Monthly Archives: August 2009

Astrology as a healing and a wounding art 3: healing and wounding – an intricate weave

Please click on links to read the first two articles in this series of 3:

‘Astrology as a healing and a wounding art 1’

‘Astrology as a healing and a wounding art 2’

Part Three : Healing and wounding – a close and intricate weave

The big picture

I had hoped in asking for feedback from long-term students that they would provide a range of responses which illustrated the main themes regarding  both the healing and the wounding dimensions of astrology – they did not disappoint me.  Andrea’s“sense of awe” which inspires her to try harder to take responsibility for her life, live it in a positive way, is  typical of the spiritual and soul healing which the study and practice of astrology can bring. This is well illustrated also by Marie’s concluding comment that ”whenever I feel I’m stumbling around in the dark, Astrology restores my faith in life by reconnecting me to a sense of meaning  and purpose.”

However, there are also wounding dimensions to setting one’s small individual life in the context of the big picture. The planetary energies are archetypal, and the further out you go, especially to the great collective powers of Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, the harder it is to hold onto any sense of personal identity, uniqueness. There is a cold inexorability to the unfolding of the planetary pattern through space and time, an utter impersonality. Being given a slice of that time and space as an image of one’s all too fallible humanness can be less than comforting, in fact can be very threatening.

I sometimes get a gut sense of this whilst out walking in the Scottish hills, something I am addicted to doing, and will do under almost any weather conditions. Go to wild, remote places and you will become aware of the archetypal forces of nature, their potentially destructive power, even as your soul is being uplifted by marvellous landscape and the utter peace of being where the only sound is of the wind and of birdsong. In these beautiful, peaceful places I have occasionally had fear descend on me even on sunny days, accompanying an awareness of how implacably indifferent the landscape is to my existence. Its power could sweep my life away given a sudden change of weather, or one slip on a hillside could turn me into yet another fatality statistic. As Shakespeare put it in King Lear :

”As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods;
They kill us for their sport.”

(W. Shakespeare, King Lear, Act 4, Scene 1 )

The Five Sisters and Loch Duich, Kintail, Scotland

The Five Sisters and Loch Duich, Kintail, Scotland

At times of personal bleakness which afflict us all on occasion , looking at the horoscope doesn’t always bring a sense of comforting connection to higher powers.

The individual chart

One of the most potent pieces of healing that astrology has to offer was, I felt, well summed up by Lisa, the one-off client:

”……..how accurately you were able to describe aspects of my character – I can’t pretend to understand it, but for some reason seeing it laid out in front of me was very reassuring. Perhaps because it gave validity to my personality.That was who I was ……………”.

Over  and over again, I have heard from clients that the most valuable thing about their astrology reading was just that validation commented on by Lisa.

But Charlotte’s question “why me? Why did I have to have this chart? “ clearly illustrates where all but the most blithe of us have surely been, as the harder realities of certain chart configurations began to dawn with our more sophisticated understanding of the implications of the natal horoscope.

Certain natal chart configurations may be wonderful opportunities for growth, but it’s usually going to be bloody painful when they’re triggered, and this is a lifetime’s reality which even the sturdiest of us find hard to face and accept, especially in times of vulnerability. If there’s anyone reading this who feels joyous at having been given an exact Saturn Pluto conjunction linked with most of their personal planets (me!), could they please phone me, and  reverse the charges!

The contrasts provided so humorously by Alice, who celebrated her Sagittarian energies as “adventurous, lucky, fun loving and optimistic” but wanted to scrub out Pluto when she saw it sitting right on top of her Ascendant, who longed for Venus in Taurus whilst being decidedly lukewarm about her actual Venus in Capricorn, is so typical of most students’ reaction to initial exposure to their natal chart !

I think it’s also fairly typical of most astrologers’ starting position in their developing relationship with their own horoscopes over time. Ideally, one comes to the point of enjoying and utilising, for example, one’s Sun-Moon-Jupiter grand trine in fire without being too immodest about it, or too obviously pitying those lesser mortals not fortunate enough to have had this divine gift bestowed upon them.

If it is also possible to come to an acceptance of difficult energies such as Uranus Pluto rising – notice that Alice forebore even to mention Pluto’s close companion on her Ascendant ! – combined with finding some positive outward channel for its disruptive, wayward and potentially destructive power, then one is well on the way to living in a reasonably positive way with the unique challenges of the individual birth chart.

