It was quite by chance that in 1991 I became aware of the inner meaning in P L Travers’ Mary Poppins. I had been reading a book about the Goddess which takes you through one calendar year of her festivals called The Year of the Goddess by Lawrence Durdin-Robinson. I learnt that ‘The Great Goddess’ was known by many different names throughout the world: that she was also called The Triple Goddess, so following the journey all women take from Maid through to Mature Woman/Mother and then Wise Woman. One of her titles was Mistress of the Animals and she was also known as the Moon Goddess, the moon being perceived as feminine.
Shortly after reading this book I just happened to read Mary Poppins to my two small daughters as their bedtime story. When I reached Chapter 10 entitled Full Moon I my suspicions were aroused. Surely not, but was Mary Poppins the children’s nanny being portrayed as the Moon Goddess? In this chapter the children, Jane and Michael Banks, Mary Poppins’ charges, are urged from their beds at night by a voice which leads them to London Zoo. There, they discover everyone is in a state of high excitement because it is ‘The Birthday’ which is falling on the ‘Full Moon’, a rare occurrence. As Special Guests of this important person, the children are led into the presence of none other than their very own nanny, Mary Poppins, sitting on a log in the Snake House surrounded by all the snakes. By now I was beginning to look at the book through a new lens and, the more I looked, the more evidence there was to suggest that Mary Poppins is indeed being portrayed as the Great Triple Goddess.
The book even spells it out when Mary Poppins straightens her hat at the Tobacconist’s shop on their way to have tea with Uncle Albert:
It had one of those curious mirrors where there seem to be three of you instead of one, so that if you look long enough at them you begin to feel you are not yourself but a whole crowd …Mary Poppins sighed with pleasure…when she saw three of herself, each wearing a blue coat with silver buttons…she wished there had been a dozen of her or even thirty. The more Mary Poppins the better.
There she is, The Triple Goddess, known the world over and associated with life-giving waters and the silvery moon.
Most ingenious of all, the book is divided into twelve chapters for the 12 calendar months and Mary Poppins stays for exactly one year. On the day of her arrival, Mr Banks informs us there is a cold east wind and, on the day of her departure, the chapter begins ‘It was the first day of Spring’ and Mr Banks comments that the parrot tulips are in bud and that the wind is in the west. The first and last chapters, as we see, deal with Mary Poppins’s arrival and departure. The next three chapters, The Day Out, Laughing Gas and Miss Lark’s Andrew focus on the Goddess in her role as Maid. The following three concentrate on the Goddess’s role as Woman/ Mother – The Dancing Cow, Bad Tuesday and Bird Woman. Then come the three chapters connected with the Goddess as Wise Woman, Mrs Cory, Full Moon and Christmas Shopping. These are interrupted by the chapter called John and Barbara’s Story which, as the title suggests, is their story.
However, there was one chapter whose inner meaning I was unable to fathom and that was Chapter 5, The Dancing Cow. Two events conspired to give me the key to unlock the hidden meaning. One day, for light relief, when I had made yet another failed attempt to understand this chapter, I made a lexigram of the words, Mary Poppins , where you make as many words as you can out of the letters in the chosen words. To my surprise, I found they could be divided into each of the three roles of the Goddess as Maid, Mother and Wise Woman, but not as nature intended, more as Society has distorted them.
