[An ASKLEPIA FOUNDATION Book]
THE DREAM JOURNEY AS HEROIC QUEST
ABSTRACT: There is a parallel between the phases of the heroic quest and the process of personal transformation encountered in therapy. Experiential therapies, such as dream journeys, provide permission to immerse oneself in the imagery of the deep subconscious psyche. Each dream journey is based on the archetype of the hero's departure and return. It is a metaphor for the growth and maturation of the ego in its spiritual quest.
By the creative process we mean the capacity to find new and unexpected connections, to voyage freely over the seas, to happen on America as we seek new routes to India, to find new relationships in time and space, and thus new meanings.
Whether our work is art or science or the daily work of society, it is only the form in which we explore our experience which is different; the need to explore remains the same. What science has to teach us here is not its techniques but its spirit: the irresistible need to explore.
The real voyage of discovvery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.
Come along on a journey deep into the center -- deep into the core of all being. You are in a space of shifting and roiling colors. They are boiling around you. You are in a place of undefined and pure energy "stuff" that exists beyond space and time. In fact, time itself is merely one of the colors that is mixing and boiling.
The colors are more or less uniformly, but not quite uniformly distributed in space. And yet where the colors come together, they begin to create something new. They begin to create images. They begin to create structures and forms. And these structures and forms begin to attract around the "mother" energy (matrix) which takes on the shape of the structure or form. This structure is your new self image -- your rejuvinated self.
How you arrive at this place is through the dream journey, whether it is done through active imagination in therapy, or lived out in real-life challenges. Sometimes finding that chaotic place means "hitting bottom." Others would call it "finding myself." Whatever we call it, this dimension is open to explorers and those impressed into the service of the psyche. It is an adventure--the path of your life.
DREAM JOURNEY AS HEROIC QUEST
The mythic dimension of the dream journey, like any voyage of discovery, is a variation on the classic heroic quest. Joseph Campbell has popularized this mytheme, outlining its principle phases. Jung called this inner adventure "the night sea journey," wherein one learns to navigate in the profoundly deep waters of the collective layers of the psyche.
The purpose and value of the entire journey is to relate the hero or heroine (which is actually the person's ego) with the primal, paradoxical forces of the transpersonal world. The ego learns that while it may be the center of the personality, it is not the center of the whole being.
On the inner quest, the ego learns first-hand about its relative position within the vast dominion of the psyche. A dream journey uses mind, in the broader sense, to enter that domain, to find healing states of consciousness that manifest, for example, through the placebo effect.
The deep layers of the psyche have been described in mythic terms throughout the ages. They are the realms not only of transpersonal divinity, but also of the chthonic or earthy gods who have a dark nature. Therefore, the journey is as often associated with a descent into the depths as with a soaring to mystical heights.
Many of the identifications in dream journeys are earthy--the fertile promise of decay, the penetrating heat of a volcano's core, the depths of a turbulent whirlpool, etc. Other images of the profound nature of the inner depths are symbolized by such natural metaphors as a deep ocean, or a cave, or the underworld of the dead.
In ancient times there were many sanctuary caves used for spiritual purposes. Sometimes the openings were small and aspirants were pulled in feet first to symbolize a reversal of the birth process. An old alchemical maxim suggests the aspirant "visit the interior of the earth," for there one could find the philosopher's stone, symbol of wholeness and healing. Water within the deep cave symbolizes the waters of life which spring forth bubbling with new life-giving properties.
Aesculapius [Roman god of healing] , even though he was the son of the god of light, Apollo, has a dark, chthonic side. That is why he was associated with springs and groves of trees. There is a close connection between the water of life, the tree of life, and the renewal of life, as symbolized by the serpent shedding its old skin. All yield a rejuvenating effect.
In the ancient Greek myths, Asklepios is associated with the Eleusinian cult of Demeter, the Earth Mother and her daughter Persephone, queen of the underworld. Reflecting the mother/daughter identity, Demeter and Persephone are really one in the same: "my mother/my self."
In the ancient incubation rituals, it was Mother Earth who sends dreams. In some mythic sources, Persephone is identified with Coronis, mother of Asklepios. In the Egyptian version of the dream healing cult, Serapis (Asklepios) is identified with Osiris, lord of the underworld and husband of Isis.
The ancient doctrine of the soul speaks of visions with the quality of a "great dream." These visions, revolving around the symbolism of disintegration and reintegration, bear all the marks of an initiation into the mysteries of death and rebirth, which is the hero's quest.
In the dreamhealing cult, Asklepios was often imaged as a newborn infant in swaddling clothes. In this form he was identical with the incubant seeking healing. The incubants were frequently fed infant food such as milk, honey, and cheese.
Because incubation deals with the soul, it confers healing not only of physical ailments, but also of bad fate or destiny. The dream or vision itself is the cure. It is only a slight perturbation, but it has the power to change everything.
Another form of "healing" came through imaginal reunion with the ancestors. Reunion has the connotation of "making whole." Practically, it may involve a journey down to the genetic levels of awareness, or it may imply giving one's less-remote ancestors a voice through the therapeutic process.
One dreamhealing client, a recovering alcoholic, focused a great deal of her efforts at personal integration around giving her ancestors a voice. She wanted to finally be able to express all the unspoken dreams of her female ancestors, in particular. She gave vent to their fears, frustrations, and grief through many generations of dysfunctionality and compulsive behavior.
She gave her mission a broader cultural value, also. Because she works in the recovery field, she is publishing papers on the spiritual significance of giving ancestors a voice, so others may benefit from her trailbreaking effort. These ancestors dwell deep within, in the realm of the dead, the underworld.
Dream incubation is a mystery. One is summoned to initiation by dreams, then reborn or healed, after a visit to the underworld. It is especially valuable to do this work around mid-life when the ego has the opportunity to develop a deeper relationship with the religious function.
One may be bidden by the god to sleep in a sacred precinct, but that alone does not assure a cure. Courage is an expressed requirement, for Asklepios has vowed he will not cure the cowardly who fear the treatments, such as a cold bath. The underlying meaning is that one must undergo the initiatory ordeals in order to receive the boon of healing. For example, that innocuous bath is more likely a symbolic "drowning."
THE HEROIC CYCLE OF DEPARTURE AND RETURN
Many people are familiar with Joseph Campbell's THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES, which describes the basics of the hero's cyclic journey. It begins with the call to adventure, which is not always answered voluntarily. Many of us are reluctant to go where none have gone before.
This reflects the state of an individual who is summoned to therapy by dreams and symptoms. The pressing problem provides the incentive or drive to get the process in motion. Some heed the call from the subconscious, others try to repress or ignore it.
Some "heroes" are actually abducted into the journey, somewhat like what happens in a chemical dependency intervention and detoxification. Even in the beginning of the journey, s/he encounters helpers and opponents along the way. The hero enters the kingdom of darkness either alive or dead (or in the living death of addiction), and journeys through a world of unfamiliar and threatening forces.
Once the threshold of adventure is crossed, the game is afoot. It may involve symbolic dragon-slaying, crucifixion, or dismemberment. Dragon-slaying may mean breaking free of old negative, critical parent tapes, that play over-and-over in your mind, inhibiting you and creating guilt. Crucifixion may mean being pulled in opposite directions between equally compelling, but exclusive, choices. Dismemberment may be a metaphor for psychic fragmentation.
There may be imagery of apocalypse and natural disaster as the ego glimpses its immanent doom. This ego-death is a requirement for opening to the broader realm of transpersonal reality. For Freud, being the hero meant slaying the father, like Oedipus. To Jung, the heroic battle meant slaying the "dragon" for deliverance from the mother. In psyche's "union of opposites," both interpretations are "right."
These images are relevant to addiction in its broader symbolic meaning. We also become addicted to our rigid patterns of behavior and response--addicted to particular, limited, conditioned emotional patterns. In other words regressive tendencies, our childish self [NOT child-like, or inner child], which was randomly programmed in our earliest years.
Addiction can be seen as a regressive decent back into the maternal womb and the original bliss of unconsciousness. It is incestuous in nature. Slaying the dragon here means escaping that regressive tendency. Although most-frequently pictured as a snake or dog, Asklepios was also worshipped as a dragon on the island of Cos as late as the fourteenth century A.D.
The homeopathic principle of like-curing-like means that the poison is also the remedy. In HEALING AND WHOLENESS, John Sanford recounts how Athena gave Asklepios the dual-natured blood of Medusa: that from the left side killed, that from the right healed. In dealing with addiction (chemical or otherwise), this means divine intercession, building relationship with the Higher Power, curing the alienation which led toward self-defeating or self-destructive behavior.