The unfolding pattern

The intricate weave of healing and wounding is very obvious in considering the responses to transits and progressions of those of us who have trodden the astrological path for a while. Trying to second guess the universe’s response to our presence in it, seems to  be a favourite occupation of astrologers. This is trenchantly summed up by Andrea :

“I have to work hard to just meet life as it comes. For me, that’s a real challenge – astrology can help me to be more aware, but I have to resist the urge to think I know what it means before I get there.”

Astrologers can be hubristic, arrogant and just plain wrong in their attempts to know what it means before they get there – damaging to their clients as well as themselves. Astrology is a very powerful aid to awareness. It is also very useful in mapping out the terrain in broad terms, and in offering accurate timings. But life reminds us often enough, through our mistakes and errors of judgement of the planetary pattern, that the unconscious, by definition, is precisely that. It is not notable for an inclination to reveal deeper intentions beyond the ego’s access, just because some astrologer is standing somewhere near the entrance cave to its mysterious terrain waving an ephemeris,  shouting ” I’m pretty sure this Venus/Uranus transit means…………”

Alice’s and Marie’s differing feedback on their response to transits, I think also sums up  both ends of the healing/wounding continuum well, from a somewhat different perspective to that of Andrea. On the one hand we have Alice describing her teacher’s clarifying what was going on at Alice’s  Saturn Return :

” …………………..The light had been switched on. It was an amazing experience. I felt understood, accepted, and not alone. ……..”

Marie’s reaction to recent transits affecting her elderly mother was a lot less positive :

‘”…….. I was scared I was going to lose her.  She is 84 ; when I looked ahead to these Pluto transits, it seemed a likely outcome. I’m sure you would agree that  projecting fear onto upcoming transits is one of the most obvious facets of the wounding side of astrology…….”

Yes, I certainly do agree ! And we’ve all done it, no matter how  spiritual, actualised, wise or mature we think we are. Most beginning students find their introduction to transits and progressions enlightening, productive of a powerful
sense of meaningful connection to something greater than themselves, exhilerating –  and scary.

As a teacher, I find I have to work hard to strike the right balance :  between giving information, setting a constructive context, offering honesty and realism, always trying to be aware of my own permanent and serious limitations by virtue of being human, avoiding projecting my own particular fears, and bringing in the tempering influence of humour.

I also have to realise that students must negotiate for themselves, after all that, what the balance is going to be for them between the healing and wounding facets of the study and practice of astrology.

I always point out to them when they start expressing fears about upcoming transits – Saturn and Pluto being the favourite raisers of fear – that ninety nine point nine five percent of the human race has got through the whole of our collective history without knowing anything about astrology, despite the fact that one hundred per cent of us have always had every kind of transit from the start of life till its end. This usually helps! It is very important not to give the impression that astrological knowledge can protect us from life. Its great healing gift is that it can help us greatly to make some sense of it.

Conclusion

I would like to conclude this series by wondering why so few people, having penetrated such a complex subject to the stage of acquiring a reasonable degree of fluency,  seem to give up the practice of astrology, despite its having a wounding as well as a healing dimension. I suspect a major reason is that once virginity has been lost, it cannot be regained. For most  of us, the price paid for that loss of innocence is worth it, for the more complex and full, albeit more difficult, life that is opened up as a result. Once the gods’ fire has been stolen, it cannot be returned. Futhermore, as Charlotte put it :

” Personally, I couldn’t  not  know. Otherwise I wouldn’t have pursued the subject as long as I have. “

Trust a  multiple Sagittarian to put that into words for the rest of us! There is an incurable  curiosity in human beings, and a relentless drive to create meaning, perhaps in the hope that one day we will be able to heal the primary wound of not knowing why we are here. Once we have held the gods’ stolen fire overhead, and seen the intriguing, flickering, chimeric shadows it throws up for us, we become addicted to the quest to find what the shapes behind those shadows might be……..


This is an edited version of “Astrology as a Healing and a Wounding Art”, published in Apollon, The Journal of Psychological Astrology, in Issue 3, August 1999.

1700 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2009
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page


Astrology as a healing and a wounding art 2: the student/practitioner’s view

Please click on link to read the first article in this series of 3:

‘Astrology as a healing and a wounding art 1’


Part Two: From art to actual life – the student / practitioner’ s view

In further pursuing the exploration which my chance encounter with Lisa had begun, I asked my ongoing students for their comments. I was particularly keen to receive feedback from those in my monthly study/supervision group who had been students and practitioners for seven to eight years or more, feeling that they would have a more rounded perspective to offer, based on going through many different stages in their relationship with astrology.

They were asked to reflect on the healing and wounding aspects of working within the astrological model, from the viewpoint of the impact their involvement had had on their personal lives.

