What Journey Should We Be Taking?
“Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that” ~ Martin Luther King
Ever since. . .
First: Jung introduced the concept of psychological archetypes, and
Then later: Joseph Campell popularized the archetype of the Hero’s Journey – We’ve been slapping that journey onto almost every process we can think of.
Any struggle, goal, narrative, developmental sequence you can conceive of – at some point in the past 50 years, someone has applied the arc of the Hero’s Journey to explain, illuminate, inspire, reassure or guide it.
Please don’t get me wrong – I appreciate the archetypal path of the hero and have looked to it in my own life and writing when I feel stuck in certain ways – it definitely has its uses. Campbell chose a rich pattern to mine and uplift.
And I think that a large part of the draw of the hero’s journey is precisely the fact that it includes a journey. The journey is the underlying pattern that has such universal appeal and that teaches us so much. Journeys are compelling. Especially when full of mis-step, conflict, final resolution and success. A journey is a change process. No one who takes a true journey ever comes back the same as when they left. So a journey (regardless of the person-archetype taking it) has the potential to be transformational.
And right now, we have some serious journeying to do – from an old, sick and deadly world-view to a new/reborn, regenerative life-affirming world-view. Human survival at this point demands a journey into a new level of consciousness. So it makes sense that a journey archetype would proliferate and be applied to myriad processes and transformational aspirations at this time.
And yet – the Hero is the main person-archetype whose developmental path has been compelling enough for western masculinity to document and popularize – meaning, the Hero is actually the only archetype with whom we generally associate an archetypal journey. Though, if you think about it, lots of other archetypes must also have a developmental process that would make for an enlightening narrative that could be called a journey, if we were interested enough to explore it. But because Joseph Campbell showed us how EVERY narrative COULD be crammed into the shape of the HERO’s journey, we now associate ‘journey’ with Hero. Almost as if we can’t have the one without the other.
So if we conceive of transformation as a journey – a particularly human and intentional notion of transformation, compared to all the other patterns by which nature transforms and is transformed – then it’s reasonable to conclude that transformation requires a journey. And if we require a journey, it must be the Hero’s.
I’m saying – for transformation to require Heroes is a natural conclusion when that one (heroic) kind of journey has long absorbed most of the attention and expression of the world’s would-be heroes, when it’s the near-universal pattern we see (have been trained to see) repeated over and over in our mainstream entertainments.
I’m saying here – the Hero’s Journey/Transformation equivalence is a self-reinforcing feedback loop. A tautology our culture seems incapable of escaping. A tautology which (yes, I know this is a big claim, but I stand by it) is a big part of what holds supremacy, dominance, separation, extraction, exploitation in place. It’s a key part of the mindset that is destroying us.
I don’t believe that promoting more Heroics is the journey we ought to be on right now. And there are other, less heroic, models of transformation – such as entering a cocoon.
A Path Less Traveled By
And so – just for the fun of it – or maybe it’s more because this is a moment in world history and in the history of human consciousness when it’s clear that what HAS been useful and working (at least for some people) no longer IS useful and working. A time when it seems both important and urgent to pull apart and examine ALL of our norms, question all of our assumptions, and get serious about understanding what REALLY enables the kinds of positive systemic transformation we’re all talking about. For those reasons and more, I want to propose an alternative archetype for human-fostered transformation.
I didn’t invent this – it has a ripe and compelling (if generally subverted, hidden, objectified & demonized) history. But I’m not going to reference/document any of the related research or history here because A) this is becoming long enough as it is, and B) it wouldn’t matter anyway.
Either what follows will resonate & you’ll know the truth of it in your bones (requiring no ‘evidence’ to stick with me), you’ll be intrigued & curious (willing to stick with me /do some research on your own), or you’ll be appalled – rejecting what follows out of hand, only continuing to read out of outrage. In which case, research & references will make no difference – so I won’t bother.
A Path of Healing, Embodied Love, and Co-Creation Across Difference – The Sacred Prostitute
I know . . .
Seriously? . . .
