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Heroic Fear, Foolishness, and Creative Ecstasy”, with Leigh Melander, Ph.D.”

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    Mythologist Leigh Melander, Ph.D., is once again our guest this week for a conversation about her latest MythBlast essay, “Heroic Fear, Foolishness, and Creative Ecstasy” (click on title to read).  Leigh is a writer, podcast host, and entrepreneur who has given generously of her time and energy over the years to help further, deepen, expand, and, on occasion, challenge Joseph Campbell’s mythic vision.

    This is a conversation, not an interview; I’ll get the ball rolling, but I trust no one is here to listen to me. This thread is your space – your opportunity to directly engage Dr. Melander, asking questions and sharing your comments and observations with her, and with each other. (I have it on good authority she doesn’t bite, so feel free to jump in and have fun.)

    LeighAtychiphobia. Kakorrhaphiophobia – it’s all Greek to me . . . or would be, if your words didn’t strike such a chord!

    I am especially drawn to your elevation of embracing the irrational , which allows us to break free of the fetters of the rational intellect and surrender to the creative moment.

    But what about those who know something is missing, and feel the urge to embark on their own “hero’s journey,” but don’t think of themselves as creative, aren’t sure what they are called to do, and have no idea what their “bliss” might be?

    This occurs to me because back when I first read Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces some four decades ago, I thought I didn’t have a creative bone in my body. (That’s not just hyperbole: prior to that, in my first ever session with a therapist, she asked what images came to mind from my childhood. I had no idea what the heck she was talking about. Images? But I “thought” in words. I shared my frustration with her, and she tried to explain what she meant by images, but she was speaking Swahili and I was speaking Fortran – all intellect, no imagination. Eventually, with the help of Campbell and Jung and Hillman, I began to understand, but I was so clueless for so long).

    It was few years and tens of thousands of words of intense journaling before I started paying attention, realizing how time disappeared when I was writing, or noticing colorful pens turning into bright, sparkly magic wands in my dreams.

    So for those who don’t consider themselves creative, how would you recommend they begin. Where can they experience the “the ecstasy of being” that places them in touch with the irrational, Dionysian side of life?


    I enjoyed this essay as well Leigh!

    So here comes my long ramble.

    First the broader definition of artist:

    I do agree with you…an artist does not have to fit into a small category.
    Yes, my Mother was an artist as well as astronomer (but there is rhythm in the care and positioning of a telescope, mount, a drive…just as there is rhythm in dance or in the careful pencil and brush strokes my Mother made on paper and canvas!)

    My Dad was a mathematician…taught higher math in high school. And he was a certified VW mechanic, but I saw him build boneyard VWs and restore them with shining paint. His garage was like a mythic forge to me! It was an impassioned and passionate undertaking and an Art!

    Believe me: if you saw his fully restored 1974 mild custom green VW Thing…you would know! Even bleeding the brakes was an art…not to mention it goes back to rhythm as well because I cannot seem to escape those dance metaphors!
    I think one can find art in many unexpected places!
    I’ve found that the skills of a local foreman and welder are most definitely art! Especially when one sees how creative someone must be to make certain things fit and weld to shape and size. It’s really beautiful!
    My Dad never counted all his talents but he could carve wood too. And tune my tap shoes…he had a precise eye for many things and a creative way of making things work…he had all kinds of skills! But I digress.

    Back to the fear of not succeeding and being scorned as a “fool.”

    My first thought is that some people are just “trying to survive,” to “get by” from day to day. They have responsibilities perhaps families to support? Sometimes stress can crop up…and they become overwhelmed.

    So the very idea of answering a “call” to a higher adventure feels “foolish.”
    Or “insane.” There is a lot of pressure in this world (*care*)and Joe Campbell was already noting that in the past.

    Of course one does not want to “abandon their children or spouse ” for the sake of adventure for “self.”

    I’ve heard of this extreme too, where some people did that. BUT I know it’s not part of an “authentic call” to adventure.
    Unfortunately these kind of “happenings” give a “bad rap” to the whole idea of the call to “individual adventure.” It is sad, because that is kind of a broad brush.
    But for those who are “just trying to survive,” I think the “fear” is the whole thing will fall apart if they dare to answer that “higher call.”
    So I’m guessing that would be like the fear of “the abyss.”
    I do not know about Minotaurs James beyond the myths. But I have seen “a balrog” crop up to challenge the inner psyche. I’m not sure my response was appropriate to the challenge…still working that out ha ha.
    I know there is a lot of comparison between the individual journey myths, small collective journey myths like LOTR, which I love And the potential larger grand collective myth/journeys to be had.
    I loved the way John Bucher used an And/Both approach to the collective journey vs individual journey in his latest essay. It makes sense to me! And gives balance.
    But now the individual journey (or “hero journey” though I recently learned that was not coined by Campbell) has grown a shadow side.
    At least that is the perception I have.