Here is their feedback which I found rich, eloquent and varied.

1) – Marie (52) –

Marie's Horoscope

Marie's Horoscope

“I came to astrology when you read my chart in May ‘87. Suddenly, after twenty one years, old pain I had partly buried, partly learned to live with, resurfaced.  I had to come to terms with it,  heal it, if I were to live with myself.  I had had a difficult time when I was nineteen.   At the time of the consultation, Uranus was squaring the Uranus of those events in 1966, and Pluto was conjunct my Chiron –  for me, astrology has always been a healing tool.

More recently, it helped me through the period of my father’s death in 1993 by enabling me to detach and accept by understanding the process.The Uranus/ Neptune conjunction was exact, squaring his 19 Libra sun. At the moment of his heart attack, the Ascendant was exactly conjunct my natal Chiron; Mercury was squaring my Chiron when he died.

For me, astrology is an invaluable tool. I trust more now in my own intuition, especially where the timing of events is concerned. I think we all subconsciously know when the time is right to take a decision, make a phone call, accept an offer or whatever. I   regularly run up charts for significant moments and find the Ascendant reveals the flavour of the moment, the Moon the timing of the event, Mars the motivating force underlying it and Mercury often literally brings the message.

An interesting example of this is when I began to realise that the house I lived in was playing a part in my healing process.  Being convinced of the significance of certain moments in time, I ran up a chart for the exact moment my husband and I  entered the house for the first time as owners.  It was Hallowe’en 1984 and the sun was at 8 Scorpio conjunct my Chiron.  Not only that, the house’s Chiron was conjunct my Moon and Node at 7 Gemini, the Moon was on my Ascendant and Venus on my MC.  Even more incredible, the Ascendant of the house chart was 29 Cancer 27, which turned out to be the Jupiter of  W.G. Morton, the artist who had  had it built in 1912 – his Jupiter was 29 Cancer 30 !   Morton’s  ghost haunted the house ; I   felt I could help him let go and move on.  My Pluto at 11 Leo is exactly conjunct his Moon and IC at 10 and 11 Leo.

These amazing synchronicities prove to me how finely tuned our lives are, and what a gift astrology is in helping me interpret the meaning of my life, face up to the dark side of my nature and co-operate as best I can with transits as they ebb and flow.

We don’t always get what we expect. My Mum’s Sun, Venus and Mars are at 2,6 and10 Sagittarius respectively.  With Pluto crossing these degrees and also opposing my Moon Node conjunction at 7 Gemini, I was scared I was going to lose her.  She is 84 ; when I looked ahead to these Pluto transits, it seemed a likely outcome. I’m sure you would agree that  projecting fear onto upcoming transits is one of the most obvious facets of the wounding side of astrology…….

However, as Pluto stripped away all that was unnecessary in her life, she began to give away her money and her jewelry and to talk about her death in a very matter-of-fact way. How  could she see us enjoy our inheritance if she’d gone?  Better still, she began for the first time in my life to tell me she loved me and  was proud of me, words I had waited for all my life. I no longer live in fear of her death, but accept all our time together now as a bonus.  During this period, Chiron was also busy. On the day she gave me , out of the blue, a large sum of money, Chiron was 2 Sagittarius ,conjunct  her sun, and the IC of the moment!

I can only sum up by saying that whenever I feel I’m stumbling around in the dark, astrology restores my faith in life by reconnecting me to a sense of meaning  and purpose.”

2) – Andrea (39) –

Andrea's Horoscope

Andrea's Horoscope

On the whole, I’ve been very lucky with the astrologers I’ve met. Almost all have been good people, good astrologers and have definitely helped me on my way. From a personal viewpoint, astrology has helped me to open my heart and my soul to a way of being centred on self-acceptance and love; I’m not sure I would have managed that otherwise. I’ve learned to treat myself with a bit more sympathy and understanding – and hopefully treat other people the same way. My experience of astrology has opened me to the deeper mysteries of life – even if I can’t put that into words or fully understand it, I know it’s there. That’s such a healing experience, because the sense of awe makes me want to try harder to be responsible for my life, to live it in a positive way.

Having said all that, for a while I didn’t look at the Ephemeris or any astrology. Partly, the reason for that is that astrology can turn me away from my own life. That seems a complete contradiction to what I’ve just said.

Maybe, for me, this is the wounded/wounding side of astrology  – being so busy reading astrology, looking at charts, thinking about aspects, looking at planets, transits, progressions, or midpoints meant I was too busy to live my life in the present – I would be thinking about the past or looking to the future.

