An occult analysis and appreciation of a short story by Charles Dickens
Guest article by John Temple
This is not an article about extraterrestrials. Nor does it have anything to do with the irritating modern fads of 'ascension', 'indigo children', 'star seeds', and similar fictions. It is something completely different; an occult analysis and appreciation of a short story by Charles Dickens. Yes, I know it says that below the title. However, in my not inconsiderable experience few people read subtitles and fewer still are capable of deducing their relevance to the subject alluded to. So as I say, this is something completely different and thoroughly wholesome. Something much more nourishing for body, mind and soul than the saccharine fantasies concocted by New Age ninnyhammers. I make no apology for pinching this word from one of Flitterflop and Bombast's investigations. A 'ninnyhammer', for those of you unfamiliar with this delightful noun, is a person who lacks good sense or judgement. These are qualities invariably absent in those who subscribe to the kind of fatuous fantasies just mentioned. However, in the unlikely event that any of them are still with me in the mistaken belief that I have something of interest to say to them; it gives me enormous satisfaction to disabuse them of the notion. This is an article about a short story by Charles Dickens not 'crystal' or 'rainbow' kiddies. Yes, I know I've said that already, but some things are worth repeating for the hard of thinking.
Now I've mentioned it I'd like to add that the whole 'star child' fantasy can be dispersed like the noxious pipe dream it is by the simple substitution of the word 'gifted' for the nescient neologisms favoured by New Age ninnyhammers. There, I've used ninnyhammer four times already and have barely got into my stride! Highly gifted children, with or without so-called 'supernatural' abilities, have always existed. The seven-year-old Mozart only had to hear a complex piece of music once to be able to repeat it note for note without a single error. Many years ago a West Indian lad whose name I've forgotten was featured in a TV documentary about gifted children. He was taken to see various famous landmarks in London, such as the Houses of Parliament, Tower Bridge and St Paul's, in rapid succession. On his return to the studio he was given paper and pencils and asked to reproduce what he had seen. He did so in just a few minutes with barely a pause for breath and without missing a single detail of the buildings he had been shown. This was long before the terms 'star children', 'rainbow children' and 'star seeds' were even thought of and the asinine concept of 'ascension' still languished in the addled bonce of some New Age ninnyhammer. In short, great talent, in whatever way it may manifest, is firstly the gift of God and secondly the fruit of many lifetimes practise.
You may well be asking why I chose a title liable to attract ninnyhammers if it has nothing to do with the New Age nonsense they believe in? Because, dear reader, we were all ninnyhammers once and there is always the chance, however remote, of waking one up. But I have another reason for choosing this title. And that is that we are ALL star children, but not in the sense New Age ninnyhammers imagine. Neither the Higher Self nor the Divine Soul, of which it is the incarnate half, ever emerged from or dwelt upon any star. I know of no genuine occultist who has ever taught this childish fiction. As Occult Mysteries explain in their article on Evolution, Man is a god in the making whose true destiny is to rise up from the lowest sphere, or plane — this earth — to the highest realms of Light, and eventually return to the Divine Source from which he first emerged, enriched with the wisdom of experience garnered below. A sphere is not a material star, much less a physical planet, though it may seem so to the ninnyhammers who subscribe to this New Age nonsense. There, I've now used ninnyhammer seven times. I must write and tell Bombast; he will be apoplectic with envy! But I digress. As I said, we are all star children, or rather children of the stars, for the stars are emissaries of God; his ministers if you like, whose separate qualities plant their impress on the very fibre and marrow of our being. How we respond to their influence is another matter and forms no part of my present purpose. In any case, I am not an astrologer, but an occultist. And occultism teaches us that the well-known Biblical sentence "let there be Light" esoterically rendered means: 'Let there be the Sons of Light.' So called because they emanate from, and are self-generated in that infinite Ocean of Light, whose upper pole is pure Spirit and the lower pole the Matter in which we are immersed here on earth. It is these Sons of Light, the Mind-born Sons of the Unknown Deity, who furnished Man with his Spiritual being and hence are also called Stars. Even the 20th century 'bad boy' of occultism, justly infamous for his unbridled hedonism as much as his selfishness, Aleister Crowley, said that "every man and every woman is a star." Actually, I think he stole that from Bulwer Lytton, as he stole much else. But it is true nonetheless.
