Saturday, October 30, 2004
Superhuman strength, which is prominent in the Hercules myth, is a common heroic attribute. Joseph L. Henderson (1) notes that across many unrelated cultures, hero stories include “early proof of superhuman strength.”
On the other hand, Perseus, writes Natalie Baan (2) did not rely on physical strength, for his “main weapons were stealth, fleetness, and, above all, intelligence, both in the sense of an alert, active mind and of information gathered before undertaking a mission.”
In "Star Wars," a modern-saga inspired by Joseph Campbell’s monomyth (3) structure, we learn that Luke Skywalker is an excellent pilot long before he consciously understands “the force” (supernatural aid). While Luke certainly couldn’t use physical strength to pin Chewbacca in a wrestling match, he—like Perseus—is intelligent and an excellent warrior.
Superman, who came on the scene in "Action Comics #1" in 1938, is often considered the prototype of popular, modern-day superheroes. In addition to superhuman strength, he has the attributes of flight, invulnerability, speed, breath, hearing and vision.
The work of the mythic hero requires not only supernatural aid and wise counsel, but also mental and physical abilities that appear to exceed those of everyday men and women.
(1) What above-average talents does Robert Adams, in The Sun Singer, possess that lend themselves to his mission?
(2) Most individuals whom we call heroes do not have the multiple talents of Superman or the overt assistance of gods and avatars. Considering the symbolic nature of mythic stories, how then, do we equate their deeds with the mythic hero on a quest of destiny?
(1) Henderson, Joseph L., “Ancient Myths and Modern Man,” in Jung, Carl (ed.), Man and His Symbols, New York, Doubleday & Company, 1964.
(2) Baan, Natalie, “The Woman in Chains, “ Parabola, Fall, 2004.
(3) As Joseph Campbell wrote in The Hero With a Thousand Faces: “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from the mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
Wednesday, October 27, 2004
When we view myths as stories illustrating the trials and tribulations of humankind, the stages of life, the activities associated with the seasons, the rise and fall of civilizations, the rites (1) of various cultures, and the psychology (2) of the individual, it’s clear that the gods, goddesses, and other supernatural helpers who assist the hero on the path are intended to be representations or personifications of help (or helpful events) rather than actual entities. The use of helpers:
- Adds drama and excitement to the story
- Collapses time by providing the hero with instant assistance prior to a journey
- Implies that destiny and/or the gods are part of a larger-than-life event.
As the following version of the old joke implies, modern-day individuals, including seekers and heroes on the path, expect most help to arrive via fortuitous circumstances rather than by the overt intervention of the deity:
After a man took refuge on the roof of his house from the rising floodwaters, he saw that it was only a matter of time before the house would be completely under water and prayed to the Lord with great faith for assistance.
A raft floated by and the people on it told the man to climb down from the roof and they would take him to safety. He said, “No, the Lord will save me.”
As the waters rose higher, a rowboat appeared, and the men in it said, “Get in before it’s too late, we can help you.” “No,” said the man, “I have faith in the Lord and know He will save me.”
Just as the floodwaters were almost to the top of the roof, a rescue helicopter hovered overhead and started to lower a rope ladder, but the man waved it away, saying, “I have faith in the Lord and He will answer my prayers.”
Eventually, the man drowned. When he reached heaven, he said, “Lord, I had faith in you, but when I prayed for help, you did nothing to save me.”
And God replied, “I sent a raft, a rowboat and a helicopter, what more did you expect?”
Unlike the heroes of classic mythology, we do not expect a winged horse, a magic carpet or a heavenly ship to come to our aid when danger threatens. With much greater eloquence than the old joke, Conversations With God (3) sums up a more a more likely response to our prayers, with God saying:
“Ask Me anything. Anything. I will contrive to bring you the answer. The whole universe will I use to do this. So be on the lookout. This book is far from My only tool. You may ask a question, then put this book down. But watch. Listen. The words to the next song you hear. The information in the next article you read. The story line of the next movie you watch. The chance utterance of the next person you meet. Or the whisper of the next river, the next ocean, the next breeze that caresses you ear—all of these devices are Mine; all these avenues are open to Me. I will speak to you if you will listen. I will come to you if you will invite Me. I will show you then that I have always been there. All ways.”
We are often advised to attune ourselves to, or become one with, the universe. To the extent that one watches and listens, s/he will find beneficial—perhaps highly improbable—coincidences occurring that provide the right help from the right person at the right time. In the classic myth, we throw in drama and call these coincidences a witch or a sage or a god or a goddess. Without disparaging the miracles any one of us may experience, in today’s terminology we often refer to such coincidences as synchronicity. (3)
Synchronicity, among other things, refers to meaningful coincidences, events that are connected without a causal relationship, that serve our needs when we are seeking help, working toward a goal, or simply going tasks of a normal day. Deepak Chopra (5) says that coincidences show us “the will of the universe.”
