Chapter 1: No Time to Retire
The rest of
Secret Lives is set in Long Beach and Orange County, California,
in 1989-90, during the Reagan-Bush years. When Herta and her daughter Milly
are threatened by skinheads, Milly persuades her mother to come out of
retirement and do some magic to protect their peaceful neighborhood. The
circle of old women gathers and performs a ritual that creates a dragon.
The chapter title has a double meaning. (1) Now is not an appropriate
time for the women to retire. (2) They’re too busy and don’t have time
In this chapter, it is as if the invaders from the prologue have come
to another matrilineal community. Herta and Emma Clare live about a block
from each other on Temple Avenue in the historic Long Beach neighborhood
Rose Park. The Towers is at the northern edge of this neighborhood.
As I’m writing this in 2011, much of 10th Street is still pretty shabby.
The skinheads are probably young members of the
John Birch Society, which was founded in 1958. White supremacist groups,
active during the late ’80s, found a home in San Diego County. The boys
no doubt drove up the San Diego freeway to come to Long Beach, which is
famous for its ethnically mixed population.
There is a Nemesis Coven in Los Angeles. I have known several members.
They’re very powerful, very creative women.
We learn that Herta’s ancestors were peasants in the same area (Romania)
where the shaman’s town was located. I’ve recently read a new translation
The Castle in Transylvania, a novel written in 1894 by Jules
Verne. While its plot has nothing to do with
Secret Lives, Verne spends a lot of time describing how the people
of the area lived in the 19th century. I think it’s easy to see Herta’s
ancestors in Verne’s novel.
Sacred swastika. Before it was adopted by Hitler and the Nazi Party in
about 1920, the bent cross, which may be a solar wheel or pole symbol,
was a sacred symbol used by early peoples from the Indus Valley to pre-Columbian
Herta and Emma Clare are the current matriarchs of families that worship
the Goddess and whose magical theory and practice are handed down from
generation to generation through the eldest daughters. These are called
famtrads, or family traditions.
Herta’s mother’s “old books” are much like our modern Books of Shadows.
They are used in several stories.
The southern part of Illinois has been called Little Egypt since the mid-19th
century. I think it’s because of the confluence of the Mississippi, Missouri,
and Ohio Rivers. I earned my Ph.D. at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale,
where the athletic teams are called Salukis. Cairo is at the bottom of
the state. A character in Edna Ferber’s novel
Show Boat (1926, also a 1927 musical by Jerome Kern and Oscar
Hammerstein II) is named Kim—Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri—because she’s
born where the three states come together.
Secret project in New Mexico during World War II. Maude worked as a secretary
at Los Alamos, where the bomb was built.
The dragon will be mentioned in later chapters as she does the work she
came to do. This dragon is not a dreadful monster to be conquered by a
sturdy Christian knight but an ancient symbol of wisdom. That is, she’s
more like a Chinese dragon than Tolkien’s Smaug.
Astrologer Elizabeth Hazel writes this about Draco:
Draco was the North Star 5,000 years ago. Today we can see Draco circling
the North Pole with the two bears, Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. They appear
to spin around the pole slowly, so they face different directions in different
seasons. Draco and the bears are Guardians of the Portal of the North (which
equals the summer solstice). The ancient reason that these creatures guard
the Northern Portal is because human souls enter and exit through this
portal and the gods live beyond it. The northern guardians thus stand before
the gate to the home of the gods.
The chapter ends with the first prediction of the major catastrophe, the
weather war of chapters 20-22. Maude, who is legally blind, has the Sight.
Before I moved to Long Beach, I lived in five cities in Orange County,
and I’ve actually visited nearly every place mentioned in the novel. (Well,
not the secret ranch.) The geography in Secret Lives is true to life.
Who wants to retire? How much fun are daily golf games, shopping, and
daytime TV? What else can retired people do? What are some of the marvelous
things retired people have done? What do you plan to do if you retire?
Consider other dragons in literature. Smaug. St. George’s dragon. Pete’s
dragon. The various dragons in the Harry Potter books and in films. Puff
the Magic Dragon. How is the dragon the crones create different from these?
As you meet each of these women and learn a bit about her history, who
in your life do you think of? Which women in the book would you like to
meet in person ?
Copyright © 2011 by Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. All rights reserved. Permission
granted to print this page of the
Reader’s Guide for personal use only.