YOUR CALL TO ADVENTURE
The first stage of your hero's journey...
MODERN LACK, MODERN VILLAINY
The decline of the old myth without a new mythic paradigm to take its place has led to a psychological crisis. The loss of myth, the death of God—these are the issues facing the modern consciousness in its dogged quest for wholeness and integration within a fractured and chaotic world.
Vladimir Propp, the influential 20th century scholar of folklore who outlined the generic stages of folktales, labeled the first plot point in all the great traditional stories “Lack or Villainy.” Something has been lost, for which the hero must go in search. Perhaps it has been stolen, by a beast or dragon, which must be slain. In any event, the sense of something “lacking” in today’s world is certainly what propels the seeker out of the mundane world and into the Unknown.
Today, the old religious mythologies that remain—for many these days just vestiges of the past, relics of an antique world—are increasingly found to be lacking. More and more people, particularly of the younger generation, identity themselves as claiming no religion (a group academics of religion and culture have come to call “the Nones”). A similar phenomenon is found in the growing number of people who identity as “spiritual but not religious” (or “SBNR’s” to those same academics). In short, organized religions are faltering and fading, and with them the psychological functions of myth. Campbell observes:
For those in whom a local mythology still works, there is an experience both of accord with the social order, and harmony with the universe. For those, however, in whom the authorized signs no longer work—or, if working, produce deviant effects—there follows inevitably a sense both of dissociation from the local social nexus and of quest, within and without, for life, which the brain will take to be for “meaning.”
(Creative Mythology, p. 5)
And yet, as we have seen, the innate, physiological and psychological longing for myth and meaning, purpose and Mystery, remains. Even in the suburban plenty of consumer culture. The sense of something missing, of something crucial in need of finding, relentlessly nags…
Meanwhile, Campbell astutely points out, after the loss of myth some functions formerly performed by myth are now performed by new, secular entities—specifically, what Campbell calls the “social function” of myth:
The intent of the old mythologies to integrate the individual in his group, to imprint on his mind the ideals of that group, to fashion him according to one or another of its orthodox stereotypes and to convert him thus into an absolutely dependable cliché, has become assumed in the modern world by an increasingly officious array of ostensibly permissive, but actually coercive, demythologized secular institutions.
(Creative Mythology, p. 86)
So we get mass-produced people today: the new castes. Conformity is no longer a religious imperative, but a socio-economic one. Fashions, brands, trends, entertainment, lifestyle aspirations—in short, consumerism—the Market—these now fill the void left by the retreat of dogma, rite and catechism. The number of followers you have on social media, the status marker and wealth of “a real job,” the lure of company healthcare and a 401K. And on it goes, funneling everyone into the same rat maze, chasing after wind. The death of God has brought about the divinization of Mammon, god of money.
Nor are corporations blind to the idea that they are the new standard-setters for human identity, the new custodians of human meaning. There is a new reigning myth in town, and it is this: You Can Buy Happiness. With this dark gospel we are sold empty promises of fulfillment of our most fundamental human desires—connection, serenity, community, love, peace, bliss. More than that, in the absence of any clear religious moral authority, it is companies that are presenting themselves as the standard-bearers of social justice and compassionate ethics—a propagandistic image that serves to both drive up profits even as it obscures the countless ways that a purely Market-driven world dehumanizes, plunders, and destroys.
Vladimir Propp suggested “Lack or Villainy” as the first plot point to set a great tale in motion—and we have both.
HEEDING THE CALL
For those who are coming to see through this shallow state of affairs, the mundane world loses much of its luster. Eventually, the script is worn out. As Campbell puts it, “what formerly was meaningful may become strangely emptied of value” (The Hero with a Thousand Faces, p. 55). You’re done with it all and are looking for something deeper, better, more truly fulfilling. The old mundane world, with its modern comforts and modern conveniences, its gadgets and distractions, its failed promises and superficial expectations, grows less and less of interest to you. You become bored with the pleasures of the palace…
The beginning of every adventure is the same: the desire to get away. If not attraction to some better place (yet), this is at least felt as repulsion from the given situation. This desire to get away manifests as a restlessness, an unsettled feeling, a looking around for alternatives. As David Feinstein, PhD, and Stanley Krippner put it in their book Personal Mythology:
When life becomes unsettling, when you find yourself longing for change, when you feel empty, when self-destructive patterns cannot be ignored, your personal mythology is often begging to be transformed. A myth that has become outdated may have for many years served to protect, orient, motivate you. If you resist allowing it to evolve, you may be newly baptized in swelling tides of tumult and adversity. …The resulting turmoil tills the soil for mythic change.
