Sunday, June 22, 2014

Diana Wynne Jones’s witch Aunt Maria: part III

A brief summary of Diana Wynne Jones’s Black Maria makes it seem like a complete fantasy, a children’s story that is interesting and entertaining but has little relevance to real life. I have actually found much of it familiar, informative and very useful - not so much the purely supernatural parts but the scenes involving mind control and manipulative behaviour.

It is ironic that this little book is considered suitable reading for eight-year-olds yet it has inspired me to produce so much material that I decided to break my article first into two then into three parts.

The first part of Aunt Maria.
The second part of Aunt Maria.

Telepathy, spying and psychic attacks
A member of Aunt Maria’s circle gives Mig a book of pictures, the kind a little girl will love. Some of them are indeed of flittery little fairies, but others are frightening and sinister: the worst one is titled ‘A naughty little girl is punished’ and makes Mig feel ill. This seems like a message, a warning, and reminds me of one of the disturbing pictures sent to Marianne in Marianne, the Magus and the Manticore by Sheri S. Tepper.

Aunt Maria invites her circle in for tea and cake. Chris, who has had enough of the way she speaks to and about him, makes some amusing but ill-mannered remarks that upset the ladies. Elaine, who is second in command in the coven, strides in from next door and says that she wants a word with Chris. Mig wonders how Elaine could have known that Mig’s brother was responsible for the uproar. I have seen people rush to the scene like taxis driven by evil spirits when there is trouble: the negative emotion seems to draw them.

Mig sees Chris turn pale when Elaine tells him that he looks like a ghostly court jester (he is wearing a pair of Aunt Maria’s huge pale blue bloomers on his head as a joke).  Elaine has hit on something in the uncanny way that witches do: Chris has recently seen a ghost, and when Mig sees the ghost for herself, he does look a bit like a court jester. I have had people home in unerringly and immediately on painful subjects in a similar way, causing me much distress.  It is very jarring, and seems not only like psychic spying but also a psychic attack.

Chris notices that whenever he and his sister are out on investigations or talking about things they don’t want their aunt to know about, members of her circle just happen to be out in force all along the route. Aunt Maria knows immediately when the children have been to see someone she considers to be an enemy. Her former friend frequently falls over: Aunt Maria implies that this is a punishment for making critical remarks. Elaine, who is much more direct, mentions various places where Chris has been seen and asks what he has been up to. Some kind of hive mind appears to be at work here.

Some effects of being around witches
Elaine is paramilitary in appearance and rather blunt, loud and hearty in manner; her husband looks like a pale, drained zombie. He rarely speaks and when he does it is in a low voice. He is browbeaten and obeys his wife’s orders.

When Mig is forced to obey the commands of another of Aunt Maria’s circle, she has a strange sensation. It is as though someone has put a transparent plastic bag around her feelings, which bulge and struggle inside and can’t be accessed. Some people do have this effect on others in real life: I have felt it.

After the spell has been broken and the battle lines drawn, Mig goes back to Aunt Maria’s house to collect a diary in which she has written things that she doesn’t want the old lady to see. She has by chance temporarily forgotten that Aunt Maria has informed her that she is aware of what has been written: Elaine has found and taken the diary. Mig intends to tell someone what she plans to do, but by chance her friend is asleep so she returns to the house unknown to her allies. This reminds me of the first murder victim in The Whitby Witches. She suddenly remembers who Rowena Cooper really is; she storms out of her house with the intention of going straight to the police station nearby, but she is so overcome with anger that she decides to confront Rowena first, despite knowing what the witch is capable of. She digs her own grave when she tells Rowena that she has not been to the police – yet. Witches can compel people to tell the truth.

Mig does some very stupid things. Just like Marianne in Marianne, Madame and the Momentary Gods, she ignores some warning signals: she sees that her diary out of its hiding place and in plain view but actually sits down and starts to update her record of events.  She has come within the evil orbit and fallen under the influence again. Witches can make people behave as though they are in a dream: they don’t see things at all, they see them but don’t really register what they are, they register them but don’t understand their significance, they understand the significance but don’t think of taking action or they take too little action too late.

Mig is discovered and taken to have a little talk with Aunt Maria. She now understands why one member of the circle appears to be completely mad: her son was disposed of by Aunt Maria and everyone carries on as if nothing had happened. Refusal or inability to accept reality has consequences. This woman has never been the same since the incident; she goes on seeing Aunt Maria even after the old lady has eliminated her son.

In Mig’s own words:

Here were all these peculiar and awful things going on, and you knew all about them and wanted to scream and yell and cry, and yet here was Aunt Maria, so gentle, cuddly and civilised that you couldn’t quite believe the awful things were happening. You felt guilty just thinking about them. You felt guiltier believing the awful things were true. As Aunt Maria began talking, I really began thinking something must be wrong with me for imagining she was wicked in the least.”

This is all very familiar: this is exactly how witches can make you feel. Evil people reverse everything; they make black appear white and vice versa; they make victims feel guilty; they make people doubt the reality of what they are seeing and feeling; they inflict terrible injuries and expect them to be ignored.

There is another example of such reversal in a scene near the end of the story in which Aunt Maria and her circle make a last stand. They launch a concerted psychic attack on their assembled enemies. The waves of pitying disapproval that roll from the witches make Mig and her friends in the anti-witch faction feel overwhelmed and tortured with feelings of guilt, remorse and shame. The innocent are made to feel guilty. Yet when the witches are forcibly confronted with the truth in the form of images of desperate, unhappy, bewildered people they have hurt and killed, they refuse to admit that they have done anything wrong. Aunt Maria genuinely believes herself to be a good, charitable and religious person.