    The hero turned egotist or tyrant.

    This view is very understandable in today’s world. Makes sense and I can see that is possible or at least one possibility, while at the same time recognizing when this happens, that the “tyrannical or ego-hero”  has perhaps “failed their journey test,” anyway????

    But in FEAR of this, there seems to be more emphasis on commitment to collective/community (which is a Good thing and worthy and compassionate cause!)
    Yet the irony…resides in your eloquent quote Leigh: “

    ”if one refuses the call to be grander than themselves [they] lose the opportunity to bring boons back to the village.”

    Boons, which would be beneficial to the  collective community.

    However, to me, it seems as though today’s approach to myth is how we can do it together? How we can collaborate?

    That is certainly a wonderful earth from moon view!!

    But sometimes I wonder if there is an idea that if any journey does not include an entire collective, then the journey becomes invalid?


    For me, I prefer John Bucher’s And/Both approach, an approach you are also hint in your essay (smile.) Answer the call and bring back boons to the community.

    I think this would explain another bit of the fear of scorn…if one dares answer that higher call to adventure.

    If you dare your own call are you somehow “not committing to others?”

    And your duty is to commit to others over your “selfish (?) desire” for adventure?
    Well this is certainly going to make a lot of people put on the brakes and not take the risk to “stand out.”
    No one wants to be a “fool” or a “selfish fool!”
    The sad part is this suggests that there is only one way to commit to others or community. And this also broad brushes the negative expectation that all heroes or individual journeyers have a great potential to turn bad. It never addresses the reluctant journeyers, who Stephen has often mentioned. Or the call “taking one by surprise.” 
    But knee jerk reactions are a part of life alas! It is what it is! Very human…and yes understandable in this tough, frightening world, a world which also has so much beauty between the sorrows!
    The trick is to ALLOW for the chance of at least one (or more) Parzival who finds his/her true honor and courage. And brings a great boon to all.!
    But the education or perception seems to be going the other way…

    “Beware the individual journeyman/woman!!! (out for their own egos most likely!)”

    Maybe, it seems unfair for just one person to be credited for boons and gifts? Who knows? *shrug* And well it is fun to give group gifts sometimes. 🙂

    But just because Narcissists stand out does that mean everyone who might “stand out,” is probably a “narcissist?”
    Yeah they are plenty out there for sure…*eye* but this to me just muddies the waters.
    Just because a psychopath thinks he is a “hero,” or a “god” does not make that true.
    But in counterpoint that does not mean by default every individual journeyer is a psychopath!
    Because we are all bound to meet others on our journey paths, guides, teachers, friends as well as perhaps face those wastelands where the path is not as clear and there are no guides or clear answers for awhile. (Like Parzival)

    But oh boy! The world can be a confusing place!

    You really have to feel for people of All Ages and backgrounds navigating our world. 🙏
    Sometimes it really does feel like a labyrinth right out in the open! Borrowing from your thread James…;-)
    Tangled thread is a good metaphor!

    Well getting tangled that seems like a journey of the fool…but the fool takes chances because that’s the archetype…oh boy again!

    Maybe Ariadne will appear just maybe…there will be a lucky pair of scissors…or you learn how to weave in the dark when you are still.

    And alas Leigh!  All you said on dance has set my mind on yet another “thread”of thought. But I will close this one for now.




    James, now I have rambled down a long and winding road (heh)…

    Part of the reason, I waited to “jump-in,” was I remembered you were waiting to see other responses on a different thread (as well as here) like everyone 🙂

    I tend to um “take off…” *wry grin,* when the subject matter is interesting.

    So I do hope that your dream Minotaur/bull archetype is addressed for you! That’s why I mentioned a “Balrog,” not a bull creature exactly but still has horns and is in the underworld.

    I think that fear of answering the “call” could be compared to facing a creature in a labyrinth or within the psyche’s dreams.
    But Juan already responded to you, so clearly, nicely and concisely, I will just wait to see what Leigh might say on that…when she has time to dive into all these threads!

