The Outer Journey: Of Heroic Duty, Times of Yore, and Of Our Times Today
October 3, 2003
Blue Ridge Mountain of Maryland
Last night while watching (in small-screen format) Peter Jackson's film version of J.R.R.Tolkein's The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, I got the same feeling of wanting to participate in some "noble cause" as I got when I watched the first episode of the Star Wars Trilogy in 1977-- the year it first came out. I carry an undying image from that older movie of the scene of the group of young Rebels sitting assembled for a briefing about their mission of taking on the Evil Empire. Everyone looked so intelligent and energetic and eager -- while restfully attentive -- that I thought, "Looking at these young folk gives me confidence in the belief of 'Right over Might.' "
The artistic artwork The Ring Trilogy elicits from the viewer the visceral feeling of "Right over Might" -- of the drawing on something larger than oneself to accomplish a vitally needed heroic task. This is the principle of sattya graha ("truth strength") which Ghandi used as the basis of his unshakable belief in the cause of freedom for India. This principle also finds expression in the scene in the first episode of Star Wars where Luke in his solo fighter-jet is desperately -- but unsuccessfully -- trying to fend off numerous Empire's fighter-jets, all of whom had him as their target. Then into Luke's mind comes the voice of Obi Wan Kanobi (who had gone to where ever) reminding him, "Luke..... Remember The Force ..... Use The Force, Luke....." Remembering this, Luke relaxed into "the Zone," and was then able to pick off the Empire's fighter-jets one by one.
In Tolkien's Ring Trilogy, I do not detect that he is trying to convey the invoking of simplistic Sunday School conceptualizations of "God," but rather something much more profound. Though I know he was solidly Christian, I consider his understanding of and ideas about the forces at work in this universe to go far beyond those standardly held. He was a young man during WWI, and endured the experience of having every single one of his friends die in battle, which, as you can imagine, affected him to his deepest fathoms. What he and his generation went thru in that war greatly influenced his telling of the Ring story. On the way to the Black Gate, he has Golum lead Frodo and Sam thru a marsh of dead people, telling them there had once been a great battle there -- which I know Tolkien was portraying as the legions of young men lying dead on the battlefields of WWI. At one point of going thru this marsh, Frodo felt drawn to join the dead, something I can imagine Tolkien must have also felt on more than one occasion: "Oh god, why go on! !?? Why don't I also just go to where all my friends have gone??!!"
In the Lord of the Ring website, there is a section about the cast with some quotes about how they felt about being in this production. "[John] Rhys-Davies [who played "Gimli, the stout-hearted axe-man who comes to represent the Khazad, the dwarves of Middle-earth"] loved that The Fellowship of the Ring kicks off something many people haven't experienced in a long-time -- an epic, serial adventure. 'I think today there is an enormous hunger for adventure and a dynamic life that can only be met in the imagination . . . or in movies like this one. Tolkien feeds that hunger, because in our hearts we want to be part of a heroic civilization like the elves, hobbits, dwarves and men of Middle-earth.' "
In both of these movie series -- Star Wars and The Ring Trilogy -- the heroes of the story take on a quest which is bigger than themselves, which -- by the fact of taking it on --expands them to approach the scope of their quest. I think this desire to be "part of a heroic civilization" is not actually as Rhys-Davis said -- a desire to live somewhere with different kinds of living creatures like elves and hobbits, etc. Rather, I think this variety of creatures represents the various ways we can show up here (or else these other beings just contribute interesting spice to the story). And rather than than our deeply felt human hunger being met only in the imagination or heroic civilizations lying off somewhere else in time and place, I think stories like this are aimed at our deep subconscious desire to take part in heroic actions whenever and wherever we live. I think this hunger is responsible for the energizing dynamic of war -- it is such an organizer for channeling human energy and intelligence, and takes people out of the ordinariness and mundanity of their everyday existence. People like to feel something moving inside of themselves, and if -- in addition -- this feels like something more than what they standardly feel moving in themselves in their ordinary life, then they feel a great expansion. Unfortunately, some people don't discriminate very well among possible causes, and choose dubious -- and often damaging -- quests.
