Why Are All the Cartoon Mothers Dead?

Illustration by Zohar Lazar

Illustration by Zohar Lazar

In the July/August 2014 issue of The Atlantic Sarah Boxer wonders “Why Are All the Cartoon Mothers Dead?”

And they are, you know. Bambi, Nemo, Snow White, Ariel, Belle, Pocahontas, Aladdin, and almost any other cartoon main character you can think of is a motherless child. In fact, Ms Boxer challenges her readers to “show me an animated kids’ movie that has a named mother in it who lives until the credits roll.” There aren’t that many. The Lion King, Coraline, The Incredibles and a few others come to mind.

However, she doesn’t try very hard to answer her own evocative question. She gives a few lame answers like:

  • The unfolding of plot and personality depends on the dead mother.*
  • The dead mother is psychologically good for the child because it allows him/her to preserve an internal good mother (even if the natural mother hadn’t been all good) and allows him/her to direct all his anger at the step mother.**

I can think of better answers than that!

As a writer, it’s obvious to me that children with living, loving parents are unlikely to be out in the cold having exciting adventures. They are at home learning how to be happy, productive members of society. And then there is the first commandment of fiction: “Torture thy Protagonist.” One of the cruelest things you can do to a child is take away his/her mother.

And as a pagan, it’s obvious to me that The Dead Mother is a metaphor for the state of modern Western Civilization. Judaism, then Christianity, and last but not least, Islam have all taken away our Mother. It was  easy for them because these dominant religions of Western Civilization are all monotheistic, and each of their gods is a man. And they are all manly men, stern fathers who expect single minded devotion from their followers. In a nutshell, that’s a simplistic explanation of what happened to the Goddesses of Western Civilization.*** This link on the Goddess in Christianity and Mary Magdelene gives some quick background information on a subject that that could fill a library.****

The_Virgin_Mary_and_Baby_Jesus Image from CGFAI can name only one still thriving, universally popular goddess; the exception to the Dead Mother syndrome that  proves my point by illustrating how much we need our Mothers. The Blessed Virgin Mary is the goddess that the Catholic Church hasn’t managed to do away with. Of course, the Church denies up one side and down the other that she is divine, (see previous post: “The Virgin Mary, Isis, The High Priestess, and the Empress”) but you’d never know it from the way Catholics and a fair number of non-Catholics the world over worship her, and the amount of fabulous art devoted to her. When we were in Italy it seemed like every other block had carefully tended, flower bedecked BVM shrine. The Lady is definitely satisfying a strong need that the stern patriarchs of monotheism and even sweet Jesus can’t.

And just what is the attraction of the Mother? Well, let’s put it this way: A come to Mama moment is much more comforting and nurturing than a come to Jesus moment. Both have their place, but our lives are difficult and painful and we need comfort and understanding more often than we need the hard facts of life shoved in our face. The Goddess nourishes our emotional, intuitive, creative, and magical sides, and in a primarily God based society this doesn’t happen nearly often enough. As a result we tend to ignore our children and elders, live in emotional isolation from each other, fight wars at the drop of a helmet, pollute the earth, and value money over spirit.

There, I’m done ranting. To me it’s a no brainer. The Cartoon Mothers are dead because our culture has killed its own mother. Kill a child’s Mother and you create pain and conflict in that child’s heart. Kill the Mother in a story and you have a plot that resonates strongly with our culture.

I would have set the article aside at this point if Ms Boxer hadn’t asked a second even more intriguing question: Why have children’s movie makers not only continued to kill off the Mother, but have also replaced the wicked step mother with—ta da!—the perfect Father? To quote M

Marlin, Nemo's eventually perfect father

Marlin, Nemo’s eventually perfect father

s Boxer: “He may start out hypercritical (Chicken Little) or reluctant (Ice Age). He may be a tyrant (The Little Mermaid) or a ne’er-do-well (Despicable Me). He may be of the wrong species (Kung Fu Panda). He may even be the killer of the child’s mother (Brother Bear). No matter how bad he starts out, though, he always ends up good…

Quite simply, mothers are killed in today’s kids’ movies so the fathers can take over…The old fairy-tale, family-romance movies that pitted poor motherless children against horrible vengeful stepmothers are a thing of the past. Now plucky children and their plucky fathers join forces to make their way in a motherless world. The orphan plot of yore seems to have morphed, over the past decade, into the buddy plot of today. Roll over, Freud: in a neat reversal of the Oedipus complex, the mother is killed so that the children can have the father to themselves. Sure, women and girls may come and go, even participate in the adventure, but mothers? Not allowed. And you know what? It looks like fun!”

Barnyard Ms Boxer goes on to suggest that this trend is a last, desperate, chauvinistic attempt to reestablish a kinder, gentler patriarchy. She is chillingly convincing. As a disturbing exhibit A she directs our attention to the movie Barnyard (Paramount/Nickelodeon, 2006), in which Ben, a father bull teaches his ne’er-do-well, motherless son, Otis, how to be a man. In this movie, when a bull stands up on his hind legs like a human, instead of the expected very Full Monty, he flashes a prominent, pink, full udder. Yes you read that right; I’ve even included a picture for your further elucidation. The message of this flick seems blatantly obvious. Who needs a mother? Men have it all.

