Mahud of Mythology Blog organized a synchroblog event about Journeying to Otherworlds, a topic I have great interest in. Patrick McCleary of Pagan Dad planted a seed in my mind about another approach on the topic of the Hero’s Journey when he discussed the differences between faith and religion.
Essentially, the Hero’s Journey is a journey to an Otherworld, whether it be the Underworld (which it frequently is) or another world completely unlike where the hero previously lived. This journey has a critical role in a person’s spiritual development. One main result of this journey, if successful, is the gaining of faith.
The journey can start either by an external event happening to the person, such as the tornado that took Dorothy off to the land of Oz. Or it can be started through a self-initiation, such as when someone chooses to go on a cross-country journey. We saw many hitchhikers like this on our journey from South Dakota to California, especially in the open spaces of Wyoming. Regardless of how it is started, the journey normally is started spontaneously and the outcome is unknown to the sojourner, even if they think they know where it will go.
If you’re like most people, the Hero’s Journey probably isn’t a big geographical journey, unless you join the Peace Corps or the military. You may have a job, family and regular life preventing you from doing that. Like most people, the journey to the Otherworld for you may be one more of the mind and spirit, rather than geography. You grow restless in your mundane existence and wonder if there is anything else in life.
You seek new adventures. This may take many different paths, possibly including researching new religions and religious groups, experimenting with new forms of sexuality or drugs, taking larger risks in areas of finance, job or investment, or trying something else new. This will probably not appear to be the start to a journey to another world. You probably will just dip your toes in it a bit and dabble. And then dabble a bit more. And a bit more, as the intrigue and wonder increase their lure. Then, you suddenly find yourself in over your head.
Sudden significant changes happen to you that appear to be unrelated to the initial interest. You might find yourself on the edge, or over the edge, of bankruptcy. Or your marriage becomes significantly strained, possibly ending up with separation. You may lose their job, possibly for reasons seemingly unrelated to your other life changes. Sometimes, all of the above may happen to you and more.
The journey to an Otherworld gets it’s initiatory power from you being completely removed from all that makes you comfortable. Comfort brings stagnation. The biggest cure to stagnation and being comfortable is another world, where nothing is familiar. You lose all of your normal sources of earthly strength. You become completely drained of your own strength and resources as the journey becomes more and more expensive, with no end in sight.
Naturally, the end of the journey comes to many people in chronic depression they never grow out of or other “mental” illnesses. This is what happens when you fail the test of the journey. Persephone had a choice of staying in the Underworld with Hades or returning for a time to the upper worlds. Many people choose to stay in the Underworld. This is what happens when one becomes comfortable in their Otherworld. I recommend 1998 movie, What Dreams May Come, for a visual example of someone who failed the journey and chose to remain in the Underworld.
There is another choice, though. And it is a choice. You may find yourself completely without any means to support yourself and without any strength to move on. The Gods will ask you, in many ways, a single question. That question is this: “Do you choose life or death?”
If you choose death, you remain in the Underworld. If you choose life, they will lift you up from the ashes, as a phoenix is reborn. It is something that you cannot do yourself, no matter how strong or smart you are. It can only be done by the Gods, if you let them.
You tell them you choose life. You give yourself up to them, surrendering yourself completely and on all levels. You are but a leaf in the wind. They lift you up, but they lift you up only to the door back to your regular, mundane world. They show you the way and they give you the key. Then they ask you again, “Do you choose Life or Death?”
To choose life, you must take the key, insert it into the door, open the door and walk through. You must cross this threshold yourself using your own strength. This strength is from faith.
When you allowed yourself to be carried by the Gods, you opened yourself to faith. Prior to this, you lacked faith because you fought the downward spiral of the journey. You fought to keep your possessions, your pride, your dignity and everything else you cherished. When you lost all of these and more, you realized that you are simply not strong enough. You are only human. You are not a God.
Faith is the knowledge that the Gods will take care of you if you let them. They are your foundation, which gives the strength to do what you need to do. True faith is such a basic piece of wisdom that you do not worry anymore. You know that you can lose all and still survive because the Gods will help you. This is something that nobody and nothing can remove from you, without your permission.
Faith is something that cannot be taught. Children may go to Christian Sunday School, Wiccan sabbats and esbats, or Muslim or Jewish religious classes, but they will not be taught faith in them. Religion can be taught, but faith can only be gained by taking the personal journey to an Otherworld.
The Hero’s Journey to the Otherworld is the ultimate journey. Since everything happens in cycles, a person will undertake this journey multiple times in each life, if they choose. Each time, their faith is tested and through that test, strengthened. Therefore, this journey is one of the central pillars to spiritual development that all people are presented with, each within their own religious tradition.
Other Synchroblog Contributions
Here is a list of the other contributions to this synchroblog:
- Faith and the Hero’s Journey (Hawk’s Cry: The voice of a witch)
- Journeying to Otherworlds: Access Denied (Between Old and New Moons)
- Lions at the Door (Quaker Pagan Reflections)
- More Than These Words (Aquila ka Hecate)
- Journeying to Otherworlds (The Dance of the Elements)
- Mythology Synchroblog 4: Children’s Story for Mabo (Pagan Dad)
- Underground Ruminations (Gorgon Resurfaces)
- Synchroblog: Journeys to the Otherworld (Bubo’s Blog)
- Otherworlds Synchroblog: Olympus (Paleothea: the Ancient Goddess)
- Symbolic Saiho-ji and Otherworld Journeying (Symbolic Meanings)
- Becoming Pagan in America – an otherworld journey (Executive Pagan)
- The Wheel’s Hub: The Axis Mundi in Tolkein’s Middle Earth (Druid Journal)