Some years ago when marbles was a commonly played game, when somebody dropped a marble in the grass and couldn’t find it, it was fairly typical for them to pitch another marble out into the yard, saying something like, “one marble find another.” More often than not, the lost marble would be found while the individual was walking out to retrieve the marble tossed out “in search of it.” Others note the appearance of animals or the directions birds fly or the “chance” phone call of a friend to guide them. Does the Creator directly guide the marble? Does the animal or the bird know you are attaching special significance to its movements? Does the friend hear an angel telling them to call you? Some say “yes.” Others say your attunement with the universe and openness to signs brings you (or causes you to notice) these events when you need them. Chopra views it this way:
“What is the meaning of a coincidence? The deeper part of you already knows, but the awareness has to be brought to the surface. The meaning does not come from the coincidence itself. It comes from you, the person who is having the experience. In fact, without our participation any incident is essentially meaningless, the whole universe is meaningless. We are the ones who give meaning to events, and we give meaning to events through intention. Coincidences are messages from the nonlocal realm guiding us in ways to act in order to make our dreams, our intentions manifest.”
The mythic hero states his intention to embark on a quest by answering the call. Once that call is answered, magical helpers appear with the guidance s/he requires. These magical helpers make for an exciting story, one that inspires us, one that illustrates the route, one that shows us what is possible when we listen to the universe and find its answers in the events of the day.
(1) While we would probably not believe anyone in 2004 claiming to have been helped by a magician or a god, why is it that we expect such personages to appear in our mythology?
(2) Could Robert Adams in The Sun Singer have figured out how to proceed on his quest without magical helpers? If so, would it have taken so long he might have given up or decided the mission was clearly impossible?
(1) See, for example: Lord Raglan, The Hero - A Study in Tradition, Myth, and Drama, New York, Dover Publications, 2003. The original material was printed in 1936 and reprinted in 1956.
(2) See, for example: Rank, Otto, “The Myth of the Bird of the Hero,” In Quest of the Hero, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1990. The original material first appeared in English in 1959.
(3) Walsh, Neale Donald, Conversations With God – Book 1, New York, C. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1996.
(4) Jung, Carl, “On Synchronicity,” in Campbell, Joseph (ed), The Portable Jung, New York, The Viking Press, 1971.
(5) The Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire
Sunday, October 24, 2004
When a hero like Perseus in classic mythology responds voluntarily or involuntarily to the call to begin a quest, he typically encounters gods, witches, magical animals, and other helpers who provide vital information or protection against the dangers that lie ahead. As Joseph Campbell (1) notes:
“Having responded to his own call, and continuing to follow courageously as the consequences unfold, the hero finds all the forces of the unconscious at his side. Mother Nature herself supports the mighty task. And in so far as the hero’s act coincides with that for which his society itself is ready, he seems to ride on the great rhythm of historical progress.”
Speaking of the seeker after truth as a Warrior of the Light, Paulo Coelho (2) writes that once the warrior begins walking along his path:
“Each stone, each bend cries welcome to him. He identifies with the mountains and the streams, he sees something of his own soul in the plants and the animals and the birds of the field. Then, accepting the help of God and of God’s Signs, he allows his personal legend to guide him toward the tasks that life has reserved for him.”
While myths provide magical or supernatural entities who assist the hero as he journeys toward the looming threshold of adventure, contemporary writers (3) looking at today’s heroes and seekers, are more likely to view providential help as proactive synchronicity, attunement with the universe, or as the hero’s uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time.
DISCUSSION QUESTION: Once Robert Adams in The Sun Singer responds to the call to travel to Pyrrha to complete his Grandfather’s mission, what helpers and/or helpful “coincidences” provide aid before he steps through the portal in the cabin?
(1) The Hero With a Thousand Faces.
(2) Coelho, Paulo, Warrior of the Light – A Manual, New York, Perennial – HarperCollins, 2003.
(3) See, for example, Chopra, Deepak, The Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire – Harnessing the Infinite Power of Coincidence, New York, Harmony Books, 2003.
