It’s a method for uniting a group of people to a common purpose. It’s a technique for ‘washing’ the immediate environment and dedicating your effort to the highest motive and energies. It’s a wonderful way to align yourself to your immediate surrounding, teasing out that sense of really ‘knowing’ what’s around you – especially in a landscape as beautiful and powerful as the English Lake District…in spring.
We can call it ceremony. Modern psychology, recognising its value, named it psychotherapy and psycho-emotional journeying. For thousands of years it has been known simply as ritual and, once you remove the populist rubbish from around its edges, there lies revealed a beautiful and empowering use of the human mind and emotions.
The best example of ritual I know is the simple hug. It has rules: the touching of bodies is proscribed in a certain non-sexual way. The hands grasp the other in a gentle embrace, and the heads align so they don’t clash. The duration of the hug and, indeed, the distance of the other person, can be adjusted according to the level of personal trust involved. A hug carried out with loving respect is a powerful and uplifting thing… It’s a wonderful ritual.
Like many ‘mystery schools’, we use ritual. But only when appropriate. The greater part of our ‘communion’ with the landscape on the Journey of the Hero weekend was simply walking and taking in the fresh green delight of spring in northern Cumbria. When we did use ritual, it was powerful…and in some cases, created there and then to adapt to the specifics of the landscape of beauty around us.
The idea for the ‘Journey of the Hero’ workshop began shortly after Sue Vincent’s death, a year ago. Keen to signal that the Silent Eye would be continuing its work, despite her sad loss, we came up with the idea of adapting the core of Joseph Campbell’s book; ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’ into a three-day event that would reflect the Lakeland spring’s splendour, using the hills, lakes and even rivers of the region to provide a series of delightful challenges for our group of ‘happy adventurers’ – as Stuart named them.
A happy and wonderful bunch they turned out to be… But the weekend was to challenge us all in ways not always foreseen. The idea that the organisers were actually in charge of events in the underlying hyper-myth: life itself, was to prove deeply amusing…
Campbell proposed that all the world’s myths and fairy stories followed a common theme; a kind of ‘meta-structure’ whose building blocks were the skeleton on which each detailed journey was mapped. We wanted to use this structure to find synergy in the landscape, rather than an actual story. In this way, we would be more focussed and more in-tune with the beautiful places in which we wandered. He proposed the name ‘Monomyth’ for the underlying meta story.
The Monomyth contains the following stages;
1. The hero’s adventure begins in the ordinary world.
2. He/she must leave the ordinary world when they receive a call to adventure. This is sometimes refused – initially.
3. With the help of a mentor, the hero will cross a guarded threshold, leading them to a supernatural world, where familiar laws and order do not apply.
4. There, the hero will embark on a road of trials.
5. Allies sometimes assist.
6. As the hero faces the ordeal, they encounter the greatest challenge of the journey.
7. Upon rising to this challenge, the hero receives a reward or boon.
8. They return to the ordinary world, empowered to act in a higher way. The world gains much from their renewed presence.
While I concentrated on the locations and the vital timings, Stuart was busy crafting a method whereby the above stages of the Monomyth could be emotionally linked to their sequence. He proposed the use of the Tarot cards – that ancient method of both ‘divination’ and, more importantly, perhaps, the use of ‘active imagination’ to take us into a series of meditative states that reflected the Hero’s journey.
We were to begin, on the Friday afternoon, with the famous stone circle of Castlerigg, a ring of large stones at least five thousand years old, set on a natural plateau surrounded by some of Lakeland’s tallest mountains. Simply standing on that plateau is an act of magic, as nature quietly invites you to contemplate and share the reasons for the existence of this remarkable edifice.
As we approached on the busy and fast A66 road, the skies began to darken. By the time we arrived at Castlerigg, we were in the middle of a full-blown Lakeland downpour… showing no signs of stopping.
It began to look like the ‘ordeal’ stage of our Monomyth was going to be thrust upon us ahead of schedule…
To be continued in Part Two.
©Stephen Tanham 2022
Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.