The Hero's Journey
I loved the church. But in the end I felt I had to leave it. It wasn't even a decision. It was more, in the end, something I had already done, inwardly. So, I retired, feeling blessed by the opportunity to serve in that way, as a parish priest, and grateful for so many rich and enduring friendships along the way. And then I left.
One way of understanding that decision is through a story, a mythic story. Joseph Campbell identified one particular myth, a "mono-myth," that is common to all cultures and all times, the myth of the hero's journey. Simply told, the hero leaves the tribe (either drawn by desire or evicted by circumstances) and begins an arduous journey of self-discovery. The journey brings difficulty and privation, often an encounter with a tyrant, and sometimes a mortal wounding. Eventually, however, the journey leads to self-awareness and, with that, a unique and authentic gift to bring back to offer to the tribe.
Campbell has written and spoken eloquently about this myth and how it is the story of every human soul. Life bids us to strike out, discover our true selves, and return with a gift to the tribe, the gift of who we really are. His observations formed the basis for the Star Wars movies, which George Lucas intentionally mined in order to create a modern vision of that myth for an age that, as he believed, has no myths.
Campbell's retelling of that story set my heart on fire. It was as if I was that hero, still waiting in the village for, what--permission, opportunity?--to set out on my quest, a destiny I can trace back to my teens, which is what some Native elders refer to as the "Second Awakening," or "Second Birth." Many of my abilities were well used within the church, and mostly I felt privileged to offer them there. But there was always something else, something deeper, calling to me, nudging me, sometimes kicking me in the ass. The story of the hero's journey released me to leave the village and head out on my journey.
This is the power of story. It lights a fire within us and sends us on our way, where to, we don't know. It speaks to a part of us that is barely conscious, but a part whose voice grows not less insistent with age, but more. It is the call to be our true selves and to offer our unique gifts to the world.
Michael Trotta knows a lot about myths and stories, and this story in particular. He left a successful career as a special education teacher and tenured professor to find his soul's way as a student and a teacher of myths. His website (https://www.storymischief.com) and his podcast, Story Mischief, introduce us to the rich tradition of ancestral storytelling, the kind that changes lives. And he is my guest on The Mystic Cave podcast for the next two episodes.
This week, I give him the floor, where he presents his manifesto on storytelling--its importance, its purpose, and its ability to shape lives, including his own. In the next episode, we'll talk together about his storied life and his journey to discover the myths and stories that launch us on our soul's quest, our hero's journey, to find our true selves and our authentic way in the world.
I can't tell you where all this will lead. But we can't possibly know without getting up and getting going. The rest we'll just have to discover along the way. Anyway, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.
This week in the Mystic Cave: A Manifesto on Myth and Storytelling, by Michael Trotta. [You can listen to that episode now ... just by pressing the Play button in the link below.]