Monday, January 31, 2005
An updated version of The Hero’s Journey: A Guide to Literature and Life curriculum for teachers of grades 8-12 by Reg Harris is now available from Harris Communications. (http://www.yourheroicjourney.com/Curricul.shtml)
The 184-page, spiral-bound 2005 edition includes new and updated materials for a 12-unit course, complete with lesson plans, background notes, handouts, transparencies, and supplementary materials.
Written in 1995 by teachers Reg Harris and Susan Thompson, the first edition is in use in 30 states and 6 foreign countries. The material follows the heropath structure as a basis for studying personal experience, film, and literature.
Wednesday, January 26, 2005
A young man’s transition from the childhood safety of his mother’s well-tended hearth and home to his father’s dangerous, worldly domain of hunting and battle was once marked by ceremonial rites of passage. While the signposts and symbols at the door of adulthood are generally less ritualized today, every young man experiences an initiation into his father’s world via family traditions, sports, clubs, high school and college peer groups, military service, first dates, first sexual experiences, and first jobs.
For the hero on the path, Joseph Campbell refers to the successful transition to manhood as atonement with the father:
“Atonement (at-one-ment) consists in no more than the abandonment of that self-generated double monster—the dragon thought to be God (superego) and the dragon thought to be Sin (repressed id). But this requires an abandonment of the attachment to ego itself, and that is what is difficult.” (1)
Robert Adams’ intelligent and loving parents in The Sun Singer are likely to facilitate his outer-world journey from childhood to manhood in the everyday world of college, career, marriage and family and civic responsibilities. However, they are of no help when it comes to his inner journey, for his mother is blocking it and his father doesn’t understand it.
In the novel, the country of Pyrrha is not only the alternate universe where the story’s action unfolds, but—in terms of the inner journey—represents the abyss, the womb, and the magical realm. While the book does not explore the scope of Robert’s mother’s knowledge about Pyrrha, we do know that she is not only aware of its existence but of the family connections there.
Women, as prospective guides to a man’s exploration of the magic realm can either obscure or facilitate the hero’s quest. Robert’s mother has secrets she could share, but she refuses to speak. After Robert’s grandfather dies of a heart attack, she tells Robert: “I don’t want you dabbling in magic. You don’t know what you’re doing and your grandfather isn’t here to pick you up when you fall.” (2)
This protective stance brings to mind the myth of Phaethon, son of the sun god Helios and Clymene. When Phaethon went the palace of the sun and asked his father for proof of his divine birth, Helios rashly promised he would grant any request that would demonstrate their father-son relationship. Unfortunately, Helios made a promise he could not revoke. Consequently, when Phaethon asked to drive the chariot that carries the sun across the sky, Helios had to allow it. Phaethon, however, did not know what he was doing and was completely unprepared to handle the great horses that pulled the chariot. The chariot ran out of control and threatened to bring both the heavens and earth to a fiery end. Zeus destroyed the chariot with a thunderbolt and Phaethon fell to earth in a blaze of flame. Robert, who follows the sun, might—in his mother’s eyes—suffer a similar fate.
Robert’s father, on the other hand, knows little or nothing about the inner journey. He is well versed in numbers, actuarial tables, and the ways of business. Mr. Adams’ incompetence insofar as the inner journey is concerned plays out in Robert’s dreams and imagination where he becomes an absurd caricature who cannot play a positive role for his son’s inner rite of passage and ends up obstructing the path.
Robert needs a mentor and his Grandfather Elliott fulfills this role. As Joseph Campbell notes:
“It’s not uncommon in our culture for the son, following in his father’s footsteps to find his own career eventually; and then, he has to find his spiritual father (or, as we now say, his guru), the one who will show him, not so much by pedagogical instruction as by example, what the aim and direction in his life is going to be.” (3)
When Robert’s grandfather dies before the trip to the mountains begins, Robert’s mission becomes—in part—a search for his grandfather—his spirirtual father. The dangers of the journey force Robert to turn his attention again toward his psychic talents as well as the philosophy of life that his grandfather was nurturing. While looking for Grandfather Elliott, Robert becomes more like Grandfather Elliott. That is, Robert has now accepted the gifts he once threw away and grandfather and grandson are now reconciled.
(1) Considering the life-threatening events that occurred during Robert’s journey, was his mother right in her view that going to Pyrrha was not a proper mission for a 15-year-old young man?
(2) Do most teenagers require a grandfather, favorite teacher, or other influential adult to serve as a mentor rather than turning to their parents for help with their deepest questions?
(1) The Hero With a Thousand Faces
(2) The Sun Singer
(3) Campbell, Joseph, Mythic Worlds, Modern Words, (Edmund L. Epstein, ed.), Novato, California, Joseph Campbell Foundation - New World Library, 2003.
