Psychology Notes

The Hero with a Thousand Faces (Part I, Chapter 2: Initiation)

Part I: The Adventure of the hero

II. Initiation

King Midas
King Midas

1. The Road of Trials

This stage of the hero journey is often the most exciting. After passing the threshold, the hero moves on to a new landscape where he must survive a series of trials.

Previous generations relied on mythological symbolism and religious tradition to guide them through universal psychological dangers. Today, we face these dangers alone, by relying on guidance that is less powerful and effective. We “enlightened” people have rationalized myths out of existence. But we have managed to maintain their record, and to benefit from them, we must be willing to re-evaluate our presuppositions, and then be ready for the difficulties we will inevitably encounter.

“Or do ye think that ye shall enter the Garden of Bliss without such trials as came to those who passed away before you?” Verse (2:214) – The Quranic Arabic Corpus

2. The Meeting with the Goddess

The ultimate adventure, after surviving the trials, involves the marriage of the hero’s soul with the Queen Goddess of the World.

Campbell tells us about an Irish story of some boys went hunting. They got thirsty, and Fergus was the first volunteer to go look for water. He finds a well and an old woman standing guard next to it. She was blacker than coal, with a greenish tusk on her head, blackened eyes, a strange nose, and massive ankles. She looked disgusting. Fergus asked if he could get some water, and she replied he could only if he kisses her on her cheek. The boy said he would rather die from thirst than do that. He went back to his brothers. Olioll, Brian, and Fiachra all went on their own ways and like Fergus, arrived to the same well but were denied the water because they refused to kiss the old woman.

Finally, Niall reached the well, and demanded to have the water. And when she demanded a kiss first, he answered, “forby giving thee a kiss, I will even hug thee!’” He then bends to embrace her and kisses her. When he was done, and looked at her, he saw a beautiful young woman.

‘Here, woman, is a galaxy of charms,’ said the young man. ‘That is true indeed.’ ‘And who art thou?’ he pursued. ‘ “Royal Rule” am I,’ she answered, and uttered this:” ‘King of Tara! I am Royal Rule ‘

‘”Go now,’ she said, ‘to thy brethren, and take with thee water; moreover, thine and thy children’s forever the kingdom and supreme power shall be… And as at the first thou hast seen me ugly, brutish, loathly—in the end, beautiful—even so is royal rule: for without battles, without fierce conflict, it may not be won; but in the result, he that is king of no matter what shows comely and handsome forth.”

Such is rule of life. The goddess guardian of the infinite requires the hero to be endowed with a “gentle heart”, not the animal desire of an Actaeon, or the fastidious revulsion of Fergus.

3. Woman as Temptress

The queen goddess represents total mastery of life. The mystical marriage between the hero and the queen goddess represents the hero’s total mastery of life. Woman is life, and the hero her knower and master. But the hero can only be capable of making the goddess his bride by amplifying his consciousness through the experience of tests. The hero then comes to recognize he and the father as one. He takes the place of the father.

“Thus phrased, in extremest terms, the problem may sound remote the affairs of normal human creatures. Nevertheless, every failure to cope with a life situation must be laid, in the end, to a restriction of consciousness. Wars and temper tantrums are the makeshifts of ignorance; regrets are illuminations come too late.”

The mythological framework for men and women is a general one. The individual needs to figure out where he currently is in the human formula and use this awareness to cross the next threshold. He needs to identify his ogres (the unsolved personal enigmas), and his ideals.

Often, patients figure out which stage they are in, when they meet with a psychoanalyst. The role of the psychoanalyst is that of the helper or the “initiatory priest.” The dark and horrific adventure then follows.

The central difficulty is that our view of life is rarely accurate. We often refuse to admit “the self-protective, carnivorous, lecherous fever which is the very nature of the organic cell.” Instead, we whitewash and perfume our ideas about ourselves, while believing that all the “flies in the ointment, all the hairs in the soup, are the faults of some unpleasant someone else.”

But when we realize that our motivations are inevitably driven by the flesh (and are impure), we often experience a “moment of revulsion: the acts of life, the organs of life, woman in particular as the great symbol of life, become intolerable to the pure, the pure, pure soul.”

0, that this too too solid flesh would melt, 

Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!

Or that the Everlasting had not fix}d

His canon ‘gainst self slaughter! 0 God! God!

So exclaims the great spokesman of this moment, Hamlet:

How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable

Seem to me all the uses of this world!

Fie on’t! ah fie! ’tis an unweeded garden,

That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature

Possess it merely. That it should come to this

Oedipus’ initial joy when he possesses the queen is transformed into agony when he finds out who she is. Both Hamlet and Oedipus are influenced by the image of the father. They determine to turn away from the “incest and adultery ridden, luxurious and incorrigible mother” and search the unknown for a higher kingdom.

“The seeker of the life beyond life must press beyond her, surpass the temptations of her call, and soar to the immaculate ether beyond.”

However, nothing can defend against the presence of the female. Neither the remoteness of the desert nor the monastery walls can do so, because as long as the hermit has blood and flesh, he will be haunted by the images of life

4. Atonement with the Father

“The God that holds you over the Pit of Hell, much as one holds a Spider or some loathsome Insect over the Fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked; his Wrath towards you burns like Fire; he looks upon you as Worthy of nothing else but to be cast into the Fire; he is of purer Eyes than to bear to have you in his Sight; you are Ten thousand Times so abominable in his Eyes as the most hateful venomous Serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn Rebel did his Prince; and yet ’tis nothing but his Hand that holds you from falling into the Fire every Moment. O Sinner! You hang by a slender Thread, with the Flame of Divine Wrath flashing about it, and ready every Moment to singe it, and burn it asunder; and you have no Interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the Flames of Wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one Moment.” – (Pastor Johnathan)

The ogre aspect of the father reflects the victim’s ego, derived from a childhood fixation on feeling like one is steeped in a sense of sin. This staves away a more mature state of adulthood that has a more balanced, realistic image of the father, and consequently, the world.

