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What is the father, exactly?

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    I’m having some trouble understanding exactly what the father is, what it does, and what it represents. What is the father, exactly?


      Hello Benjamin; welcome to the forums. I’ve just passed along your questions to our head Moderator Stephen Gerringer who should pop in and be of better help on this than I because his background is a lot deeper than mine mythologically speaking. There is the “Atonement with the Father” motif which is a Joseph Campbell interpretation usually associated with the male hero aspect. But there is also the Jungian Archetypal aspect which is more psychological than mythological as I understand it. But actually I think the two are pretty much associated with the same function from a hero’s journey application. At any rate I think Stephen can give you a better overview than I from your query.

      Again welcome here; we’re glad to have you among us.


      Welcome, Benjamin!

      Determining what any specific mythological motif is exactly can be akin to nailing one’s shadow to the wall – there are numerous parallel and contradictory personal and collective associations  embedded in each image. What the “Father” means in a myth is bound up with one’s experience of one’s own father, societal expectations of a father’s role, and then, as well, the idea of a masculine supreme deity.

      Broadly speaking, the image of Mother relates to nature, soul, and the physical world (indeed, when we are in the womb, and for an extended period after birth, especially when nursing, our mother is our entire world). Father, on the other hand, often represents authority, and our responsibilities to the external society.

      Even on the home front, we are comforted and nurtured by Mom, while Dad is the lawgiver and dispenser of discipline (“Just you wait till your father gets home!”).

      Joseph Campbell points out that we are in a position of dependence on our parents roughly the first twelve years of lives – we rely on them for everything. But as we come of age and embrace the life of an adult, we separate from our parents and make our own way in the world. In our culture we don’t have a clear coming of age initiation after which we know we are an adult (we seem to have replaced that with the vague limbo of adolescence, where one is neither child nor adult), so it sort of sneaks up on us. In one sense you know you are an adult when you realize that, instead of running everything past your parents and seeking their permission, you are the authority over your own life.

      Often in mythology a young man goes off to find his father (the twin sons of the Sun in the Navajo myth of “Where the Two Came to Their Father,” or Telemachus in the Odyssey, who leaves Ithaca to look for his father, Ulysses), this is about finding one’s place in the world. We see this theme (“Atonement” – or “At-One-Ment” – with the Father) most often in Judeo-Christian mythology (as opposed to “the Meeting with the Goddess”), but it’s a theme that surfaces in most mythologies at some point.

      Of course, I’m just scratching the surface here. Is this making sense, or have I misunderstood your question?


        Hello Benjamin,

        You’ve hit the Mother lode with your question !
        From a mythopoetic perspective the Father encompasses both light and dark . Exegesis on   The Lords Prayer ( Our Father whom art in Heaven ) and Darth Vader ( I am your father ) is a good place to start. Check out Iron John by Robert Bly. He helps illuminate the topic.

        Benjamin comes from the Hebrew words ben (son) and yāmīn (right side or right hand). Enjoy your journey May it be a prodigal one that is fruitful in the end !!! “ Climb every mountain ford every stream” !!!

        I like James Joyce found this enjoyable. “In chapter one Mulligan states, “It is quite simple. He proves by algebra that Hamlet’s grandson is Shakespeare’s grandfather and that he himself is the ghost of his own father.”  !!!

        Always keep in mind “The child is the father of the man” …


          Benjamin; here is a Joseph Campbell quote on page 79; from Diane Osbon’s: “Reflections on the Art of Living – A Joseph Campbell Companion”; that might be helpful concerning Stephen’s remarks about: “Atonement”

          Stephen: “We see this theme (“Atonement” – or “At-One-Ment” – with the Father) most often in Judeo-Christian mythology (as opposed to “the Meeting with the Goddess”), but it’s a theme that surfaces in most mythologies at some point.”


          Joseph: “Another rendering is “Atonement with the Father”. the son has been separated from the father, meaning he has been living a life that’s inappropiate to his real heritage. the son is the temporal aspect, and the father is the eternal aspect of the same being. The father represents the natural order from which you have been removed. You are trying to find your character, which you inherit from your father. Atonement is bringing into accord with the life momentum out of which you have come.”


          Also in chapter 6; “The Hero’s Journey; the Self as Hero” in the book: “Pathways to Bliss” on pages 117-118; this motif is described in much more detail with a much wider range of possible interpretations as one of four possible threshold hurdles of self realization which are: the Sacred Marriage, Atonement with the Father; Apotheosis, and the “Promethean Fire Theft”; each with it’s own set of particular applications and possible circumstances concerning the hero’s initiation, journey, or process. This aspect of the hero archetype is covered in greater depth much too long to cover in this post; but is very highly recommended for further exploration if you are interested.

          But the “Atonement with the Father” aspect is one of the most visible motifs that continually surfaces in mythic themes for the male journey into adulthood as Stephen has described. He may have more to add about this; but I think you’ll find as Robert has mentioned a “Motherload” of references; just not always described in the same manner. When the movie: “Star Wars” shows this motif of: “go find your father” you can see it plainly visible in Luke Skywalker’s interplay with Darth Vader as Joseph has mentioned on several occasions. There are many variations of this theme; but this is one of the most recognizable as reflected in recent modern culture.

          I hope this is in someway helpful for getting you started in exploring this very powerful hero theme.


          Hello James,

          Thanks for pointing me to Pathways to Bliss. I love this book and was busy flipping through other chapters, “Necessity of Rites” “Myth and the Self” “Society and the Symbol”. There is so much to learn from every page of this book and all of Joe’s books.

          In Chapter “The Self as Hero”, pg. 117 – 119:  What I enjoyed reading were  the  three main realization symbols that Joe discusses, 1. the reconciliation with the animus and anima 2.  the atonement with the father and 3. the realization of oneself. The third one is the surrender of one’s identification with forms – our physical and mental forms.

          Would you say James that such a journey where one meets these symbols reminds one of a few of Charles Dicken’s characters?  In Christmas Carols, there are four stages to Scrooge’s journey. He is becoming more aware of his character and with each stage, another dimension opens up.  Atonement comes with losing his attachments to all that he was chained to – yes he must untie the knots that chained him to  the money boxes forged during his lifetime of greed. The way to the father is through surrender. His last stage is when he awakens a changed man, surrendering to his greed and attachments.

          On the subject of personal myths, I have also been listening to Joe’s lecture (as Lynn thoughtfully  drew my attention)  on the subject, where he discusses Jung’s search of his personal myth. How turning towards his childhood symbols, and incorporating them, “REACTIVATION OF SYMBOLS” says Joe, is what begins to define his personal myth. His dream world becomes intensely rich, there are dream images that he begins to draw and paint and soon, scholars come into his life and on and on.

          Have you reactivated your childhood symbols James? I have not, only because it’s difficult to do at this stage in life. Things I enjoyed when my mother said. ‘go out and play’, things that made me lose track of time, were two:

          1. Skipping Rope for hours and hours. 2. Swinging on a swing….Now thinking of rope and swinging reminds me of Oscar Wilde’s poem, “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” (That’s my association with these symbols) And my personal myth might be somewhere in between…Who knows?

          Also, what stories come to mind when you read the following, “In stories of atonement with the father, the woman either becomes the guide or the seductress..”



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