Recently, when looking at my transits, (which I hadn’t looked at  for  months) I had a sharp intake of breath as I saw Saturn, Chiron, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto and progressed Moon all triggering off planets in my natal chart. The sense of trepidation  was almost overwhelming. I have to work hard to just meet life as it comes. For me, that’s a real challenge – astrology can help me to be more aware, but I have to resist the urge to think I know what it means before I get there.”

3) – Charlotte (35) –

Charlotte's Horoscope

Charlotte's Horoscope

I’ve never really been asked to consider the wounding aspects of astrology in such a direct way before. I did have a bit of a job focusing on the question without the more positive aspects coming up all the time! I think the serious study of astrology knocked me out of the idyllic vision I had had of my family background. I had to accept that my parents weren’t perfect, and the overall effect of this was enlightening but also disappointing. It kind of knocked me into the real world and showed me things as they were which I found quite hard to come to terms with.

Seeing things in black and white on the astrological chart  led to a lot of resentment on my part, raising a lot of difficult questions which I’m still working hard to understand. I think this can sometimes sidetrack me and stop me getting on with things, and lead to some disasters which might not have occurred otherwise – although I would say I do have a natural tendency to analyse things anyway. Astrology just provides more scope for this.

There is also the question “ why me? Why did I have to have this chart?” which may be quite childish, but did lead at one time to some resentment at the apparent unfairness of it all. Especially when you are grappling with hard Pluto and Saturn aspects. You know you have your work cut out for you, and that life is not going to be easy. The prospect of living your life with these aspects can be quite daunting and depressing, and lead to a lot of despondency at times.

Another factor that’s hard to take on board is that you are responsible for yourself. You can’t go around blaming other people for your misfortunes all the time. You have to take responsibility for your part in the drama. It’s your stuff, and you’re the only one who can deal with it. This can lead to a lot of self criticism on my part, and a good deal of depression if things aren’t working out.

Looking at  it from a promethean point of view, Prometheus stole fire from the gods. He knew he would suffer for it, but he also, I think, knew on some intuitive level that he was doing the right thing. And in the end he was released from his suffering. Personally, I couldn’t not know. Otherwise I wouldn’t have pursued the subject as long as I have. I just hope it works out for me in the end too. “

4) – Alice (35) –

Alice's Horoscope

Alice's Horoscope


“ My first experience with ‘real’ as opposed to ‘Sun Sign’ astrology was at night school. My birth chart was not what I had expected. I was a true Sagittarian, adventurous, lucky, fun loving and optimistic, wasn’t I ? Oh yes – I was pleased with my grand trine in fire. That made sense; but a meek, mild, service-seeking Virgo ascendant was not exactly me. Oh well, I suppose I could come across that way to some people.

Then I see it – a small black glyph sitting right on top of my Ascendant. It must be a mistake. I feel like scrubbing it  out. I don’t want Pluto there on my lovely chart. I’m nothing like a Scorpion type – moody, emotional, secretive, jealous, controlling. My Venus sitting smugly in Capricorn does not enhance my frame of mind. I take small consolation from hearing it is earthy and loyal. I feel cheated, and continue to long for Venus in Taurus.

Gradually over the term, astrology stripped me of my pre-conceptions of myself, and left me exposed to the facts. I could no longer carry on in blissful denial of the deeper, darker side of my nature.

A significant  turning point came when I was asked to explain the types of things which had been happening to me, since I was experiencing my Saturn return at that point. I couldn’t explain. I hadn’t a clue what was going on. Where did I start? My teacher then summarised, in a couple of minutes, the way I had been feeling and how it was all part of a process. The light had been switched on. It was an amazing experience. I felt understood, accepted, and not alone.

The more I learned about  the interacting energies within my chart, the more I could accept myself and stop having to put on an act. The energy I had previously been using to keep Pluto well at bay, could now be directed towards more constructive pursuits. I felt freed. The healing had begun.”

to be continued

1900 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2009
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page


Astrology as a healing and a wounding art

Ten years ago, with Chiron crossing my IC/South Node , I was drawn to reflecting on my involvement with astrology both as a student, practitioner and teacher. The result was “Astrology as a Healing and a Wounding Art”, published in Apollon, The Journal of Psychological Astrology, in Issue 3, August 1999. Now, with Chiron, Jupiter and Neptune squaring my MC/IC/Nodes, it feels like an appropriate time to offer out the observations and insights of my then clients and  students to a new audience from a new context. Reading the article again after such a long time, their thoughtful comments still seem to me to be powerful and illuminating. I hope you enjoy and benefit from what they have to say.