Saturday, January 22, 2005
Many teachers have already discovered a place for conscious mythmaking in the classroom. While classic myths and the mythic themes in current books and movies are often a catalyst for such discussions, the focus often highlights the evolving story of each student’s life.
Who are we? Where are we going? What archetypes and inner needs stir our souls and light our paths? Whether students see parallels between their lives and the exploits of mythic characters or prefer to create new myths out of their own experiences and the stuff of today’s world, there are rich possibilities for individual development and group dialogue in personal mythology lessons and courses.
Teachers, curriculum developers, writers, storytellers, psychologists and others will find an evolving resource in the Mythic Imagination Institute (www.mythicjourneys.org).
A volunteer organization, the institute is developing a multi-disciplinary, multi-dimensional approach to discovering and communicating how we can better experience and connect to myth. Among other resources, this will ultimately include curriculum information for teachers who are presenting lessons that help students explore the richness of myth and metaphor while viewing their lives as wondrous stories.
The Institute will offer “Mythic Journeys In-Depth 2005: Into the Woods” between June 16-19 in North Georgia. This conference is planned as a retreat for discovering “how nature myths speak to us today.” Since participation will be limited to 200 people, see the Institute’s web site soon for details if you are interested.
If you are a teacher who is currently offering lessons or courses in personal mythmaking, I would like to hear from you. Please post a comment and share an experience, a resource, a curriculum need, or your best advice for making such lessons work.
Saturday, January 15, 2005
“The psyche appears to need a ‘sacred’ image of wholeness to preserve its balance, which depends on its maintaining an equitable and dynamic relationship between the feminine and masculine archetypes. – Anne Baring and Jules Cashford (2)
The sacred wedding (hieros gamos) (3) is a prime component of the hero’s journey during the time when the he is travelling through the magical realm of adventure. This wedding, often portrayed in mythology as the marriage of a goddess and her consort, symbolizes the mystical union of earth and heaven—or of transient things with permanent things. (4) We see the symbolism carried forward in the sacrament of marriage.
In terms a male hero’s inner journey, the sacred wedding represents the authentic integration of the anima, the feminine component of himself. Such weddings are often described in alchemical terms (5) and refer to the awakening of one’s inner self en route to higher degrees of purity.
In The Sun Singer, Robert Adams is not yet ready for a transformation so profound that he would literally transcend all the pairs of opposites (life/death, good/bad) including the male-female duality of the day-to-day world.
Robert has not yet resolved his relationship with his mother who, he believes, knows secrets she will not divulge and who does not proactively support his quest. He has also not resolved his immature belief about the sexual role of women as evidenced by the appearance of Dryad, the nymph he continues to despise at the end of the novel.
The goddess Dahlia, like Sleeping Beauty, awaits. While Robert does find the goddess in his vision, thereby validating her existence for Gem, Aton, Cinnabar and the others who believe in her, the time is not yet right for her awakening.
(1) Is it likely that a young man in the midst of puberty could comprehend a mature, authentic relationship with a woman at this point in his life?
(2) If an individual could truly see past the pairs of opposites into the wholeness and interconnectedness of all things, would s/he find it difficult or easy to function around others in every day life?
(1) The Hero With a Thousand Faces.
(2) Baring, Anne and Cashford, Jules, The Myth of the Goddess – Evolution of an Image, London, Viking (Penguin Group), 1991.
(3) While myths and ancient rites focused, in part, on the sexual nature of the hieros gamos, the modern-day reenactment of this symbolic union via sexual rituals as depicted in The Da Vinci Code would be considered by most philosophers and mystics (in and out of organized religion) to be both a perversion and a misinterpretation of the transcendent experience.
(4) The often-misunderstood “Song of Songs” (also called “Song of Solomon”) is the text of a mystical, or sacred, wedding ritual. See Baring and Cashford.
(5) This viewpoint is described, most notably, in the 1459 Rosicrucian text called The Chymical Wedding of Christen Rosenkreutz.
Sunday, January 09, 2005
Within The Sun Singer, the Golden Eagle, Osprey, Raven, Bald Eagle, Dove, Pheasant, and Owl play roles as actual birds and as symbols. The feathers of these birds were used in Grandfather Elliott’s divination method called “casting the seven.”
Within one’s culture and individual frame of reference, each of these birds may have no symbolic connotations or it may signify something totally different that the meanings utilized in the novel. As Denise Linn (1) notes, “The specific meanings of spirit animals change from culture to culture and from person to person.”
The primary symbolic meaning of each bird used in the book conforms to the bird’s keynotes listed in Ted Andrews’ book Animal Speak. (2)
Sikimi, the black horse, is a magical helper associated with David Ward. In general, horses signify freedom and power. In the book, the horse is also a creature of the night and symbolizes intuition, dreams and other lunar experiences.
