(This is something I wrote quite a long time ago - it was presented on 7 February 1990 at the Brigham Young University SF Symposium, LTUE (Life, the Universe, and Everything) - and when someone recently asked me if it was published anywhere, I told them that so far as I know, it isn't. So I decided to publish it here.)
Joseph Campbell, in his HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES, discusses a pattern of storytelling that he and other anthropologists have discovered in cultures all over the world, in cultures that would appear to have developed the pattern quite independently of other cultures. The favored explanation for why this pattern has developed in so many places and without cultural borrowing, is that it is part of what Karl Jung called "the collective unconscious"--a kind of racial memory we all share because we are human. I would like to submit an elaboration on that explanation.
The pattern, which Campbell calls "the archetypal journey," goes as follows.
An individual, usually one in a state of ignorance as to her potential, is issued "the call to adventure." This may be issued by circumstances--something "wrong" about the way things are has aroused the individual's curiosity and she sets out to find answers--or by some personage who has searched for the hero in order to issue the call.
Often, the call is refused at first, but it is eventually accepted (if it weren't, there would be no story, of course), and the hero is sometimes given some kind of supernatural aid to help on the journey. Consider Dorothy in the movie version of THE WIZARD OF OZ: she almost runs away, but changes her mind. The tornado takes matters out of her hands and she is swept off on her adventure whether she wants to go or not.
Before the adventure can truly begin, however, the hero must leave the safe, secure world she is used to and cross into the world of the unknown. This is usually represented by some kind of test the hero must attempt to pass. There are several names for this: "crossing the threshold" and "facing the shadow" are two of them. The "shadow" is a Jungian name for that part of ourselves that we are most ashamed of--the "tragic flaw," if you will. When the hero encounters her shadow, she is often unable to really face it--and it becomes her stumbling block as she continues on her journey. In Ursula K LeGuin's WIZARD OF EARTHSEA, the young sorceror Sparrowhawk brings forth his own shadow and gives it form out of the arrogance of his youth and genius.
The journey proceeds through many trials and temptations, most of which seem particularly designed to attack the hero at her weakest point--her shadow. Luke Skywalker must continually deal with his ideas of personal glory and his aggressive nature. Each time he encounters Darth Vader, he is the one who strikes first--until the third movie in the STAR WARS series.
The hero encounters some characters who attempt to distract her from her journey and others who assist her. As she deals with each character and trial, she learns more about herself, her goal, and her shadow; and begins to change, growing into the person she has the potential of becoming--the one who will save her world.
Patricia McKillip's RIDDLEMASTER OF HED, Morgon, is beset from all sides as he tries to answer what started out as a simple question-- though he should have known that there's no such thing as a simple question--he was a riddlemaster, after all. The further he goes, the more complicated the riddle becomes until he is totally changed from the almost bucolic young prince who "couldn't even play the harp."
The climax of the journey comes when the hero suffers her "supreme ordeal"--when she is no longer able to avoid facing her shadow. This ordeal is absolutely life-threatening and there is no certainty that she will survive it. When she does win, it is by sacrificing something of herself. Because of this sacrificial action, she wins the greatest prize of all: "the ultimate boon."
This may come in a personal form as in what Campbell calls "atonement with the Father" or even in "apotheosis"--a kind of godhood for herself. It may also come in the form of a magic tool or spell or whatever else is needed to save the world she came from--the world to which she must return if her quest is to be complete. Frodo loses a finger--Beren, in the legends of Middle Earth, had lost a hand--as does Luke Skywalker. Thomas Covenant finally sacrifices his own life to save The Land. Every successful hero loses something precious--perhaps something physical, more often something psychological. Frodo can never find comfort in Middle Earth again--he has lost more than a piece of his hand.
One experience that Campbell remarks upon in his book is what he calls "the belly of the whale" episode. This involves entering the depths of the earth--or the sea--and symbolizes a kind of death and resurrection--or even a baptism and spiritual rebirth. This can even serve as the "supreme ordeal" that in being conquered wins the "ultimate boon" for the hero. When Gandalf enters Moria, he faces the Balrog, dies and is resurrected into a godlike individual. Frodo isn't the only one on an archetypal journey in LORD OF THE RINGS.
In some stories, the hero refuses to return to her old world. She has seen how narrow and sheltered it is and it has no meaning for her anymore. To return is one more sacrifice she must make--and sometimes she doesn't make it. Most of the time, though, she does. And she does it magically--having gained new powers or new understanding of the powers she had all along--like Dorothy, she realizes that "there's no place like home"--even though home will never be the same for her.
Before she can return, some heroes must pass another threshold; "home" is separate from the world of adventure. Frodo's return is one long, leisurely journey that lasts over years and involves a series of good-byes. His younger companions are the ones who come back to the Shire with the boons of experience and magic that save their home. Once they are back, they have become what Campbell calls "masters of two worlds"--the world of adventure and the home place. They have the "freedom to live" in either, and their lives are richer for their experiences outside of the Shire.
So how does this relate to my explanation of the collective unconscious--the racial memory? In Latter-day Saint theology, we were all children of God, living in what we call a "pre-existence" in which we were sheltered and innocent. The one who delivered our call to adventure was God himself, our father. But before we could go on our journey, we had to pass one test. One of our fellow children wanted to rewrite the adventure before we had even lived it. He planned to take away all the choices, all the trials, all the temptations. He would force us through the supreme ordeal, ensure that we survived it, and win for all of us our ultimate boons. He expected to be given all the credit for this great "kindness"--he expected to usurp God in our lives because he would have "saved" us all from the harsh tests of adventure.
Another of God's children said he would go and experience the adventure along with us--suffering his own supreme ordeal and winning the ultimate boon of atonement for us and apotheosis as well. The test for us was to choose between them. One third of the children of God chose the "easy" way and refused the call to adventure. Their stories ended then. The rest crossed the threshold into life and were born on this world. We suffer temptation, we encounter friends and foes, and we learn about who we really are and what we have the potential of becoming. We were told that we would experience our own supreme ordeals and that we would need to sacrifice our worldly desires and our selfishness in order for the atonement and apotheosis to become our ultimate boons. We can become masters of both worlds if we make the right choices. And we can return to the home we don't remember, in the presence of our Father and our God.
When we hear these stories in this world, even though we don't remember them, we recognize them as being part of the truth. The archetypal journey is our journey. We know we are hearing what we need to hear to help us remember our goal in life. And I hope we listen.
Less than a year after my last entry, my mother died after having fallen in May 2014 and fractured her pelvis. I guess that might serve as an excuse for my taking so long to post something here. She was in rehab for a little over a month, and then, right after the physical therapists went on a visit to her house with her - to determine what changes needed to be made so she could live at home - she must have fallen again, because she suddenly had a sacral compression fracture, and had to stay in rehab for several more weeks.
We tried moving her into assisted living after her rehab coverage ended, but that did not work out because she needed much more attention than they were able to give her. We moved her to a skilled nursing care center, and that's where she died.
During all of this, we learned that she had multi-infarction dementia, so we could not have moved her home even if her fractures had healed completely. We had to learn how to talk to her so as not to upset her, and how to handle her anger at us for what we were "doing" to her. They told us that people in her situation are so angry at their family members that it can become unbearable for all concerned. I came to understand that there is another side to the "sweet old lady whose family never visits" story. Mom was very sweet and cute to others who visited her, but the best we got from her when we came was what can be called "flat affect" (a blank stare or no response at all).
I know she is alive and happy now. My dad died 15 years before she did, and I know he was thrilled to be with her again. All of their married life, he would insist on either going wherever she went ("I'll just wait in the car") or finding a way to call her and ask how much longer she was going to be gone. (She found it rather embarrassing at times.)
For years she demonstrated bobbin lace at cultural events and at pioneer celebrations, and near the end, she couldn't even remember how to do it - and she knew that she'd lost that memory. I know she has all of her memories now, and I believe her anger at us has gone, and that she appreciates and understands all we were trying to do for her.
I used to call her at the end of the day and see how she was doing. It was our little joke that I would tell her she could go to bed now. My brothers and sisters also called her often. We miss being able to do that. But we have hope of seeing her and my dad again, of being together as a family, thanks to the covenants we've made in the LDS temples.
We just have to hang in there and do our best, to follow the example our parents set for us with their lives.