The article will appear in three installments. It has been slightly edited. Names have been changed for confidentiality.

Part One: from Art into Real Life: the client’s view

“Teach me your mood, o patient stars
who climb each night the ancient sky.
Leaving no space, no shade, no scars,
no trace of age, no fear to die.”

R.W.Emerson

We do not know why we are here. This could be said to be the primary wound of humankind. In order to assuage it, and in attempting to heal it, we have spun around ourselves a web of wonderful richness and intricacy, woven of many bright threads of myth, poetry, religious belief, art, sacred architecture, storytelling, music, adventurous quests of mind, body and spirit. Wars have been fought, and countless millions of lives destroyed, in the clash of differing religious beliefs, and socio-political theories, which have been created in our attempts to heal that primary wound by creating a sense of meaning and order.

However, despite the best efforts of the greatest minds throughout the whole of our history, we still don’t even know what consciousness is. Far less do we know why we tiny creatures, wonderfully creative and terrifyingly destructive, cling to planet Earth, an insignificant speck of planetary gravel hurtling through the vastness of infinite space.

Thus we need teleological frameworks more than ever. This need is reflected in the  proliferation of paths on the quest for meaning which seem to be opening up  as this new millennium begins. The longest trodden of them all, about to enter its seventh millennium, is astrology. Not only has it survived the onslaught  of contemporary science – but may even be seen in some quarters to be making alliances with it !

Astrologer at Work - Mediaeval Style!

Astrologer at Work - Mediaeval Style!

Wounding, healing and the art of astrology

It is important at this point to stress that astrology itself neither heals nor wounds. Having  arisen aeons ago from attempts to create a meaningful context to human life through observation of the physical movements of the planets in the heavens, whether such a framework is experienced as wounding or healing is heavily predicated upon the attitude of the individuals who choose to use it:

“The fault, dear Brutus, is  not  in our stars,
But in ourselves, that  we are underlings.”

(W.Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 1, Scene 2)

It is easy enough to talk about the positive healing benefits of an astrological framework, providing as it does a major defence against meaninglessness and insignificance. Feeling connected at a personal level to loved ones and friends is recognised as a major factor in promoting and maintaining physical, emotional and mental health and happiness. Feeling connected at a more cosmic level lets us see that  we are not random accidents in time and space, but threads in the weave of a greater pattern – very small threads perhaps, but contributors nevertheless. This awareness promotes a sense of spiritual well being.

There is also the sheer fun, excitement and intellectual discovery which the study of astrology brings.

The sense of wonder and significance which comes with realising, for example, that  one transiting aspect can and does produce a range of observable manifestations, all apparently different, which spring from the same core, never quite stops being thrilling no matter how long you’ve been a practitioner. Saturn in Scorpio squared my Moon during the nineteen-eighties. I don’t especially recall what the emotional challenges of the time were. But I still vividly remember that my favourite silver chain turned almost black for no reason at the start of the transit, resisting several jewellers’ attempts to clean it up. It was dumped at the back of a drawer. Just after the transit was over, I came across it again – as sparking bright as the day I got it.

Every bright light, however, has a dark shadow; in the promethean nature of our art  lies its shadow too. It is all very well to steal the gods’ fire, with the noble intention of  liberating humanity from some of its bonds with the powerful enlightenment which that fire brings.

But fire burns. It is impossible to light up the darkness of our human limitations of perception, without the hand that holds the illuminating fire being burned by it. It’s not so easy to talk about that. But it does less than justice, in exploring the impact of the astrological model on human consciousness, to concentrate on the healing aspects of the interaction,  whilst glossing over the wounding dimensions. Exposure to the model brings both.

The client’s view

Impetus in translating this essay from inner reflection to grounding in the actual world of people’s lives came, fittingly enough, from a recent chance encounter with a former client, Lisa, now aged thirty three. She was very excited about her imminent departure to live and work in California, and we talked about that. But then, quite unexpectedly, she brought up the subject of the one-off reading I had done for her eight years previously. In common with most astrologers, I am always interested in feedback from former clients, especially those with whom one only has a one -off encounter, and usually no idea of what the impact of the experience over time has been for them.

What she had to say was so clearly expressed that I invited her to email me with her comments, which she did. Here they are :

“ It must be about eight years since I came to you for a reading, but there are one or two things that stand out in my memory about that visit. The first was how accurately you were able to describe aspects of my character – I can’t pretend to understand it, but for some reason seeing it laid out in front of me was very reassuring. Perhaps because it gave validity to my personality. That was who I was, and you encouraged me to feel good and confident about that.

