Way of the Hero – Part 10 – The Journey Through Major Arcana

In the previous “Way of the Hero” article, I have explained one step, one level of the Hero’s Journey and mapped it out within Tarot Cards. We looked at: The Tower.

Now our Hero will journey through The Star and The Moon.

Spring of the Water of Life – The Star
Finally, our hero has reached the spring of the water of life. The secret of the spring is not in the quality of the water but in the difficulty of finding it. Like in the world of Fantasia, in the “Never-ending Story”, the spring is always located at the “very edge of the world”. And because of the world of Fantasia, just like the subconscious, is edgeless we need to understand where that “edge”, the one we must reach during our individual quest, is. We must ask ourselves where those inner walls, that we have to cross, are. And then, when those walls explode, the free soul may finally take a breath full of new hopes.

After leaving the Tower of illusory consciousness that had kept us imprisoned for so long, the soul enjoys the unfamiliar prospects of freedom, the unknown and, certainly, a wonderful future.

In the myth of Cupid and Psyche, the third task that Aphrodite gives Psyche requires her to fill a crystal vessel with water from the well, which is heavily guarded by snakes. The Underworld Rivers, Styx and Cocytus, feed this well with their water. The eagle, a messenger of Zeus, helps Psyche in this hopeless errand. Thus, revealing, once more, the value of the animus as a vital key to solving a problem. As we can see Psyche solves this problem indirectly, by performing the task with the help of her inner masculine without assuming its functions. Even though she is forced to face her inner masculinity, she still remains true to her femininity.

Most of the symbols on this card represent a cosmic law and a glimpse into the future. This is the main purpose of the card. We can say that if our hero reaches this stage he will really get a vision, both external and internal! His new future reveals itself. He becomes aware of his new powers, which he obtained by performing a feat, is able to see things from a bird’s eye, and sees an opening path that leads to a place that was unreachable before he found the edge of the world.

The naked woman on the card symbolizes the sephirot Binah, which is a cabalistic higher consciousness.
She pours the Water of Life over the earth, as well as regular water. Water poured on the earth, is a necessary moisture for fertility; whereas regular water means excess and superfluity. That is how this card represents the cosmic law of necessity and sufficiency. This is the future that offers us life-giving star moisture in quantities that are not limited to our direct need.

This provides an opportunity to experience the cosmic order and get closer to an eternity. It also gives us the chance to reach a higher level of consciousness of a new era, which we gradually began to approach during the XIV arcane. For when the Tower of false consciousness collapsed, it took with it the misconception about linear and quantitative time consisting only of the past, present and future.

Freed from the narrowness of our previous thinking, we understand now how primitive and wrong our perception of time was and how hopeless our pursuit of the same old pictures we painted of ourselves was. Unable to live in a timeless space, we sought solace in illusions offered by the time and place where we lived, hoping that at least the future would provide us with what we did not have in the miserable “now”. To get rid of this limited state of consciousness we need to bathe in the spring of the Water of Life, which will liberate us from the tides of linear time and bestow us with the gift of freedom not bound by time and space.

This is the very deep understanding that Siddhartha attained at the end of his journey when the river had taught him that time is an illusion. For the river is always the same – as in the headwaters and in the mouth,  it is the same everywhere regardless. For only the present exists, the future is just a shadow.

Treacherous Traps – The Moon
In the Moon, we experience the dark aspect of Saturn, which gives birth to our fears. It’s light aspect, as a wise old man, was revealed to us in the Hermit. The fact is that the hero’s journey is not finished yet. Yes, the monster was conquered and the imprisoned soul was saved, but our hero must find his way back home. He has to find an exit without getting lost in the labyrinth of the Underworld. It is here where he faces the treacherous traps that destroyed so many heroes. Remember how Orpheus looked back and lost his Eurydice forever?

Lot’s wife got turned into a pillar of salt as a punishment for looking back. Psyche received the magical box from Persephone but could not resist the temptation to peek inside and fell into a lethargic sleep. Gilgamesh descended into the Underworld and acquired a herb of immortality (new awareness and understanding of eternity), on the way back he stopped for a moment to drink from a stream and let the herb out of his hands – it was immediately eaten by a snake.

