How do you get ‘inside the skin’ of characters for an historical novel, so as to portray real life individuals with integrity?
With fictional figures, we writers have free rein to play god/dess, although ‘make-believe ones’ arrive in my life with minds of their own and ready-formed personalities that seem just as ‘real’ as their historical counterparts. But it’s the real-life characters, especially those for whom few if any records remain, that represent my challenge. With any person who lived and died, I want to avoid unnecessary distortions or flights of fancy, which may have nothing to do with them and everything to do with me. It’s a gift to an author, when known birth data exists, especially to one who has a passion for linking micro to macro patterns and is naturally drawn to cosmic studies.
The Power of Birth Data and Astrology
Apart from a period during the Commonwealth, dates of birth were not legally required in English parish records, and baptism records rarely perform the same precise task as birth data. If I remember one thing from my privileged days as research assistant to the wonderful Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure: http://www.campop.geog.cam.ac.uk
it is that age at baptism has varied widely across and within both time and geography. A child may have been a day, a month, a year or even many years old, before being taken to the font, as Roger Schofield and I discovered long ago in our analysis of 43 English parish registers.
I get excited whenever I can find a character’s hour of birth as well as the date and place. This was true for the 1st Viscount Purbeck in Nights of the Road. And my luck held with Purbeck’s ‘son that wasn’t’: Robert or Robin of the four surnames – Wright/ Howard/ Villiers and Danvers – as well as with Robin’s wife and his six children. Armed with an ephemeris of the seventeenth century, I can plot full astrological charts for the entire nuclear Danvers-Villiers unit.
Before unearthing her birth details, I’d developed a strong sense of Robin’s wife, Elizabeth Danvers. I considered the family she was born into:
I’d studied her will and countless lawsuits in which she figured as both plaintiff and defendant, and read of public occasions when her viewpoint varied substantially from that of her husband. A vigorous, confident and determined soul, our Elizabeth, as you perhaps might expect from the Ares daughter of a charming and extravagant lover of – and spender on – beauty, who also co-signed the death warrant for a King…
Robin and Elizabeth’s eldest daughter, Frances, was quite another matter. Was it her July-born Cancerian disposition that led her to avoid the public notice that her mother courted? It’s with hidden ones like Frances (granddaughter and namesake of the 17th century heiress in Nights of the Road), that a detailed birth chart can really help. Fortunately, her elder son left us one character reference in the form of a monument in West Dereham Abbey dedicated to his ‘prudent, provident and dearly loved mother.’
Prudent and provident eh? An interesting descriptor. And just look! Here are three random descriptions plucked from today’s quick Google search: “Thoughtful and prudent, the Cancer would never be hasty in his actions…” “Oh yeah, prudent Cancerian always has a backdoor escape route.” “Your Cancer partner, or friend is great at listening to your problems, and loves parenting and nurturing others. He or she is smart, prudent and diligent.”
See how astrology can help?!
Where complete birth data exists, I’ve also begun experimenting with Richard Rudd’s teachings and his remarkable work on Gene Keys, http://www.genekeys.com/gene-keys-book/
Richard writes: “This book is an invitation to begin a new journey in your life. Regardless of outer circumstances, every single human being has something beautiful hidden inside them. The sole purpose of the Gene Keys is to bring that beauty forth – to ignite the eternal spark of genius that sets you apart from everyone else.”
Richard is a poet, and you’ll get no down ‘n dirty definitions about what the Gene Keys are from him. He’d rather tell you a lyrical story, often long, circuitous and deeply wise. You’re going to have to explore his whole website at genekeys.com to get the full flavor for yourself. You may feel tempted, while there, to ask for your own free profile. But be warned. Once embarked on the Gene Keys journey, your life may never be quite the same again!
I experience the Gene Keys as powerful mystery teachings that map and synthesize rich and specific wisdom from many sources, culture and time periods, including mythology, astrology, the I Ching, chakras, DNA and genetics, Buddhism and especially the Jungian concept of shadow married with an ancient tradition of Siddhis from the Yoga Sutras.
Gene Keys for Character and Life Story Study
It is this marriage, in Richard’s Spectrum of Consciousness, that excites me as an aid to enriching historical character and life story. It enables me to take such historical facts as are known in the arc of a person’s mundane life journey and match them with less immediately obvious spiritual purposes associated with their incarnation.
Let’s focus on just one of young Frances Danvers-Villiers’ Gene Keys to try and bring alive what Gene Keys contemplation offers. For illustration, I’ve chosen one of the Gene Keys among her four Prime Gifts, with the caveat that my example here can only offer a tiny and partial glimpse of what is possible.
Taken together, our four Prime Gifts of Life’s Work, Evolution, Radiance and Purpose capture the essence of our inner and outer life. They are the cornerstones and central fabric of our journey in life.
