A common space for harmonic peacemakers
The Hero and the Goddess
(Wheaton, IL: Quest Books, 2009, 470pp)
Homer’s Odyssey is a journey through personal transformation to wholeness. During this journey, there is an interplay between the masculine and feminine principles. Masculine and feminine principles are part of the psyche shared by both sexes. In fact, as the masculine principle dominates in many societies, the masculine dominates in many women as well as men, and our understanding of the feminine is still very limited.
The masculine and feminine energies are the two creative forces in the world, which when working together create wholeness. If we take the yin/yang symbol of the masculine and feminine principles operating within our individual and collective psyches, they give us a deeper understanding of the evolution of consciousness and our potential for synthesising these two principles in a consciousness that is neither masculine nor feminine but embraces and transcends both.
Many myths have as their theme the separation and then reunion of the masculine and feminine, usually depicted through archetypal heroes and heroines. Jean Houston who has a long interest in the study of ideas and their cultural background explores The Odyssey as a journey for restoring a sense of the deep connections between the mortal self (the hero) and the immortal realities (the goddess). As she writes “The realm of myth exists beyond time and space and daily reality. It is a symbolic world that dwells within us at deeper than our normal consciousness. And yet, it can be openly and vividly engaged in ways that expand the possibilities of every aspect of our lives. But to reach these depths and heights, we must pledge our commitment, our theatricality, our excitement.
“When we energetically and dramatically encounter this mythic realm and the beings who dwell there, we begin to understand that our individual lives — our personal stories — echo the events and truths of their lives and stories. We reflect these mythic beings and they reflect us. Experiencing this mutual recognition gives us access to more energy, a greater sense of joy and release, and an even deeper commitment to the unfolding planetary story. We begin living with the doors and windows of ordinary life wide open to the depth world.”
Homer probably took existing separate myths concerning the interaction of heroes with goddesses and dangerous women and wove them together with one hero, Odysseus, and one setting, a long trip home to Ithaka from the war with Troy. He thus gives a unity to the events which then can take on symbolic meaning. Some writers such as Robert Graves believe that the author of The Odyssey was a Sicilian priestess of Athena who gathered different oral traditions and re-formed them into her own epic masterpiece. The Odyssey was written in a period of transition from a world of war and invaders described in The Iliad to one of a more peaceful, higher civilization, thus the image of the journey from the battlefield to a relatively peaceful homeland.
Jean Houston’s book is drawn from both a close symbolic reading of The Odyssey as a transformational myth and a real trip with participants on a boat stopping at the Greek islands which have been associated with the different events in The Odyssey. At each stop, she proposed doing role playing exercises combining motion, visualization, journal-keeping where emotions and ideas are noted. These exercises and the type of emotions and experiences they may evoke are listed after every chapter analysing the events of the story and the interaction between Odysseus and a feminine personage. There is also a guide to musical selections which can be used as background music during the guided meditations and visualizations. She also provides a useful bibliography on translations of The Odyssey which can be used for these exercises as well as authors on Greek religion and on Jungian use of archetypal psychology.
Houston stresses the idea of the journey as a process of initiation with the initiators receiving as well as giving initiations and learning. All the initiators, apart from the Cyclops, are female, a shift from the emphasis on the heroes at the center of the action of The Iliad, thus giving rise to the hypothesis of a woman author of The Odyssey. As Houston notes “Throughout The Odyssey ,the earthy feminine powers — Circe, Calypso, Penelope — are seen weaving threads and wearing braided hair. They hold the powers that weave things together; they braid realities into gossamer webs that make it possible to recover something of what had been lost after the warrior-nomad invasions.”
Weaving is the key concept arising from this journey, the need to bring together many different things into a harmonious whole. As Jean Houston closes her analysis, she writes
“On the psychological level we grow in kind, and educate ourselves to many different frames of mind and understandings. It means learning to think in images as well as in words. It also means learning to think kinaesthetically, with subtle sensory knowing. It means harvesting the potentials developed in different cultures, and the stories of different cultures, and applying them to our own lives in ways that grant us access to intuitive and creative depths we rarely accessed before. It means too that the ecology of inner space becomes just as important as the ecology of our outer world.”
Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens