The Hero's Journey Part 1:
The First Initiation:
The Time of the Warrior Hero
"The call to adventure signifies that destiny
has summoned the hero."
The First Initiation of the hero's journey is the time when the Hero attains his most majestic and warrior-like presence. Success here represents mastery of the individualistic paradigm, that is the paradigm of the self. The individualistic paradigm is a particular way of understanding the world that was most famously described in the 17th and 18th centuries by philosophers such as John Locke and Immanuel Kant. Characterized by the ideas of individual freedom, individual rights, and self-sufficiency, this paradigm has provided the underlying logic for the hundreds of revolutions over the past centuries that have established democratic forms of government (including our own) and that continue to push for more inclusive civil rights. Although this paradigm does not represent the only way of understanding the world, it is the one that our culture considers to be the norm, if not the pinnacle paradigm. Mastery of this paradigm is important for the young hero because it pulls him or her out of the dependency and enchantment of childhood and sets him or her to the intentional task of developing willpower, strength, skill, intelligence, and a sense of self - or, as they say in psychological circles, ego. Ego-building is an absolutely necessary step on the pathway to maturity, and it defines the role of the Warrior Hero.
DAVID: "What is the primary goal?" JOSHUA: "You should know, Professor. You programmed me."
DAVID: "Oh, c'mon. What is the primary goal?"
JOSHUA: "To win the game."
However, the individualistic worldview hosts a very dangerous paradox. This paradox can completely derail the hero, and will do so for those who linger here too long. The problem is this: From within the individualistic paradigm, life can appear to be a zero-sum game. For someone to win, it seems, someone else must lose. An accomplished Warrior Hero is a wonder to behold and a triumph to become. But at some point, we cross a line where ego becomes toxic. Even so, winning is seductive. So, just about the time the hero needs to be moving on to second initiation challenges, his or her first initiation accomplishments become a distraction.
HELA: "Odin and I drowned entire civilizations in blood and tears. Where do you think all this gold came from?"
Mythologist Michael Meade tells us that the oldest meaning of the term "evil" is unripe. This surprising association provides appropriate context for a world where, given the opportunity, the first initiation project morphs into an ego-driven race for wealth, power, and status instead of progressing toward true maturity. Bolstered by feelings of pride and entitlement, who can fault a rising Warrior Hero for wanting to make a career of this lifestyle? In an attempt to thrive in this hyper-competitive, individualistic environment, "career" Warrior Heroes soon learn to embrace the role of Tyrant, Bully, or Con Man.
"You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain"
The Dark Knight
For a while, Western storytelling focused on ego-building First Initiation stories where the Warrior Hero (or the superhero) "wins." Today, however, it seems that we may have relied on this tactic for too long. By orienting ourselves to First Initiation goals, we find ourselves struggling to explain the onslaught of aging, adolescent-minded, "career" warrior heroes with selfish, villainous tendencies. What we must learn in order to survive this perhaps predictable onslaught is this: The hero's journey does not end with the First Initiation. The two options presented by Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight ("You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.") are, indeed, two possibilities - but they are not the only two. There are others, and others that are much preferable.
"You're a super hero.
People should love you."
To help us find our way to more hopeful endings, the Bridging the Gulf program on the hero's journey concentrates on the ego-busting Second Initiation and the transformational Third Initiation. While we will set the stage for understanding the awakening of heroic imagination during the First Initiation, we will quickly turn to the process of testing and sacrifice that converts adolescent heroic imagination into mature life-altering action. With this turn, we begin stepping further into psychological depths and will, in short order, find ourselves in need of more skill at cracking the mythological code. As it turns out, one of the most important code-cracking skills we can master is the ability to think metaphorically.
ROCKET RACCOON: "His people are entirely literal. Metaphors go right over his head."
DRAX THE DESTROYER: "Nothing goes over my head. My reflexes are excellent and I would catch it."
Guardians of the Galaxy
It can be said that literal thinking uses what we think we know to explain the unknown, while metaphorical thinking uses what we think we know to explore the unknown. In regards to the hero's journey, exploration is definitely in order. So, the Bridging the Gulf program makes a concerted effort to address the pitfall of literalism that often plagues mythological studies. We must remember that mythological characters are not flesh-and-blood people, they are archetypes or patterns of behavior. As such, they are not gender specific. Thus, for example, tales about the male Hero can be as illuminating for women as they are for men. Likewise, archetypes associated with deeper levels of consciousness are equally accessible to everyone despite the fact that they may be portrayed as male or female in story. In this study, words referring to archetypal patterns are capitalized - as in Hero. When that same word refers to a human being who is being compared to the pattern, the word is spelled with a lower case letter - as in hero.
So, Hero = archetype, and hero = human.
For a quick look at our map: Part 1 provides an overview of the journey, a look at what is generally known as The Call, and at what this program calls First Initiation challenges. Once our feet are firmly planted on the path, we will spend the next four parts reflecting on the mystery of the Second Initiation. Then, we will finish in Part 6 with a look at the Third Initiation and the exceptional value of the Hero who makes it all the way through.