    As for the dance, to me there does seem to be more freedom in modern dance than ballet. But it depends on the directors and choreographers of the companies as well.
    The function that ballet performs as a “backbone” of dance goes beyond “the pretty lines.” Proper technique has a lot to do with injury prevention. Unless there is a case where the dancer/dancers are pushed too hard.
    I found freedom of expression in other ways in dance (though I had both ballet and modern training)

    Tap has been a joy and fun challenge in my life…so many adventures there!

    And free form dance…or dancing to live bands.

    I am a professional dancer/teacher/choreographer  but when dancing to live bands perhaps I appear “the rogue” “off the stage.” Because what I call free form others call on the spot choreography. But I do use proper band etiquette and if necessary dance off to the side unless everyone is up dancing in front of band…so I join them.
    When younger, would jump right into the “rogue dancing.” That is kind of playing a “fool” of a sorts. There was mostly positive energy in response and sometimes little kids would mimic me…and once I found a girl who was dancing similarly so we “danced together,” this way. I do notice other people around. So sometimes pause and dance with them drawing in the crazy whirlwind of on the spot improv.
    I found out later that some people when they saw me “felt embarrassed for me” when I was dancing this way mainly because I was “standing out,” or “standing out by myself.”

    Well can’t say that I was bringing any virtuous boons to community beyond happy smiles. Ha ha. There were some.
    But even in regular dance performance loved seeing people smile Not because they were giving me attention, but because of sharing something I loved…sharing that joy and seeing it reflected back.
    There is such raw power and beauty in modern dance…Alvin Ailey performances have left me in tears.
    And well a level 2 Horton Class at Ailey in the summer…don’t be fooled by that 2! But so much fun! And Graham too. Contraction (Graham) Lateral T (Horton.) And what a discovery to learn more of Jean Erdman! Brilliant woman!
    Leigh, I have a feeling Joe Campbell would still be irascible today!

    Though I might challenge him to left vs right brain in dance…

    In my experience the Left picks up the steps. And the right remembers the routine. Oversimplification but I do know the right or the body-mind kicks in…especially when a wandering left brain jumps in like an analytical fool oh where am I? Right brain: don’t you dare! If left takes over there goes the step but body mind will perform it anyway without even thinking about it if one is lucky!
    What Twyla Tharp and Jean Erdman did was participate fully in their own adventures. Being choreographers helped them make their own paths.
    That is the challenge for a lot of dancers…sometimes it’s just about fighting and working hard “to get hired,” to get a “job,” “a show” a “gig” doing someone else’s choreography which is still wonderful fun!! But trying to survive in a city like NY in the meantime. Not easy! I admire and feel for all those artists!

    The fear of failure…seems like that is also the fear of being “stamped” “defined,” as well as “scorned,” by that failure.
    I wonder if someone chooses to put something creative out there if they fear

    it will be mediocre? Or be judged that way? (Boring?) Or that they will look the “fool” as you said Leigh. Especially if Time is invested in answering the Call…there will be a pressure not to fail I think.

    So rather than attending to the passions or the call of the heart they worry what “everyone else thinks.”

    I remember what Campbell said about this.  Hehheh.

    I’m learning my own lessons about educational dance videos in a “short attention span “Tik Tok” world. And dance video games!

    Show don’t tell works well in literature but a little harder when one is concerned about preventing dance injuries or when it’s necessary to count a tricky rhythm ha ha.

    Well enough of all this!
    Great essay Leigh!



      Sunbug, your two responses were magnificent, and the way you express them puts the reader right there with you. Thank you so much for your kind and generous efforts in including me in some of your thoughts and I was deeply moved by your personal struggle to give wings to your muse “and” the connection to (your story).

      “Story” for me is huge because it links personal myth to inner narrative and its’ connection to “The Call” of the human heart and the demands of the Adventure each must take to answer it. In reference to your kind question the answer is “Yes”; I’m definitely making headway with the inner Minotaur/Dragon/Monster/ sometimes “wounded child” who resides deep in the Labyrinth cave that’s asking to be heard. And your kind sharing of your adventure is an important reminder we all have private inner dreams that yearn and long to be fulfilled if we are to be whole and fulfill who we were meant to be. So rich in detail your story was and also a reminder of the courage in the face of others which must be found to bring it to fruition.