Eagles generally symbolize creation and spiritual illumination. In the book, the eagle is the reverse of the Sikimi, signifying logic and solar experiences. The bald eagle is a feminine symbol and the golden eagle is a masculine symbol.
The osprey is associated with Robert at the beginning of his journey. The bird, which is often found along shorelines, is also present in Glacier National Park where the novel is set. Ospreys signify visionary power. Like eagles, ospreys and hawks represent daytime events and solar magic. Grandfather Elliott uses the Harrier (Marsh Hawk) to find Robert and save his life—by distracting him—just prior to the bakery truck accident on West Wood Street.
Ravens are teachers of magic and serve as messengers from the spirit world. When Robert sees a raven outside his motel window before travelling into the mountains, the raven is—in a mythic sense--serving as a “herald,” announcing that an out-of-the-ordinary adventure is near.
Doves are considered feminine and, in the book, signify the soul and enduring spirit of an individual. Doves are also birds of peace and prophecy.
Pheasants connote sexuality and fertility. In the book, the pheasant makes an excellent totem for Dryad.
Owls represent nighttime experiences and lunar magic. As such, the owl is linked with Grandfather Elliott when he is presumed dead. Owls are generally associated with wisdom and omens.
(1) To what extent did the students in your class intuit the symbolic meanings of the birds used in the book prior to hearing the traditional meanings?
(2) Have any of your students developed personal meanings that they associate with birds and other animals either in dreams of their waking lives?
(1) Quest - A Guide for Creating Your Own Vision Quest.
(2) Andrews, Ted, Animal-Speak, St. Paul, Minnesota, Llewellyn Publications, 1993
(3) The field guide page numbers referenced in The Sun Singer match those in: Peterson, Roger Tory, A Field Guide to Western Birds, Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1941.
Monday, January 03, 2005
In The Sun Singer, the character named Dryad (1) has an outer role to play in the unfolding story. Using the familiar Star Wars terminology, she has gone over to the dark side. So it is, that she has strong motives for killing or corrupting Robert Adams before he can alter time or otherwise call forth the power of the sun on behalf of the rebel group.
Her lure is similar to that of the Sirens of Greek Mythology (2) who attempt to enchant and entangle men and—one way or another—lure them to their deaths. Odysseus had his men tie him to the mast of his ship and plug their ears with wax so they could not respond to the Sirens’ call. Orpheus, when sailing with Jason and the Argonauts, overcame the call of the Sirens by drowning out their song with a sweeter one of his own.
Robert Adams escaped Dryad, though not without scars, when the pain of the Sun Singer talisman scraping against his chest brought him to his senses.
Looking at Dryad in terms of the inner journey, von Franz (3) and others remind us that a man’s compulsive attraction to erotic anima figures occurs when “his feeling attitude toward life has remained infantile.” While most of Robert Adams’ relationships with female characters in The Sun Singer are authentic for a young man of his age, his approach to women as prospective love/sex interests is not mature. We see this through his conversations with Arthur about dating and with his inability to imagine a real relationship with classmate Sylvia Zorn.
In fact, rather than risk asking Sylvia for a date, he opts—through his fantasy—to tell the universe that he would rather be enslaved by a dangerous she-devil. Dryad responded to his call and his immature inner need. When the mythic hero becomes enchanted by a temptress, he is likely to stray far from the heropath prior to ruin and death.
Robert feels shamed by the incident and sees that the consequences of his encounter with Dryad may well be far reaching. He is, as the novel ends, too close to the incident to see that he has also learned an important lesson.
(1) Is it common for young men of Robert’s age to project immature erotic images of women as temptresses on to females in their lives to the extent that they cannot tell the difference between the products of their imagination and the real people?
(2) As the encounter with Dryad suggests, we meet temptresses when we "need" or "desire" to meet them. Does this mythic rationale explain many of our encounters with others on our own heropaths? Consider what Robert can learn from Dryad and whether or not he learns it. (For background, consider Odysseus' encounter with Circe--the goddess who often turned men into swine--and explore what he "needed" to learn from her in order to continue his development.)
(3) What other movies (4) and books show heroes who shun or become entangled with a temptress?
(1) In mythology, dryads are supernatural nature spirits.
(2) See for example, the online Wikipedia entry for Sirens: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siren
(3) Man and his Symbols.
(4) One classic film, for example, that superbly illustrates the ruin and ultimate death of a man enchanted by (and obsessed with) a temptress is “The Blue Angel,” a Josef von Sternberg production released in 1930. For a discussion of the craft and aesthetics behind the film, see Prawer, S. S., The Blue Angel, London, BFI Publishing, 2002.