Friday, November 14, 2008
Part V: The Belly of the Whale
According to myth scholar and folklorist Joseph Campbell, after the hero crosses the First Threshold, s/he enters into the belly of the whale - the place of annihilation.
The hero disappears a la Jonah, Raven of the Pacific Northwest cosmologies, Little Red Riding Hood, and the Zulu story of two children and their mother being swallowed by an elephant. Yet, as Campbell points out, "the disappearance corresponds to the passing of a whorshiper into a temple - where he is to be quickened by the recollection of who and what he is, namely dust and ashes unless immortal...Once inside he may be said to have died to time and returned to the World Womb, the World Navel, the Earthly Paradise."
Part of the major point of this leg of the hero's journey is the obliteration of the former self. The individual walks into the adventure believing in who s/he is, but at this point, nothing is for certain, and really one of the only certainties is that the hero is nothing and no one at all.
I suspect at this point the individual slips into an understanding of the vast expanse of the Multiverse itself. In another view - if we are all made up of strands of energy like a web, we also harbor within our bodies and within our energetic fields the spaces in between - the no-thingness that can be seen as a unifying factor in all of existence.
As we've done before, let's take a look at how this stage can manifest in a group attempting to form a heroic community.
One option is that the group of people has to willingly let go of all preconceived notions of what this kind of group "should" look like. Non-attachment to outcome is the name of the game here - not that we shouldn't care about what our goals are, but that we recognize that whales lie in wait for any people ready to take the journey.
This could also be the time during the formation of a group where it seems like it's going to fall apart completely. Perhaps the vision falters, people lose interest, others decide it's all bullshit and time to head back to their own lives, finances go to hell, relationships are strained - everything looks bleak. Yet, these experiences are instrumental to the path itself and the eventual outcome of the adventure. Without these dark nights of the soul, the group can not hone its vision and actual implementation of collective core values.
It's interesting to note where the whale/monster comes from. This is a creature from the deep, the ocean of the collective unconscious. In particular for a group, what are the things that threaten to annihilate us? What monsters of the depths must we confront in order to move on to the next stage of development?
(As a side note for literary nerds, I can't help but think of Melville's master work Moby Dick. Ahab pursues his monster, trying to conquer it and take revenge for the loss of his leg that's broken his spirit. Yet, in the end, he, too, must succumb to obliteration in order to move beyond his hatred, rage, colossal arrogance, and bitterness. This book has long been one of my absolute faves; if you haven't read it and have a long winter ahead, go for it! It also contains one of the most famed homoerotic scenes in American literature.)
(The first photo is taken by Ray Alley. The second image is of Jonah's swallowing from an old bible. From what I can gather, the last painting is done by Lasaine Brizzi. The site I got it from had no info, but there is a signature on the painting.)