The Hero’s Journey

Remember that each one of us will, at some stage or another or even at many different stages in our life, come to a door or a path or a life option that is closed to us. We have the choice to turn away or to open that door, to travel that path, to make that choice.

theFoolI first heard about the “Hero’s Journey” back in the early 1970s. A colleague of mine, Paddy Walley, mentioned it in passing around the time that I was recruited as a Training Specialist in N.E.T., the fertiliser plant in Arklow. I didn’t know much then about the “Hero’s Journey” other than that occasional references to it appeared in the media dealing with training and organisation development issues. About the same time, I was encouraged by an Irish consultant, a behavioural scientist, the late Pat Quinn, who was working with the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations, based in the U.K., to attend their annual Leicester Working Conference.

This “conference” was unlike anything I had ever experienced up to then. It was (and still is!) an experiential learning event. Unlike most conferences, where there is a lot of socialising and networking contacts, a lot of talks by panels of experts, and a “jolly good time” is had by all, financed usually by the sponsoring employers (think: scaled-down Davos and a rite of passage for aspiring executives), the Working Conference is an intense learning experience driven by the participants themselves, both consciously as a result of their desire to learn, but also unconsciously by their subliminal needs and desires and personal make-up.

A Working Conference as an experiential event is certainly different. There you learn from your own direct experience of interacting with others in the “here-and-now” as you work with them in an emerging organisational structure and struggle to understand what it’s all about. At one level, you are thinking about the work you are trying to do from scratch, while at the same time, you are being encouraged to examine the process in which the group is engaged, communicating, thinking, doing, arguing, agreeing, visualising. That is, you are dealing with the what and the how of the Task but at the same time, struggling to understand the emerging dynamic of the Process of working together.

The conference consultants focus on analysing what the various groups and sub-groups are doing and interject from time to time with their hypotheses about what is happening in the group, as-a-group. They rarely if ever interact with individuals in the group, because their focus is the group as a group, as if it were a separate “animal” and the individuals merely different, but intrinsic, aspects of that “animal”. The focus is on the dynamic way in which the Task and the Process interact, on how that interaction affects and is affected by the individuals in the group, at the level of both conscious and unconscious awareness, thinking, and behaviour.

The group consultant’s only information is what they see and hear and sense around them. From that they develop a working hypothesis as to what might be going on in the psyches of the group members. It is impossible to describe the effect this has on each participant. Suffice it to say that on the morning of the second day (the conference lasted for a fortnight), I spent almost an hour before breakfast, on my knees, in the toilet bringing up what felt like everything I had ever eaten in my life. By the end of the fortnight, I was aware that the world had changed for me and that I had choices to make. In many ways a Working Conference is another example of the Hero’s Journey in a limited time frame. My career took a radically different direction from then on. I would now in retrospect describe my life as surfing from one wave to the next, even from one Working Conference to another, caught up like a small canoe negotiating dangerous but exciting rapids. I have also attended three further working conferences and trained as a group relations consultant with the Tavistock Institute.

I mention all the above, because over the past few years since 2002, when I returned to Ireland, I have been struggling to cope with the consequences, some good, some bad, others yet to be evaluated, of my life in general. But I have learned how to look at these these situations in a more useful way, and most importantly, to accept life as it is rather than wish it were different. As part of this developing scenario, the name of Joseph Campbell arose again and again. He was the originator of the “Hero’s Journey”! In this, his work is invaluable if you struggle at times to make sense of what is happening to you in your own life. The diagram below is just one of many different examples of how the different stages of the Hero’s Journey may occur.

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A schematic diagram showing different stages in the Hero’s Journey.

Joseph Campbell was born in White Plains, New York,[2] the son of Josephine (née Lynch) and Charles William Campbell.[3] He was from an upper-middle-class Irish Catholic family. He was a scholar and was strongly influenced by the work of James Joyce. His book, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, gives a good overview of his ideas. His work has influenced many modern writers and film-makers, such as George Lucas and “Star Wars”, “The Matrix”, the Harry Potter series, and many others. The popularity of those films and others like them, including folk tales, mythology, and fairy tales, is in large measure due to those stories being built upon a simple framework that we instinctively recognise and respond to as being rooted in our shared human nature.

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The Hero faces his Nemesis

Today I came upon the film “The Timeless Tale of the Hero’s Journey”. [NOTE: This link will take you to a YouTube video summarising the Hero’s Journey and that is then followed by a one-hour film expanding on the first video and pointing out the implications of the myth]. I have no regrets that it has taken so many years for my life to come full circle since then, with many repeated cycles of the Journey, from Paddy Walley’s reference to it nearly fifty years ago right up to now. You will always find the Hero’s Journey relevant to your search for meaning in your life, as well as helping you to recognise the “Here be Dragons!” sign.