(Personal Mythology, p. 15)
You find yourself looking for something new, outside the old, usual sources of inspiration or entertainment…
You begin wandering away from the moorings of your mundane world…
—May run away, even: in search of quieter, lonelier places beyond the world’s noise…
You’ve already come this far in reading these words, after all—outside the palace walls, now (if just to look around)…
IN YOUR BOOK…
You are now ready to begin telling your own Story. After each post, these In Your Book sections will prompt you to translate where you are now—emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually—into outer symbolic expressions. Think of the My Journey posts as a prolonged guided meditation. They are meant to guide your thinking in directions that will ultimately assist you on your inward journey of self-transformation as you search for your own personal symbols of the sacred.
After each post, prompts will ask you to solidify and give material expression to your inner state. In short, you will be asked to create a symbolic representation of your journey up to this point.
For this you will need some kind of material on which you can preserve your writings and/or drawings. Some people may find that a physical journal works best for this. Others may feel more comfortable typing their reflections out and creating any visuals using a program like Photoshop. You can mix these approaches if you’d like. Do whatever feels most natural to you, so long as you can document and preserve your personal journey in some format.
EXERCISE 1: YOUR CALL TO ADVENTURE
All the material covered so far in these posts corresponds in an abstract sense with the first plot stage of the mythic Hero’s Journey: the “Call to Adventure.” Now it’s your turn to make it personal.
Reflect on “where” you are at this point, and where you’ve come from. Begin brainstorming the best way to represent the progression symbolically. What is the best metaphorical “framework” for telling the story of this new spiritual journey you are embarking on?
For this you will need a few representations that will carry forward for the rest of your personal hero’s journey (but don’t worry, you can change/develop these if needed later on).
First, you will need to come up with:
a mythic representation of yourself: the hero, and
a mythic representation of the “lack” for which you are going on your quest.
Give some serious thought to these, as much of the symbolic material you will be using to express your inner journey will be drawn from their orbit.
Are you leaving the organized religion of your childhood but don’t yet know where you’ll end up? Perhaps your hero is a priest/ess of a conquered island’s old shrines who must now seek out a new land to build a new temple. Or a fallen angel who must find their way back to Heaven. Or a wandering warrior, who has been betrayed by their old kingdom and so must find another to pledge their allegiance to.
Are you embarking on your first ever foray into a spiritual life? Maybe your hero is an orphan child who must strike out into the forest to find a tribe to call their own. Or a young wizard who must learn to master their Magic Arts. Or a traveler to a foreign planet, who must learn the ways of the native inhabitants.
Or perhaps you’ve been on a spiritual path for a long time, but it has become stale, dried up, flat—suffocated by ideas and images that have stifled further growth? Maybe your hero is a knight, then, who has been called upon to slay a dragon that has caused your beloved homeland to fall into drought. Or a lover who has been separated from their beloved and must find them again. Or a powerful sorcerer with amnesia or under a spell, who must re-learn their old wisdom in order to reclaim their power.
Wherever you are, you’ve heeded the call to adventure. Over the next couple of days be asking yourself what story, what figure, what mythic archetype would best capture you at this stage in your spiritual journey. Try on some different outfits in your mind. Think about the heroes of stories you know. Are you more like Luke Skywalker or Harry Potter, in need of training to come into alignment and harness your powers? Or are you an Odysseus or Aeneas, long-buffeted by change and uncertainty, in search of home? Or are you something totally new, a figure from a story that’s never been written? Spend time with the question, and, when you’re ready, depict your hero avatar (in words, image, or both).
NEXT POST: MEETING YOUR GUIDE