However, I think that the main benefit of that visit was the discussion relating to my decision making process. You said you imagined that I would find this quite difficult as there were three equally valid, and contradictory, aspects to my character. The outcome of that discussion was that I no longer got caught up in my inability to make a decision, something that used to cause me unnecessary stress. What I do now is to allow each of the viewpoints to surface until such time as the decision has to be made. It might seem like a simple thing, but it has had an enormous impact. Overall, I am less critical of myself. That’s got to be a good thing! ”

Lisa’s feedback was pleasing and illuminating to have. If compared  with feedback which other astrologers receive on the effect of their one-off sessions, I feel pretty confident that the core of it would be similar, although of course individual clients as Lisa did, would also emphasise individual themes peculiar to their own horoscope. Competent and sensitive astrological work, one hopes, has an impact on clients’ lives where the healing dimensions are very much to the forefront of their experience.

In trying to establish a general guideline for the interplay of healing and wounding in people’s response to exposure to the astrological model, one could use the simple image of light for healing, and dark for wounding, quite effectively. My feeling is, if we take a broad spectrum from very bright at one end to very dark at the other, that  one-off  consultations, well handled, with clients who are at the right point of readiness for the experience, would occupy a position very close to the brightest end of that spectrum.

Where individuals find themselves, of course, depends on a number of factors such as age, experience, maturity, sensitivity or otherwise, degree of stoicism, capacity for joy and faith in life, predisposition to depression, and so on. There is also  movement up and down the spectrum, depending on the same range of factors combined with what life chooses to dish up at  various points. So this image is only meant as a general reference tool !

Chiron the Wounded Healer

Chiron the Wounded Healer

However, experience and observation tell me that the more exposure there is to the astrological model, the more people’s position begins to shift from bright to darker, as the promethean implications of involvement  begin to emerge. As I write this I am thinking of a very bright and gifted male client, now in his mid-forties, who has been coming for astrological reviews every year or two for over a decade. His horoscope is rich and complex; at its heart lies a grand cross involving the Sun, Saturn, Neptune, Uranus and the Nodes. This complex pattern links in with both his brightest gifts and his deepest pains, and we have worked with that pattern on sufficient occasions now for him to have developed a clear understanding of the paradoxes it brings.

On balance, he feels that  having the framework which astrology provides is more healing than wounding. But it doesn’t stop him, for example, fearing his Saturn transits, at the same time as he knows intellectually that the upcoming challenge of each one is to define who he is in the world more clearly, whilst jettisoning ever more of the painful old baggage which slows him down. He now knows that the problem with accepting Prometheus’ gift is that  under no circumstances can one give it back, even if one feels too vulnerable at times to be able to cope with it very well………..

to be continued


1700 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2009
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page


Short story: “My hero the villain”

I realised recently that this award-winning short story has been quietly lurking in the Growing Up page since summer 2008, never having been posted on the Weblog.

Here it is!

Those of a slightly squeamish disposition might be advised to read the first section or two of ‘ My hero the villian’ with their eyes closed – remember “Lord of the Flies?” and how savage children can be ? Those who are over fifty will be reminded of some of the sexist attitudes to girls which prevailed in the middle decades of the last century ! And all of us who have ever been children will remember that one of the sad but necessary entrance fees to the adult world is loss of innocence….

'Lord of the Flies' by William Golding

'Lord of the Flies' by William Golding

 

*******************


Archie’s mother was out. The radio was on, blaring out Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel”, his latest hit. I hate it. Archie says it’s because I’m  too young to know heartbreak; he is twelve, but I’m only nine, and a girl. I was suggesting digging to Australia during our holidays. He was sitting with his feet up on the kitchen table, cutting lumps off a slab of butter, rolling each lump in sugar, tossing it in the air and trying to catch it in his mouth. Swinging his feet down, he nodded.

“Yeah, that’s a great idea.” He made for the door. “Come on! We’d better pick a good site before it gets dark.” It was two o’clock in the afternoon. I followed him, gratefully. Out the kitchen door we hurried, down the concrete path, not even stopping to hurdle the dustbins. We jumped over the wire netting fence separating the vegetable patch from the jungle of weeds and willows where his dad, a budgie breeder, laid dead birds to rest.

What a good time we’d had in the budgies’ graveyard last summer holidays! Unfortunately, my father saw us shooting arrows at dead budgies hanging from the clothesline. Fathers have a habit of putting a stop to fun. We were banned from the bottom of the garden for the rest of the summer. I still don’t see what all the fuss was about….they couldn’t FEEL anything….