Aunt Maria’s minor manipulations
Many readers will have encountered and suffered at the hands of someone similar to Aunt Maria in her non-supernatural aspect: controlling people who play the hurt and helpless game are very common and emotional blackmailers and manipulators are everywhere.

Aunt Maria says things such as, “Don’t bother to put napkins, dear. It’s fun using kitchen cutlery.” This is her polite way of giving orders, of letting people know that she wants the best cutlery and napkins to be used. “It’s quite fun eating runny egg for a change” means that she wants her eggs to be hard boiled in future.

Elaine gives orders too, in a much more direct and authoritarian manner. The children’s mother is at a disadvantage because she is too civilised to fight back. She also rather likes nursing people. Aunt Maria and her circle know this, and take advantage of her weakness and inclinations. Mig thinks that being civilised is a handicap: other people can break the rules and you can’t. This is another way of saying that evil will always triumph over good because evil people have no scruples.

People who give others the benefit of the doubt and are slow to think ill of anyone need to learn that people such as Aunt Maria are completely selfish, and when they appear otherwise it is for their own benefit.

For example, although she appears to behave considerately when she encourages Mig to go out and get some fresh air because she looks pale, Aunt Maria only does this because she wants her out of the way so the circle can have a confidential meeting. She later sends Mig and her mother out, once again apparently to get some air but really to get rid of them so that she can talk freely with her circle.

Aunt Maria is hypocritical: she is not interested in people and things for their own sakes, only if and when she can use and control them and treat them like chess pieces. On a previous occasion, she protested strongly when their mother sent the children out to get some fresh air because she had other plans for them. Another time, when Mig wants to accompany her brother when he goes out shopping, Aunt Maria objects and only backs down when the worm turns and the children’s mother says, “…isn’t it enough to have me tied to the house waiting on you hand and foot, without making a prisoner of Mig too?”

There seems to be something symbolic here: the victims of energy vampires often feel either like trapped and stifled hostages or unwanted nuisances who are discarded and thrown out into the cold.

Aunt Maria’s zones of operation
Aunt Maria operates and does damage on three levels.

At the lowest level, she exploits and annoys the hell out of people with her manipulative behaviour. She uses natural characteristics and tactics in common with ordinary people, people who are not witches, people who can be found in many families, neighbourhoods and workplaces in real life. Many books and articles have been written about such people and how to deal with them. Basic assertiveness and a few useful expressions may be enough to put a stop to their nasty little games.

At the highest level, Aunt Maria uses pure magic and ritualistic language to turn people into animals “By the power vested in me”. Only someone operating in the same way on the same level can reverse the effects of such dramatic transformations.

In between the witchcraft and the games playing lies the area of mind control.  Her victims behave as though they are under the influence of evil spells.  Aunt Maria’s augmented powers may be responsible in the book, but in real life some people have this effect on their victims without ever consciously practising witchcraft: they may be unwittingly making use of the powers of the subconscious mind.

Aunt Maria’s technique involves talking a lot of mind-numbing drivel and slipping important things in among the droning. She actually explains to Mig that the talk is the main spell, but underneath she works away putting ideas into people’s minds and tying their thoughts into the right shape. Aunt Maria finishes the little talk by informing Mig that she is tired. This seems like hypnotic suggestion: Mig immediately goes to sleep and wakes up as a prisoner in an orphanage. 

The end of the story
Mig’s friends rally round and rescue her. Aunt Maria is eventually dealt with and made harmless by someone of power equal to hers, but not in a way that has any relevance to real life. 

Victims who had their power taken away start to revive and become their real selves, just like Cat in Charmed Life. One man was buried alive for 20 years, so has a lot of catching up to do. He finds it difficult to adjust to normal life. This applies to many victims of real life energy vampires. He also has horrible dreams about his time underground, and there is doubt that he will ever be completely normal.

Diana Wynne Jones died in 2011. Her books are her legacy to us all.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Jane Austen and J. M. Barrie: intriguing deaths of two future in-laws

There are many different types of unseen influences to be investigated. Of particular interest to me are cases of creative people having a bad effect on those around them.

I have listed some ‘sacrificed sons’ in one article; I have highlighted the early deaths of Louisa M. Alcott’s brother-in-law and younger sister and the convenient death of Jane Austen’s future brother-in-law in another. From the latter article:

“…Cassandra became engaged to a military chaplain who was sent overseas and died of yellow fever somewhere in the Caribbean. His patron said that he would never have taken the young man out there if he had known that he was an engaged man. Why didn’t he ask, and why did no one tell him? The end result was that Jane Austen kept her chosen companion: Cassandra never considered marrying anyone else...”

I have just read something about J. M. Barrie that has brought the Jane and Cassandra Austen case very much back to mind.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Brontë family misfortunes: curse or coincidence?

I have written elsewhere about the witch Biddy Iremonger, a major character in Wilkins’ Tooth aka Witch’s Business by Diana Wynne Jones. She deliberately put a curse on the man she had intended to marry when he chose someone else. This curse hits him and his family very hard: his wife has to go into a home for mentally ill people and his pale, shabby, neglected children are considered peculiar, old fashioned and strange looking.

Reading about the effects of her curse makes me feel very uncomfortable: it all reminds me very much of what happened to and in my own family after my step-mother left in a fury because of disappointed hopes.

It also reminds me of another family: that of Charlotte Brontë. The strange, old-fashioned appearance of the children, the unsuitable housing, the dreadful school, the suffering, the ill health, the blighted lives, the terrible state that Branwell Brontë was reduced to, the ‘too little too late’ successes and the untimely deaths have all been recorded in family letters and described by many biographers. 

Some of it is very familiar: once again my own family comes to mind.

The Biddy Iremonger story left me wondering whether there was someone who could have put a curse on the Brontë family. I refreshed my memory by re-reading some biographical material, and found a person of interest.