Maid pin, snip, soap, mop, pie, spam, sip, prim, pram, soppy, popsy
Woman man, pay, pimp, porn, sin, pain, mar, rip, primp, popsy, ma, may, yams
Wise Woman pray, poppy, rays, air, spin, say, rain
For the Goddess – in the guise of Mary Poppins – to fulfil her role as Maid, she has to escape middle-class society. This she does on her day off when she meets Bert the chimney sweep, and pavement artist. When Bert sees her he cannot disguise his admiration and Mary Poppins coyly looks down at her feet and rubs her toe along the pavement. She has undergone a dramatic change: no longer is she the haughty children’s nurse she was a minute ago. Ruefully, Bert tells her he has no money and cannot take her to tea. Sensitively disguising her real disappointment, she brightly tells him she does not mind. But then Bert draws her into one of his pavement pictures and they are magically whisked away to a woodland glade. The Goddess undergoes a further transformation: she is now a cockney girl as revealed in her exclamation, “Strike me pink!” Bert, too, is a cockney lad and the waiter, who deferentially waits upon the carefree, courting couple throughout, offers Bert a pin for his whelks, a food much beloved of cockneys. Only as a cockney can a young unmarried woman be abroad without a chaperone and free from stifling middle-class convention. In fact, their behavior at afternoon tea in the magical glade is an amusing demonstration of how not to behave in polite society. Mary Poppins sits down with a ‘plop’ and tea is poured from an urn not a teapot: they polish off the little raspberry-jam cakes, drink three large cups of tea each and, when they get up to leave, they have to brush off the cake crumbs. As many know, the Goddess of old was worshipped in just such a woodland setting and little cakes were offered at her shrines.
When Mary Poppins abruptly leaves the Banks family, Mrs Banks is indignant and distraught, for who is going to put the children to bed? Not once does it occur to her to do so herself, such being the convention of the day. For the Goddess to fulfill her role as a hands-on mother she is obliged to become a children’s nurse. A more unsuitable person into whose tender care mothers gave their children would be hard to find, as the Goddess herself is at pains to show us through her adopted persona. As the famously sharp, prim nanny she is, in reality, an Old Maid, who is always painfully aware of her humiliating status as a woman without husband and children. It is this which makes Mary Poppins the Old Maid so angry and bitter with her lot, and which makes her unfit as a children’s nanny. Of course, the children, being less conditioned than the adults, feel the great love of the Goddess through her stern exterior and are bereft when she leaves them. How has this unnatural state of affairs arisen where a mother has so little to do with her own children, and how is it that children are left in the charge of those who are no substitute for a mother’s love and care, and are often singularly ill-fitted to do so?
It is interesting that, on the magical adventures that Jane and Michael have with Mary Poppins, she is recognized by all the people they encounter for who she truly is, the Great Triple Goddess, and how they treat her with love and respect, whilst in our world she passes by unrecognized. The reason for this, as many know, is that the Goddess has been suppressed. Why has she come into our world in the famous guise of the sharp-tongued Mary Poppins? She has come to reveal the reason for her suppression and to bring healing. She has also come to heal the relationships within the family and to fulfill her nature in whatever way she can in our Society, with the help of a little magic of course and her friends.
Concerning Chapter 5, The Dancing Cow, what I did know was that the cow was sacred to the Goddess. The headdress of Hathor, the Egyptian Goddess of Fertility, consists of a full moon mounted between the horns of a cow and, to this day, the cow is a sacred animal in India. From the book on The Year of the Goddess I learned that the colours of the Triple Goddess were White (Maid), Red (Woman/Queen) and Black (Wise Woman/Priestess), hence the ‘dancing cow’ in question went by the name of the Red Cow. We have now entered the merry month of May, the month when the Goddess moves from her White Maid phase into her Red Mother/Queen phase. But the curious nature of the story was still a mystery. The bare bones are that the Red Cow lives a conventional life in the ‘the best field in the whole district’ knowing little of the outside world and bringing up the Red Calf to be a model lady like herself. One day, she begins to dance, which she enjoys and finds liberating. But then she discovers that she cannot stop and, after a week of being unable to eat or sleep, she decides to visit the King to seek help. Brought before the king, it is the king who spots the star on one of her horns. The only suggestion he can make is that she jump over the moon like the cow in the well-known children’s poem, The Cow Jumped Over the Moon. The Red Cow agrees. The star comes tumbling off and she lands back in her own field to find she has stopped dancing.