 

The key point for anyone watching this film is to remember that this is not about a pantheon of heroes to be admired from a distance. Every human being since the dawn of our history is unique. We live in a gigantic, multi-dimensional, mind-boggling, cosmic arena that we still struggle to understand, so there is still plenty of room for your and my and his and her uniqueness to emerge and flourish. Remember that each one of us will, at some stage or another or even at many different stages in our life, come to a door or a path or a life option that is closed to us. We have the choice to turn away or to open that door, to travel that path, to make that choice. You don’t have to be famous, or fantastically clever or skilled or wealthy see your life as your Hero’s Journey.

Watch this film and you will understand why!

Heros-Journey-Cartoon

Are you one of the 70 million?

Well, if you are one of those lucky ones, how much do you know about the land of your ancestors?

The Irish seem to pop up in the most unlikely places. It has been estimated that there are approximately 70 million people worldwide of Irish extraction. Because Ireland is a trading nation but a small country, this has led to periods of emigration in search of work whenever the global economy took a downturn. Let’s not worry too much about the precise figures but I know from my own experience working abroad that there are many people around the world who feel a kinship with Ireland because they believe they have at least one ancestor from the Emerald Isle.

dreamstime_m_58494533Well, if you are one of those lucky ones, how much do you know about the land of your ancestors? We all inherit traits from our ancestors and if you have Irish ancestors can you recognise anything particularly “Irish” in your make-up? Well, to do that youwill need to learn more about Ireland and its people. And I am not limiting that to those people who now, today, live in Ireland. I am thinking back over the long history of the country. That is why I am building my web site slowly but with the specific purpose of presenting information from the old manuscripts, dating back over 1,000 years.

It has been said that history is written by the conquerors after a war, but mythology is the “people’s” history. Ireland is lucky in that it has a very rich heritage of these stories, originally part of our oral tradition, where stories about the heroic past were told around camp fires with the purpose of emphasising and imparting knowledge down the generations about what it meant to be Irish, how our ancestors saw their lives, the principles by which they organised their society. Mythology is a record of what is important in the spirit of the people, their beliefs, their values, their aspirations.

Ireland was the third country in the region that we now call “Europe”, to develop a written story of their country, the other two being the Romans and the Greeks. Those three countries preserved the old oral tradition in the written records of the manuscripts. From them we learn about the Heroic Age of Ireland, of Cúchulainn and the Red Branch Warriors, of Fionn Mac Cumhaill and the Fianna, and of the various tribal leaders who have been recorded in those ancient tales. But those manuscripts were written in Old Irish and in Latin. Many of the manuscripts have been translated into English and other modern European languages but they have been the preserve of scholars mostly and it has not been easy for ordinary folk to access accurate information or even read those tales.

That is why I am embarking on developing a web site with a focus on presenting those tales in an easily accessible medium, with commentaries to explain the background to each. Even more importantly, I want to show how nearly 2,000 years ago, on a small island which was then deemed to be at the edge of the known world, had developed a sophisticated society, with a unique legal system, and its own way of resolving social and political issues that still have relevance today. One example of that is the story of “The Law of the Innocents”.

In 691 A.D. the Abbot of the Monastery at Iona, organised a Synod in Birr, Co. Offaly to which tribal and other leaders from the region now described as Ireland and the United Kingdom were invited. Remember that in those days these two islands did not have a system of national and regional governments as we have today but were organised on the basis of tribes and clans. These tribes were regularly at war with one another over a variety of issues. Nevertheless over a thousand representatives attended the Synod as is recorded on manuscripts of the time. They passed a law outlawing violence against women. Those attending the Synod contributed to a fund to enforce that Law because there was no central authority to do so. This was done over 1,000 years before the “Declaration of the rights of Man and of the Citizen” was passed by France’s National Constituent Assembly in August 1789, or before Thomas Paine published his “Rights of Man” in which he explored the idea that government based on true justice should support not only mankind’s natural rights (life, liberty, free speech, freedom of conscience) but also its civil rights (relating to security and protection).

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Standing stones

Other stories from the ancient manuscripts describe how the Irish people organised their society, how they coped with spiritual issues as well as those temporal ones. For instance, in the time of the Druids, we read that there were  comprehensive rules governing society. The Druid was similar to the Shaman in other indigenous cultures. They had the power to step between tribal armies on the point of war and impose a cessation of hostilities while they adjudicated on the merits of each side. Even before the introduction of paper in Europe, it appears that the Druids had memory sticks long before the computer industry stumbled on the idea. Yes, they used memory sticks as an aide memoire for the oral tradition of remembering and recalling the ancestral stories! I am at present preparing that story with details about how you may use their technique with investing in computer peripherals!

For those reasons above, I am keen to investigate how relevant the learning from those ancient times is for us today. The web site is aimed at the general reader and will provide resources in response to requests. I hope that you will find information there to whet your appetite enough to learn more about your Irish ancestry, and even if you have no Irish ancestry, I am sure that you will find something there to interest you.