As my grandson said when he visited my mother's grave a few months ago, "I'll see you when you're alive again, Nana." I told him that she is alive - her body is dead, but she'll receive a new, immortal body someday, and so will everyone else, and then we'll see her again. And we will.
Christmas is coming and things are getting busy. One thing especially great about this time of year is how families get together.
And share stories.
Stories are a very important part of family history. They help us get to know each other and those who have gone before us. They bring us closer together as we remember shared experiences.
You can collect these stories and make them available to those who are not old enough yet to understand them (or care) as well as to those who are too far away to join with you.
With today's technology--smart phones, tablets, and other recording devices--you can record audio and video as stories are told. You can get the older family members on record as they share their stories--something you will be very glad you did, especially after they pass on.
And even if you don't do this at a family get-together, you can meet with your family members and record their personal histories in this way.
Not sure how to start? Try a timeline.
Just make a list of where they lived and what they did there, down through the years of their lives. Timelines serve as perfect skeletons on which to build the body of a personal history. Listing timeline elements triggers memories and brings out wonderful stories that you might not have heard otherwise.
Don't wait. Time spent on timelines will reward you beyond what you can imagine. Time's a-wasting. There's no time like the present. And what a great present your efforts will be to all those you love.
but she died twelve years ago today.
This is a small article I wrote four years ago about her and what happened.
Unto Us a Child Is Born
Losing a loved one seems harder to bear when it comes during the holiday season. When a baby has died, Christmas songs about a mother and her child can make the loss even harder.
While the last third of the year 2001 was a time of tragedy for thousands of people, our particular tragedy started well before September 11th. Our daughter and her husband were expecting our first grandchild and had volunteered to participate in a study of Down's syndrome babies. They went in for an early ultrasound, expecting to be on the control list with a normal baby. Instead the doctors found that their little girl had no skull and would not live long after birth--if she survived even that long.
The doctors recommended abortion, but my daughter chose to try to have the baby because she and her husband wanted this little girl in their family, even if they could only know her for a short time.
They named her Winnifred Grace and they grew to love her as she made herself known to them. Her mother was constantly aware of her as she shifted, squirmed, and stretched inside her. Her father would put his head close and talk to her and sing.
Little Winnie was due to be born at the end of November, but as her parents prepared to leave home to join us for Thanksgiving dinner, my daughter sneezed, and her water broke. Both sets of grandparents spent Thanksgiving Day at LDS Hospital, waiting for the birth of their special granddaughter.
Winnifred Grace survived her birth, and we took turns holding her, spending as much time with her as we could because we didn't know how much time we had. When it was my turn, I sang my father's version of "The Eriskay Love Lilt," a song he had sung as a lullaby to me and then to my children. He was not there to sing it himself, having died two years before, but his grave would be Winnie's resting place as well because there was room above his large coffin for her small one. As I held her and sang, I pictured him holding her when the time came for us to say good-bye to her, too.
She lived for ten hours. When the man from the mortuary came to the hospital, my son-in-law wanted to stay with my daughter, so I volunteered to carry Winnie down to the car. The man escorted me through the back ways, saying it was hard to have to explain to people that the baby I was carrying was dead, so it was better to go where we wouldn't meet people. I laid her on the passenger's seat and returned to the hospital room to help my daughter get ready to go home.
When Winnie's body was ready, we went to the mortuary and helped her mother dress her in a beautiful white dress trimmed in yellow that her other grandmother had made for her granddaughter. My daughter then wrapped Winnie in a baby afghan crocheted for her by my sister and laid her in the tiny coffin. There was a viewing, and then we took her to my father's gravesite.
The snow had been cleared away, and though cold, it was a beautiful day. My son-in-law had a brother who had died as a baby, and his mother told us that it had been very hard to leave his body all alone in that cemetery full of strangers. It was a comfort to leave this grandchild's body with the body of her great grandfather.
Then came the Christmas season with all the songs about the world's most special baby and about how much His mother loved Him. Those songs took on new and painful meaning as we mourned our own special child.
Rather than mourn alone, though, we chose to go to out of state to spend Christmas with Winnie's other grandparents so that her mother and father could spend Christmas with both of their parents.