The 53rd Gene Key
Frances’s Life’s Work is Gene Key 53. By knowing this, and applying Richard’s Spectrum of Consciousness, we learn that three key themes could have strongly patterned her story: Immaturity, Expansion and Superabundance.
If she lived life at the lowest frequency level Frances might have remained continually dogged by the shadow of Immaturity. She may however been able to develop her inherent gift of Expansion, which would have enabled her to ‘break through’ and transcend her shadow. If she continued to develop this gift to a high level of consciousness, she may even have attained the ‘Siddhi’ of Superabundance that, like all siddhic states, lies far beyond the confines of personal ego.
The 53rd Gene Key Shadow: Immaturity
What does all this suggest? It prompts me to return to the more conventional historical sources I have unearthed, and ask new questions. How far did Immaturity represent a challenge in Frances’s life? Did childishness, or even the mirror of other peoples’ immaturity, create stress for her? Did it inhibit and hold her back?
The repressive face of this 53rd shadow is Solemnity. Its reactive face is Fickleness. I have as yet discerned nothing fickle about Frances, but life certainly gave her reasons to be a solemn child. Interestingly, Frances’s mother also has the Gene Key 53 among her Prime Gifts, but Elizabeth has it in the position of Purpose. Our Life’s Work is about what we are here to manifest externally; our Purpose remains largely unconscious in us and reveals itself only slowly in life, and usually only if we are willing to engage in the kind of patient inner work that gives us a core stability.
For a number of reasons, I suspect Elizabeth spent few hours in healthy self-reflection, but there are some signs that the world, and perhaps especially her eldest daughter, experienced her as fickle. I doubt she even developed awareness of this trait in herself. Elizabeth’s greatest gift to her daughter may have been that she provided a constant early mirror of Frances’s own shadow, albeit with another face, which may have pressured the child to grow beyond a female family tendency toward immaturity.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with either of the Gene Key 53 shadow faces of immaturity, or indeed with any shadow energy, unless we become blocked by the fear that can fuel it. Simply put, if someone with Gene Key 53 strongly aspected in their profile refuses to accept the responsibility of maturing beyond any childlike solemnity or fickleness, they will permanently inhabit the shadows and their life’s potential will remain unrealized.
I’m a Cancerian. I’ve known at first hand a profound yearning to stay a child forever. My strong sense from my research is that Frances knew this too. Richard Rudd writes of Immaturity: “it is an aspect of the whole that does not yet realize that it is the whole”. By staying withdrawn in her Cancerian shell, hugging a sense of separateness and isolation to herself as a victim, Frances could have refused to accept her responsibilities to go out and meet life as a mature adult and thence become a fully functioning member of society.
The 53rd Gene Key Gift: Expansion
The key to maturity for Frances lay in developing and mobilizing her inherent gift of Expansion. Did she actually embrace her 53rd Gift? I may be projecting too much of my own story into her yet my gut tells me that, while Frances may indeed have longed to remain in that Cancerian child’s make-believe shell, she was not offered that option. At or even before birth, she chose a family and a life path that challenged her to expand and grow.
Her father was frequently absent and when present he must often have been profoundly frustrated and unhappy. A child as sensitive and motherly as Frances surely would have matured quickly into offering him a sympathetic ear that may have well been absent in his wife. Frances also had that fickle mother who provided a mirror, however uncomfortable, for personal growth. And she married a man who took her across uncertain seas to an island where she must have been exposed to a whole new colonial world of piracy and slavery. Once there, her husband would die prematurely, leaving a wasted estate and a widow with three young children to bring up alone.
Since she never remarried, Frances surely had little choice but to expand beyond any early immaturity, if only to protect and guide her children to adulthood. Prudence and providence she must have needed to develop aplenty.
The 53rd Gene Key Siddhi: Superabundance
Did Frances go the whole nine yards in her Life’s Work and spiritual development? Did she ultimately embrace that highest 53 Gene Key frequency level of Superabundance, that would have allowed her to “be swept aside by life, letting go of all definitions of who she was and where she thought she was going.” Did she surrender in a way that enabled her to “feel continually replenished and expanded”?
I don’t know. She certainly enjoyed a remarkable turn of external fortune in later life. Perhaps she did see occasional glimpses or even latterly reveled in the Siddhi of Superabundance. Maybe, once back in West Dereham, she did “find life to be much simpler” and “activate the frequencies of real prosperity”? I have no answers yet on all this. Yet now, thanks to that detailed birth data, to Gene Key 53, and to many other potential insights from other elements of her Gene Keys profile, I have some directed and focused questions to ask of Frances, when and if she decides to appear in my day- or night-time dreams.
I can also ask her grandmother for an opinion, if Frances Coke, Viscountess Purbeck, ever comes visiting again!