Sunday, June 08, 2008


I get about three or four search hits a week from people looking for information on Mary Poppins, the witch. When I wrote my previous post I had not read the original P.L. Travers book that the movie was based on. (The book I had as a child was apparently a novelisation of the Disney movie.)

The book is a great children's book- if a little dated and probably far to "British" for American children (more on that after the witchy stuff)- and very meaty in the mystical. Mary Poppins is actually a very ancient entity, if the clues are interpreted correctly. In fact, if there were a Ph.D. programme for witches this book would be a great thesis.

I've used the chapter headings as a guide.

East Wind: Mary Poppins rides in on the East Wind. Not on a broom- Nanny's aren't scullery girls after all--but by holding up her open umbrella. An umbrella that has such a smart handle (the parrot) that vain Nanny Poppins often carries on those rare London sunny days. Including her day out with suitor Bert in the next chapter.

The east is the direction of new beginnings. And all witches are friends with the winds.

The Day Out: Mary Poppins takes Bert the Match Man, her suitor, on a day out into one of his chalk drawings. (The children are not along in the book.)

Laughing Gas: Mary has a magickal family. Albert Whigg is Mary's Uncle, and when his birthday lands on a Friday he gets filled up with laughing gas. The children rise of their own accord, but it is Nanny Poppins who brings the tea table up and also gives the shocked maid a good lift when she serves the hot water.

Miss Lark's Andrew: Nanny Poppins talks to animals. She is the translator for snooty Miss Lark's little dog Andrew. Andrew has made friends with some undesirable mutts in the neighborhood and also does not like the way Miss Lark fusses over him. Mary is there for his rebellion and translates each bark and growl.

The Dancing Cow: When a cow comes wandering down the street, the children are very excited at this strange occurrence. Nanny Poppins informs them that she knows that cow personally. "She was a great friend of my mother, and I'll thank you to speak politely of her." She tells the children the cows story. A story partially based on "the cow jumped over the moon" and also on an older British folk song, about a witch, a cow and the moon. (I have it in a book of folk songs back in Los Angeles, but cannot recall the title.)

Mary's mother, as we will see in Full Moon, was not just a witch, but a very powerful entity. Worthy of the respect, as is Mary, of the entire animal kingdom.

Bad Tuesday: Michael has a very naughty day and has been very bad and in a terrible mood. At the park he finds a compass which Nanny Poppins uses to take the children round the world (astral project?), visiting different creatures and habitats, much like Merlin in White's ONCE & FUTURE KING).

At the end when Nanny Poppins leaves Michael discovers the compass is broken.

The Bird Woman: This is more the children's story, and quite different from the movie. The children have invested certain witch/guardian attributes to the Bird Woman. (She speaks in bird language and cares for the birds at night.)

Mrs. Corry: The origins of Hansel and Gretel, with a smidge of the Greek Titans and perhaps the inhabitants of the three worlds of the Teutonic Gods.

Nanny Poppins takes the children for gingerbread. Mrs. Corry's shop appears out of nowhere and disappears when they leave. Her two fat, (giantess) daughters are a bane to her. Worker drones, and she treats them as such.

Mrs. Corry is older than this Universe, can snap her fingers off and have them become sticks of candy, with new fingers growing right back. Her coat is covered with coins. When they purchase the gingerbread each of them, Nanny Poppins too, must press the coins into Mrs. Corry's coat for payment.

Nanny Poppins is not just buying the children gingerbread. There is an offering to Mrs. Corry the Entity. Interest is expressed by Mrs. Corry as to where the children save the gilt paper stars from the gingerbread? The children inform her of their hiding places for the saved stars.

Later that night they observe Mary stealing their boxes of stars and helping Mrs. Corry paste them in the night sky. Fannie and Annie bring and hold the ladders and the bucket of glue.

John and Barbara's Story: This is a beautiful chapter, about how the two babies (also not in the movie) can talk to sunlight and birds. At the end of the chapter, when the babies have "shifted" into this reality and lost their ability, as do all children, to understand the language of creation, Mary Poppins teases the starling. "Crying?" she asks the bird. Of course, not he tells her staunchly, he just has a wee cold.

Full Moon: Mary herself is so powerful and respected that her birthday party is at the zoo, hosted by all the animals, including the king of the beasts, an old serpent. Mary's mother is mentioned in this chapter again.

There are so many Goddesses that are associated with serpents and snake wisdom I do not even begin to try to list them.

Christmas Shopping: One of the Pleides, Maia, comes down to Herrods to go Christmas shopping for her six sisters. Even stern, proper Nanny Poppins is overcome with awe at meeting this delightful creature.

West Wind: She rode in on the East Wind, and she leaves on the West Wind. She is perfectly balanced with nature and knows when it is time to leave. Or perhaps it is her restless witch spirit that cannot stay in one place for too long?

The characters are very different from the movie. And don't always translate well in America. Nanny Poppins seems very dark without an understanding of British culture and society.

For instance, when Mary Poppins tells Mr. Banks that she makes it a rule never to give references, it is really the relationship between servant and employer that is at play. "I make it a point never to give references," she informs Mr. Banks. "It's quite out-of-date."

In the next chapter Nanny Poppins is very insistent with Mrs. Banks about her time off. "The best people, ma'am... give every second Thursday, and one til six." And Mrs. Banks relents, wishing that Nanny Poppins "did not know so much about the best people." In British society, servants often do know more about the "best people" and are often more proper and bigger sticklers for the rules and traditions of the upper classes than their employers.

Nanny Poppins stoic nature and insistence on what is proper is also in keeping with her place in British society. It would not do for a Nanny to become to attached to her charges, or encourage them in any way except in developing an unsentimental and courageous nature themselves.

School teachers, like Nannies, had to be unmarried, very proper women. In VILLAGE SCHOOL by 'Miss Read', memoirs and stories of an English country village, one of the other teachers, Miss Clare, is leaving after many, many years of service. She is honoured with a speech by the Vicar and presented with a gift.

Miss Read describes the scene:
"Miss Clare replied with composure, and I never admired her more than on this occasion. A reserved woman herself, I think that this was the first time that she realised how warmly we all felt towards her. She thanked us simply and quietly, and only the brightness of her eyes as she looked at the happy children told of the tears that could so easily have come to a less courageous woman."

The first Mary Poppins book is great, and well worth reading. I am planning to read the whole series. Modern witches have a lot to learn from Nanny Poppins.

EDIT: I didn't read Wiki's article before I wrote this. Her name, for one thing: merry pop-in's. And it led me to thinking about how all Nanny's are magickal to children. For one thing, they know people in the lower classes, other servants-- perhaps even chimney sweeps and match-men. Again, nannies were not really an American phenomenon.

I was also thinking about Mary's vanity. This, too, must seem out of place in our world. Mary wasn't so much vain as proud. She took great pride in her appearance and in holding herself up as an example. Her perfect white kid gloves, her new brown shoes. Mary could always be assured of herself, regardless of floating tea-parties and conversing with cows and stars. But this might also be another nod to her profession. Nannies were not respectable if they were unkempt or untidy, no matter how spotless they kept their charges. Also, Nannies were employed women. And employed caring for children above their own class. If you wanted a Nanny, you'd best be prepared to marry her and keep her in comfort. She didn't need a man. Not with that smart new pink rose hat on.


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