After the conflict, trials, tests, and ordeals, the hero gains his reward, which is a new sense of enlarged mystical and mythical reality. The hero discovers the "New World." It transcends the boundaries of normal space, time, and mortality. According to Erich Neumann, in "Mystical Man":
...What makes the battle perilous, and thus establishes the ego as heroic, is the descent into the depth of the unconscious, the encounter with the nonego. ...It is characteristic of the creative process that in it the ego cannot cling to its position in consciousness, but must expose itself to encounter with the nonego. ...This encounter, wherever it may occur, we designate as mystical.
Ultimately, it matters little if one mythically "slays" the mother or the father. The imagery of both the personal and transpersonal parental figures are met within. The hero comes to awareness that both are contained within, and they become harmonized on a new level so the person develops a more androgynous quality.
This androgyny is different from gender confusion, or unisex. Androgyny is one of the qualifying characteristics of the shaman, who is an exemplary culture hero. The merging of masculine and feminine energies within is symbolized as the sacred marriage, or hieros gamos.
To become a mystic, the hero must cease identifying with either the light or the dark exclusively, and re-own the unlived positive and negative aspects of self. This creates atonement, or at-one-ment.
So after a period of seemingly endless wandering, overcoming obstacles sometimes by divine intervention, and gaining the treasure which is difficult to find and hard to hold onto, the hero (or heroine) returns to ordinary life with the wisdom and renewed vision of the sage. The healing comes during the expansion of consciousness, which means freedom, illumination, transfiguration.
The hero re-emerges, is resurrected from the kingdom of the dead, the transpersonal domain, and brings along the elixir of life. The hero expands consciousness both regressively and progressively, uniting history and futurity to live out a unique destiny.
However, the dangers along the way, both entering the depths and returning with the treasure to normal life are very real. Therefore, a guide who is familiar with the way is a good helper to have along. A dream guide or therapist can lead you into new territory with assurance, since they have travelled there many times before.
In every dream journey we recreate the hero's quest. We have the opportunity to respond to the call or to wander aimlessly, to show our courage or falter, to make allies or succumb to opponents, to plumb the depths, to secure the boon, and make a successful return, integrating the wisdom we find into our daily life.
THE OVERACHIEVING HEROIC EGO
There is little doubt that the hero carries a double-edged sword in his superachieving nature. Like any other tool, it depends largely how it is used whether it is creative or destructive. Western man has paid a very high price for identification with the hero, including lack of feeling awareness, fear of intimacy, and authority issues.
The cost for men of living up to the old heroic ideal has recently spawned the men's movement, which even transcends the role of the so-called sensitive man for an authentic masculinity that embraces, integrates, and transcends the opposites. The defensive compensations can be let go, reducing the tension between grandiosity and true greatness of the self within. Mature masculinity is not abusive, domineering or grandiose, but generative, creative and empowering of self and others.
Women have encountered the same loss of feminine values entering the workplace. The overachieving superwoman, seeking to have it all, is an over-reactionary caricature of the hero, also. And society has willingly pushed her into this until many men and women have become equally driven by this inner archetype. Maybe the philosopher, Geothe instigated this drive to be superhuman into our culture--but it is a restatement of myths like Hercules and Prometheus.
The problem seems to come in when this urge or drive for questing and self development is turned outward into the world of daily life. This probably is not inappropriate in the stages of career-building and family rearing, but the emptiness that surfaces in mid-life shows its shortcoming. When the drive is turned inward to the quest for self transformation, it assumes its rightful place in the psyche and functions in a balanced, noble way.
Many Jungians, such as Marion Woodman and James Hillman, feel that the myth of the heroic dragon-slaying hero has moved into overkill. Yes, we must struggle to win our consciousness from the regressive pull of the Great Mother's world. We cannot escape our spiritual destiny by unconsciously sinking back into her oblivion with our drug of choice. The Great Work was the ancient name for transformative pursuits. It requires active conscious effort--work.
But, this transformative urge, taken to excess and misplaced has resulted in the technological rape of the planet, nearly killing Mother Earth. We have "conquered" our horizontal world, rather than the vertical dimension of spirit. Theodore Roszak has covered this topic extensively in his works on Eco-Psychology, such as SONG OF THE EARTH. In our misplaced spiritual zeal, we have exploited and ravaged the earth, with our ravenous hunger for resources. The missonary zeal of Colonialism repressed femininine values and cultures.
This tendency of the hero within toward overachievement -- too much, too soon --is one reason why it is prudent to go slowly in dream healing. For some clients one or two sessions a month are quite sufficient, since they require time to digest and integrate.