The laws of Underworld are strict: once the traveler tastes something there, he won’t be able to return to his world. That is what happened to Persephone when she tasted the pomegranate seeds. If even for a moment one decides to sit down and rest in hell, asTheseus and Pirithous did, then he will remain there forever, sitting on the mountains of oblivion.

All of these prove that descending into the Underworld is a task that must be solved in order to reach the goal of destination, but not the goal itself.

The cunning and evil creatures that surround the hero there try to force him to abandon the purpose of his journey, reveal his magic word, or forget his name, which would deprive him of all the values he acquired from the Hermit. Here, at this stage of the journey, the danger is as great as ever because the hero can instantly lose all of the things that he obtained with such difficulty.

By applying this knowledge to our daily lives, it becomes clear that meeting with the subconscious is not safe and requires a strong, highly developed consciousness that will not allow the subconscious to absorb itself. The danger that the journey to the Underworld can turn into running away from the world is very large. As the flow of subconscious images that are much more vivid and beautiful than reality itself could, very quickly, make a person choose it over reality.  Even Homer warned us about being carried away by the subconscious when he wrote about the two gates of the world of dreams. The first gates are made of animal horns, the second of elephants’ bones. From first gates come prophetic dreams, from the second come nightmares. And this doubling of possible choice was one of the reasons why ancient, secret schools only accepted those with the strongest and most mature consciousness. Nowadays esoteric schools would accept anyone without any consideration whatsoever and herein lays the danger. This knowledge lives in the darkness of the subconscious and it can develop properly only there.

Those who make a choice towards the easier and less complicated methods, especially when everything in his life seems to get better, needs to ask himself a question: is he running away from the world? If he is, sooner or later he will be lead into a terrifying forest and find the way back home will be very difficult.

This happens with members of many spiritual groups of self-knowledge, etc. Participation in those helps, of course, but the help is only temporary. And then we see one member moving from one group to another continuously. These are people who do not want to get back into their previous reality, which once was so treacherous. And they are consciously, or unconsciously, replacing one underworld with another by doing everything they can to keep themselves in a comfortable nest of like-minded people for as long as possible. This comfort is provided by the group. And they sit on the mountain of forgetfulness, wandering in the labyrinth of the Underworld and forgetting their name. They forgot what they wanted and why they joined the group in the first place, even though the reason was to learn to better live within their surrounding reality.

The Moon card is often interpreted incorrectly because nowadays the Moon is associated with romantic images. In the reality, the Moon represents darkness, night and penetration into the most secret depths of the soul. The Moon overshadows the Sun and its light fades (solar eclipses). In ancient times this natural occurrence meant that something bad was going to happen and it evoked in people a sense of fear and helplessness. This interpretation could seem unusual but the card’s symbols and its number prove that fact very well. The number 18 symbolizes eclipses because the sequence of solar and lunar eclipses, called the Saros cycle, is repeated every eighteen years.

We can see the ford on the picture, the place always dangerous, but at the same time, it gives us a chance to cross the river and a narrow trail that leads towards the two gray towers. These are the harbingers of Heavenly Jerusalem, which is the symbol of the highest achievement that we can reach. However, the path that leads us towards it is always very hard and dangerous. The dog and the wolf protect it.

The dog symbolizes safe and helping instincts, the wolf, on the other hand, is a symbol for dangerous and threatening instincts. He corresponds to Cerberus, the Underworld’s guard, and one of his tasks is to not let anyone out of the Underworld. And even though our goal, the Heavenly Jerusalem, is so close, we still have to go through one more transformation. In the medieval mystery, the image of this stage of the journey was a narrow bridge through which the soul must pass in order to reach immortality. In fairy tales, it is a sword’s blade that the hero must walk over without falling into the abyss. Whatever the task is, it is always both: the last one and the most dangerous one.

In our hero’s way also lies the danger to fall into the possession of the dark aspect of his anima, allowing his inner guide to take him into the endless labyrinth. So, at this stage of the journey we must understand that our inner guide is not our goal, but the means by which we reach our goal. As Beatrice did for Dante when she led him on the top of the mountain so he finally could perceive the Divine.