“Hey Deirdre!” Archie had vanished into the weeds. “How about here?” I followed his voice, picking my way through the nettles. He was sitting on a sheet of rusty corrugated iron, pulling the wings off a butterfly.

“This is perfect,” he said, throwing bits of butterfly over his shoulder for luck. “Sit down here.” I sat down, carefully. “Now look at the house.”

“I can’t see the house from here, Archie.”

“Exactly!” He grinned at me. “You’re slow on the uptake! If you can’t see them……”

“They can’t see us!” I was delighted. “When will we start?”

“Tomorrow morning,” Archie said. “I know a place where I can get a couple of spades.”

“I haven’t seen any spades, Archie.”

“Huh…. girls never notice anything.” Hurt, I said nothing.

“OK, I’ll tell you. But keep it a secret?” I nodded. “See that old air raid shelter, across the cornfield ?”

“Yes”.

“The spades are hidden inside, away in a corner among some nettles. I’ll sneak them up here later on today.”

“How did you find them? ”

He winked,  rubbing what was left of the butterfly into powder between his palms.  “I’m smart,” he said. “Hadn’t you noticed?”

2.

Digging that hole was hard work. We had two bottles of lemonade from our larder, and a packet of biscuits stolen by Archie from the shop across the road.

“My geography teacher said that if you started digging from Scotland you’d get to Australia if you kept going long enough” I said to Archie, looking at the growing pile of earth. “D’you think that’s true?”

“Course it is” he replied,  taking a long swallow of lemonade. “If David Livingstone could do it, why can’t we?”

“But ….” I said puzzled. “But he DIDN’T ….”

“Oh shut up!” Archie said impatiently. “Let’s get on with it.” We worked all day, stopping only to go home for our dinner.

“Where on earth have you been?” asked my mother. “You’re filthy!”

“Oh–nowhere. Just out playing.”

“I wish you’d be more like a girl,” she sighed. “You wouldn’t get so dirty.”

“Can I have some more mince, please?” I asked. I had eaten the two hills, the roads and there was no gravy left for the river. She gave me some. My mother would like it if I wore a skirt and a ribbon in my hair. But I don’t like girls. They’re boring.

3.

“What are we going to do with these worms, Archie?” We were digging up the longest, fattest worms I had ever seen.

“Seems a pity to waste them, doesn’t it?” he said, scratching his head and thinking very hard.

“I know! Just you wait here.” He went off to the shed and came back with a hammer and some nails. “Right, pick up a few and bring them over here.” He walked towards the willow trees. I had never picked up a worm in my life. Closing my eyes and trying to think of something else, I collected about ten of them. They were slimy and clammy and they squirmed in my hand.

“We’ll have a laugh here,” said Archie. “Hand me one at a time.” I watched him as he nailed them to the trees. Wriggling and jumping, they oozed slime and worm blood. Archie grinned at me. “They don’t take long to die.” Feeling sick and dizzy,  I forced myself to watch. At last they just hung there, limp.

“That’s my good deed for the day,” Archie said. I looked at him, trying not to show my feelings. “Well” he said. “The birds. I’ve given them their dinner.” I couldn’t say a word. Archie picked up his spade. “Come on, Deirdre. We’ve a lot of digging to do.”

4.

It was Saturday morning. I was lying in bed eating a bacon sandwich, and drinking the  tea my mother had brought me. I was thinking about the hole; it was getting deep. What would we do about the water?

“Deirdre!” Oh blast ….she would be wanting me to go into town.We’d be held up with the digging. “Deirdre! Come and see your uncle Angus – he’ll be off in a minute.” That was different. I liked my uncle Angus a lot. He always looked as if he was just about to have an adventure. I didn’t know what his job was, but I had overheard him talking to my father. It was something to do with nets and seals and the police. Jumping out of bed, I pulled on my jeans and a jersey, and ran downstairs.

There he was, leaning against the kitchen sink, rolling a cigarette. My mother glared at me. “You scruffy little tinker! Why haven’t you brushed your hair?”

“Oh, Anna, leave the girl alone!” said uncle Angus, lighting his cigarette and winking at me. “She’s a free spirit.” He grinned. “Am I right, miss?”

“Of course,” said I, not looking at my mother. It was worth the row later. I wanted him to like me.

“Come here!” he said. “Shut your eyes and hold out your hands.” I obeyed him. “Right! Open your eyes.”

I could hardly believe what I saw. Four half crowns! Ten whole shillings! It wasn’t even

Xmas or my birthday. I stared at him, not knowing what to say.