Dragon-slaying must be understood as a symbolic process of transformation, then the feminine is not torn asunder from matter. We are not really free of the mother when we worship her in concrete materialism, consumerism, compulsive behavior, and spiritual materialism. As we learn to truly honor the feminine and find balance within our own personalities, we learn to stop repressing it and allow it fully into consciousness.
This is one way of nurturing the growth of your own soul and creativity. The soul is the embodiment of spirit, the receiver of spirit. It is the split between matter and spirit that is the sickness of our modern society. We heal this split by taking a stand against our compulsive appetites, and power drive, according to the Jungians.
The psychological goal of the hero is to train the ego to function at the threshold of the conscious and subconscious worlds effectively. As hero, your first feat is to clarify your psychological difficulties, clear the blocks, voyage to the edge of your own known world, and win the treasure of direct experience and assimilation of the archetypal images. Interaction with these same images was the goal of the mystic arts like magic and alchemy. It takes place in dreamhealing automatically.
We learn the difference between our dream-ego and waking-ego [two different complexes]. Both experience emotions and subjective choice. Both feel like "me," but the dream-ego compensates the waking ego with its inner view. Both are subject to distorting their perceptions of reality.
Dream life is an ongoing dialogue between the ego and the unconscious mind. The dream ego, especially in a "waking dream" or dream journey, does have a real-time "impact on the complexes of the unconscious and can alter their structural arrangement," according to James A. Hall.
The waking ego has these complexes for its foundation. When they change, this is reflected in the waking-ego, especially as alterations in mood. Dreamhealing is therefore a direct alteration of the waking ego itself. The Self acts through the dream directly on the ego.
This process is not without its dangers, at least in the early stages. It creates crises and dangers (such as abreaction) which have the potential of destroying the personality as it has been in the past. When the hero descends into the underworld (unconscious), he must discard the defenses of conscious development, such as intellect.
He gains a mythical type of awareness which allows him to directly experience the paradoxical aspect of the inner world without going insane. For example, he comes to understand, first hand, that he contains both his parental images as well as the primordial archetypal parental archetypes. This leads to a true understanding of androgynous nature, which is one form of wholeness as projected by the transcendent function. It is a way of uniting opposites within oneself, rather than overcoming them through fighting.
The goal of the hero's quest is a higher synthesis of the ego, with access to both conscious and unconscious. Maturing through the hero means you learn to transform your conflicts into a nobler and more stable personality with deep roots in the sources of life.
As hero, you are involved in a paradoxical process of ordering, which is precisely why you may be susceptible to breakdown and wounding. You are assaulted by the forces of chaos, entropy, and disorder. It is a paradoxical truth that acts of ordering can result in potential weakening of the ego. As hero, you learn to withstand the effects of the disorder which your creative efforts manifest.
You'll have to battle your own personal and historical limitations to obtain the vision of the well-springs of human existence. Then, your second task, of returning to normal life as a transformed example of the way begins. In the initial stage, you assimilate, then you disseminate.
If a would-be hero does not submit to all the initiatory tests and steals the treasures, the powers of the unconscious are mobilized to blast him from within and without. This can be imagined as crucifixion or eternal torment. And how many of us have our crosses to bear!
One face of the hero is the martyr who must learn how to give up. However, a self-centered ego can become centered in transpersonal reality. Then one may emerge as a culture hero or heroine in their own small way by making a truly unique contribution to life on the planet.
Your inner hero-self may at first refuse the call to adventure. The rough, unfamiliar terrain, the crossroads, and the gauntlet of initiatory barriers mirror the ordeals of the inner quest. But over time you come to realize that you can overcome your infantile sentimentalities and resentments. You may realize that the good and bad are contained in the law (masculine) and image (feminine) of the nature of being.
The agony of breaking through your personal limitation is the very process that leads to spiritual growth. To complete your task, however, you must return with the treasure to your mundane life, with an increased sense of integration, no longer merely ego-oriented.
You may seek a path of spiritual or religious devotion in order to continue the deepening process begun in therapy. The mystic communes directly with the divine, or Higher Power. Spirituality bears on your integrity, how you conduct yourself in all areas of existence, outer and inner.
IRON JOHN, Robert Bly
FIRE IN THE BELLY, Sam Keen
THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES, Joseph Campbell
THE POWER OF MYTH, Joseph Campbell
THE SYMBOLIC QUEST, Edward Whitmont
PERSONAL MYTHOLOGY, David Feinstein and Stanley Krippner
Joseph Campbell Homepage
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CHAPTER 8 of DREAMHEALING
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