TWELVE STAGES OF THE HERO’S JOURNEY: ONE MAGPIE’S TRAVELOGUE
by J. Webster, Chief-of-the-Folk
PART 2: NIGHTS 3-6
NIGHT 3: REFUSAL OF THE CALL
My husband and I had a great conversation about this step of the Hero’s Journey. He was concerned about how this narrative arc seems to require that the “Call to Action” come from an external source: Obi Wan Kenobi offering Luke his father’s lightsaber, Gandalf on Bilbo’s stoop. He complained, “Why can’t heroes just know that something needs doing and go do it?” There was then an eloquent little aside about how a paladin should have charged past Gandalf and Bilbo at the beginning of The Hobbit, brandishing a broadsword and shrieking “I’ve got this! Onward!” But I can’t do his storytelling justice here, so I’ll move on.
In response, I reminded him of this step, of the “Refusal of Call.” This step is skipped in many stories: Harry Potter accepts his enrollment in Hogwarts immediately, and the Pevensie children take readily to their roles as monarchs of Narnia. But when it is included, I think it adds something valuable to the story. Even when the initial call to action came from an external source, when the hero initially refuses the call, this gives the hero an opportunity to reflect on their decision, letting them hear and respond to an internal call instead of an external voice. Luke realizes that the threat he has been called to face will be a part of his life regardless of his decision, that he cannot just opt out of the consequences of refusing to help. Bilbo, after much reluctance, finds internal motivation to pursue his quest.
There are reasons that we establish and hold to Ordinary Worlds. They are familiar, and often safe and comfortable. For these reasons, the voices of fear and caution in our lives, both internal and external, are likely to object to our leaving the Ordinary World for an adventure. Fearful voices speak of the dangers of the unknown. Rational voices speak of all the value and security we will be leaving behind. Even our egos might step in, crying out that “This is enough, what I have and what I am right here is enough, and what we have here is mine! Why must I let go? Why must I change? Why must I grow?” A story that fails to at least tip its hat to these voices, to at least recognize that these are predictable and rational reactions to being asked to divert from our status quo, is presenting a less relatable hero. Because these feelings are an important hurdle for anyone facing change to overcome.
Hesitation need not be the end of the adventure. Fear doesn’t need to end your story. At all moments on our paths, we have the choice to pause, even to change direction or to turn back. We will always experience periodic echoes of our doubts, and our doubts will invite us again and again to refuse the call to adventure. In each moment, we are forced to reassess the decision to stay or go, to wait or proceed, to flee or fight. Perhaps we will miss specific opportunities by refusing a call to adventure, but it is important to remember that we still have the option of accepting the next call, or of responding to our own internal call.
There are calls I have refused, out of fear or doubt or practicality, but I must let those moments go. I must forgive myself for my decisions and recognize that the story is not over. There are so many paths that remain open to me, and even many that are now obscured may be cleared with the right tools and enough initiative.
NIGHT 4: MEETING THE MENTOR
This one is difficult.
Our meditation tonight asked us to look ahead, to look to a mentor on the other side of the threshold of seed and soil, a mentor who makes ready and fertile the Other World we are preparing to enter. But because of the literal and physical Other World I am preparing to enter in my own life, it is difficult at times to believe that I am not leaving all of my mentors behind me.
My legal ethics professor in law school (whose name many of you would recognize) once gave an entire lecture on mentors: how to find them, what selection criteria mattered, how they can serve your legal career. He asked us how we felt, while facing such a dire job market, about choosing employers who were poor mentors, whose ideologies or practices we disagreed with or disrespected. I remember telling him that maybe, with the world as it was, we needed to abandon the dream of finding respectable mentors, and that instead, we should just try to be “better than our mentors.”
This is not to suggest I have not respected the many people who have taught and supported me throughout my life, who I might say “mentored” me. I have been blessed with four amazing parents and even an extended family who have always offered me support and kindness, who are thoroughly invested in my success, and who build me up in all I do. With exceptions so few I can count them on one hand with fingers left over, my academic teachers have been truly spectacular (including the incredible high school chemistry teacher who had very kind things to say about my last post and may be reading this one too ☺ ).
However, during law school, I found it harder and harder to find people with whom I felt mutual respect. I had a hard time finding people whose values and goals I could share, while I had no problem at all finding many examples of people whose conduct and principles I had no interest in emulating. The legal community was full of a plethora of characters who served better as cautionary tales than as role models, and even when I found people I respected, I had made myself so small and afraid that I escaped their notice. It is difficult to accept mentorship when you feel unworthy of the offered support. So, by the time my professor asked us that question, I had become a little bitter about “mentors.” I had begun to believe mentors were at best a networking tool, at worst a fanciful pipedream.
