Liminal Elements of The Hero’s Adventure
The first two weeks of the upcoming Mythology Discussion sessions (9:00 AM and 12:00 Noon at the First Unitarian Society of Ithaca, corner of Buffalo and Aurora streets) will be built upon a conversation between Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers about the “Hero’s Adventure”. Campbell first wrote about this theme 62 years ago, in a book entitled The Hero With A Thousand Faces.
In that book, Campbell described the journey of the hero as having the following structure:
Part 1 – Departure
Part 2 – Initiation
Part 3 – Return
Describing part 1 of this experience, Campbell writes of crossing the threshold, and in part 3, crossing the “return threshold”. This structure matches the interpretation of ritual first described by Arnold Van Gennep in his book The Rites of Passage. Van Gennep writes of the “liminal” experience created by ritual acts in rites of passage. The word liminal is derived from the old word limen, referring to the threshold, the space within a doorway between spaces, a place in which the identity of a person moving through the doorway is itself betwixt and between.
In The Hero With A Thousand Faces, Campbell only briefly refers to to Van Gennep’s work, writing of the “numerous strange rituals that have been reported from the primitive tribes and great civilizations of the past” that “the purpose and actual effect of these was to conduct people across those difficult thresholds of transformation that demand a change in the patterns not only of conscious but also of unconscious life… so that when, at last, the time has ripened for the return to the normal world, the initiate will be as good as reborn.” Still, it’s clear that Campbell’s work stands firmly on the shoulders of Van Gennep.
Van Gennep’s concepts of the structure ritual were introduced into American academic culture by Victor Turner, an anthropologist who lived and worked for a time right here in Ithaca, New York. Turner’s fieldwork shows that the symbolic structures that Joseph Campbell wrote about weren’t just a matter of myths as stories that people like to tell, but are present in the symbolic activities that create and communicate meaning in people’s lives in cultures around the world – including our own.
For those members of the First Unitarian Society of Ithaca, the organization that is hosting this mythological discussion series, let me propose the following as a subject for consideration in the period leading up to our first meeting on November 20:
How are we using ritual to spark the Hero’s Adventure for members of our congregation in the many passages of life?