Thursday, October 21, 2004
This issue focuses on the seeker, a close cousin to the hero, in a series of articles that help explain the primary theme of The Sun Singer--the inner journey. Related articles include:
- The Devil in the Way, Emptiness as a path, by Stephen Batchelor
- First Question, What lies behind our mask? by Ravi Ravindra
- The Gift of the Call, From duality to unity, by Christopher Bamford
- A Terrible Longing in the Heart, An interview with Shri Parthasarathi Rajagopalachari, by Rama Devagupta
- The Rope Trick, A prose poem, by Anne Twitty
- Without Sleep, No Awakening, Essentials of the quest, by Henri Tracol
- The Paradox of Place: Thomas Merton's Photography, Insights and images of a modern seeker, by Paul M. Pearson
- Go "I Know Not Where": Tracking the Trackless, The impossible quest, by Madronna Holden
Henri Tracol, in Without Sleep, No Awakening, suggests that man (as in both men and women) is a born seeker no matter how much he may deny it or forget it. "No matter; this secret call is still alive, prompting him from within to try, and to try increasingly, to realize the significance of his presence here on earth," writes Tracol.
DISCUSSION QUESTION: Tracol says we can't help but search. Robert Adams in The Sun Singer saw destiny written upon his journey and pushed forward inspite of his fears. To what extent to all of us agree with Henri Tracol and identity with Robert Adams?
Wednesday, October 20, 2004
When a seeker responded to the call, he left his home and wandered the world in a state of near poverty searching for answers to the greatest questions of life. While on the path, the seeker would typically influence, by words and deeds, those whom he met along the way and might ultimately attract followers or students who would learn and then spread his widsom to others.
Sometimes traditional heroes have been accused of undertaking quests for the sake of vanity and personal fame or of single-mindedly focusing on one problem at the expense of others. Sometimes, seekers have been accused of ignoring the day-to-day troubles of those they encounter along the path while focusing on the Nirvana of the future.
Yet both hero and seeker—in their own ways—can have an enormous impact on the world around them while they are changing themselves. Many commentators have written that most of us, with school, jobs and families and other responsibilities, cannot spend our lives as either traditional knights in search of the Holy Grail or traditional seekers traveling the world in search of enlightenment; instead, we can apply the examples of both the hero and the seeker within the practicalities of the modern world.
Along this line, Joseph Campbell (1) wrote, “When we talk about settling the world's problems, we're barking up the wrong tree. The world is perfect. It's a mess. It's always been a mess. We are not going to change it. Our job is to straighten out our own lives.”
(1) Does Joseph Campbell’s comment imply that we should ignore the problems around us while improving ourselves?
(2) While Robert Adams, in The Sun Singer, leaves his home and ventures out into a faraway world of wonder, could he apply the principles of a knight on the quest or the seeker on the path to issues associated with school, clubs, jobs, and the challenges faced by his family and community?
(1) A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living
Friday, October 15, 2004
Psychiatrist Erik Erikson viewed an individual’s development as a series of stages, each with needs to be met for a naturally unfolding life. Success in each stage provides the strengths for the demands of the next while failure or refusal to master the challenges of any stage leads to long-term personal problems.
Likewise, if a mythic hero fails to successfully meet the challenges along the classic heropath, dynasties fall, cultures are destroyed, heroes die purposeless deaths, and prospective good fortune is lost for entire civilizations.
The prospective hero’s worst failure, though, is to turn his back on the mission altogether. Joseph Campbell (1) labels this failure a refusal of the call:
“Often in actual life, and not infrequently in the myths and popular tales, we encounter the dull case of the call unanswered; for it is always possible to turn the ear to other interests. Refusal of the summons converts the adventure into its negative. Walled in boredom, hard work, or ‘culture,’ the subject loses the power of significant affirmative action and becomes a victim to be saved. His flowering world becomes a wasteland of dry stones and his life feels meaningless.”
After the death of his grandfather in The Sun Singer, Robert Adams loses interest in his family’s summer vacation to the western mountains and in his personal journey into the land of Pyrrha. Had Robert continued to refuse the call, the impact of this decision would have had far-reaching consequences for others. And, the refusal would have impacted Robert as well; in addition to his probable feelings of guilt and failure, his life would not have embraced its highest potential for, as Robert Segal (2) reminds us, myths, as Joseph Campbell views them, “originate and function to fulfill not a blocked need but simply a yet unrealized one: the need to discover and nurture a latent side of one’s personality.”
When Robert ultimately heeded the summons to Pyrrha, he was—in terms of Erikson’s psychosocial theory—proactive responding to the challenges all of us must face between our 12th and 18th birthdays. These challenges focus our struggles with identity, morality, and social issues as we step away from the family unit and move out into society.
Yet, in terms of the heropath, Robert was beginning to listen to those who told him, “Look, your in Sleepy Land. Wake. Come on a trip. There’s a whole aspect of your consciousness, your being, that’s not been touched. So you’re at home here? Well, there’s not enough of you there.” (3)
(1) After Grandfather Elliott dies, why does Robert accuse the old man of lying about magic and dreams?
(2) Robert was willing to have psychic dreams again only if he could control them. Did he view his life and his mission the same way?
(1) The Hero With a Thousand Faces.
(2) In Quest of the Hero (Introduction)
(3) Campbell, Joseph, Reflections on the Art of Living – A Joseph Campbell Companion, Diane K. Osbon, editor, New York, HarperCollins, 1991.
Monday, October 11, 2004
“Harry is proud of that car,” said Robert.
“Sometimes Harry thinks he is that car,” Grandfather said. “He will have an enjoyable summer, but you—you will go farther than Harry and return much wiser.”
The quest draws us out of the everyday world and simultaneously leads us on a lengthy physical journey and a lengthy inner journey. Yet, while each quest is highly personal, the hero is also working in the service of others.
As Joseph Campbell (1) sees it, "a hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself."
While Robert's friend Harry is focused on a new car, Robert is slowly learning to focus on a vague, but urgent, faraway mission much larger than himself and on unknown people who are in need of help. Actions such as these, often taken at great risk to oneself, are classic components of the heropath.
As Robert Segal (2) writes, "for [Joseph] Campbell, the hero of a myth is heroic for two reasons. He does what no one else either will or can do, and he does it on behalf of everyone else as well as oneself."
Bhodi_Bliss, a frequent contributor at the Joseph Campbell Foundation wrote in this month's essay (3) that such heroism "includes not just the Jesus, Buddha, or Hercules in traditional myth, but also the popular conception of a hero--the Medal of Honor winners and 9/11 firefighters who sacrifice their lives to save individuals. The 'everyone else' on whose behalf the hero(ine) performs his/her deed might be another individual, or one's family, the local community, the nation, or all humanity."
DISCUSSION QUESTION: In what manner is one "called" to perform a heroic act whether it's a fireman/policeman/EMT entering the Twin Towers in New York on September 11, 2001, a soldier saving a wounded comrade in the chaos of battle, or any one of us diving into an raging river to save a drowing child?
(1) Campbell, Joseph Campbell and Moyers, Bill, "The Power of Myth," New York, Doubleday, 1988.
(2) Segal, Robert Allen, "Joseph Campbell: An Introduction," New York, Taylor & Francis, 1987.
(3)Bhodi_Bliss, "Heroes, One and All?" Joseph Campbell Foundation Web Site (www.jcf.org), October, 2004.
Saturday, October 09, 2004
In classic mythology, the call was frequently associated with an unexpected supernatural or unusual event. Joseph Campbell (1) writes of a fairytale in which the beautiful young daughter of a king drops her favorite toy, a golden ball, into a deep spring in a dark forest. When the ball sinks to the bottom of the spring, she is understandably distraught. A frog hears her crying and says he will retrieve her ball if she will promise to befriend and care for him. She consents and the frog plunges into the water, soon to return with her toy.
This disappearing ball, the appearance of the talking frog, and the daughter's promise are all a part of the call in this particular story. While a quest typically involves a physical mission into a dangerous land where great feats of bravery are expected, the call always signifies a spiritual passage--the death of an old way and the birth of a new.
It is not unusual for the person hearing the call to hold back at first, fearful to take the first step, for both the quest and the spiritual path represent a separation from the safe, everyday world that is known. While we are physically, emotionally, and spiritually ready to proceed, we may well experience a separation anxiety (similar to that of an 8-month-old infant when his or her mother leaves the room) as we contemplate leaving our familiar world and heading out into the unknown.
Yet the call does not come before we are ready to find important answers to important questions. As Denise Linn (2) reminds us, the quest "is an ancient rite of passage; it's a journey to the center of your soul...a powerful way to reclaim a sense of wonder and connection to the earth."
(1) In a technology-oriented, fact-based society where we do not expect talking frogs and the other supernatural beings of classic mythology to appear has heralds with invitation to begin an exciting quest, how might we experience the call?
(2) In The Sun Singer, how does protagonist Robert Adams experience the call to begin his quest into a hidden world within the western mountains?
(1) Campbell, Joseph, "The Hero With a Thousand Faces," Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1968. (This classic reference is also available in more recent editions.)
(2) Linn, Denise, "Quest - A Guide for Creating Your Own Visiton Quest," New York, Ballatine Books, 1997.
