TWELVE STAGES OF THE HERO’S JOURNEY: ONE MAGPIE’S TRAVELOGUE
by J. Webster, Inaugural Chief-of-the-Folk
More so than parts 1 and 2, these entries rely heavily on the context of the guided meditations provided on theMountain Ancestors Grove Facebook page. The writer strongly encourages you to watch or read these meditations before reading these entries.
PART 4: NIGHTS 10-12
NIGHT 10: THE ROAD BACK
In late high school, when I was writing daily and fanatically, I remember telling a good friend about a story idea I had, one that, like most of my favorites, involved a very literal “Special World.” This friend frowned a little, and said she had a very important question for me, one she hoped I wouldn’t take personally: “Do you actually believe in alternate realities?”
I believe she meant well, but it was an uncomfortable moment. She didn’t quite hit the nail on the head, but she had brushed against a… maybe not a belief, but a value system? A perspective? And when she did, something in her tone made me feel like she had caught on to some shameful secret I didn’t even know I had. I denied it immediately, brushing it off by explaining that it was just an easy story to tell. But the question stuck with me: Why did these stories about alternate realities, about what Campbell would call “special worlds,” so resonate with me? And why hadn’t I grown out of it yet, and I was clearly expected to do?
In adolescence, my favorite stories were always those that tied my own mundane world to another world in very literal ways: The Neverending Story, the Narnia books, K. .A. Applegate’s Everworld series, Gaiman’s Neverwhere, etc. I was utterly captivated by the idea that my life could be connected with some vast secret, some setting where life was utterly different, and where important battles or explorations could play out in a way that might actually affect my own life. Like many children, I imagined myself in these worlds, playing out scenarios and daydreaming about the roles I could play in these stories. If felt good to imagine myself as the hero in these worlds, but it also felt…meaningful. It almost felt like practice, as if I could somehow hone my own character by vividly picturing who I wanted to be in these scenarios and deciding how I would react when faced with difficult decisions. Could I be the person with the integrity to stand up against “evil?” The person brave enough for self-sacrifice? The person smart enough to know what to do? These seemed like important questions, and stories that allowed me to imagine myself literally entering the plot felt like the right stories to test these questions.
The special world in the story I wanted to write, the idea that so concerned my friend, was one build of all the dreams, fantasies, and narratives of the characters who would be drawn into that world. I liked the idea of a set of characters having to find their way through the labyrinth of their collective psyches. Like all of the other examples of “Special Worlds” I had read, I liked to imagine how I would handle it myself.
And this is why this little about of Young Jane is relevant today: At the time, I truly believed that, given the chance to experience such a world, I would choose not to return to the Ordinary World. What would that Special World be like if my mind were the only one shaping it, and what in the real world, I wondered, could compete with the richness, the meaning, and the liberty offered by the chance to explore a world like that? I knew, with the certainty that only a teenager can muster, that given the opportunity to abandon my mundane life to live in that “Special World,” I would never go home. I promised myself I would never go home.
Yet here I am… going home. In a number of ways. Not only during this internal “hero’s journey,” but in my external life. And that’s ok. A lot of growth and transformation can happen in the special spaces that are in some way separate from our ordinary lives, but the longer you stay, and particularly if you stay after that space has changed you in all the ways it can…then maybe any place can become an Ordinary World. The colors will drain, the facets of wonder will crumble, and all of its mysteries reveal themselves as mundane. I have learned the importance of letting go of these special spaces when they lose the newness that made them special, of letting the memories of my experiences remain, but still moving on.
I have also learned, at last, to love my Ordinary World. On closer examination, my Ordinary World has all the richness and meaning I always wanted, all the opportunities to practice Integrity and Courage, to solve complex problems, and to hone my character that I could want. I even have my very own paladin with whom I share my life. I have, at last, a life that I would want to return to from a “Special World.”
I know, I know, “attachment is the root of all suffering” and all that. Still…what a beautiful thing it is to have a life I would not lightly choose to trade for a fairytale.
NIGHT 11: RESURRECTION
This chapter of our journey brought me face-to-face with a very specific memory, a memory of a time when someone made me believe that what I thought were pearls were only pebbles. A time I was told “No, this treasure that you think you have is neither treasure nor yours. Throw it away.” I thought this person was someone to learn from, someone to emulate. Maybe even a “mentor.” I respected them, and wanted to be worthy of their respect. So I believed them, and that belief changed me. Diminished me. Robbed me.
It was not their fault. They meant well. Their values were just different from mine, and that’s ok. Multiplicity of truth and all that—they were permitted their own values, and those values were as legitimate and valid as my own. But their values were not my values, and even though I knew what I wanted and needed in my life better that they did, I tried to follow someone else’s values, someone else’s truth.
I know that I am being vague and melodramatic, but it’s the only way I know how to communicate to you, Dear Reader, what I experienced in this meditation without revealing more than I’d like. I want you to have context when I tell you that this false “mentor,” this person who wanted me to abandon the treasure I am trying to bring back into my life… this is the figure who appeared to me as my Threshold Guardian. Theirs was the face that told me, in so many ways, that I could not leave the Special World with my reward: because it was worthless, because it was dangerous, because it was too heavy for me to carry. Reason after reason for me to drop it, leave it, crush it under my heel on the way out.
Their eyes glinted with the dragon’s fire, and I understood that, just like the dragon, they did not act with malice. They were only acting in accordance with their nature, in accordance with their values. And my values are different. My values are all my own. And my values are reason enough to stand before this obstacle, and say “No.”
I was glad our meditation did not guide us to fight this beast. There would have been no winning against my Threshold Guardian, only clashing wills and mutual wounds. No…it was a far better choice to leave them to their fuming objections and judgment, leave them to their impotent flames, and to merely leave with my prize.
I have a beautiful home, a beautiful life, and a token to bring home from my adventure. Why would I waste any more time or energy fighting an unwinnable battle I walked away from a long time ago? Time to move on…
NIGHT 12: RETURN WITH ELIXIR
Our last meditation had us, like Samwise, returning to our “garden.” This image resonated deeply with me, since I like using a garden as a metaphor for the life I have built.
Life is a journey, and I remember many obstacle that I have crossed on my path: the craggy mountains that tore the soles of my feet, the raging rivers whose chill I sometimes still feel in my marrow. After my travels and obstacles, I feel as though I finally found a place to clear a patch in the wilderness, to build a home and plant a garden. The walls started as a crooked frame, and the plants began as only fragile tendrils, but I did not give up. I worked. I repaired. I tended. And as my home grew sturdy and my garden vibrant and alive, so did I.
Sometimes I feel small, tired, and scared. The prospect of starting again, at times, overwhelms me. But I have strong roots, well-practiced in surviving dark winters and wind-swept, stone-faced slopes. My roots have found rich soil and thrived, and thick and strong, they can press through vast weights of earth, crushing stone and seeking deep waters. I am no ornamental potted-pet, no struggling weed, no stunted brittle thing that must hide its flowing sap and soft buds from the elements. I can do this. I can accept and grow from what comes next in my life.
Sometimes you have to build a house to have a home. I have done that work. I can do it again.