“Angus!” My mother sounded shocked. “She gets one shilling a week. That’s quite enough for a child her age.”

“Rubbish, woman” replied uncle Angus. “We all deserve a wee treat once in a while.” He turned to me. “Right–no banks, no savings, nothing sensible. Go straight out and spend the lot today on whatever you fancy. O.K.?”

“O.K.” I didn’t say anything else, just winked at him. He winked back. My mother glared at me as I made for the door.

“Be back here in time for your dinner!” she called. I stopped .

“What’s for dinner, then?” Grinning, uncle Angus  pointed to the draining board.There lay two huge silvery salmon.

“Away you go” he said. “See you the next time.”

5.

Out of sight of our house, I sat on a low wall. I needed to think.

Archie would be working on the hole. He would be so angry if I said I was going down town. He thought I was less stupid than most girls. I didn’t want to make him mad. But I loved having all this money.  If I didn’t spend it today it might fall down a drain.

I looked at the four half crowns. One was very new and glinted in the sun. Archie could have a share! I could give him a shilling…. or even one and six. But I knew Archie. He wouldn’t be happy. I put two half crowns on the wall, then the other two, whilst making up my mind. Half shares each! That would please him, wouldn’t it?

Archie was busy. He straightened up when he heard me coming. “Where have you been, you lazy little runt?” He was really mad. Just wait till I told him!

“I’m going down town this morning, Archie,” I said. “Are you coming with me?”

“Down town? With all this work to do? Clear off. Go yourself.” He turned his back and carried on digging.

“Look what I’ve got, Archie,” I said, taking the half crowns out of my pocket. “I got a present today.”

“Very nice, I’m sure,” he said in a nasty voice. “Some of us aren’t so lucky. Away and spend it, then.”

“You can have a share.”

He turned round, very quickly. “How much?”

“Half.” He was out of that hole like a shot!

“Deirdre, you’re a real pal,” he said, giving me a big smile. “You’re the best pal I ever had.” He wiped his hands on his jeans and grabbed my arm. “Come on, let’s go. Will we walk or take a bus?”

I felt really happy. “Let’s walk,” I replied. “It’s such a lovely day.”

6.

What a time we had! We got a big ice cream each from Cabrelli’s. In Woolies, we bought a matchbox car each, and new pencils with rubbers on the end. We bought marbles and plasticine. Archie bought a water pistol; I bought a lead cowboy whose hat and gun clipped on and off. Archie called me a swot when I got a bottle of ink for my new fountain pen. We were thrown out when he frightened one of the assistants with his new plastic jumping frog; but the money was mostly gone, so it didn’t matter.

We stopped at the corner sweet shop to spend our last few pennies on sherbet fountains and lucky potatoes, eating them on the way home. I should have got a Five Boys, I thought; my favourite chocolate, you could bite the Boys’ faces off one by one, leaving the smiling one to last. But I had no money left.

Fry's Five Boys chocolate - once the most famous confectionery bar in the world

Fry's Five Boys chocolate - once the most famous confectionery bar in the world

As we walked, we tried to decide what to do about the water coming in the hole.

“It’s getting serious,” Archie said. “I keep getting wet feet, and I’m running out of stories to tell my mother.”

“Perhaps we could use a tin can as a bailer, like my father does in his boat?”

“Trouble with that,” Archie replied, “is that the water would still come in, and we’d spend half the time bailing it out.”

“True enough.”

We walked quietly for a bit, thinking. A short way from his house, Archie brought a bar of Five Boys out of his pocket. Removing the wrapper, he began to bite the Boys off one by one.

“Where did you get that?” I asked. “I thought we’d spent all the money.”

“In Woolies,” he replied. “When you were getting your ink.” There were only two Boys left.

“Can I have one?” I asked. “The smiling Boy at the end?”

“No. You can’t. I bought it with my money, not yours.” I watched him slowly biting into the smiling Boy, chewing it and swallowing it. He licked his lips. “MMM. That was nice.”

Suddenly I felt sick. “Must get home for my dinner” I mumbled, not looking at him. As we reached his gate I started to walk really fast.

“Cheerio, then,” he said. “See you this afternoon.” I didn’t answer.

7.

That night I dreamed about Archie. He was in the hole, digging.The water began to rise. It rose very quickly.The hole was too deep for him to get out. He started screaming, and calling to me for help. He couldn’t swim. I did nothing and said nothing; just sat and watched until the surface of the water was calm.

(winner of a Highly Commended  award in the Jo Cowell international short story competition UK Autumn 04)

2200 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2008
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page