Christmas that year was on a Tuesday, but we arrived in time to attend Sunday services. Those of us who could sing became impromptu additions to the choir. And there we sang those songs about the most special child of all, welcoming Him once again, and feeling comforted because His coming has made it possible for us to be together someday with all of those we have lost. The tears we shed in sadness then will one day become tears of joy because of the birth, death, and resurrection of one very Special Child.
I didn't win the contest for which I wrote my previous post, but my blog entry was mentioned in the Interweave Knits blog collection of tips from the contest:
(It's tip #9.)
And I am glad I was inspired to write the post, because I told my mother about it, and she didn't remember having rolled that ball of yarn for me. She was touched that I had remembered, and it was a tender moment between us.
You can never thank all of the people who touch your life, nor can you let them know how some little thing they did made a difference for you.
But you can do that for some of the people, and I can't think of a better way to use social media, especially blogs, than to do that.
So maybe that's something I can do on this blog, at least.
It is so true that by small things great things can be brought to pass.
I learned to knit when I was about 10 years old, and my mother was the one who taught me.
Before we started, I heard a story about a young girl whose mother had rolled a skein of yarn into a ball for her, to encourage her to learn to knit. In that ball, as part of the encouragement, the mother had placed small treasures for her daughter to find as she kept knitting.
I thought that was such a nice thing for the mother to do, so I told my mother about it, and expressed hope that she could do something like that for me.
And she did.
I don't know how she found the time or money to collect the tiny surprises that she rolled into that ball of yarn, especially since she had three other children and a fourth on the way, and my father was a school teacher with a limited income.
But she managed.
And at the center of the ball was a little ring set with my birthstone. I still have that ring, though I don't have any of the other little gifts.
And I have the memory of my mother doing such a kind and thoughtful thing for me.
Looking back now, at how challenging my not-so-simple request was, and how well she fulfilled it, I am touched and honored at her love for me.
What did I knit with that magical ball of yarn? I believe it was a pair of garter-stitch slippers (that hurt my feet because they were so bumpy).
But that was the first of many items I have knit, and I am so glad my mother made that special effort to encourage me to learn.
By the way, this blog entry is for a contest sponsored by Interweave Knits. The prizes I hope to win with this entry are as follows:
Knitting Off the Axis Projects and Techniques for Sideways Knitting
Power Cables The Ultimate Guide to Knitting Inventive Cables
The Art of Seamless Knitting
Textured Stitches Knitted Sweaters and Accessories with Smart Details
Light & Layered Knits: 23 Sophisticated Designs for Every Season
I've made two scarves, so far, with this particular pattern, which was created by designer Martina Behm. The pattern has 42 "teeth" which is why she named it "Hitchhiker" (of course).
The first one is made of superwash merino/silk hand-dyed by a lovely lady in West Cork, Ireland, named Jo Kerrigan. My daughter got the yarn for me as a gift.
I love how light and delicate it is--very nice drape, I think.
The other, is also from hand-dyed yarn that my daughter got for me--except this she had to spin for me before she gave it to me. The "colorway" is named "Dragon Scale" by its dyer, the owner of Greenwood Fiberworks. It's a bit thicker yarn, but I love the way the colors changed as I knit the scarf:
Looks like dragon fire, doesn't it?
- Wed, 18:59: I can tell by the invites to Goodreads that I keep getting that I need to get back in there and update my book list.
One of the crazy things I did last year was adapt a Vogue Knitting pattern and use up some sock yarn I bought. (I don't like to knit socks, so I had to do something else with it.) The really crazy thing about it was that I threaded a whole bunch of seed beads onto the yarn for the middle part of the pattern, and I hope to show the results below. (The original pattern was for a cowl, and I turned it into a sort of collar.)
Three braided concentric circles, with the beaded one between the other two.
And this is how it looks when I wear it.
I entered it in the state fair last year, and won a third place ribbon. The judge's comment was something along the lines of "clever work, but too heavy to wear." Wrong! Oh, well.
People would ask me, which I was knitting it, what I was making, and I'd put it over my head to show them. Of course, that meant they saw it "on" my head, like a headband, and several said I should just make it like that. So I made a couple of single circles as headbands out of some leftover sock yarn (my daughter loves to make socks):
Well, uploading the photos went much better this time. Whew!