Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Journey of the Hero

One of the most obvious changes that I noticed over the nearly 30 years that I did police work as well as the years since that I’ve spent as a dispatcher has been the rapid erosion of manners and courtesy. No one holds doors open for people any more. People j-walk whenever and wherever they feel like it, completely disregarding traffic. Fewer and fewer people signal lane changes and the speed limit seems to be when their gas pedal hits the floor boards. How did this come to be?

The creation of the democratic ideal, the arrival of the age of machines and the development of the scientific method were all meant to lead to the collapse of superstition and old mythic systems. These things were supposed to shatter the “bondage” of tradition and religion. Things were indeed shattered, including some that needed to be. Not all of the changes that resulted were were bad. However, a few changes were unexpected and, in many cases, in my humble opinion, unwelcome.

The social unit has shifted from what Joseph Campbell called the religious “heirarchical pantomine” to a “secular state”. This shift removed all manner of rights of passage from our lives which marked the transition to adulthood. That’s why you see so many fifty five year olds running around these days behaving like fifteen year olds. Nothing in their lives ever signalled to them that it was time to grow up.

This societal change also replaced the idea of being part of a group with a total focus on individuality. It went from for the good of the tribe to every man for himself. Societal ideals shifted from a focus on religion to material supremacy and a focus on resources (who has and who has not). It also removed many reminders of our connection to our world and our place in it. People tried to solve the mysteries of science and apply this knowledge to controlling the earth while taking whatever they wanted with little or no regard for the consequences. As a result, man’s attempt to control the Earth has damaged it and pushed it seriously out of control.

Faced with this, people are starting to figure out that some sort of change is needed, but many are confused about what to do. Some are turning back to established religions seeking comfort and reassurance. They try to cling to what worked in the past, not realizing that what worked 2000 years ago no longer works in todays’ world. The world’s great religions can no longer meet people’s needs. As Joseph Campbell told us in his book The Hero With A Thousand Faces: “[The world’s great religions] have become associated with the causes of the factions as instruments of propaganda and self congratulation.”

You cannot make the required changes by turning your back on the future or turning away from progress. You can’t walk backwards into the future.

Changes are indeed necessary, and it is this need that, in part, influences our Order’s approach to spirituality and magick. In the first cycle of training for our Order, I repeatedly make the point: “Master yourself and everything else will take care of itself.” As Campbell puts it: “Man himself is now the crucial mystery... A transmutation of the entire social order is necessary, so that through every detail and act of secular life the vitalizing image of the universal god-man who is actually immanent and effective in all of us may be somehow made known to the consciousness.”

The modern Warrior/Hero’s quest is to find himself. To find one’s soul. You can’t suppress myth. Like water, it will find its way out. It is within us, and if we let it out it can transform us. We encourage our Knights to experience myth, to see how it works through them, inspiring, informing and empowering them to become greater than they were. We're putting the myth back into people's lives.

The mythical quest of the hero, as reflected in our Order’s three levels of training, has three stages: Separation, initiation and return. The first, separation, is the Squire making a decision to leave the world they’ve known up to know and follow a new path, the Warrior path, and forge their own reality. Their first task is, as Campbell puts it, “to retreat from the world scene of secondary effects to those causal zones of the psyche where the difficulties really reside and there to clarify these difficulties and eradicate them.” The second task, initiation, is about discovering one’s power and becoming a Knight. And the third, return, is about mastering that knowledge and bringing it back to share with their peers and the greater community. For today’s community is no longer the nation, tribe, etc. Today’s community is the planet.

“The modern hero,” Campbell tells us, “the modern individual, who dares to heed the call and seek the mansion of that presence with whom it is our whole destiny to be atoned, cannot, indeed must not, wait for his community to cast off its slough of pride, fear, rationalized avarice, and sanctified misunderstanding. ‘Live,’ Nietzsche says, ‘as though the day were here.’ It is not society that is to guide and save the creative here, but precisely the reverse.” This doesn’t mean that you have to all go out and found organizations bent on saving the world. It simply means that you have to stand up and set an example for others, so that they can see that there is another way, an effective way.

And here within our Order you can see it in action. Even though we strongly emphasize self empowerment, this emphasis hasn’t driven people into isolation. Rather, it has made us all strong together, using each other’s powers to compliment the others. It has made us a tight knit, powerful group.

Myth is a powerful tool and spirituality a vital part of our lives. If we learn to use it effectively we can alter our perspective of the world and make positive change that will benefit everyone.