The poet, the lover and the Rowan tree

Rowan Tree

The poet Katherine Raine fell in love with author Gavin Maxwell. Theirs was a stormy relationship, not helped by the fact that Maxwell was gay. Maxwell became famous after he travelled to Iraq with Wilfred Thesiger to explore the marshes (subsequently drained by Saddam Hussein). He wanted to bring an otter home with him. Thesiger found one, who Maxwell named Mijbil and he wrote about his experiences in the best selling book and film Ring of Bright Water, which is a line from one of Kathleen’s poems.

He has married me with a ring, a ring of bright water
Whose ripples spread from the heart of the sea,
He has married me with a ring of light, the glitter
Broadcast on the swift river.   The Marriage Of Psyche.

(no time)

Kathleen had a tempestuous love life and certainly fitted the picture of the passionate poet. We do not have her time of birth, but she had a stellium in Cancer, (North Node, Neptune, Mars, Mercury, Venus) , her feelings would be intense (Venus, Mars, Neptune) and powerfully expressed through words (Mercury).

In rose with petals soft as air
I bind for you the tides and fire —
the death that lives within the flower,
oh, gladly love, for you I bear. Envoi

Gavin, had a similarly romantic horoscope.

He had a stellium in Cancer in the 8th house, Sun, Mercury, Neptune conjunct and Pluto out of orb. Their synastry, her Venus conjunct his stellium would be a meeting of souls. Venus Neptune contacts are incredibly romantic but may also bring illusion, delusion and perhaps a little madness. Certainly, there would have been high emotions, drama and mood swings. There was a more sombre synastry, Kathleen’s Sun, Pluto conjunction in Gemini, (combustible, words of power) is conjunct his wide Saturn Chiron conjunction also in his 8th house. Notice the ruler of Maxwell’s 8th house is Mercury, words then, might be the death of him.

Kathleen and Maxwell (right) photographer unknown

In 1956 in a thunderstorm, they had a fierce argument and Gavin threw her out of his cottage Camusfearna in Sandaig bay on the wild west coast of Scotland. Outside stood a Rowan tree. Kathleen, beside the tree, called out a curse.

‘Let Gavin suffer in this place as I am suffering now.’

Rowan trees have long been associated with witchcraft, curses work when there is a strong bond between the curser and object of the curse, when there is high energy-love or hate, and when the elements, tree and storm, combine to raise power. Kathleen called upon the spirits to do her bidding in a fury or rage and pain.

Maxwell was convinced that Kathleen cursed him and was responsible for the years of ill fortune which followed (their fated Venus Neptune).

‘Whether or not your curse has been responsible for this terrible disaster I don’t know or should never know. If it was, I can only say God forgive you… Your Silver Stag [Raine’s description for Maxwell] has indeed fallen – as you willed – and possibly beyond recall. If you really believe in your own powers of destruction you must consider yourself to have been successful at least twice.’

Later, Maxwell wrote,

She had always believed that she possessed great and terrible occult powers, and in that moment of hatred, she had not doubted her ability to blight the years ahead of me

Remember, Kathleen had a Sun Pluto conjunction in Gemini- the devastating power of the word (Pluto, Gemini) which was conjunct Maxwell’s Saturn and Chiron in the 8th (Chiron, deep wounding, Saturn lord of Karma and fear). Maxwell was fond of women, he married once, and perhaps he promised them more than he was able to give. Certainly, his Moon, Lilith in Aries would have attracted him to feisty, unconventional women and perhaps he used them as his muse (5th house). But Moon, Lilith in Aries rages, as Kathleen did and will not forgive insults to their pride. Kathleen had an arrogant Jupiter in Leo opposing Maxwell’s Uranus in Aquarius. He sought freedom (Aquarius) while she needed to be worshipped (Leo). Subsequently, Katherine renounced romantic love and wrote of a lifelong regret for her curse,

Into the dark pool…

In the shade of the rowan tree

I have watched all day

On the stone until the sun was gone,

But the white foam

Has not washed the stain of blood

From my shroud.’*

We do not have the date of this curse, but in 1956 the slow moving planets Pluto and Uranus were transiting their charts. Pluto moved into Virgo conjunct Maxwell’s Venus at 0′ Virgo. Venus was the ruler of his 7th house of relationships, a Pluto transit would have ended their friendship dramatically and permanently. I see Pluto as female power struggles, prideful, wounded Kathleen could not get what she wanted and unleashed her rage and pain as a curse. That same year, Uranus was at 6′ Leo moving towards Maxwell’s Uranus half return and conjunct Kathleen’s proud Jupiter adding violence to her revenge. Chiron was moving to 11′ Aquarius to conjunct Maxwell’s Uranus and oppose her Jupiter. Their deep wounds (Chiron) ripped them apart (Uranus).

A curse always recoils on the person who utters it…such an invocation cannot be revoked by the mere recovery of temper. It has a life of its own; when a passion is so powerful as to stir those depths, we awaken forces beyond human control… Kathleen Raine: The Lion’s Mouth.

Desperate for a reconciliation, Kathleen unwisely showed Maxwell an unpublished manuscript of a private memoir, where she described the curse (Sun Pluto in Gemini, conjunct his Saturn Chiron). Magic works by agreement, knowing he had been cursed (and perhaps feeling he deserved to be) Maxwell held Kathleen responsible for a series of disasters in his life, his otter was killed, his house burnt down, he had a bad car crash and was diagnosed with terminal cancer and died in 1966 at age 55. His book and film, Ring of Bright Water (1960) brought him fame and wealth, but as always, this was a two edged sword, he did not bear success well. Maxwell quoted Kathleen’s poem in full beside his forward in the book, but buried her name and misattributed the title of the book it appeared in. Uranus can show violence, and a cutting off and cutting down. Pluto destroys. It is not commonly known that Kathleen was the author of the poem, this was Maxwell’s revenge. He later used the experience in his book Raven, seek thy Brother, where he blamed the curse of a woman poet for the decline of his Highland Paradise. Maxwell did not mention Kathleen by name, but it was clear he was referring to her curse by the Rowan tree.

Katherine never again wrote of love, only its loss and her regret.

she reviled herself as loveless and destructive of other lives; as a poet, she castigated herself for not writing more, or better – for neglecting her daimon, as she called her gift and source.**

My own spells: available here


** Janet Watts, The Guardian. 8.7.2003

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