But this conclusion doesn’t feel right to me. I’m not ready to label Disney Studios and the rest of the children’s movie industry as male chauvinist pigs. The early Disney Movies were mostly fairy tales and fairy tales are essentially folk tales that have been told and retold. In other words they are old and probably predate Christianity. In other words, they are pagan with Christian overtones. The goddess appears in these movies in three forms, the triple goddess of modern witches. She is the maiden (usually the heroine), the mother (usually dead because the Christians killed the mother goddess) and the crone (usually the wicked witch or evil sorceress—the goddess is hard to kill completely, but easy to demonize). So the first successful children’s movies began with this formula, and Hollywood is loathe to part with a successful formula. It gets used over and over and over again. Thus we have all the dead mothers and hapless heroines and wicked female villains in children’s literature and movies. And you gotta admit, Disney had some knock-your-socks-off female villains. Definitely strong feminine role models. They are my favorite Disney characters.

Maleficent, in "Sleeping Beauty"

Maleficent, in “Sleeping Beauty”

Margaret Starbird pushes this idea a bit further. (see link) She claims that Ariel, Disney’s Little Mermaid, “is much more than a fairytale for little girls. Rather, she is a powerful metaphore for the plight of the “Sacred Feminine” over the last several thousand years of western civilization.” Ariel is Mary Magdelene, the lost bride of Christianity, who has risen up from the watery depths of our subconscious and onto dry, logical land. “It is interesting toLittle_Mermaid_Georges_de_la_Tour_called__Magdalen_with_the_Smoking_Flame._ note,” says Ms Starbird, “that in the Disney film, it is not Ariel who needs to be saved, but rather it is the “handsome Prince” who is in deep trouble, shipwrecked and dying (the condition of the partriarchy at the dawn of Aquarius??)” Interesting, I thought, but she seems to be stretching it a bit. But then I came upon what for me was the clincher in her argument. Ariel collects many human artifacts and one of her special treasures is a painting. Now of all the possible works of western art Disney studios could have chosen to portray, they chose a painting by Georges de la Tour called “Magdalen with the Smoking Flame.” Perhaps there is an underlying message in The Little Mermaid after all; if so, it is distinctly feminist and definitely not patriarchal.

If we begin with my premise that the Mother is dead in children’s movies (and also quite a bit of Western Literature) because the Goddess was eliminated from our culture with the advent  of the patriarchal monotheistic religions, we can reframe the issue of the perfect father and come to a different conclusion.

In the United States, the Goddess is alive and becoming stronger every day. According to the US Census Bureau the number of witches willing to come out of the broom closet and actually admit to being witches has increased astronomically. They estimate that in 1990 one in every 22,000 Americans was a witch, but in 2008 one in every 667 Americans was a witch, and I have no doubt that the number is even higher today. And this is only witches, not neopagans, Asatru, Hindu, Unitarian/Universalist, or other Goddess worshipping religions. Christianity still dominates our culture, but the numbers are decreasing slightly. In 1990 one in every 1.16 people said they were Christian and in 2008, the number dropped to one in every 1.32 people. This number, of course, includes Catholics who, as I have shown, actually do worship the goddess in the form of the BVM, and all the other Christians who include the Goddess in their worship in some way or other.

AnimaAnd with the popularization of Jungian psychology, the the anima, or feminine part of the male psyche, and the animus, the masculine part of the female psyche, have become household words, and the idea that men have emotions and feelings and that women have no problem being tough and logical pervades our culture.

The film industry has been well aware of these two trends for at least the past few decades, and, I would suggest, has helped to fuel them. So why would it suddenly go all patriarchal on us? I’m not saying it hasn’t, Ms Boxer is most convincing, I’m just sayin’ that maybe, by presenting us with all these perfect fathers, the children’s film industry is encouraging men to get in touch with their inner woman, their emotional, nurturing, intuitive side and for women to get in touch with their inner man, their logical, assertive, powerful side (Yes, there are many flicks about amazingly strong women). This way our children will have not only powerful female role models, but also emotionally intact, nurturing, intuitive male role models.

The Goddess never died, she is present in each and every one of us, male and female, as is the God. What better way to bring her back into our hearts and consciousness than by presenting grieving fathers learning to be both a mother and a father to their bereft children?

What do you think? Is our film industry controlled by patriarchal misogynists or new age feminists?

 

*Carolyn Dever, Death and the Mother From Dickens to Freud: Victorian Fiction and the Anxiety of Origins, 1998.

**Bruno Tettleheim, The Uses of Enchantment, 1976.

***Actually, we can’t blame it all on monotheism. Paganism was turning patriarchal long before Abraham was even a gleam in his father’s eye. But at least pagans had goddesses.

****Merlin Stone, When God Was a Woman, Riane Eisler, The Chalice and the Blade, Marija Gimbutas, The Civilization of the Goddess, Monica Sjoo, The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth, Leonard Shlain, The Alphabet vs. the Goddess, and many more.

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Lions and Kerubs and Sekhmet, Oh My!

 

Image by Delun

Image by Delun

The Sun is now in Leo, and of course, this biggest, most important planet of the Zodiac rules the most egotistical sign of them all. In astrological speak, the sun is at home, and not surprisingly this is the hottest part of summer in most places in the northern hemisphere. In the coastal Pacific Northwest that means that it’s usually pleasant and sunny, but here in Portland we occasionally feel Sekhmet’s scorching breath. I was sweltering at my computer last week during one of those occasions when I came upon an email from Adam reminding me (and everyone else on the Hermetic Society google group) that August 7th  was this year’s Leo Kerubic Point. That’s lovely, I thought, what in blue blazes is a Kerubic Point? Adam, never one to leave his readers in ignorance, went on to inform us that the Kerubic Points are the midpoints between the cardinal points of the zodiac, the Solstices ( 0 degrees Cancer and 0 degrees Capricorn) and the Equinoxes, (0 degrees Ares and 0 degrees Libra) which means that they are the midpoints of the fixed astrological signs—15 degrees Taurus, 15 degrees Leo, 15 degrees Scorpio, and 15 degrees Aquarius. They are symbolic of  the four elements, the four cardinal directions, the archangels, and the gospel makers. They also should be the dates of the cross quarters of the Wiccan liturgical calendar, but they aren’t—Beltane, May 1, Lughnasadh, August 1, Samhain, Oct 31, and Imbolc, Feb 2 are the dates modern Wiccans celebrate the cross quarters.