Yup, going there. . .
A quick summary of the two different patterns:
The Hero: Goes off alone. Leaves community behind. Loses his way in a broader world. Finds and slays dragons ‘out there’ in order to slay the weaknesses & passivity ‘in here’. Overcomes external dangers and threats. Returns home with the elixir that HE ALONE discovered and yet is also a salvation for others (an elixir by the way, that enables and encourages others to become more like his newly triumphant self) – while he becomes set-apart by his heroic specialness. He’s all about action, overcoming, and individuality.
The Sacred Prostitute: Remains in the temple. Performs the sacred rites of the Goddess of Love with ‘the stranger’ – the traumatized and alienated warrior who can no longer connect to community because in order to survive he’s had to harden his heart, dissociate from his body, crush his inner -feminine, -caring, -vulnerable self, and steel his will to constant vigilance and violence. Her rites heal the stranger, helping him to return to his heart, sensuality, loving embodiment, family and generative engagement in community. She’s all about staying in place, making that space safe and sacred, receptivity, communion, and healing.
There’s a path here too – in the Sacred Prostitute archetype – development, narrative. But it’s mostly inter-subjective, spiritual & emotional – knowable (if at all – from the outside) by its effect on nearby humans, not by external drama. A path not OUT to other places – implying an infinite supply of ‘world’ out there to conquer, that being lost is a purely geographical phenomenon, and that adventure, risk, and death are outside of us – but a path BETWEEN, trod in the fraught inter-subjectivity between two polar-opposite people with profoundly different ways of being, where the dance of life and death is inside and between us, where courage is also about facing love, tenderness and vulnerability, not only threats and death, a courage that looks and acts very different than heroics and has entirely different goals.
There’s a path here, meant to discover – not yet another place to run off to and consume, but a way to make the place where we are healthy and whole again, through one another. A path so obscured by our current mainstream cultural norms that most people can at best vaguely accept that it might exist, but very few know its contours.
So – Not Just a Difference – An Antidote
Another way of thinking about this: SOME would-be heroes have special heroic journeys and return triumphant, imparting boons to others. But in fact, MOST who hear or respond to that call just get marched off to some shitty battlefield and are either slaughtered in the mud or emerge too broken to re-enter the land of the living, spreading deadness and death everywhere they go. Not all transformation is desirable (by humans). And all transformation includes some (and often many) form(s) of death.
And since the story is always told by the victor – (and, given the importance and urgency of questioning everything at this point in history) don’t we HAVE to deconstruct that Hero story if we don’t want to simply perpetuate a world full of mostly-mangled would-be conquerors cut off from their own humanity? Don’t we HAVE to, at some point, attend to the traumatized survivors (those ‘strangers’ in the Sacred Prostitute myth) & quit pretending they don’t exist? Or that their trauma doesn’t have an impact on everything they touch?
In fact, even actual conquerors need to be re-united with their humanity if they’re going to return home and stop treating everything in front of themselves as something to conquer. In other words, isn’t the violence of hyper-masculinity in itself a self-reinforcing feedback loop that the masculine on its own is completely incapable of diverting?
I’m not saying that there are NO heroes who manage to triumph without losing their humanity. And I’m not saying that the Hero’s Journey is an evil pattern. I’m saying: it’s not the only path of transformation; it’s been so over-used that we fail to see other valuable patterns; and our current hyper-masculine paradigms are desperately in need of some feminine re-balancing – for everyone’s sake.
In other words, the Sacred Prostitute archetype accounts for the fact that the Hero often cannot resolve all that death he gets lost in, without some serious help from the feminine. And I believe that such a resolution of our hero-run-amok death-culture is foundational to the transformations we’re seeking.
Whichever literal sex shapes the body of the Hero, and whichever sex the ‘feminine’ here is embodied as – the feminine principles are desperately needed by the trauma that Supremacy (of all kinds) has inflicted upon pretty much everyone. And the Sacred Prostitute is the archetype committed to and knowing how to approach that frightening need.