But I found them. After much questing (which is a story for another day), I found mentors, both in my religious practice and my community. I have allowed myself to accept this mentorship, finally remembering that I am worthy of their lessons and support. The support and gentle guidance I have received here, from the land, from my gods, and from my human teachers, have reminded me of my own strength.
Our meditation prompted us to ask who waters our garden, who gives us what we need to thrive when we leave the Ordinary World. I see their faces. I know their names. I have been so well fed in this garden, and I overflow with gratitude for my time here. My roots are strong, healthy, and ready for transplanting.
NIGHT 5: CROSSING THE THRESHOLD
“Who will I become?”
I thought that would be my BIG question on this 12-Day journey. I have moved long-distance twice before, casting aside my past and completely upending my life. Each time, I lost the communities and stability of my previous home, and each time, when the dust cleared, I felt like I had become an entirely new person. When I left home for college, I felt like I had shed the last vestiges of childhood someplace on the tarmac of Bradley Airport, and I landed in Arkansas with a new boldness and a more vanity than was good for me. I felt like I had emerged from my introvert shell, and my new confidence felt decadent. I loved it, and I thought that when I moved again, it would feel the same way. It didn’t work out quite like that. My move to Colorado for law school shook all the pieces of my life out of place again, but when they settled this time, the settled off-kilter. It was like getting off a ship and waiting for my land legs to come back, but they never did. Instead, I teetered about for years, clumsy, apologetic, and skittish in all social situations. It took me years to reconstruct myself into something functional.
I have wondered what this move will be like. I have wondered how I will fit into a military community, into a conservative community, into a community of mothers and much younger women. I have wondered how my routines, health, and relationships will evolve. To sum up, I have wondered how the move will transform me this time, and like a shaken magic-8 ball, what new personality will rise to the surface when the chaos stills.
I was surprised that a different question came to me as I clawed my way through the dirt. I found myself asking instead, as I stood in the blinding light of the Other World: “Who do I want to become?”
This is a better question. This question suggests that, unlike thrown dice, I have some agency in what will happen to me when I land. It suggests that my wishes matter in this, that they may have an effect on my destination there.
So this is my question moving forward on this journey: “Who do I want to become, and what should I do to get there?”
NIGHT 6: TESTS, ALLIES, AND ENEMIES
Hmmm… part of this meditation really resonated with me. When asked to consider whether the people around me have dispelled or fed my fears (i.e., the shapeshifters), the people in my life were very clearly divided into two camps. I thought of some of the plans I’ve considered for Guam, and the completely different responses I heard from two types of people in my life: the people who enthusiastically encouraged my ideas, and the people who were very quick to point out how unrealistic my hopes were. Why do I keep people like that in my life? I can identify them readily, and still I make excuses for them and continue to listen to their…nonsense.
I also knew immediately who my Trickster is, the person whose goals and behaviors are so askew from my own that he always forces me to face a new perspective, for better or worse. I am glad that I will have ample opportunities for him to play his part in my life for the next few months.
I wonder who the Herald will be for this next chapter of my life. I wonder if the structure of the Air Force will play a part in this role. It seems like for the next few years, whenever a call comes down from on high that announces a new chapter in our life, it is likely to come from official documents created by over-worked under-paid government employees. I don’t think out Herald will have a specific rank (at least, I don’t have a “herald” in my rank insignia flashcards), but I’d bet there’s probably an acronym for it.
My allies are easy to identify. I have spent the last week in touch with family members who are helping and advising about the move, about housing, about selling my car. I am surrounded by people who want to wish me well, who want my mailing address for sending cards and letters, who want to schedule goodbye outings and skype-dates while I’m away. I am so blown away that only six years ago, I was so lonely here that I wanted to move to Alaska next, because, and I quote: “If I’m gonna be sad and lonely, I might as well do it someplace dark and cold.” That’s where I was. That cold, dark place, believing that I was completely undeserving of new friends.
What. Utter. Poppycock.
I notice that my tone for this entry is different. Maybe it is because, on reflection, my journey looks so bright and full of allies and protection. Maybe it is because I found a talisman I did not expect, and it warmed my heart.
Maybe it is also because I have glimpsed the Shadows that haunt my path: among them is a part of me that, like the students in my course, want you, Dear Reader, to think highly of me. The part of me that believes that more words, smarter words, the right words, might prove my wisdom (i.e., my worth) and thereby earn your respect. This is the part of me that would keep me silent for risk of using the wrong words, the words that would reveal me as naïve, as shallow, as… some third disparaging word that this Shadow would REALLY like me to think of because adjectives sound best in sets of threes.
I know that soon, I will need to address this Shadow, and others, but for now, my little rebellion against that Shadow is to share this entry as unedited rambling, as my honest reflections as I sat on that boulder in our meditation.