The Devil Next Door

Locked memories have unlikely keys, and when I sat down to watch “Rosemary’s Baby” with my daughter I didn’t expect  to unlock my own forgotten tryst with the dark side.

Jungian lenses are a great way to experience life, one would think. Safe, comforting and  operating just below awareness. My concern is that having remembered this story I have no particular fear for the little boy who was me, just intrigue that he hasn’t grown up differently. His lenses, of course, were clear and sharp with the confidence of being four years old.

The story? Ah yes. My mother took me on regular visits to her grandmother. Great-granny lived in an old stone cottage at number 15. While I was there, I was foisted (yes, foisted) upon an audience of my great-granny, mother and maiden aunt to sing and dance. Now, I don’t do that sort of thing nowadays. But then I was confident, tuneful, dancey (if that is indeed a word). And four years old.

In between numbers 13 and 15 was a particularly eerie gargoyle, which according to my maiden aunt ‘definitely’ lived at number 13. This crypto-occult suggestion that Satan lived next door  was compounded by my mother’s iteration that ‘The Devil’ would take particular interest in any misdemeanours on our visit. I was four: I wasn’t there to trash the place or take drugs.

While Great-granny was moved downstairs for my precocious performance I was put into maiden aunt’s bedroom. To wait, sulk, be edgy. What do four year olds do? All I could do was wait for my curtain call.

When we went there on sunny mornings, the shadow of ‘the neighbourly gargoyle’ would pass across the bedroom wall. Bizarrely this troubles me only now, at the time I was concentrating on my performance merely irritated by the demonic presence.

DevilnextdoorOnce great-granny was safely ensconced in her chair, I was shouted down to belt out my limited repertoire. “In a shady nook, by a babbling brook” was guaranteed, and I MEAN guaranteed to induce fits of tears from them. I knew how to work an audience. In retrospect the tears may have indicated despair, horror, or even her own recollections of a very different childhood. Great -granny was born in 1870, so I expect she had no Freudian hang-ups or Jungian shadow since she was born before all that stuff started!

Being a Victorian household, I was sent to the garden immediately after the wailing had stopped. My wailing or theirs, no matter. Children visited the parlour fleetingly before ejection to a character-building session outdoors. Being set down in a Victorian’s garden at the age of four, Laurie Lee eat your heart out!

It was in this garden that I started having misgivings. The only other thing to keep me company, since my sisters hadn’t been born yet, was a giant tortoise of which I was mildly fearful. It was probably Great-granny’s childhood pet living a cloistered Victorian life, unaware that the swinging Sixties were about to kick off. Satan’s shadow hadn’t fazed me. But Great-granny’s button up boots had. They peeped from below her giant black velvet skirt.  Hey, wait a four-year-old minute: button up boots, garden reptile, Satan’s shadow. I had danced and sung for a button-booted witch, possibly in an ante-room to hell!

I howled. Big time. Cue mummy-rescue, sweet shop and home.

And Rosemary’s Baby? Well the film ends with Mia Farrow accepting her demonic baby, realising it’s need for nurture, and taking control of her situation. The film’s reawakening of my past images while watching with my own baby (Ok, she’s 22) was apposite in a number of ways:

Each week I’d gone back to number 15, so fear was never a factor then. My own mother had control over every situation when I was four, as it should be, and that it’s difficult to judge anything in the past due to the hard-etched, cataract-clouded lenses of one’s own psyche.

Perhaps most of all, the recollections and the circumstances of watching the film I became aware of my own individuation, as part of my  personal formation. A four year old apparently devoid of any Jungian persona, extroverted with free imagination. Visitations by definitive shadows and visits to a ‘wise old woman’ compound my Jung-inspired view as I enter my second adulthood.

Or  just maybe it’s about the importance of family over a lifetime. Problem is, it takes you all your life to find out!


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