Another (quite surprising) feeling I got in watching Rings was the desire to support a king, a strong visionary leader. I found this surprising because I am so non-hierarchical in my worldview. But I can understand how people have different roles to play in this life, and I think there is a very real need for leadership -- for a leader with vision to make decisions for his people, to have convictions that go far beyond merely polling the opinions of people in focus groups. The fact that Aaron Sorkin's fictitious President Bartlett of the TV series The West Wing embodies these qualities is why this character is so compelling -- and anchors the entire show. I think this yearning for a strong leader harkens back to the Arthurian legend -- the archetype for both the stories of Star Wars and The Ring Trilogy -- as the literary origin of the ideal of Right Over Might, and as exemplified in the person of King Arthur.
I have always loved the Arthurian legend, and feel that I (somehow) draw on its power in the Seasonal Celebrations I help create with my friend Melanie in Sugarloaf Country. She feels this also, and experiences this same very-difficult-to-pinpoint quality as do I. Interestingly, we both also loved Princess Diana, which, when she first told me this, she felt somewhat apologetic -- that is, until I told her my concurring views. Interestingly, people like Melanie and I -- who take the approach of male/female in balance -- have views about gender roles which can be labeled conventional, traditional, or even sexist. But neither Melanie nor I feel at all that we view life that way. Rather we see the great gifts of each gender, and the great power available when each gender tunes into and draws from their own Zone. In The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley tells the truly wonderful story of the Arthurian legend from the viewpoint of the women in the story -- most especially of Morgaine, sister to Arthur -- usually demonized as Morgan le Fey.
From reading the work of Bruno Bettleheim, we know that story-telling that approaches myth can play the role of attuning individual human consciousness to the level of mythos -- the level of life straddling both manifest and unmanifest. From this vantage point is the clear view of energy as being a pure substance, abstract and "empty-but full," with no difference between the energy that accomplishes pain and destruction from the energy that accomplishes love and creativity. The only difference lies in what channels we choose to direct this energy. In these great epic stories, one archetypal behavior is of a person in a high position on the side of "right is might" who makes the choice to "go over to The Dark Side," to choose the power-way of "control over" -- at least for a time. We see this in the "Dark Knight" in the Arthurian legend, Darth Vader (Luke's father) in Star Wars, Saruman in The Ring Trilogy.
The Garden of Eden myth -- with its Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil -- is also about this general theme of choosing. Unfortunately, this creation myth has been distorted into the story of God forbidding Adam and Eve to partake of the fruits of this Tree, and that Eve decides to defy God by picking an apple and then tempting Adam with it. Thus was born the concept of "The Fall of Man," and the role of the feminine in this. This scapegoating of Eve is an unfortunate distortion of this very deep and powerful myth, and has spawned the infliction of untold, millennia-long damage on the feminine -- as well as on those who love the feminine. There wasn't a "Fall" at all -- rather, this creation myth portrays the evolution from a time of automatic-instinctive behavior of animals to the leap of life of human consciousness, having the ability to choose between Good and Evil. We human beings still possess all the lesser-evolved instincts in our animal bodies, but human consciousness possesses the ability to create, to make decisions, to choose the direction to channel energy and intelligence.
I think there is something in how the power of "epic, serial adventures" (Rhys-Davies' expression) captures the imagination that has application for our lives here and now. I think application of this lies in working on something of value, and having deep and broad effects for life. The webpage about the Ring Triology cast, says this about about the eternal struggle between the forces of darkness and the forces of light, and about the wizard Saruman who chose the power-way of control : "Although Saruman lived around 7,000 mythical years ago, [Christopher Lee, the actor who portrayed Saruman] sees his dark reflection all over the place in the modern world. ' To my way of thinking, the evil that exists today isnít that different from what you see in Middle-earth.' says Lee. 'People will always crave power.' "
In our times right now, the "Neo-Cons" (Neo-Conservatives) have chosen the power-way of control-over. They are attempting to accumulate strength and superimpose their belief system onto the world, to seize the reins of control over much of our Earth. We so much need to transform this current situation of the Father-Warrior-Conquesters taking precedence over the Father-Mother-Nurturers. Transforming this energy requires work on all possible fronts, with each person contributing according to his own dharma, each choosing their own corner of the job. I think the transformation toward balancing male and female energy -- toward human beings forming partnerships of mutual value and respect with each other -- is the primary (and primal) Quest currently facing us in this Loka (from East Indian philosophy: the many spheres or levels of life where beings live in this universe).