Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Call to Adventure

When a pretty and kind-hearted girl is eight years old, her mother dies.  Her father remarries and the new mother is jealous and mean, foisting all of the housework on the lovely young girl while favoring her own lazy and spiteful daughters.  Toiling under this unbearable situation, the girl eventually loses sight of her charms.  Her journey then, as a young woman, is to rediscover the beauty that she lost. 

This is the story of Cinderella, one of the oldest and best-loved fairy tales in the world. 

According to Joseph Campbell in The Hero With A Thousand Faces, the journey begins with a crisis and a call to adventure, which is set in motion by the merest chance – a maiden loses her slipper, or a ball rolls into a pond, or there is a knock at the door, or someone loses his way in the woods – and the individual is drawn into an unfamiliar and terrifying world.

The figure that first appears to announce the adventure – be it a repulsive toad who offers advice or a benevolent fairy godmother who turns a pumpkin and field mice into a coach drawn by six gray horses – belongs to the realm where the hero must go.  To answer the call, the hero must turn away from familiar things and enter the dark forest or the underground way to grapple with the hidden and irrational forces of a place where one cannot see “to the bottom of things.”

The crisis has come about because the old ideals, thoughts and behaviors are no longer appropriate. 

In The Feminine in Fairy Tales, Marie Louise Von Franz suggests that, for a woman, the call may be to live more boldly and in line with one’s nature, as in the case of Cinderella who has been hiding in the shadow of her domineering step-mother and sisters – or it may be to get over hurt feelings as in the case of Snow White whose response to the deadly opinion about her is to sleep for a hundred years.  Or perhaps, Von Franz suggests, it is necessary to connect with officially rejected thoughts or feelings, as in the case of the sister in The Six Swans who must work for many years in the deepest introversion sewing shirts for her brothers who had been turned into swans by their unhappy mother. 

Failure to answer the call means the loss of “the power of significant affirmative action” and reduces the subject to a victim to be saved.  But answering the call, Campbell says, sends up all kinds of supernatural aid.

As in fairytale, so in real life.  Answering the call and following courageously as the path unfolds, we find all of the forces of the unconscious at our side.  

In moments of crisis, the unconscious sends up "living beings" that are concealed in the emotions but which sometimes appear to us in dreams.  According to psychologist C.G. Jung, these aspects of instinctive impulse have the power to destroy as long as they remain hidden or submerged in the unconscious.  Answering the call, then, on some level, is to listen to what is being asked of us in our dreams – that is, to embrace the quest for a new synthesis of personality that involves taking into account those parts of the whole that have been neglected.

 The way Jung himself responded to the call – and what he urged his patients to do – was to translate these instinctive impulses into images.  He urged his patients to draw and paint their fantasies, finding that this technique both helped them to rediscover hidden parts of themselves and also to portray the psychological journey upon which they were embarked.

What is being asked of you? 


Cynthia Wylie said...

Faith. Faith in my vision, faith in the invisible helpers as you call them, faith in my beauty, intelligence, imagination, creativity, indeed, faith in my entire self. As someone who has been going through my own challenges, this beautifully written and inspiring post could not have come at a better time. Thank you!! Now I can look at my difficulties as a call to an exciting journey instead of a series of crises, ha, ha. It's all how you hold it, isn't it?

Jack said...

This reminds me of a favorite Goethe quotation:

"Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it."

The Red Coat Writer said...

Cynthia, I think you are right. I've just been reading how the world outside changes when something in our inner world shifts. Thanks Jack, for sharing that quote. They have that on one of the posters at YMCA a where I swim but I never knew it was Goethe!