Wednesday, 20 April 2016

The Hero’s Journey and the Collective Unconscious

I started writing my first novel, In Search of the Golden City, when I was ill with hepatitis. I had wanted to write an actual full book of fiction (as opposed to poetry, essays or academic writing) for more than a decade, but I didn’t have inspiration, or I was busy, or afraid although I didn’t know it back then. Being spiritually oriented, I asked for an idea and I received one, and still I postponed the actual writing. I set a deadline, or rather a starting line, for myself, but the day came and went and still I hadn’t done anything. Two weeks later I fell ill and was booked off work for three weeks. I still believe that it was the Universe’s way of nudging me forward.

The story took shape as I continued, and I finished the book by being committed to writing a certain number of hours a week. During the process of writing I let myself go and allowed whatever wanted to emerge. The end product was a very symbolic tale filled with mythical elements. I was fascinated to discover similar themes in myths or stories written by others. As an example, a friend with whom I share an interest in mysticism, spirituality and healing introduced me to her friend who is also a writer, Eva Lara. I learned that she had written a book in Spanish called El Guardián del Umbral, English translation The Guardian of the Threshold. I have not read her book because I do not understand Spanish, but just going on the title, the book I had already written contained the same theme verbatim. I also read about the concept of the Hero's Journey as identified by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Although I had no knowledge of the concept prior to finishing my book, I found that there were many parallels in my novel.

The fool in the Tarot can be a symbol
of embarking on a personal journey.
When I studied psychology at university, I was introduced to the work of Carl Jung and the theory of the collective unconscious, a realm of archetypes that take expression in myths, connected to the human psyche. When I learned about shamanism, I could equate it to the spirit world. I believe that this aspect of our being is universal to humanity, and even though we have become profoundly disconnected from it in our modern society, it still shows up in our art, religion and even science. From this perspective, the Hero's Journey perhaps tells us something about being human that we all know deep down although we are not always aware of it.

For the purpose of this article I will focus on my understanding of the Hero’s Journey as it features in my own writing. Broadly speaking, the Hero's Journey is one of personal transformation. The hero receives a call to go on an adventure, much like Bilbo in Tolkien’s work The Hobbit. He receives supernatural help or guidance and at some point crosses a boundary between the known and the unknown, where he enters a magical landscape. Here he faces challenges and finds wisdom, sometimes through dying and being reborn. He can then return to the known world or material reality to apply what he has learned. (Source: Wikipedia.)

The protagonist in my book is a healer called Akim, who goes in search of a legendary Golden City because he wants to be with the woman he loves. There are no directions to the Golden City, and his clues are stories of others who have made it there by remaining true to themselves:

“… what they had in common was an almost desperate desire to reach the Golden City. Some of them had it easier than others; some were courageous, but most of them were far from perfect. A few were rather bad, but they were redeemed through introspection and love for something or someone outside themselves.”

As individuals we vary in our goals and ideas, but the similarities between the stories we come up with lead me to the idea that perhaps collectively we have a common purpose that is mysterious and veiled, but without which life has little meaning. Could the Hero’s Journey be about the will to grow? Could it tell us something about a soul’s journey in a corporeal existence and the drive to know and create the self through transcending ordinary reality? I am reminded of the Biblical Paul’s words in his letter to the Corinthians: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly; but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then shall I know just as also I am known.” (Translation from Wikipedia.) I no longer go to church, but having grown up in a Christian environment I remember 1 Corinthians 13, about love, as one of my favourite passages in the Bible.

As a final note I will add that the experience of illness as a call to purpose or healing through engaging with the spiritual realms is a universal concept of shamanic initiation. In this case, I needed to keep my commitments and act on what I had been given. As soon as I did, I recovered faster and in the end went back to work after only a week and a half. The writing must have healed my body and soul.