.

♥ And to be honest, I fancy the idea that Pamela would like to be analyzed through an archetypal lens; archetypes populate myth and that is the space where she loved to dwell.

So, I am going to use Caroline Myss’s model of the different aspects of the Child Archetype (and throughout this blog, other archetypes from her gallery of archetypes) to explain my understanding of Pamela’s personality and her psychological blockages.

To begin with, an archetypal energy is seen as being essentially neutral. The polarity of its attributes arises depending on our awareness of its presence within us or our lack thereof. If a person embodies consciously all her/his archetypal energies then it is the light, positive side that will manifest in that person’s life. If on the other hand, the person is unconscious of the archetypal energies in play, then there is a fragmentation of the whole being and the negative aspects of these energies are activated. The shadow within arises.  

I believe we all come into this world with our own innate nature, personality traits, and archetypal energy patterns and then this inner configuration begins to interact with the outside world and the innate natures of others. Out of this interaction our self-identity unfolds.

♥ The way I see it, the result of Pamela’s early interaction with her caregivers was the shattering of her Child Archetype into separate fragments. Pamela appears to have had the aspect of the Magical Child and the Nature Child in her energetic system, but as she grew older, these fragments became gradually overpowered by the shadows of the Wounded and the Orphan Child aspects present in her psyche.

I also believe, and that belief has been reinforced by so many personal encounters, that some people never grow up, never truly mature. For different reasons their inner child remains fragmented and unconscious of its shadow’s needs. The physical age of our bodies has nothing to do with our self-awareness.

As a young child, Pamela L. Travers knew her parents loved her. They must have. Why would they otherwise keep her warm and fed? As a teen, she knew her aunt loved her. She must have or why would she pay for her boarding school and typewriter. But the love Pamela received was disfigured by her caregivers’ own emotional scars. Because of their own baggage (and probably totally unintentionally), they made her feel inadequate, not good enough, not appropriate enough, not sensible enough, not pretty enough, not smart enough, and not helpful enough.

But they loved her… despite her many flaws…She knew they loved her but she didn’t feel loved.  If that was not the case why would she, in her sixties, write:

What was a black sheep, I asked myself. Obviously, in the general view, one full of iniquity. If so, might I not be one myself, in spite of the tireless efforts of parents, teachers and friends.”  And “Can I have been one of the Devil’s party. Was I bereaved of light?

Pamela’s Wounded Child held the painful memories of the verbal abuse and the emotional neglect, as well as the memories of the traumatic early experience of her father’s death and the suicide attempt of her mother. All these experiences occurred when Pamela was very young and highly impressionable; and thus, they created a lens of sorrow through which afterwards she viewed the circumstances of her life.

Childhood wounds from the father – Experiencing feelings of inadequacy followed by the experience of loss and grief. (Pamela’s First Gods Part I)

Childhood wounds from the motherExperiencing betrayal, feelings of abandonment and then the burden of becoming her mother’s pillar. (Pamela’s First Gods Part II)

Childhood wounds from the auntExperiencing feelings of inadequacy and not being part of the tribe. (Pamela’s First Gods Part III)

Carolyn Myss’s model of the Wounded Child holds that if the wounds are successfully processed the painful experiences of the Wounded Child archetype can awaken a deep sense of compassion and a desire to find a path of service aimed at helping other Wounded Children. She also suggests that from a spiritual perspective, a wounded childhood cracks open the heart and the learning path of forgiveness.

Unfortunately, Pamela remained unable to transform the negative attributes of the Wounded Child Archetype into positive ones. 

I do not count myself amongst the teachers, however, but as one who is speaking to a brother seeker. Another un-knower, not necessarily an ignoramus.

♥ I believe that her failure to heal her wounds is partially due to her refusal to blame her parents for her misfortunes.  I believe that first she had to get openly angry with them to bring into her conscious mind her unsatisfied needs. Then she needed to understand that her parent’s wounds made her feel inadequate and unlovable; that these feelings were not an objective image of herself. It all had to do with her parent’s inner suffering. Her intrinsic value was not theirs to determine. She had to truly forgive them and then learn to love herself, to be her own mother and father.  Instead, she developed a strong and abiding sense of self-pity which is another shadow aspect of the Wounded Child. 

By its nature, self-pity is an interpersonal emotion, it directs its feelings toward others with the hope of attracting attention, empathy, and help. Pamela’s unconscious need to have others recognize her wounds underlies her childish unconscious belief that healing and wholeness will come from an outside event, person, or experience. This eventually led to a downward spiral of issues such as broken relationships, alienation and depression.

The same face, the same garments, the other aspect of myself – and I had rejected it, believing, in my ignorance, that I could go on my pilgrimage unshadowed and alone. I could have lightened the load I carried by delighting in herself delight, taking part in her varying rounds, sitting beside her   – friend to friend, compassionate – so that her self-pity could turn about and become its healing opposite, the pity for all that is.  By failing her I had failed myself.

And, what does “pity of all that is” mean? It means that Pamela was hopeless. Her depression made her believe that something was not only wrong with her, but wrong with life, and that it cannot be fixed.

♥ She developped the inner belief that life and people cannot be trusted.

I sense that throughout her life, all the energies of her fragmented inner child became invested in compensating for her unsatisfied needs and in the elaboration of defense mechanisms to avoid what she perceived as insufferable pain. 

Gradually Pamela isolated herself from others. The pain, disappointment and confusion led her to the decision to become her own planet: “I throve on what was difficult, the difficult man, the difficult child…. It was necessary that I should become my own planet.”  The Orphan Shadow signals its presence. But, before you meet it, we’ll talk some more about the Wounded Child and how Pamela mistook it for the expression of the Lover Archetype.