Chapter 2: Madame Blavatsky Takes a Flying Leap
Bertha finds a calico cat in a pet shop and smuggles her into the Towers.
The cat, Madame Blavatsky, becomes the circle’s familiar and performs her
“Aw, go take a flying leap off a short pier” used to be a common insult.
This cat changes the meaning and takes a literal flying leap as she begins
her service to the circle.
Bertha (who always dresses eccentrically) is established not only as the
circle’s clown and trickster, but also as a worker of authentic magic.
Her pranks in early chapters set the stage for her
coup de théâre in chapter 9.
Wendell is an accountant who finds is great aunt’s antics perfectly ordinary.
He is the first of the positive men in the book. Although the circle is
a circle of women and many of the issues are of concern to women, this
is not a male-bashing novel.
Maurice Chevalier (1888-1972) was a French entertainer. One of his most
famous movie roles was as the uncle in the 1958 movie
Gigi, where he and Hermione Gingold sing “I Remember It Well.”
The women in the circle went to movies and no doubt adored him.
Orphan in the storm. There’s a silent movie titled
Orphans of the Storm (1921), directed by D.W. Griffith and starring
the Gish sisters. Although the phrase has become a cliché—describing someone
who is bedraggled and unfortunate and needs to be rescued—the movie (which
is good) has nothing to do with our story.
Bertha’s purse. This is an exact description a friend gave me of the contents
of her mother’s purse. Well, except for the feathers, twigs, roots, and
shells. We like to carry our stuff with us.
In this chapter, we first enter the dreary Center Towers Retirement Residence,
where much of the action is set. It was built in 1971 at the beginning
of a terrible decade for architecture when “crackerbox” apartment buildings
were erected all over Long Beach. Most of them are still standing. They’re
Frances J. Swift, the compleat bureaucrat, talks like a corporate memo.
She will reappear in many chapters. I have worked in offices with people
whose style of speaking I copied when I was writing Frances. I had more
fun writing her interior monologues than almost anything else in the book.
Dan Quayle was George Bush’s vice president (1988-92). He was so gaffe-prone
that he made it easy to make fun of him.
Saturday Night Live had a lot of fun with Quayle.
Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831–91) was born in Russia and traveled
throughout the world. In 1873, along with Col. H.S. Olcott and W.Q. Judge,
she founded the
Theosophical Society (present headquarters, Wheaton, IL, . She spent
some time with a circus, traveled with an Italian opera singer, was initiated
in Tibet, lived in India and New York for a time, was well known as a medium,
and was a highly prolific
author. Even during her lifetime, her critics called her a fraud
and said the Mahatma letters she received from so-called discarnate masters
(aka the Great White Brotherhood) were also fraudulent.
The cat is a mostly comic character who comments on actions and personalities,
argues with Cairo, reads children’s literature, tries to boss “the girls”
around, and helps Bertha with her “projects.” But she also does serious
work in the circle, as in chapters 20-22, where she takes part in the weather
war; in chapter 24, when she helps Emma Clare pass over; and in chapter
26, when she stage manages Nankhani’s destruction. She loves it when Margaretta
talks baby talk to her. And, yes, she really is the reincarnation of the
The Secret Doctrine and
Westphalia is the home of Candide in Voltaire’s satirical novella, Candide
(1759). It’s a real region of Germany, but Voltaire made it an archetypal
Rosa will reappear in later chapters. She’s an amateur sleuth, at least
as far as gossip in the Towers is concerned. But what else is there to
hold her interest?
Bishop Charles Leadbeater, Arthur Edward Waite, Annie Besant, and Dion
Fortune were famous early 20th-century occultists.
Koot Hoomi is Master Kuthumi, one of the masters of ancient wisdom and
one of Mme. Blavatsky’s pen pals. Alice Bailey also claimed to have worked
with K.H., as he was also known.
Arthur Edward Waite was of course the member of the Hermetic Order of
Golden Dawn who devised the famous tarot deck drawn by Pamela Coleman
Smith and published in December, 1909, by William Rider & Son of London.
Miss Piggy is of course one of the most famous Muppets, which were created
in the mid-1950s by Jim Henson. In Pagan Every Day (September 27), I declare
her the Goddess of Everything. The puppeteer is Frank Oz. After Henson
died, Disney acquired the
Muppets.The Muppet movies are wonderful.
Eliot Ness (1903–1957) was a Prohibition agent and is today most famous
as the hero of a 1950s-60s TV series and a Brian De Palma film named
The Untouchables after Ness’ team of crime-fighters.
“Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” An extremely popular song by
Bobby McFerrin released in 1988.
archy the cockroach (a reincarnated vers libre poet) and mehitabel the
cat were characters created by newspaper columnist Don Marquis in 1916;
archy often wrote Marquis’ columns for the New York
Evening Sun. The names are printed in lowercase because archy has
to dive headfirst at each typewriter key, one at a time, and can’t manage
the shift key. At one point, however, he hits the shift lock key by mistake.
The columns, which are wonderful social satire, were collected in books
in 1927, 1933, and 1935. I’ve just reread
The Annotated Archy and Mehitabel, published in 2006. Theosophy,
spiritualism, and the transmigration of souls, popular topics in the first
decades of the 20th century, were satirized by Marquis. archy is killed
or commits suicide (because he’s bored) several times and always comes
back as a cockroach. mehitabel was once Cleopatra.
Death is a major issue for the elderly and their families. The cat’s first
task is to check on a recently deceased member of the circle. Death to
these women is a different kind of life in a different place. Deceased
people take active roles in several chapters.
How did your familiar come to you? What does it contribute to your life
and/or magical practice? Is your furry friend anything like Madame Blavatsky?
What is the role of humor, jokes, tricks, and games in the magical life?
Do you know anyone who lives in a retirement residence or village or in
assisted living? What’s life like for them?
Copyright © 2011 by Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. All rights reserved. Permission
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