Wheel_of_the_Year,

I’m not sure, but I have a feeling in my bones that this discrepancy happened along about the time Europe switched in fits and starts and country by country from the Julian to the Georgian calendar. Any way, the Kerubic Points are mid points, and when you are smack dab in the midst of something you are in either a place of power or deep doo doo. Magicians, being eternal optimists, insist that mid points are power points, perfect times to perform magical works that would benefit from an extra kick from the Multiverse. These midpoints are so important that the creator/s of the tarot saw fit to use them to tack down the quarters of two major arcana cards, The Wheel of Fortune and The World.

Wheel_of_Fortune2011-04-14_1727The_World

But I was still not content. Why do they call them Kerubic Points? A quick internet search satisfied my curiosity. Kerubs, or Cherubim* support the Mesopotamian Tree of Life which grows in the center of Paradise and supplies the world with life giving water. They are also depicted supporting the thrones of kings and deities. There are four of them and they are associated with the four fixed signs of the zodiac, the living energy of the tetragrammaton, and the four gospel makers. And they have no resemblance to what we call cherubs. All was now clear to me and my mind was temporarily at peace.

 

This is a Cherub. It's a chimera with the head of a man (Aquarius), the body of a bull (Taurus) the wings of an eagle (Scorpio) and the tail of a Lion (Leo).

This is a Cherub. It’s a chimera with the head of a man (Aquarius), the body of a bull (Taurus) the wings of an eagle (Scorpio) and the tail of a Lion (Leo).

Sekhmet

Sekhmet with solar disc

So, we are now in the midst of the sign of Leo. Its symbol is a male lion, but when I think of lion power I always think of female lions, the hunters of the pride, and the Egyptian goddess Sekhmet. Almost every pagan feminist I know has a statue of Sekhmet or a piece of jewelry depicting her. She is not your sweet mother goddess. Her name comes from the Ancient Egyptian word “sekhem”, which means power, and she is called “(One) Before Whom Evil Trembles”, “Mistress of Dread”, “Lady of Slaughter” and “She Who Mauls”.  She is the evil twin of Hathor, the goddess of joy, music, dance, sexual love, pregnancy and birth. But Sekhmet is the ultimate defender of Ma’at, Justice, and is often viewed as the champion of the underdog.

 

Whenever I think of Sekhmet I think of one of my massage clients. Frieda (not her real name) was a successful business woman who quit and now teaches business at a local university and works for a nonprofit company, traveling all over the world and training people in third world countries to become entrepreneurs.** One day she arrived at her appointment in a state of total exhaustion. A friend of hers was dying of cancer and had asked Frieda and several other friends to be guardian angels to her husband and children. Dealing with the untimely death of a close friend is hard enough, but seeing to the physical and emotional needs of her surviving family as well is a nearly unbearable burden. As I massaged her body, I opened my mind in hopes of discovering one of Frieda’s guardian angels or power animals so that I could get them to lend her their strength. Immediately, the room sizzled with power and filled with an awesome presence I was terrified. Sekhmet appeared over my client’s body and glared down at me. The hairs on the back of my neck lifted and my heart hammered in my chest. “Fix her!” the goddess roared. “She still has work to do.”

 

Image by Art of Sekhmet

Image by Art of Sekhmet

My jaw dropped in amazement. There was no mercy or care in those eyes, only power and ambition. This was a goddess with an agenda and suddenly, I was part of it. However, Sekhmet is not my goddess, even though she is the patron of healers, and I don’t like being ordered around in my own office. I reached out to all my power animals, guardian angels, and goddesses and glared right back at her. “That’s what I’m trying to do. If Frieda is so important to you then help me and quit roaring.”

The goddess growled and the room shook. She sat back on her haunches and watched me like I was a wounded wildebeest. Oh shit, you’re lion meat, I thought. She growled again and as she faded from the room a surge of power flowed through my hands and into my client.

I told Frieda that Sekhmet had paid us a visit. “Oh yes,” she replied, “Sekhmet and I go way back.” The gods, and especially the warrior gods, are hard on their champions, but they are usually reasonable.

 

 

But I digress. Back to the Leo Kerub Point. Lissa, another Hermetic, pointed out in response to Adam’s post that today, August 10th, is the second World Lion Day. This is totally appropriate since today is the first full moon after the Leo Kerubic Point. Coincidence? I think not.

I was aghast to learn from the above post that in the past 50 years this magnificent being’s population has dropped 95%. Our world will be a sadder, poorer place if the king of beasts no longer rules the savannah.

Lion_001

*Plural of Cherub. Christians will recognize them from the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy”. Cherubim and Seraphim fall down before the one true god in verse two.

**She is now in the process of retiring.

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Another Ghost Story

Seaside,_OR_looking_south

I recently attended a ritual at the beach with several other women. See Ritual, Waves, and Wedding Magic. One of the incidental joys of the weekend was getting to spend time with and share a room with my niece, Becky.

