Metamorphosis: Dreaming the New Songs
“Mythology is the womb of mankind’s initiation to life and death,” states Joseph Campbell in his collection of essays titled, The Flight of the Wild Gander: Explorations in the Mythological Dimension. (34)
Death and rebirth myths exist in various forms in all cultures, and symbolically and experientially the descent and ascent cycle is a continuous, and universal, theme within the context of the soul’s overall developmental journey.
For example, in the Greek myth of Persephone and Hades, Persephone comes to realize that eternity doesn’t manifest from living on the surface of life – and only in life’s times of spring – but through traversing winter’s stillborn time of death. Persephone’s rescue comes from surrendering to the seasons and to nature’s annual rhythms of rise and decline, of flourishing and decay, and from sensitizing her psyche to the inner seasons of the soul. Persephone knows that the steadfast eternal may only be touched through the cyclical process of death and rebirth, in both outer nature and within the soul’s very depths.
In the essay “The Symbol without Meaning,” Campbell writes, “As the researches and writings of Dr. Jung have shown us, the deep aim and problem of the maturing psyche today is to recover wholeness.” (154)
Only when the impulse for inner renewal, for psychological and spiritual wholeness, becomes more preferable to the unbalanced and misguided sense of perfection that once satisfied us, do we move towards the more fully rounded and integrated self. By necessity this brings an encounter with the underworld of our psyche, a descent that often involves the grief of separation, an unravelling or a deconstruction of the old patterned self, and both a breaking down and a breaking open.
One of the purposes of myth (whether the myth be of self-narrative or of the collective) is to help us to truly feel our lives. And for those who have experienced lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic with consequent, extended lengths of time in solitude–or felt a sense of internal emptiness or vacuum of soul–the invitation has been extended to more deeply sense into ourselves, while also feeling into the entire beingness of the planet, and indeed, of the cosmos.
In the same essay Campbell writes, “Among the Buriat, the animal or bird that protects the shaman is called khubilgan, meaning ‘metamorphosis,’ from the verb khubilku, ‘to change oneself, to take another form.’” (133)
The underworld is the most fertile ground for our metamorphosis. Acting as an alchemical vessel, times of solitude and inner desolation invite us to explore what it is that must change in us and take another form. So much depends on our capacity to relinquish harmful and obsolete patterns and behaviors, for we know that every attempt to deal with challenges in outmoded ways will, ultimately, fail us.
Without engaging ritually with this realm, the psyche remains flat and one-dimensional. This is why we must travel to the nethermost regions of the soul. Only from the underworld may we begin to emerge anew, for mature, soulful wisdom and self-knowledge don’t typically lie in the maidenly, pure fields of poppies and narcissi, but rather in the bleak vale of winter’s death. Wisdom, beauty and strength are often only found when we orientate ourselves to the part of us that partakes in eternity. And more often than not, it’s an encounter with Hades that awakens us to the abiding eternal within.
In the essay “Primitive Man as Metaphysician,” Campbell states, “Hovering Hawk, for example, when asked how his people made their songs, replied: ‘We dreamed them. When a man would go away by himself–off into solitude then he would dream a song.’” (55)
As we unravel the old to rebirth a new and more nourishing human experience, we do so not only for our own soul, but for the anima mundi–the great world soul–for these songs, when newly born in us, are not for ourselves alone. We shape-shift, metamorphose and transform so that we are able to co-create new songs, and in strength and sweetness, together sing them for the entire world.
Our cyclical descents into the fertile void of the beckoning unknown empower us to dream these emerging songs into our being and embrace what these liminal times demand of us. We must shine our light into the darker recesses of our psyche to hear the emerging harmonies of soul and spirit that will assist us, metaphorically, to die to our old selves and to lives that no longer serve us sufficiently (individually and collectively) or honor the earth.
“For myself,” Campbell writes, “I believe that we owe both the imagery and the poetical insights of myth to the genius of the tender-minded; to the tough-minded only their reduction to religion.” (55)
And so I raise my glass to you, the fellow tender-minded! May we meet again soon in community and sing the burgeoning, collective songs of the fraternity of all humankind as we, to paraphrase Campbell, align our heartbeat to match the beat of the universe and match our nature with Nature.
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