Whether Crowley knew the full significance of the saying attributed to him is debatable. H. P. Blavatsky certainly did, and said that the Spiritual essence of Man was derived from the Seven Sons of Light, represented esoterically by the seven pole stars. Whilst it is highly doubtful that Charles Dickens knew this occult truth, there are hints throughout his short story that he regarded the stars as something more than mere balls of incandescent gas. Occult Science calls stars 'mirrors of pure Fire'; points in Space where the One Life emerges from the unknown and unknowable and is made manifest. Moreover, Fire, as we may read in that compendium of the Ancient Wisdom, The Secret Doctrine "is the most perfect and unadulterated reflection, in Heaven as on earth, of the One Flame. It is Life and Death, the origin and the end of every material and spiritual thing. It is divine 'Substance." So the star, viewed esoterically plays a very important part in Dickens' short story. I like to think of this article as a humble Christmas present to my good friends at Occult Mysteries for publishing my scribbles over the years. It is no less a 'thank you' to those readers who have said so many kind things about my contributions. I'm not entirely sure they'll still feel the same after reading this proem. For those who don't know this word it means a preface, prelude or preamble; the preliminary observations prefixed to a book or writing. In my case it's more of a full on ramble than a preamble, but I'll come to the reasons for that later. Meanwhile, think of a proem as just a posh word for 'introduction', which is all it is really.
Before I delve into Dickens' heart-warming tale, the pedantic lexicologists among my fans (I know who you are!) might like to know more about the etymology of ninnyhammer which I have now used nine times or ten, possibly, the better to augment their vocabulary with this most excellent of epithets. The noun 'ninny' dates from the sixteenth century, meaning simpleton or fool. Hammer comes to us from the Proto-Germanic hamaraz via Middle Dutch hamer and German hammer. This is where it gets interesting, or terminally boring, depending on your point of view. The Old Norse cognate hamarr meant 'stone'. One lexicographer has suggested this originally referred to — and I quote — "a tool with a stone head." This will convey little to my transatlantic readers but much to those familiar with contemporary British slang who will recognise 'tool' as a synonym for 'dickhead'. Hence, I tentatively offer the new definition that a ninnyhammer is "a foolish, thick-skulled dickhead." This is not something one can say about Charles Dickens, though you may be forgiven for applying it to me when we reach the end of this proem. Still, I have a cast-iron excuse for the meandering nature of this rambling discourse: I reached the ripe old age of ninety-three in August this year. One of the very few benefits of being a nonagenarian is that one can blame rudeness, selective hearing, lapses of memory, inattentiveness, and any number of other mental afflictions, eccentricities and tomfoolery (real or feigned) on old age, in the certain knowledge one will not only be forgiven but warmly congratulated for bearing up under such debilitating vicissitudes. Now, where was I? Ah, yes, telling you about a story by Charles Dickens. It's not a very well-known story and it's not about Christmas. It's not set during Christmas either. In fact it has nothing whatsoever to do with Christmas other than the fact that I submitted it to Occult Mysteries near Christmas and they were kind enough to accept it for publication as their annual Christmas 'treat'. Unkind souls may very well take the uncharitable view that they only took it because they had nothing better to fill the space. I couldn't possibly comment.