I had been reading a book recommended by my mother called The White Goddess by the poet and scholar, Robert Graves. When I happened to re-read Chapter 5, the strange elements in the story finally fell into place. As a scholar, Robert Graves’s research of his subject matter – the Goddess as Muse – was thorough. The author tells us it was from many diverse sources that he pieced together a part of our history we have lost. Yet this turns out to be at the very heart of the ancient worldwide fertility cults presided over by the Great Goddess, leaving us ill-equipped to truly understand ourselves today. The fertility cults were Goddess-centred because it was believed that the Goddess ensured abundant harvests. Her representative was the Queen and it was she who ruled. Robert Graves calls these communities ‘queendoms’. At her side was her consort, the Sacred Sun King, but it was she who held all the power and the king was a mere cipher. The ancient game of chess well expresses this hierarchy: the Queen is the most powerful piece on the board, whilst the King can only ‘hobble’, one step at a time and needs protecting. Shockingly, I discovered that the Sacred King, as Robert Graves calls him, was sacrificed twice yearly, at mid-summer – when the sun was at its zenith, and at mid-winter- when the sun was perceived to ‘die’. At midsummer, the outgoing king was replaced by his ‘tanist’ or ‘twin’ who was then sacrificed at midwinter. To symbolize the extinguishing of the light of the sun, the king was blinded, and to show that he was being shorn of his great power as the embodiment of the sun, the locks on his head – being the very rays of the sun – were cut off and, finally, he was beheaded.
When the Red Cow lands back in her field, she begins eating at once, moving steadily across the field ‘beheading her golden soldiers’. She is so hungry that by the time she has finished ‘she had eaten up several regiments.’ We read that the soldiers are dandelions which are like suns and are therefore alluding to the Sacred ‘Sun’ Kings who were put to death during the Queen/Goddess’s reign. We are also being told that during this period young men met their deaths in this way in great numbers. Traumatised by the experience, we are shown how the fear remains with the Sacred Kings in subsequent lives. At last we understand the king’s curious obsession with getting to the barbers on time. Just as the Red Cow enters the throne room, the king stands up and ‘magnificently’ orders his coach to go to the barbers. He is irritated by the interruption and tells the Red Cow that he has “an appointment with the Barber at ten. He won’t wait for me longer than that and I must have my hair cut.” When the Red Cow agrees to jump over the moon the king replies, “Good”, …pleasantly, realizing that he would be in time for the Barber, after all.’ The subconscious fear from the trauma may be triggered when a former Sacred King’s hair begins to grow too long. The hair of the king who succeeded at mid-winter was not cut, for the growing locks symbolized the increasing power of the sun rising ever higher in the sky to its zenith at mid-summer. The longer his hair, the closer his sacrifice. When the king asks who she is, the Red Cow answers that she is a cow, to which the king replies crossly, “I can see that,”…”I still have my eyesight…” revealing that he was blinded at his sacrifice.
When the Queen was overthrown by the king she was disempowered and put out of the way and kept under guard. So now we understand why the Red Cow is guarded by the dandelion soldiers in her grand field and why the king sees her so seldom that he does not even recognize his own wife when she appears. And this situation continues today in many of the Arab countries and elsewhere where women are still guarded, have very little liberty and receive a poor education, if any. It is because the subconscious fear and anger are still there even though they no longer have any basis in fact.
After relating the story of the Red Cow to Jane and Michael, Mary Poppins waits for the effect she knows it will have on Michael who is a former Sacred King. The Goddess has come to heal the Sacred King of this terrible wrong that was done to him in her name. She knows that by reminding him of that life, it will bring it to the fore, which will then enable her to help him release the memory. Sure enough, in the next chapter, aptly named Bad Tuesday, Michael behaves very badly. The anger and hatred left over from that life come to the surface and he feels it as ‘the hot heavy weight that was within him’. Eventually, all of Michael’s anger and hatred is externalized, which he experiences as being attacked by the angry native peoples they met that day when circumnavigating the world on their afternoon walk. Terrified, he cries out for Mary Poppins to help him and shuts his eyes tight. He remembers being borne away in something soft. When he opens his eyes again, he finds he is warmly wrapped up in his own bed and, ‘oh, the heavy burning thing that had been inside him all day had melted and disappeared…how happy he felt and how lucky he was to be alive.’ Mary Poppins appears with a cup of warm milk and stands beside him without saying a word. Michael ‘could smell her crackling white apron and the faint flavor of toast that always hung about her so deliciously.’ And he drinks the milk as slowly as he can to keep her standing beside him.
15 February 2015