 

On the last night Becky and I were lying in bed talking about this and that and how the ritual went and I said, “You know, when you called the powers of the west, your wording was so close to the way we call the guardians of the watchtowers* that they all came—not just the west, but every quarter.” As soon as I said that the light in the ceiling fan started to glow softly and then got brighter and brighter. Then it dimmed back, leaving the room in darkness. Becky and I stared up in disbelief. As if to reassure us that we weren’t imagining things, it did it again. Then the fan came on, sending a blast of cold air down onto the bed.

ceiling_fan

“Um, Becky?”

“Yes.”

“Did you turn the light all the way off before you came to bed?”

“Yes.”

We lay there in silence, covers pulled up to our noses, and contemplated the ominously whirring fan.

“Uh, Becky?”

“Yes.”

“Could you go turn it off again?”

“Why do I have to do it?”

“Cuz you’re closest?”

“Oh, all right.”

 

Becky checked the dimmer switch and found that it was, indeed, off. But there was a switch above it that locked both the light and the fan. She pressed it and the fan stopped. My brave niece crawled back in bed and we watched the offending fixture suspiciously. It remained off. We speculated about what could have caused such weird behavior, but failed to come up with a satisfactory explanation. Becky heard someone walking in the room above us just before the light began to glow, but we couldn’t see how that would have done anything. The conversation drifted off to other topics and then Becky went to sleep.

 

I, however, was wide awake. This whole thing might have been just a short in the wiring; but if there was “something” in the room with us, I wasn’t going to sleep until I knew what “it” was.  So I “reached out” and started cautiously feeling around the room and found…

“Grandpa!” See Magic in a Mining Town

He was waving and laughing.

“That was not funny!”

“Oh, but it was. You should have seen your faces. I just wanted to get your attention…”

“Well, you did!”

“…and let you and my great-granddaughter know that I’m one of your guardians. Whenever either of you calls the watchtowers, I’ll be there.”

Tears filled my eyes. “Thanks Grandpa,” I said, and fell asleep.

Dream,_by_Alex_Teuscher

Dream, by Alex Teuscher

When you are between the worlds it’s ever so nice to know that there’s family watching your back.

*When an Alexandrian witch (that would be me) casts a circle she/he calls the Guardians of the Watchtowers at each quarter. The Guardians are spirits of deceased men and women who choose to remain available to magic users and guard their circles and offer aid if necessary. I think that the Guardians tend to adopt witches. I know that the same ones come to our circles and I suspect that Becky and her husband, Nikos, have many of the same ones I do.

Most pagans nowadays call powers or spirits of the East (air), South (fire), etc. to the quarters.This is nice, but the powers are elementals, beings of pure air, fire, water, or earth. They don’t have any real understanding of humans, who embody all four elements, and function strictly as place holders that channel their particular elemental energy into the circle. If they are not dismissed properly, I have known them to stick around and wreak havoc. Water pipes leak, fires start at the slightest provocation—stuff like that.

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Ritual, Waves, and Wedding Magic

Ash Wednesday Altar, image by Rev Jon Chapman

Ash Wednesday Altar, image by Rev Jon Chapman

RITUAL:  a sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects, performed in a sequestered place, and performed according to set sequence.” www.merriam-webster.com

I have friends who go into conniption fits at the mere mention of the word. At its best, they say, ritual is boring and mind deadening. At its worst it is a vehicle of control and oppression.

Heil_Hitler_001

And they definitely have a point. Adolf Hitler was a master of ritual. His highly ritualistic Third Reich whipped Germany into a nationalistic frenzy that led to genocide and world war.

 

But I try to explain that ritual in itself is neither good nor bad. It is a tool. In fact, it is a very powerful tool. And if it gets used for a good purpose and with skill it can accomplish wonders.

 

Ritual:

  • Effectively communicates with and stimulates the often under-used right brain, which is intuitive, integrative, and controls feelings and emotions. This is the part of the brain that is in constant contact with the divine (or universal life force). See previous post
  • Strengthens communion between the left (logical, linear) and right (emotional, intuitive) brains, which heals and rejuvenates the body, mind, and spirit and is essential for any magical work. See link
  • Creates community and binds it together.
  • Is a medium for creative expression.
  • Is lots of fun.

I am very fortunate to have other friends that love to create and perform rituals. A few months ago I attended a particularly memorable ritual weekend with six close friends. It was a rite of passage that Marlen created for Wendy, who is getting married in August.

 

According to Arnold van Gennep, French ethnographer and folklorist, rites of passage are divided into three parts:

  • Separation—in which the initiate is separated her old identity and way if life through physical and symbolic means.
  • Transition—which is a time of ambiguity and disorientation. The initiate has been stripped of her old identities, but has not yet acquired her new one. This stage is marked by ritual ordeals, preparation and/or training.
  • Incorporation—in which the initiate is ritually confirmed in her new identity and community.

 

The ritual that Marlen designed for Wendy was primarily concerned with separation, the first phase.

Wendy_Ritual

We physically separated her from her everyday life by taking her to a condo on the beach for the weekend. The first order of business on Friday evening was a ritual bath for the bride-to-be and the rest of us in the hot tub overlooking the beach, symbolically and literally washing away the cares and worries of our every day lives and cleansing our spirits in preparation for the ritual to come. Next came dinner, wine, and conversation—physical and spiritual fortification.

