In Part 1 of The Shamanic Journey & Hero’s Journey we explore the trials the hero goes through to reach the ultimate boon.
The Ultimate Boon
When we embark on a shamanic journey we have so many expectations for what is to come. There is a climax to this story we are certain. We will come back with a new power, a supernatural gift, a better life. The promise of riches from this journey are so compelling that we can become obsessive, even mad, in our quest. Our motivation to attain this goal is what helps us overcome the most nasty and devastating of obstacles. We are willing to give up what keeps us safe, long-held belief systems, and ego barriers. We are willing to face our deepest fears. Where does this expectation of a boon come from? Myth of course.
This is the stage of the hero’s journey where after much trial and striving that he reaches the ultimate boon. In many stories it is often a literal boon such as Jack’s golden egg, Jason’s golden fleece, and Prometheus’s recaptured flame. We are used to seeing the hero depicted in movies and books coming home with a great treasure, a mystical diamond, a magic staff or sword. In mythology this object is what literally makes the hero’s life better. This direct thinking can present a problem with the shamanic journeyer causing her to expect to be able to return with some THING that will improve her life. We know it sounds ridiculous at the time, but this is a difficult expectation to shake.
We are so oriented to stuff and things, and the shamanic landscape can look deceivingly like our own. When we ask what gift the power animal or soul part is bringing back, they can show us an object (a flower, a wand, a crystal, a stone). I can’t tell you how many years the magical child in me secretly fantasized about finally being able to bring one of these objects back. It is an obvious leap to make even though we know the laws of physics are against us.
I always encourage those I do soul retrievals for and those I teach to journey to watch out for the pitfall of taking this object literally. It is a slippery desire. The gift is in the simplicity of the metaphor. The way we bring this gift into our ordinary, everyday life is to assimilate the deep meaning of the simple truth that is coming through. It is easy to understand the object literally and it takes a heroic transcendence to understand it symbolically. It takes time, sometimes years, to understand the vast resources of this seemingly simple gift. This is why this is actually one of, if not the, most powerful and mystifying boons to receive.
Other boons are not objects, but climaxes and accomplishments. Joseph Campbell tells of sacred marriage with the goddess and gives numerous examples of the male hero coming to and marrying the divine feminine. In today’s world, what this looks like is the intellect marrying the heart. This is the coming together of action and receptivity. This is the sacred marriage. At this time in the shamanic journeyer’s progress they meet their anima or animus and are joined with them in the journey. This is the beginning of the end to the split between reason and feeling. The two come together in the journeyer. The coming forth of the “other” side allows the person to become fully integrated. The polarization between right and wrong that causes so much suffering in us is absolved in this moment, and no longer does disharmony rule the consciousness like it once did.
Now the journeyer has access to congruence. The form of congruence depends on the journeyer. It could be a new found decisiveness, a new found ability to hear one’s intuition, or a indescribable sense of peace. This is a coming to peace with one’s life and the process of birth, life, death, and rebirth that is inherent in the goddess. Often we would place the divine feminine as the heart in this exchange, but Mr. Campbell explains her as wisdom which is beyond intellect. “Woman, in the picture language of mythology, represents the totality of what can be known… The hero is the one who comes to know” (p. 97). The shamanic journeyer comes to know what is needed at any given moment as she gains full access to her intuition. Without any preference for life, death, or rebirth – holding all as potential – true knowing can come through.
At the climax, the hero can finally come into confrontation with his father. Joseph Campbell calls this “atonement with the father” and artfully translates it into “AT-ONE-MENT” (p. 107). At ground level, this can be a confrontation with a male figure in one’s life that seems to always sit in judgement of our actions. At the spiritual level, this is the belief in a wrathful, vengeful, or just God that sits in the sky delivering judgment. Zeus is a perfect example of this projection, but regardless of the name of the male God, this is an imprint in our consciousness. Atonement is about coming into oneness with divine will, letting go of all the judgements and justifications we use for holding on to our ego. What this looks like in the shamanic journey is coming face to face with our righteous selves and the reasons we use to justify our arrogance and vengeance. The final trial is a transmutation, a purging, of our ego.
“The mystagogue (father or father-substitute) is to entrust the symbols of office only to a son who has been effectually purged of all inappropriate infantile cathexes – for whom the just, impersonal exercise of the powers will not be rendered impossible by the unconscious (or perhaps even conscious and rationalized) notice of self-aggrandizement, personal preference, or resentment. Ideally, the invested one has been divested of his mere humanity and is representative of an impersonal cosmic force. He is the twice born: he has become himself the father. And he is competent… to enact himself the role of the … sun door, through whom one may pass from the infantile illusions of “good” and “evil” to an experience of the majesty of cosmic law” (p. 115).
“The problem of the hero going to meet the father is to open his soul beyond terror to such a degree that he will be ripe to understand how the sickening and insane tragedies of this vast and ruthless cosmos are completely validated in the majesty of Being. The hero transcends life with its peculiar blind spot and for a moment rises to a glimpse of the source. He beholds the face of the father, understands – and the two are atoned.” (p. 125).
In the shamanic journey this can look like a battle with a great force of darkness. It can be struggling against a black tsunami or facing off with a fire breathing dragon. It can be encountering a frighteningly giant snake, spider, shark, or squid. Always the opponent feels malicious, all-powerful, and wrathful only to find that we are able to come to peace with them. We do so by releasing the need of our ego to triumph and replacing it with the call of our soul to atone.
The final boon that Joseph Campbell outlines and that the shamanic journeyer may encounter is apotheosis which is defined simply as “the elevation of someone to divine status”. This is where we experience the cosmic law that “what is in one is in the whole.” This boon is of the more rare kind in my experience, and something we are lead to. This is not a boon any traveler can make happen no matter what obstacles they overcome. This is God coming to the hero. Absolute dissolution into the sacred is hard to come by and is only accomplished in unplanned encounters that are fleeting. These are the possessions by the divine as explained by St. Theresa of Avila and other great mystics.
In a journey, apotheosis is proceeded by a dismemberment experience. Apotheosis for the shamanic journeyer is when one’s consciousness completely dissolves into white light, when one is completely taken over by a divine being, and when one all of a sudden takes in the world and all of its suffering at once. We inherently open our lives up to the possibility of this life changing experience by following the hero’s journey in our own mythology. Oftentimes God hears us and comes. Ultimately, our small, personal mythology is a reflection of the large, collective story of what it is to be human. What is in one is in the whole.