Atonement requires you to only abandon the “self-generated double monster—the dragon thought to be God (superego) and the dragon thought to be Sin (repressed id).” But this calls for eliminating the attachment to ego itself – which is difficult. Only faith in a merciful, forgiving father can help you dissolve the image of the dreadful ogres.

When the child outgrows the comfort of his mother’s breast and faces the world, he passes into adulthood, and spiritually into his father’s sphere. The father, at this point becomes the sign of “future task” for his son, and the sign of “future husband” for his daughter. The father is invariably the initiating priest for his child. And the same way the mother represents both “good” and “evil”, the father too, must deal with the newly created rivalries: the first, between father and son for the mastery of the universe. The second, between daughter and mother to “be the mastered world.”

“The problem of the hero going to meet the father is to open his soul beyond terror to such a degree that he will be ripe to understand how the sickening and insane tragedies of this vast and ruthless cosmos are completely validated in the majesty of Being. The hero transcends life with its peculiar blind spot and for a moment rises to a glimpse of the source. He beholds the face of the father, understands—and the two are atoned.”

The story of Job in the Bible suggests that God doesn’t try to justify himself for what he did to his virtuous servant. Job was a simple and good man, and it was not because of his sins, that his servants were killed, or that his sons were crushed by a collapsing roof. His friends attempted to console him but declared that God (since He was just) had Job what he had deserved. When Job, who was honest, denies committing any sin, he is called a blasphemer by Elihu – for claiming to be more just than God.

When God answers Job, he does not try to vindicate His actions, but demands that Job carry on living forthrightly:

“Gird up thy loins now like a man; I will demand of thee and declare thou unto me. Wilt thou also disannul my judgment? Wilt thou condemn me, that thou mayst be righteous? Hast thou an arm like God? or canst thou thunder with a voice like him? Deck thyself now with majesty and excellency; and array thyself with glory and beauty. Cast abroad the rage of thy wrath: and behold every one that is proud and abase him. Look on every one that is proud and bring him low; and tread down the wicked in their place. Hide them in the dust together; and bind their faces in secret. Then I will also confess unto thee that thine own hand can save thee.”

5. Apotheosis

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”

The main theme is in this section is that by equating opposites (male: female, time: eternity), you reach the culmination of knowledge.

“When the Holy One, Blessed be He, created the first man, He created him androgynous.”

In the beginning, the human form was perfect, androgynous. The collapse in duality is the fall from perfection (male and female). Then the duality of good and evil was inevitably discovered. God created a wall of separation in the garden, which resulted in exile. Both man and woman were cut off from the vision and image of God.

Campbell criticizes the people of the world that exist through competing bands (totem, flag, party-worshipers). These defy the teachings of sacred text, as he demonstrates in Apotheosis. Christian nations, instead of being renown for unconditional love, are remembered for their historical colonial barbarism. Jesus preaches the conquest of ego, its world, and tribal god.

“I say unto you, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you. Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloke forbid not to take thy coat also. Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again. And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you,what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same. And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.”Luke, 6:27-36

Once we have broken free of the prejudices of our own provincially limited ecclesiastical, tribal, or national rendition of the world archetypes, it becomes possible to understand that the supreme initiation is not that of the local motherly fathers, who then project aggression onto the neighbors for their own defense.

“The World Savior’s cross, in spite of the behavior of its professed priests, is a vastly more democratic symbol than the local flag.”

Psychoanalysis is a way to cure individuals who suffer from their unconsciously misdirected desires and hostilities, that create imaginary fears and uncertainty. The patient freed from these is able to focus his psychic energy on real, consequential fears given to them by their culture. And those who escape their cultural confines, and pursue a more dangerous journey instead are also misdirected. The point of religious teaching is to cure the individual not only of one type of delusion, but of delusion altogether. And it does this not by “readjusting the desire (eros) and hostility (thanatos)-for that would only originate a new context of delusion-but by extinguishing the impulses to the very root, according to the method of the celebrated Buddhist Eightfold Path:

Right Belief, Right Intentions,

Right Speech, Right Actions,

Right Livelihood, Right Endeavoring,

Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration.

“With the final “extirpation of delusion, desire, and hostility” (Nirvana) the mind knows that it is not what it thought: thought goes. The mind rests in its true state. And here it may dwell until the body drops away.”

6. The Ultimate Boon

The ultimate boon is immortality, but the aim for physical immortality comes from a misunderstanding of the original texts. The idea is to remove the impediments to one’s vision, so that they can achieve immortality now, as a present fact.

“The heavenly is like Tao. Tao is the Eternal. The decay of the body is not to be feared”

Campbell points out that people ironically usually seek the wrong boon.

“The gods only laugh when men pray to them for wealth.” – Japanese Proverb

When the hero has won the god’s favor, he does not seek perfect illumination. Instead, he asks for more years to live, weapons to kill his enemies, or the health of his family.

The Greek story of King Midas illustrates this point. Midas was lucky enough to be given anything he wanted by Bacchus, and he asked for the ability to turn everything he touches into gold. He first experimented on an oak tree and turned one of its twigs onto gold. He then did the same to stone, and an apple. He was ecstatic and ordered a feast to be prepared in celebration of his boon. But when he sat down to eat, he found that that the wine that he tried to drink turned into liquid gold as it touched his lips. And when his little daughter, who he loved more than anything, came to console him, she transformed into a golden statue.

The Hero with a Thousand Faces (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell)The Hero with a Thousand Faces (Part I, Chapter 2: Initiation) 1

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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