Wendy_ritual_2

The next morning, after a leisurely breakfast, we decorated the living room (which had two glass walls overlooking the beach and the Pacific Ocean), cast the circle and began the ritual. We placed a wreath of flowers on her head and Diane assumed the role of Atropos, the Greek Moire who cuts the thread of life. As each of us and then Wendy named a thing, idea, way of being, or self image that she would have to let go of before assuming her place as a married woman, Atropos cut a ribbon from a spool and we tied it on Wendy’s wreath.

 

When we were finished, we moved the ritual out to the beach and Wendy threw her wreath full of things to let go of into the vast, blue Pacific Ocean. Sheila drew a labyrinth in the sand and we all walked to its center, placed an offering, and walked back out.

Wendy_ritual_3

Back in the condo, we refreshed ourselves with more food, wine, and conversation and began the last part of the ritual. We braided the ribbons that Wendy and Dan had chosen for their hand fasting cord, charging them with love and good wishes. Then, using bright colored paints, pens, and stickers we drew happy marriage symbols all over Wendy’s body. Power serpents wriggled up her legs, red hearts dotted her cheeks and breasts, and energy spirals coiled around her bellybutton.

 

After we had her suitably decorated and blessed, we closed the circle, fixed dinner, and partied the rest of the evening.

 

The ritual was a total success. The next day Wendy, and to a lesser extent all the rest of us, returned home as changed women. The gods and energies we invoked worked their subtle magic on our spirits, cleansing them, reworking them, and fine tuning them; making us more capable of living our lives gracefully and fully.

 

Rituals and rites of passage like this one align our bodies and souls with the rhythms and turnings of our lives, allowing us to savor them, understand them, and accept them. They make our lives more meaningful and joyous. When large numbers of people do ritual together (i.e. attend church, go to festivals, watch the opening of the Olympic games, watch the ball fall on Times Square, etc.) it puts them all on the same page, makes them feel like part of a greater whole, and creates community.  All types of ritual are really important, and our society generally tends to ignore or short-change them. The result is a population scattered with lost, unhappy souls.

 

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A Blessed Summer Solstice to All!

Sun_002

“Even
After
All this time
The Sun never says to the Earth,

“You owe me.”

Hafiz

 

 

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All You Really Need to Know About the Tarot Major Arcana

In her definitive book, Seventy-eight Degrees of Wisdom, a Book of Tarot, Rachel Pollack begins the first chapter with this spread:

 2 Tarot_spread,_basic

These are the four most basic tarot archetypes arranged in a perfect pattern of spiritual evolution. I call this the “everything you really need to know about the major arcana” layout.

 The vertical axis is The Fool and The World. The beginning and the end. The Aleph and the Tav. The Alpha and the Omega. Most authors describe these figures as androgynous and both figures are dancing. In fact, they are the only dancers in the major arcana. Death dances in some of the decks, but Death will always dance, and who are we to say it can’t. All of the other figures are pictured in static positions, like they’re posing for a photographer—they each represent a distinct, fixed state of existence.

 The Fool is dancing along a precipice high above the rest of the world and looks to be about to leap down into it. But there is no fear or holding back. S/he radiates innocence and total confidence.

 The World, however, dances suspended in a magical wreath of victory and radiates not only a feeling of completion and wholeness, but also a feeling of endless possibility, which in turn suggests new beginnings.  Together they represent the eternal dance of the universe from beginning to end to new beginning—the cosmic spiral. Like an electromagnetic current spiraling between the anode and cathode ends of a battery, the vertical axis spins around the static horizontal axis formed by The Magician and High Priestess.

The Magician’s planet is Mercury, which represents the psychological functions of logic and communication. He holds aloft a wand in his right hand and points down toward the earth with his left. And so the Magician clearly represents manifestation through logical, linear thought and action—functions of the conscious mind, the left brain. Occultists and many psychotherapists assign these traits to the positive, masculine principal.

The High Priestess sits calmly between a black pillar and a white pillar. A veil hangs between them, the thin veil of conscious awareness, which is all that separates us from our inner selves. The Moon, the planet of imagination, illusions and the unseen, is assigned to her. And so the HPS is the keeper of the infinite and powerful, yet static wisdom of the not-conscious, the right brain. These traits are assigned to the negative, feminine principal. Water is a symbol of the not-conscious and tarot readers are fond of saying that the piece of the High Priestess’s blue robe that trails off the card becomes all the rivers and pools and oceans that appear in the rest of the tarot.

The numbers of these cards are also significant.

  • The Fool’s number is 0, which isn’t a real number, in fact, it’s a not-number. It’s egg shaped, and like an egg, it represents infinite yet unmanifested possibility.
  • The Magician’s number is 1. The first real number. One means wholeness, ego.
  • The HPS’s number is 2. With the number 2 we have a duality: odd/even, positive/negative, black/white, yin/yang, masculine/feminine.
  • The World’s number is 21. It contains both 1 and 2, The Magician and the HPS. In other words, The World represents the reunion of The Magician and The High Priestess, the yin and the yang. 2+1=3, the magic number, the number of creativity, the child of the union of 1 and 2. In fact, the digits of both the horizontal and vertical axes add up to 3. The High Priestess key even foretells the resulting three. She is the third figure between the two pillars of Boaz and Joachim, mercy and severity, the pillars of the Temple of Solomon. Waite has even labeled one B and one J to be sure you don’t miss the symbolism.