Regular readers may recall that three years ago I contributed another article about a short story by Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol. In it I showed that Dickens was well acquainted with occultism and that the inclusion of many occult themes in his popular ghost story was no accident. The same is true of the story I have chosen to analyse this year. Whereas the message of A Christmas Carol is Charity, the message of this story is Faith, though Hope, which makes up this holy trinity of virtues in Christian theology, is present in both stories too. Faith without Hope is inconceivable whilst Charity bereft of Faith and Hope is nothing more than virtue-signalling. In short, none of these three virtues is complete without the active presence of the other two. All three find their natural synthesis in the greatest virtue of all — Love. Faith without love is mere optimism, as the authors of Occult Mysteries explain in their article on this crowning virtue. Hope without love is wishful thinking. This is the kind of unrealistic expectation exemplified in another of Charles Dickens' stories in the person of Wilkins Micawber, who continually hoped that "something will turn up." When it did it invariably appeared in the shape of an unwelcome bailiff intent on seizing his property! Though the Three Graces, as they are sometimes called, are considered exclusively Christian virtues, we find them in all religious at all times and in all places. Charity is one of the central tenets of Islam and Judaism. Gautama Buddha taught that true charity occurs only when there are no notions of giving, giver, or gift, a sentiment of such profundity as to leave the average Christian theologian gaping like a fish out of water. In Hinduism, charity is one of the greatest virtues, while Confucius said "Charity, like the sun, brightens every object on which it shines." Are not Faith and Hope the basis of all religions? I could go on citing many other examples of the importance placed upon the trinity of Faith, Hope and Charity long before these virtues were adopted by Christians.
The short story by Charles Dickens you are about to read is A Child's Dream of a Star. You see what a little faith and hope can do? At last we have arrived at the beginning. I can only hope you are charitable enough to forgive the length of time it has taken to get here and have faith it will be worth the journey. The story is about a little boy who loses his sister, only to find her, and all his other loved ones again in a realm more appropriate to such kinship. Superficially it is about death and grieving, but as we shall see when I come to analyse it in my afterword, this simplistic, and dare I say rather depressing view, is not one I share, nor I am tolerably certain did Charles Dickens. He was far too wise to view death in that light. He knew as well as I do that there's no such thing as death, only change. The story, as many such singular tales are wont to do, came to him on an impulse, all of a sudden. Writing to his good friend and biographer, John Forster on 16 March 1850 Dickens confided that he had felt, when reviewing the proposed contents for the forthcoming issue of Household Words — the weekly journal he edited — "an uneasy sense of there being a want of something tender which would apply to some universal household knowledge." He went on to add "looking at the stars during a journey on the railway ('always a wonderfully suggestive place to me when I am alone'), he found himself 'revolving a little idea about them' and, putting the two things together, wrote this piece 'straightway'." The story was given pride of place in the new number of Household Words and published less than a month later on 6 April 1850. It later appeared in book form and was introduced to American readers as late as 1871.
In connection with this John Forster notes that Dickens told him he and his much-loved sister Fanny "used to wander at night about a churchyard near their house in Chatham looking up at the stars, and that Fanny's early death in the summer of 1848 had vividly reawakened all the childish association which made her memory dear to him." As we shall see in a moment, there are parallels of this childhood companionship with Fanny in the opening paragraph of A Child's Dream of a Star. Some modern scholars have suggested that the sudden death of his sister-in-law Mary Hogarth at the tender age of seventeen in 1837 influenced the composition of the story. This is more than likely, even probable, as Mary lived with Dickens and his wife Catherine for over a year before her passing. She later became the inspiration for a number of characters in his novels, such as Rose Maylie in Oliver Twist and Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop. But in my view it is his sister Fanny and not Mary who was the greater inspiration for the story. Moreover, Fanny, as we learned earlier, died only two years before it was written whereas Mary Hogarth had died 13 years earlier. Some critics have speculated that it was the deep spiritual bond Dickens shared with Fanny rather than the more carnal and somewhat obsessive affection he felt for Mary which makes this story so very special. I agree and I hope you will too when you've read it.
A Child's Dream of a Star
By Charles Dickens
There was once a child, and he strolled about a good deal, and thought of a number of things. He had a sister, who was a child too, and his constant companion. These two used to wonder all day long. They wondered at the beauty of the flowers; they wondered at the height and blueness of the sky; they wondered at the depth of the bright water; they wondered at the goodness and the power of God, who made the lovely world.
They used to say to one another, sometimes, Supposing all the children upon earth were to die, would the flowers and the water and the sky be sorry? They believed they would be sorry. For, said they, the buds are the children of the flowers, and the little playful streams that gambol down the hillsides are the children of the water; and the smallest bright specks playing at hide-and-seek in the sky all night must surely be the children of the stars; and they would all be grieved to see their playmates, the children of men, no more.
