Monday, October 20, 2008

The Heroic Community: Part I, A Herald Appears

My dear beloved Donald Engstrom-Reese and I were talking on the phone a couple of weeks ago, and he mentioned a term that really inspired me: the heroic community.

He and I (and others) often discuss what it means to live in community, to develop community, to sustain community, etc., in this time and culture, and when he mentioned this term to me, I thought of Joseph Campbell's incredible book "The Hero With A Thousand Faces," where he maps out the heroic journey as evidenced in cultures' mythic archetypes around the world.

How does this great journey apply to a community? Can the notable stops along the path of the individual be translated into the way of the group? I'm going to be blogging about that for a bit, so here's our first installment.

The Call To Adventure

According to Campbell, this is the first step in the hero's journey - the moment when s/he gets the call to head in a new direction, "ringing up the curtain on a mystery of transfiguration."

It's often here that a "herald" appears, some figure who moves us to our next level of experience.

"The herald's summons may be to live...or, at a later moment of the biography, to die. It may sound the call to some high historical undertaking. Or it may mark the dawn of religious illumination. As apprehended by the mystic, it marks what has been termed 'the awakening of the self'...The familiar life horizon has been outgrown; the old concepts, ideals, and emotional patterns no longer fit; the time for the passing of a threshold is at hand."

Often, the herald figure frightens or disgusts us; it's seen by the larger culture as something hateful, yet, this character ushers us through the first gateway of adventure. Also of note is that if ignored, the herald's signs get bigger and louder, until the need for change can not be denied.

What does all this mean for the heroic community?

First of all, I confess that I don't exactly know what a heroic community is, but I think that's alright. How often does the hero step into the adventure not truly understanding who s/he is? S/he knows a change is needed, and s/he knows the current way of living is no longer nourishing or powerful. So, s/he walks into the breach, discovering the answers along the journey.

The same goes for a group of people who know that the current ways of living are not only ineffectual, they're stifling humanity's potential and the planet at large.

For this burgeoning community, who or what is the herald? What is the figure that calls us to adventure, the next phase?

If not an actual person, perhaps it's a trend, piece of information or current cultural norm that frightens the budding community, like the examples cited below (these are things that goad my own personal need to live in community - not in fear, like some millenial cult, but in recognition that people must create new ways of living in order to change the current paths humanity is walking).

Corporate greed and financial ruin?
Cruelty to our food sources?
The madness of war?
Tyrannical governments?
Children who are succumbing to hatred?
Religious fanatiscm?

Let's take an example: the polar bear. Could that be considered the current herald for a culture that is hurtling toward global disaster via global warming? While the polar bear may not frighten us or provoke fear in a traditional sense (although left alone with one in the arctic it should), an underlying part of the fear response it evokes, in this particular context, is that we've fucked things up beyond repair, that we must face our own errors and take responsibility for our actions. This realization is something loathsome in a culture obsessed with consumption and inbalanced desire.

What do you think the heralds are for building a heroic community? Have you and your beloveds heard the call to adventure? What did it sound like, and if you've been ignoring it, how has the call gotten louder?

(The path in the forest photo is from Francis' site. The polar bear photo is from the ever-amazing National Geographic.)


Anonymous said...

That is a thought provoking question. What was my canary in the coal mine?

I think I've always intuitively known that we are headed towards disaster. I've been recycling since the says when we had to take our stuff to some central collection place. I've been drawn to voluntary simplicity (and am not doing as well as I would like with this) for years. I rarely use my car for work, take the bus, that kind of thing. But I think that I have to admit that Al Gore's little polar cartoon broke my heart and I became much more committed to this deal. Militant, that is the word I was searching for. I have a long way to go.

BTW, you've been tagged.

Beverly said...

Hey Greg, You have been awarded the Power of Schmooze award. You can pick yours up here: