Midway upon the journey of my life
I found myself within a forest dark.
For the straight-forward pathway had been lost.
Inferno, first canto
In the previous post, which I titled “Before Death,” I described how I felt when my life was turned upside down. The confusion, the lack of energy, the despair, all of it led to what I eventually concluded was a sort of Near Death Experience, also written about in a previous post.
As the years passed and I had occasion to learn more, I concluded that the NDE was most likely a sort of shamanic event whereby I died as a way to “shed” my old self and began to discover and bring to life my new self, hopefully a more aware self.
One way to express that journey from “here” to “there” is as the Hero’s Journey or, as I termed it then, since I’m female, the Heroine’s Journey. I’ve since discovered that is also a Heroine’s Journey that is not just a feminine version of the Hero’s Journey but since I’ve already written this as part of my book, I’ll let it stand as the Heroine’s Journey. For now, anyway.
If it seems grandiose to use a term like “heroine” in the context of what we see as our mostly ordinary lives, it isn’t.
1 a: a extraordinary figure often of divine descent b: an illustrious warrior c: a person admired for achievements and noble qualities d: one that shows great courage
2 a: the principal character in a literary or dramatic work b: the central figure in an event, period, or movement
We are the heroines and heroes in our life stories. It takes great courage to live in this world, to dare to experience what it has to offer. We are the central characters, the “stars,” of our lives as we live them. We see life through our eyes, we feel life through our emotions, we live our lives in accordance with the choices we make. No one else sees or feels or lives life exactly as we do no matter how similar views, feelings, and lifestyles may be. We thus live a life no one else has ever lived and that no one else ever could. We truly are unique, extraordinary, and courageous and, therefore, heroic.
The Heroine’s Journey is an allegorical description of our sacred journey of individuation or spiritual awakening, the journey through life in which we all participate, consciously or not. It is an archetypal, mythological, psychological, and spiritual trek. I personally relate to the myth of the Phoenix, that is, dying and being reborn.
One of the greatest expounders of this is Joseph Campbell. He speaks in masculine terms but since this Journey is not gender specific I use “heroine” because it’s too easy to think men are the only ones who are heroic and I want to avoid that. When the mythology is understood we realize that the “warrior” male/female and the “nurturer” female/male both exist in every one of us, thus the Journey applies equally to men and women.
In our culture it’s relatively easy to find stories about warrior heroes and heroines like Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamil) in Star Wars and Lt. Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in Alien, but it can be more difficult to find male roles that demonstrate the nurturant feminine without parody. However, think of Samwise Gamgee in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Rings sagas. Sam (his full name incorporating “wise” is not an accident) becomes the companion and helper of the protagonist/hero Frodo Baggins.
At first “simple” Sam’s greatest gift seems to be reciting and making up poetry but during their perilous journey he often exhibits great intuition and psychological understanding, qualities generally said to be feminine traits. He takes care of their baggage, cooks, and generally makes sure Frodo has the support he needs to continue his quest, all quintessentially feminine activities.
For all these so-called “feminine” qualities, though, male Sam’s role indicates the strength inherent in the nurturer, not to mention as much or more courage as is demanded of Frodo. When Frodo is about to succumb to the enchantment of the ring, it is Sam who supports him and prevents him from giving in.
The Heroine’s/Hero’s Journey is first, and most importantly, about inner transformation, not gender, and secondly, how that transformation manifests in the world.
I’ll end this post here, for now, but there’s much more to discuss in this issue of Journeys and genders.