She does this by opening, inviting in, holding space for trauma to surface & heal, reaching out and touching, and reflecting back her experience of him (this part is important & generally overlooked).
She is not likely to be the wife he will return to or marry. They are not negotiating practical everyday concerns, he is not yet ready to be part of a household, let alone be with children.
She does not become a permanently intimate part of his life. This is a different kind of love we’re referring to here and he may need to leave much of what transpires with her behind. She may be the carapace in which the larvae turns into a butterfly, part of a process, not part of a whole life. She pushes and challenges him in ways a partner would not. He must acknowledge and honor the value of the gift she gives him, and accepting and facing her challenges is one part of how he does that. She engages him in rites that are too sacred (and perhaps dangerous) for everyday, and she has specific wisdom and characteristics that enable a non-attached and healing love to return him to his humanity. He ultimately returns to everyday life in community while she moves on to the next stranger.
She looks the death in his soul in the eye and opens her arms and heart to it, in a way that makes transformation and new life possible.
Who wouldn’t think we need some more of all that in our world?
This Isn’t A ‘Preference’
It’s been my impression that because almost no-one takes this archetype seriously, folks assume that anyone who seems to do so is having a convoluted and confused feminine moment that will pass.
But that’s not what’s going on here. I have a very well developed masculinity. I have spent much of my life unraveling the intense hero complex that was instilled in me by my very (traumatized and traumatizing) feminist mother at a tender age. There’s no judgment against the masculine here – I get how all of this stuff comes about & blame no-one.
I’m also not naive. I’m familiar with the brand of feminist resistance that equates this archetype with women’s devaluation and objectification and with masculine dominance. And I am well aware of how in our current culture the Sacred Prostitute archetype is a clear target for all kinds of victim-hood. I’ve heard the arguments and seen the evidence, and my response is – I get it – it’s horrifying.
It’s also paradoxical. Repressed archetypes become ‘shadow’, acting out the aspects of the archetypal pattern that isn’t welcomed by the ego. And since patriarchy began, the Sacred Prostitute has been increasingly demonized in a way that has turned her into an increasingly energized, twisted, and pervasive collective Shadow. It’s no wonder to me why we’ve been experiencing an epidemic of pornography.
If, as I’m suggesting, the Sacred Prostitute actually has the ability to cure hyper-masculinity, it’s no wonder she’s the archetype that patriarchy has most demonized, and no wonder that she plays such a strong role in our culture’s collective shadow. Because hyper-masculinity is addicted to itself and has zero desire to return to balance.
James Hillman said ‘Live your archetypes consciously, or they will live you unconsciously’.
Put all these pieces together, connect the dots – not only to masculine/feminine, conscious/unconscious, shadow/ego and trauma/healing, but also to the state of the world, the transformations we seek, and the conditions that make regenerative transformation possible – and we can see that for quite awhile now we’ve been being lived unconsciously by the shadow form of both the Hero and the Sacred Prostitute. One of which (the Hero) by our holding it up as an ideal w/o examining, acknowledging & being responsible for its dark underbelly. The other (the Sacred Prostitute) by demonizing it and creating such unconsciousness and resistance around it that we have no idea how to access it’s beneficial potential.
Knowing the risk that by my saying this, some of you may never take me seriously again – I say: I think it’s time we start to learn about that path less traveled. I think it’s time we try to understand the rites and wisdom and characteristics of the Sacred Prostitute, and how to include more of her into our system-change efforts.
I’m not suggesting anyone literalize this perspective and start turning tricks (tho there’s a special place in my heart for those who do). But I do think it’s time we learn how to align (or at least open) our minds, our hearts, our hands and our beings with (or to) this other archetype of transformation. So that we’re able to consciously choose. So that we’re able to discern when heroics are called for and when to make love. And so that we can begin to understand what love might even mean from this different perspective.
I feel like it’s time we learn to recognize and appreciate – if not live into – the Sacred Prostitute archetype consciously, so that we can be intentional and appropriate as we seek to transform human systems.