      The Labyrinth is an ancient motif that has several forms in different cultures usually as a maze sometimes depicting the connection between the underworld and the light world, but the mythic figure of the Minotaur is Greek as we know, that often finds it’s expression in the Shadow of human response, both collective and personal. When Picasso painted Guernica as a symbol of the horrific Nazi bombing of innocent of people in that small Spanish Basque town by Franco, (which now by the way has a tapestry of it hanging on the wall of the United Nations), it was to express the outrage of what we now call “genocide”, and the Minotaur is one of central figures depicting man’s brutal nature, but there were also other depictions that Picasso created of the Minotaur and Joseph talks about this with a few short descriptions that can be found; (if you haven’t seen them already); in his wonderful book: “The Ecstasy of Being”, on pages 82, 83, & 86 complete with pictures of two of them.

      Modern versions could be seen as an expression of this aspect of human nature every time you see a “bully”; like the recent incident at the Academy Awards called: “The Slap”; but more importantly in the unspeakable nightmare now playing out in Ukraine. Anger, rage, shame, are just a few of its’ forms that take shape in the acts of violence or toxic behavior that aims to wound or to destroy found in human nature throughout human history and it is archetypal both in symbol and in expression and it must be controlled as Jung feared when he said: “the world hangs by a thread”. (A note to Putin and others like him for they are many and take many forms in everyday life.)

      It’s not always about fear but can be about anxiety and complexes, your inner anxieties, your guilt, your desire to do things you normally would not do or say but feel “compelled” to do so. Emotions, feelings, dreams, symbols, and yes, creative expression are roads of revelation to what they mean in Jungian parlance. This is “Dionysus” in a manner of speaking, and yes creativity lives here also. “The Devil made me do that, I don’t know what came over me.” That’s a complex in full expression because as the saying goes: “complexes have us” just as much as they live in us as archetypal expressions of content in the unconscious. And they are both “collective as well as personal” as you suggested and can take many forms and you are not going to get rid of some of them so you must learn to either “negotiate” with them or listen to them, but our individuation path or process asks that: “you get to know them”, as Joseph suggests when he says when confronting your shadow: “yes, it is I”.

      So, for me after 45 years of a wonderful musical creative life and that process of achievement to live that life has now changed into a process of meaning and of dealing with all that emotional baggage that’s been buried deep in the cave over the years that needs to be confronted and listened to and crucified by and wept with and healed by. Because a Minotaur can come roaring into my light world depriving me of some of my best years, and I don’t want to miss that transformation instead of listening to that sad mournful echo of: “if only” instead of: “I lived”.

      (Leigh, I know will have some wonderful things to offer and I am excited to hear everything she has to say. But before I wind up thank you again for sharing such wonderfully insightful responses. The muses must be smiling.)


      Thank you James for your considerate and thoughtful response in return to me!
      I am glad to hear you are working things out with your inner Minotaur!

      That is wonderful!

      The funny thing is you found a “thread” I had not even written…that is true for me…I’d left it unmentioned.

      As for the “instructional videos” on social media…that’s a learning curve. Ha ha. I have taught/coached/choreographed for individuals both in competitive levels and in regional/local theater production. And have made instructional one on one YouTubes and that was great. But by avoiding Zoom connection I played the “fool” and made my “invisible watchers” too broad an audience. So the teacher in me over-detailed ha ha ha. It was okay…mostly accepted and enjoyed.
      But I enjoy a conversational style of teaching. So had to go back to drawing board. Point is I survived.
      But your empathy and your words below, Really moved me, because you are picking up something much deeper…another project…
      Something I had not brought to the light of day in this thread. And something, which has been waiting a long time to see The Light of Day.

      Here are your words James:

      “Thank you so much for your kind and generous efforts in including me in some of your thoughts and I was deeply moved by your personal struggle to give wings to your muse “and” the connection to (your story).”

      Dancing is my first forte. (Though in the long run I chose to be a more freelance professional dancer/choreographer/teacher with some exceptions.)

      But after teaching myself to play guitar, in 2008-2009 I put out a CD of “Story Songs” I had written. My first cd. A wonderful talented musician from Brooklyn  (lead guitarist) and  friend agreed to produce it. What a marvelous learning experience loved it! And my Mom worked on the design.

      Then in 2012 I made another one with a different producer, a Nashville session drummer.
      My Mom was working on the design graphics of this one as well.