 tree_of_life

This is the guide to inner wisdom that Cabalists call The Tree of Life. It’s made up of the ten Sephiroth or Sephirot connected by twenty two paths. Each path is assigned a major arcana card. The sephroth on the right form the pillar of mercy and the ones on the left form the pillar of severity. The High Priestess forms the third or middle pillar of the Tree. In fact, the path on the middle pillar from Kether to Tifareth is the path of the High Priestess, whose Hebrew letter is Gimel. The other two paths that make up this pillar are Temperance (Samech) and The World (Tav). So if we read downward from Kether, the first Sephirah, we get the following advice. “To reach Malkuth, The World, we must first establish communication with the not conscious (HPS, Gimel) then we must establish communication between the conscious and not conscious (Temperance, Samech).  Once this communication has been established, direct communication with the divine becomes a state of being (The World) and we reach our goal, Malkuth. Of course one can get there by taking either the right or left pillar, but most cabalists consider the middle pillar to be the preferred path to Malkuth. 

 The_FoolWith this information, the meaning of the spread becomes obvious. In order to learn the lessons necessary to become a more complete, enlightened being The Fool must separate into masculine and feminine. The one must become two.

 

We see this in so many creation myths. God formed Eve from Adam’s rib so he would have a partner, someoneThe_World,_artist_unknown different from himself to exchange ideas with. In many pagan mythologies, the goddess was the first and only being. She gave birth to a son who became her consort/partner—again someone opposite, someone with a different point of view. The journey of the major arcana cards is about how these two, which are really the conscious and unconscious minds of the seeker, become aware of each other and establish an intimate and fluent dialogue. When this is accomplished, the seeker has attained Nirvana, or Heaven on Earth, or the fulfillment of all desires. In other words, he has attained The World.

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Magic in a Mining Town

Continued from “A Ghost Story…..

 

SkullLouis O’Neill Mellinger, my grandfather, was a magician. Not the type of magician that does sleight of hand tricks, but the sort of magician who, from beyond the grave, could materialize a human skull on the upper left corner of his oak roll top desk in such detail that I was convinced it was actually there. For decades I lived with two equally unsavory thoughts—either my whole family was lying to me when they said that skull didn’t exist, or I was delusional.

 Several months ago, and for some cosmic reason that only spirits can fathom, Grandpa decided it was time to clue me in. Through Heather, a friend of mine that sees dead people, he explained that the skull was a construct, a tool that he used in his work. It existed on another plane, and so not everyone could see it. He was glad that I had seen it and that I practiced magic.

 Egads! There wasn’t just a skull, there was a whole skeleton in the closet of Daddy’s side of the family. Everything I knew about those ancestors needed to be rethought. My niece sent me Grandpa’s obituary from the Princeton Alumni Weekly, and that gave me several places to start digging. I spent hours on the web looking for information and called my older brother Louis a couple times to ask him what he remembered about Grandpa. But I still needed some answers that only Grandpa could supply. I asked Heather to ask him questions for me. She called back a few hours later and said “He’s just messin’ with me. I’m not getting straight answers. He wants to talk to you.”

“I can’t do that.”

“You can. Just do a journey to the spirit world and ask for him. You’ve done that before with power animals you can do it with spirits.”

Heather was correct, damn it. In theory I could do it. I’d done similar things before and I did have a connection to my grandfather. Since his visit I could feel him around the house and occasionally “feel” answers to questions. So if I wanted Grandpa’s story, I’d have to travel again. He had very neatly forced me to stretch my magic muscles.

 Spirit_Journey

And so one night I crawled into bed, put up a circle, and cleared my mind of all the ten thousand things of the day. When I was relaxed and floating, I imagined myself in a tiny, circular, stone house with tapestries on the walls and thick, brightly patterned rugs on the floor. There was a fire in the hearth at the center of the room and its smoke drifted lazily up through the smoke hole in the center of the roof. I was lying on a rug staring into the flames. When I was ready, I drifted up through the smoke hole and into the velvet night.

 Grandpa was right there. I couldn’t see him or hear him, but his presence was palpable and his words slid soundlessly into my open mind. “Too bad I died before you were born. We could’ve had wonderful times.” He radiated love. I burst into tears. After I’d calmed down and said “Hi”, I asked him to tell me about Slickville and his life with Grandma. There was an emptiness, and he was gone. I was completely alone. Just when I’d decided that I’d imagined the whole thing and hadn’t really been talking to my Grandpa, he came back with my grandmother. I burst into tears again and told Grandma how much I loved her and thanked her again for my piano. Daddy never would have bought it for me if she hadn’t told him to.

Being with my grandparents was beautiful. I felt so safe and so loved. We talked and talked.

 When I returned back the way I’d come and stretched and opened my eyes, the first thing I did was check the clock. I’d been gone almost an hour and a half, but it felt like maybe a half hour at most.

 The tale that follows is pieced together from what my grandparents told me and what I was able to discover through my web research and conversations with my brother and my parents. The source of each piece of information should be obvious from the context of the story.

