Chapter 6: For Thy More Sweet Understanding
Janie wakes up from a dream that told her something’s coming today. Livy,
her make-believe playmate, visits her. Her first menstrual period happens
at school. Being a modern child, Janie knows all about menstruation, but
she’s embarrassed by the teachers and the teasing of her friends and has
no idea why it’s called a curse. After she goes to her mother for comfort
and information, the circle holds a menarche ritual for her and makes her
The chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s
Love’s Labour’s Lost (I, i, 263). It refers most directly to
Janie’s catechism, when she shows that she understands quite a lot about
the Goddess religion.
Janie is still a little girl in this chapter. She will become a preteen
and start driving her mother crazy in later chapters. She is a natural
psychic and a smart kid.
“Something’s coming.” The song Tony sings at the beginning of Bernstein
West Side Story. Love is coming to Tony. Life is coming to Janie.
Menstruation is still seen as “the curse.” We may see pad and tampon ads
on TV nowadays, but all they ever hold is blue water. Actual blood remains
unmentionable. Janie’s friends at school are over-sophisticated and very
naïve at the same time.
God’s curse on Eve: Genesis 3:16 (Authorized Version).
Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception;
in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and they desire shall be to
thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.
Joe LaRocca is the owner of the Scarecrow Bookstore in Belmont Shore (the
famous shopping area in Long Beach), where Milly works part time. He will
play an important role in Milly’s story (chapter 12) and also appear in
chapters 16, 17, and 26. He’s another good man. The Scarecrow is of course
a reference to the character in
The Wizard of Oz.
I made it much easier for Janie to take the bus from Fountain Valley to
Belmont Shore than it is in real life. In real life, she’d have to transfer
two or three times. I know this from experience.
The catechism that the crones give Janie explains in “teen witch” terms
who the Goddess is and gives some basic thealogy. Janie’s braided cord
is not only her personal symbol but is also a metaphor for how the lives
of these women are braided together and how the stories in this novel are
braided together. The neatness of her cord contrasts with the chaotic tangles
of yarn owned by the Norns (see chapter 22).
Mikhail Gorbachev (b. 1931) was the last general secretary of the Communist
Party and the Soviet Union’s last head of state. In 1987, President Reagan
said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” and the Berlin Wall was demolished
in November, 1989. Change, indeed.
“Just as the twig is bent, the tree’s inclined” is a line from one of
Moral Essays The phrase has been turned into a cliché of child rearing.
Emma Clare’s paranoia about being outed as a witch (which Herta shares
to a slightly lesser degree) is also foreshadowed here. It’s true that
many modern witches still live “in the broomcloset” so they can keep their
jobs, get child support, etc. Emma Clare’s fear will be a major element
of later stories.
To cast the circle for the ritual, Herta uses “a willow withe as thick
as her thumb and as long as her arm from elbow to outstretched forefinger.”
This is the “traditional” witch’s wand. In the final paragraph of chapter
26, Milly will use the same wand to cast the final circle.
Think about the day you start menstruating. How did you feel, physically
and emotionally? What did you already know about it? Were you teased?
Did you have an invisible friend when you were young? Who was this person?
Is he or she still around?
What else besides long division, fleas, and brussels sprouts did the Goddess
Copyright © 2011 by Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. All rights reserved. Permission
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