Thursday, October 07, 2004
Peter Dawkins (2) uses a cave, or grotto, to symbolize the circumstances of our everyday life before the beginning the quest. The quest begins from this "birthplace" where, though we are nourished, we are in a state of darkness. "In the initiations of the past," writes Dawkins, "the candidate was first of all actually put into a cave or grotto beneath the ground, and there he searched his own heart for what he wanted to do, the quest for light."
DISCUSSION QUESTION: Since Robert Adams has already experienced the world outside the cave, why is he afraid to experience that life again?
The Sun Singer is based on the premise that it is in our nature to search for an exit to the cave and experience a rebirth into a new existence no matter how safe and familiar the confines of our dark world may be. Denise Linn (3) writes:
DISCUSSION QUESTION: While our spiritual journey draws us out of the cave and out onto a quest, we are simultaneously told that we must look within to discover the light. How do we resolve this apparent paradox? Was Robert Adams able to resolve it?
(1) The fictional statue in the novel is based on the bronze Sun Singer statue created by sculptor Carle Milles and delivered to Robert Allerton Park, Monticello, Illinois, in 1931. The statue stands alone on a pedastle facing east into the sun in a 140-acre meadow.
(2) Dawkins, Peter, "The Pattern of Initiation in the Evolution of Human Consciousness," Northampton, U.K., The Francis Bacon Research Trust, 1981.
(3) Linn, Denise, "Quest - A Guide for Creating Your Own Vision Quest," New York, Ballantine Books, 1997.
Wednesday, October 06, 2004
Writers Diane Frolov (2) and Andrew Schneider say that "Ever since we crawled out of that primordial slime, that's been our unifying cry, 'More light.' Sunlight. Torchlight. Candlight. Neon, incandescent lights that banish the darkness from our caves to illuminate our roads, the insides of our refrigerators. Big floods for the night games at Soldier's field. Little tiny flashlights for those books we read under the covers when we're supposed to be asleep. Light is more than watts and footcandles. Light is metaphor. Light is knowledge, light is life, light is light."
When we speak of the Creator, we use such terms as glorious light, divine light and limitless light. Wisdom is often called spiritual light. Traditionally, the sun symbolizes our Creator, sunlight symbolizes the Creator's energy (emanations, love, power), and the seasons symbolize our journey to the sun.
The first and last paragraphs of The Sun Singer make it clear that the novel describes a journey into the light. The opening dream sequence begins: "Cold chaos of night and strangled moon, the great old trees drenched in sap's perfume rise up like gaunt fingers out of the valley gloom seeking stars, any light." In the last paragraph, protagonist Robert Adams realizes that "he had always been creating the green flash of dawn and the following light, overpowering and golden."
(1) Perkowitz, Sidney, "Empire of Light," New York, A John Macrae Book, Henry Holt and Company, 1996.
(2) Frolov, Diane and Schneider, Andrew, Universal Studios (film), "Northern Exposure, Northern Lights," 1993,
Monday, October 04, 2004
Discussion Question: Is transformation the hero's conscious goal when s/he begins a quest or does it come as a result of the trials and tribulations, the tests, and the knowledge gained en route to a difficult mission?
The classic quest follows a pattern. The hero travels from his familiar world into a woundrous land of magic and supernatural forces, performs great deeds in the face of overwhelming odds, receives a reward, and returns from the adventure with a new knowledge, power or gift to be shared with mankind.
Heroes typically have a special quality or ability that qualifies or enables them to voluntarily or involuntarily embark on the quest. In The Sun Singer, protagonist Robert Adams received the gift of prophecy after he encountered the sun singer statue* in a park near his home. While he fights against this gift, he will nonetheless use it to his advantage.
*The statue is a fictionalized version of the real sun singer statue in a meadow at Allerton Park in Monticello, Illinois.
Sunday, October 03, 2004
In today's world of the past-paced now, yesterday is already far away and the deep past often finds itself consigned into irrelevant oblivion.
In some cases, we may still remember the heroes' names: Aeneas, Calf Shirt, Finn MacCool, King Arthur, Gwion Bach, Herakles, Moses, Odysseus, Psyche, Theseus. But if we have forgotten their stories, then we are missing essential guidance for this very moment and all of our tomorrows.
Pathways to Bliss: Mythology and Personal Transformation, by Joseph Campbell, published this month by New World Library will help us connect the dots.
Saturday, October 02, 2004
Our journey is known as the heropath.
Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) aptly described the path in his book The Hero With a Thousand Faces:
Friday, October 01, 2004
We begin because we wish to experience the beginning.
As we take our first cautious steps, we know the moment is right, and we savor it for what it is and have no complaints for what it is not.
We will not reach the end of this journey until we are ready to experience the ending. Between now and then, we will experience the quest with sunlight in our eyes.
This is the way of the universe.