Grandpa, holding my father

Grandpa, holding my father

 According to his obituary in the Princeton Alumni Weekly, Grandpa was born in Pretolia, Pennsylvania on September 10, 1877. This makes him a Virgo with a Libra Moon, Libra Mercury, and  Libra Venus; and Mars conjunct Saturn in Pisces opposing his Virgo Sun. He grew up in coal mining towns because his father was a mining superintendent. Grandpa says he was sick a lot as a child and spent much of his time out of his body exploring the “planes”. Back in those days, before antibiotics and IV’s, when people got really sick, they stayed sick a long time. Unfortunately, he probably did become quite familiar with altered states of consciousness and separate realities. But he must have recovered completely because he attended The Kiski School, an exclusively male academy that requires all of its students to participate in sports. (My father went there too). A June 12, 1901 New York Times item on the Princeton graduation social events lists him as graduating with honors from the college of Civil Engineering. (My father also graduated from Princeton in 1933 in Civil Engineering)* Grandpa continued his magical education at Princeton as well. He says one of the librarians was metaphysically inclined and introduced him to the university’s excellent collection of occult books. He would have had a head start on most of us modern students of magic because all college educated people at the turn of the century had a classical education, no matter what their major was, and most could read Latin. Grandpa was already well versed in Greek Mythology and all the pagan philosophers.

 

Grandma, holding my father

Grandma, holding my father

My grandmother, Florence Glenare Millin, was born in Pennsylvania in 1884, although I have no information about where. Her family was probably at least fairly well off because she went to college and read Latin and Greek and became a school teacher. Remember, this was the turn of the century when very few women were college educated and even fewer actually supported themselves at jobs that didn’t involve housekeeping, sweat shops, or prostitution. She and grandpa met at the boarding house in Reynoldsville, Pennsylvania where they were both living. I got this information from my brother, since neither of my grandparents were very forthcoming about their romantic life. I like to imagine intimate conversations on the porch swing amping up into clandestine midnight visits across the hall. I can feel them both huffing indignantly. Perhaps it didn’t happen this way, but if it did they were careful, because my father was born October 27, 1910, over a year after they were married on June 10, 1909. Grandpa would have been 32 and Grandma would have been 25—the confirmed bachelor married the spinster school marm.

 In 1916 the Cambria Steel Company, a subsidiary of Bethlehem Steel, hired Grandpa to open new coal mines in the town of Slickville, Pennsylvania (named after Donald Slick, a company bigwig). He remained there as superintendant of mines until well into the 1930’s. Daddy was six years old  and Uncle Bob and Aunt Doris, his twin brother and sister, were three when they moved there. He remembers living in a tiny shack while their house overlooking the town was being built and Grandpa supervised the town construction and the opening of the mines—there were eventually five of them. Grandma does not have fond memories of Slickville. Her spirit told me it was rough and dirty and ugly and she can think of hundreds of other places she would rather have lived. But she loved her family and dealt with the squalor and danger as best she could. Grandpa says she was a “brick”,

Grandma did tons of needlepoint. She says there wasn't much else to do.

Grandma did tons of needlepoint. She says there wasn’t much else to do.

and managed the house, children, and help with a strong hand.  They had two maids and a cook that came up from the town. Grandma says she could have done just fine with only one maid, but the miners’ wives and especially the widows needed the work. (The company didn’t give the widows any restitution when their husbands were killed in the mine, but they allowed them to stay in the house—if they could pay the rent.) Whenever Grandma heard about sickness in a miner’s family or some other trouble she always sent Grandpa and my father out with a basket of food and clothing and possibly a piece of needlepoint. The basket was usually returned with a bottle of homemade wine or pickles or preserves. 

Slickville was a model “coal patch town” with good housing for the miners and their families. A few sources were of the opinion that

Slickville company housing

Slickville company housing

the coal companies began building these towns to keep workers from joining the United Mine Workers of America.  During Grandpa’s time the miners were constantly striking for better wages and pitched battles and violence were not uncommon. The miners themselves were immigrants from all over Europe, from Wales to the Ukraine, with a few black workers from the South thrown in for good measure. This, of course, meant that there were a variety of churches in Slickville, including St. Sylvester’s Catholic Church (Roman Catholic), Holy Ghost Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Catholic, but not Roman Catholic), and a Baptist Church.

Ku_Klux_Klansmen

 And then there was the Ku Klux Klan. In January, 1922 the Johnstown Tribune (Johnstown, Pennsylvania was the home of Cambria Steel, Grandpa’s employer) reported that “a large class of prominent men had been initiated into a local organization of the Klu Klux Klan”. It went on to comment that the Klan’s work was progressing “most satisfactorily” throughout this section. It later reported several cross burnings and public appearances of the Klan.** As I was reading about this I asked Grandpa if he’d been a member of the Klan. An irritated “NO” slammed solidly into my brain. Nearby Slickville would have been a tinderbox looking for a match, and Grandpa informed me that he “angeled up” whenever he left the house. (He likes to keep his vocabulary up to date.)

“So does that mean you performed the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram?” I asked hopefully.

 “Yes, every morning and on touchy days sometimes 2 or 3 more times. There was also a tight circle around our house and another one around the town.”

 “What about the mines?” I had visions of Grandpa happily communing with the knockers and gnomes and other earth elementals. He soon disabused me of this romantic notion.

 

Coal Miners, Westmoreland, County, Pennsylvania

Coal Miners, Westmoreland, County, Pennsylvania

“The mines were hell-holes,” he replied. “You have no idea how terrible the working conditions were. I hated going into them, but I went down every day to make sure they were as safe as possible and to figure out where to make the new cuts. The miners were well aware of the earth elementals and did a much better job of appeasing them than I could have.” Grandpa says he didn’t use magic in the mines; he used his engineering experience and common sense. I suspect, however, that a fair amount of intuition seasoned that common sense, and I class intuition with magic—especially when it’s a magician who’s doing the intuiting. And I bet those earth elementals helped him out a lot more than he thought they did. Yes, Grandpa, I hear you huffing.