There was one clear shining star that used to come out in the sky before the rest, near the church-spire, above the graves. It was larger and more beautiful, they thought, than all the others, and every night they watched for it, standing hand in hand at a window. Whoever saw it first cried out, "I see the star!" And often they cried out both together, knowing so well when it would rise and where. So they grew to be such friends with it, that, before lying down in their beds, they always looked out once again, to bid it good night; and when they were turning round to sleep, they used to say, "God bless the star!"
But while she was still very young, O, very, very young, the sister drooped, and came to be so weak that she could no longer stand in the window at night; and then the child looked sadly out by himself, and when he saw the star, turned round and said to the patient pale face on the bed, "I see the star!" And then a smile would come upon the face, and a little weak voice used to say, "God bless my brother and the star!"
And so the time came, all too soon! when the child looked out alone, and when there was no face on the bed; and when there was a little grave among the graves, not there before; and when the star made long rays down towards him, as he saw it through his tears.
Now, these rays were so bright, and they seemed to make such a shining way from earth to heaven, that when the child went to his solitary bed, he dreamed about the star; and dreamed that, lying where he was, he saw a train of people taken up that sparkling road by angels. And the star, opening, showed him a great world of light, where many more such angels waited to receive them.
All these angels, who were waiting, turned their beaming eyes upon the people who were carried up into the star; and some came out from the long rows in which they stood, and fell upon the people's necks, and kissed them tenderly, and went away with them down avenues of light, and were so happy in their company, that, lying in his bed, he wept for joy.
But there were many angels who did not go with them, and among them one he knew. The patient face that once had lain upon the bed was glorified and radiant, but his heart found out his sister among all the host.
His sister's angel lingered near the entrance of the star, and said to the leader among those who had brought the people thither, "Is my brother come?"
And he said, "No."
She was turning hopefully away, when the child stretched out his arms, and cried, "O sister, I am here! Take me!" And then she turned her beaming eyes upon him, and it was night; and the star was shining into the room, making long rays down towards him as he saw it through his tears.
From that hour forth, the child looked out upon the star as on the home he was to go to, when his time should come; and he thought that he did not belong to the earth alone, but to the star too, because of his sister's angel gone before.
There was a baby born to be a brother to the child; and while he was so little that he never yet had spoken word, he stretched his tiny form out on his bed, and died.
Again the child dreamed of the opened star, and of the company of angels, and the train of people, and the rows of angels with their beaming eyes all turned upon those people's faces.
Said his sister's angel to the leader, "Is my brother come?"
And he said, "Not that one, but another."
As the child beheld his brother's angel in her arms, he cried, "O sister, I am here! Take me!" And she turned and smiled upon him, and the star was shining.
He grew to be a young man, and was busy at his books when an old servant came to him and said, "Thy mother is no more. I bring her blessing on her darling son!"
Again at night he saw the star, and all that former company. Said his sister's angel to the leader, "Is my brother come?"
And he said, "Thy mother!"
A mighty cry of joy went forth through all the star, because the mother was reunited to her two children. And he stretched out his arms and cried, "O mother, sister, and brother, I am here! Take me!"
And they answered him, "Not yet." And the star was shining.
He grew to be a man, whose hair was turning gray; and he was sitting in his chair by the fireside, heavy with grief, and with his face bedewed with tears, when the star opened once again.
Said his sister's angel to the leader, "Is my brother come?"
And he said, "Nay, but his maiden daughter."
And the man who had been the child saw his daughter, newly lost to him, a celestial creature among those three, and he said, "My daughter's head is on my sister's bosom, and her arm is round my mother's neck, and at her feet there is the baby of old time, and I can bear the parting from her, God be praised!"
And the star was shining.
Thus the child came to be an old man, and his once smooth face was wrinkled, and his steps were slow and feeble, and his back was bent. And one night as he lay upon his bed, his children standing round, he cried, as he had cried so long ago, "I see the star!"
They whispered one another, "He is dying."
And he said, "I am. My age is falling from me like a garment, and I move towards the star as a child. And O my Father, now I thank thee that it has so often opened to receive those dear ones who await me!"
And the star was shining; and it shines upon his grave.
© Copyright John Temple & occult-mysteries.org. Article published 4 December 2022.