      But she had Parkinson’s and it was rough. And the design part was never completed beyond photos and notes.
      Life seemed to take dark gray turns into a Modorian Labyrinth both beneath thunder, rain and sun.
      I lost heart and the will to finish the project we both loved.
      Roads fell into roads…with bright glimmers flickering back into consciousnesss through music concerts, gigs…friends and green city parks. Until I came full circle home again in a way.
      And only now TEN years later…after ripping grief and “Mordor”

      I have burned more CD copies and have a local graphic designer working on design…looks nice.
      The reason your comment really moved me James is when you said “give wings to your muse,” THAT is part of my thank yous… “these broken wings are finally ready…”

      And it is True…yet all the uncertainties come back in worrying about things being just so from design to even making videos and having to be able to trust the freedom of the fool to “just let go,” when it’s the last project my Mom and I worked on together.
      How many video takes must I do? When will I be ready? Design etc.? To just say “yes?”
      But the strange part is The theme of the cd is about that kind of letting go and trusting the adventure, answering the CALL  no matter what happens as Leigh as written here! So Of Course…THAT is staring me in the face! (So I’m getting there…a little bit)

      Even though all that time is built up inside. 
      But NO Matter what happens in the Aftermath…I KNOW that I’m finally doing it…and THAT is enough because it is Everything…and I will imagine my Mom also knowing this. 🥲

      That is why your journeys as a musician James reached me. I Have huge admiration for other friends who are musicians and in bands. It was really listening to music that began to glimmer back into my life. Listening and occasionally dancing to that wonderful live music from live bands.

      I’m more of a dancer/musician 😉 than a musician/dancer but I still love it!


      Thank you James!




        Sunbug, I was so deeply touched by your sharing of what I said that may have been helpful or in some way offered support. The creative life is tough, I don’t care what anybody says only the individual who seeks that call understands how difficult and somehow lonely at times it can be because you are in a way mid-wifeing your muse, in other words, trying to birth or bring forth something within you that not only has never been before, but at times you may not even know what it is that’s struggling to come out of you; and it can be at times an emotional ordeal. But that’s the job as they say, and if we are true to it we have to answer “that thing” that’s struggling to come out and be heard. I’m not telling you something you don’t already know, but yes, it’s an often solitary adventure/process but it also has it’s rewards because that thing is a part of you and that’s it’s beauty isn’t it?

        And then there are all the naysayers: Both “inside” as well as outside, those voices whether internal or external daring you to bring it forth and criticizing you when you do. Oh, it’s a process alright, learning from sources to draw inspiration from and then you try to “build the house” as they say; you start the inner construction of trying to coax the muse to express itself to give it form to where you can see it’s happening. But your child is something special that never was before and that’s the reward isn’t it? It’s something that tells you from inside that all that inner stuff you endured and went through was worth it because it’s a reflection of you that was trying to come out. And: job “well done” when it does.

        Sometimes these things are like our inner Dragon locking us down and like a mirror reflection tells us: “no, you can’t, you don’t know what you are doing”; but inside you know that’s “not so” but you still have to find a way to figure your way out of overcoming your challenge or hurdle or whatever it is that’s preventing you from entering: “The Garden”. Creatives understand this struggle because it’s not only universal but individually unique to each one of us.

        I often wondered when will this constant emergence of new problems ever end? But it doesn’t, or at least in the way we would like it to. But our inner child/dragon keeps pushing us on, and within the conflicts often times lie the answers, (well, sounds correct doesn’t it?). But all I can say is that when I got to point where I felt “the thing” had expressed itself; then I could move on. Each art form and each situation has it’s own challenges and I hope I’m not sounding like I understand what you as a creative are going through; but I’m just saying that for me there were times in the forest where I had absolutely no idea where I was or what I needed to do next.

        I’ll stop here; but I was so moved by your thoughtful response I just wanted to say thank you and the best of luck with your project.  Namaste


        That is beautiful James! Thank you! 🙂

        And No need for apologies remember I’m a dancer 1st (grin) except I never knew I’d love playing guitar… I’ve always written poetry but  found a way to turn it into something else. And I’ve slowly learned to write choose/find words same time as notes and IN-time with music using dancer rhythm skills.

        And in response to your reply: YES.

        Speaking of Garden…funny you should mention that as one song on new CD definitely mentions a “Garden.”

        And the “Garden” in this song is of course metaphorically synchronous with exactly what you said! Too cool!

        Synchronicity is fun.;-)

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