 He also was also constantly sending out his spirit guides to check for possible problems. He says it was best if you could get to a situation and defuse it before it became a problem. His Moon, Mercury, and Venus in Libra, the sign of the diplomat and peacemaker, would have made him a master negotiator.

 So why did Grandpa decide to become a mining engineer if he hated the mines? He was raised in mining towns, he must have known what they were like. Actually he says he didn’t, not really. His father never took him near the mines and they seldom went into the town when he was a child. When he got older he went to boarding school at Kiski. It was close, but he only came home for weekend visits and holidays and so he still didn’t spend any time in the mines or with the miners. Grandpa was good at math, enjoyed engineering, he had all the connections, and his parents expected him to become a mining superintendent; and so it was kind of a done deal—Grandpa would follow in his father’s footsteps. It was what Mellingers did.

 Grandpa, however, did not make the mistake his father had. He occasionally took my father to work with him (but never down in the mines, he says). And he always took him when he visited in the town and attended the gathers. They must have been amazing parties. Grandpa sent me a lovely vision of homemade wine, ethnic food, screaming fiddles, and people dancing till they dropped. Daddy remembers the miners driving wagons full of grapes through town in the fall and everyone making wine. So my father would have been able to talk to the miners, listen to their problems, and observe first hand how they  lived. I suspect that this is why my father did not become a mining superintendent, even though the mines were still going strong when he graduated in 1933 and he had all the right connections. 

Grandpa also made frequent visits to the town witch. She was a mining widow—Grandpa thinks she was Czechoslovakian. She made her living selling healing herbs from her garden and charms for every occasion. She was also the town midwife, counselor, and problem solver. He says the Company had a doctor available for the miners—money was taken out of their paychecks to pay for his supplies, housing, and salary—but even if you were lucky enough to catch him during one of his sober moments, he was still a lousy doctor. The miners and their families preferred the witch. My grandfather spent many evenings nursing a glass of wine in her exotic smelling kitchen and pumping her for information about the politics and problems of the community. Although Grandpa says he was careful never to show any real interest, he still managed to occasionally guide the conversation in the direction of the  magical uses of herbs and how she made her charms and spells and he managed to learn quite a bit. But if she was half the witch Grandpa says she was, I have no doubt that she was well aware that the Superintendent of Mines was a magic user.

 Grandma never approved of her husband’s magic. She was intelligent and well educated and I’m sure she understood what he was doing, but she didn’t like it. When I asked her why, she said it was unnatural meddling and best left alone. I suspect that that wasn’t the only reason she was against it. Grandpa was a busy man, often working weekends and into the night, and hours spent studying and practicing magic would have taken him away from his already neglected family. When he joined the Scottish Rite 38 N.J. Masonic Lodge in Princeton on June 29, 1921, even more of his precious time would have been lost to her as he participated in the events there. And then there was the fact that they lived in a town full of blacks and Catholics sitting over basements full of wine. I have no doubt that the Ku Klux Klan would have loved to go to work on Slickville. And if they found out the mining superintendent was a magic user, all those “prominent men” in Johnstown who were Klan members would have taken his job and thrown Slickville to the Klan. My father says his mother had a code word that she used when Grandpa or the kids began talking about things they shouldn’t. It was “Eskimo”. I used to think that Grandma, being the proper, socially conscious person that I knew her to be, used the word when the conversation drifted toward off color topics, but I now understand that she used it to make sure no one found out about her husband’s secret. She must have lived in constant fear of this, and I can only imagine the stress it caused in their marriage.

A Maxwell, probably close to the model Grandpa had. He loved to take the family on drives in the country.

A Maxwell, probably close to the model Grandpa had. He loved to take the family on drives in the country.

 My Grandfather died on April 27, 1944 one year before WWII ended and eight and a half years before I was born. My older brother Louis was only 5. Thomas Fisher, Grandpa’s college roommate and lifelong friend wrote this about him in his obituary in the Princeton Alumni Weekly: “The men employed by Buck*** were the last to join the National Miner’s Union, the reason being that they had faith and confidence in him, knowing that he was fair and just and always able to see the side of the workman as well as the demands of his employers. Often he was cautioned by his superiors, when agitators were afield, not to drive around at night in his old Maxwell, but Buck considered this to be in the line of duty and was unafraid. He was never harmed.”

 I’m very proud of my Grandpa. He was an amazing man, and one of the many unsung heroes of this world— the men and women who used their magical ability to make life easier, safer, and more bearable for humanity. Magic has been taboo throughout most of the thousands of years of our written history, and since the Age of Reason, people have pretty much believed that anyone who claims to use magic or “supernatural abilities” is a deluded fool. For these reasons, magic users have always practiced in silence and secret, and we will never know how much misery and disaster down through the ages these brave, talented people have spared the Earth.

*

  •  Grandpa’s father was a divisional coal mining superintendent named George Mellinger.
  • Grandpa was a coal mining engineer and superintendent for the Cambria Steel Company.
  •  His son, my father, was one of the first geotechnical engineers, a branch of civil engineering that includes mining engineers.
  • My mother was the first woman to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in geology from Ohio State University.
  • My older brother has a bachelor’s degree in geology and bids jobs for a company that reclaims coal strip mines.
  • His daughter and son-in-law both have masters’ degrees in geology.
  • My husband is a geotechnical engineer and so are both my sons.
  • Earth permeates my family’s soul.

** Johnstown, Pennsylvania: 1895-1936, by Randy Whittle.

***Grandpa was unable or possibly unwilling to tell me why his college nickname was Buck.

 

 

 

 

 

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