Even though our hero follows the light aspect of his anima, he will still meet its darker aspect, which, on this stage, is symbolized by the Moon overshadowing the Sun. Only by understanding that the Sun, which is both the symbol of Self and the final goal of this journey, is hiding right behind this darkness, can he exit the labyrinth or the enchanted, threatening forest.

It is not easy to handle an anima that is constantly changing from dark to light aspect. The mind will toss from one to another until the human “I” understands this task of Individuation.

Only when he consciously understands that behind the anima is hiding his Self (the Sun, as a symbol of Self, is hiding behind the Moon, which is the symbol of dark anima), he will feel the solid ground under his feet, which will help him to get rid of the mind’s tossing. But until the anima is distinguished from the Self, he won’t be able to escape this double game. The Self will plunge him into difficult situations, bail him out of them, enlighten him, and then totally confuse him afterward.

Fear and Guard are somehow related terms. In astrology, both of those terms are connected to Saturn – the Guard of the Gates or Thresholds. But Saturn is also a wise man, familiar to us as the Hermit (IX). The Moon card that has a numerological connection to the Hermit card, stands here as gates, that are guarded by the Saturn. It is also a threshold of fear, to which we come every time when we have to start a new project or go into unknown territory. When entering the world of the Hermit, we are also entering unknown territory. Many of us get scared when we suddenly find ourselves alone in total silence and in an unfamiliar place. At night this fear can turn into anxiety. If we view this from a psychological point of view, we would name this as a fear of the subconscious that is trying to cross the border into consciousness and, if it does this, we think we won’t be able to control it. This is the fear of the depths of our own personality, which we are trying to avoid in the same way that we try to avoid the silence of loneliness.

C.G. Jung compared the modern man with the homeowner who hears a scary noise at night coming from the basement but goes up to the attic to turn the light on and check if everything is fine. “Going up to the attic”, means calling on the conscious mind to quickly and easily fix all the problems. But descending to the basement, into the dark and scary place that symbolizes our subconscious mind, is a much more difficult task because there we must face all of our darkest sides. Therefore, in our everyday life, we usually avoid doing this, preferring instead to direct our life energy onto outside sources. However, when we are left alone and in silence, this energy is left with nothing to do but flow right into our subconscious. It repeatedly brings to a life those problems that we thought were fixed.

In the Hindu Upanishads, like in the myths of many different cultures, the Moon symbolizes the heavenly gates. Meaning that our goal lies right behind the gates of Saturn and the highest welfare and happiness is located behind the gates of the fear. That’s why all the religious practices contain Saturnian rituals – fasting, solitude, and reclusion – all of it suppose to help us to cross the gates. That’s why the Moon card, even though it represents darkness and fear, should not be interpreted as something “bad” or as advice “not to do anything”. We need to understand and acknowledge the source of our fear(s) and accept its lesson.

Our society tells us that fear is a bad advisor; however, it ends up being a valuable pointer that leads to our growth. Our task here is not to fall into despair and let the darkness confuse us in its labyrinths, but to surrender to our inner call and trust with gratitude to our fear, so it can safely help us pass through the thresholds. In situations that raise our fears, physiologists advise us to let our subconscious flow out through talking or writing it.

Theseus did not die because he always was connected to Ariadne – his anima. At the same time, nothing could save Ariadne if she did not have the thread that connected her to Theseus. What this means is that it is very important to trust someone with our fears, especially when we are in Underworld, that we easily have entered, but are exiting with such a difficulty.

Before the entering Underworld the Inanna, the Sumerian heavenly goddess, takes precautions. She agrees with her vassal and friend Ninshubur to do something if she does not return in three days, as she planned. And that is what happened; Inanna would have stayed in the Underworld, from which there is no return if her loyal Ninshubur would not have kept his promise. Thus, in this ancient myth of resurrection, the heroine could return back because she was able to communicate with her animus, in this case, Ninshubur.

During this stage, we also have to recognize the force that supports the necessary and adequate balance between opposite poles – masculine and feminine, active and passive, courage and patience, euphoria and depression, but the most importantly between the true and false measurements of success. The journey through the Sea of Night, diving into the depths of his subconscious, will lead the hero to an unusually expanded consciousness. The danger becomes apparent if the greedy Ego takes a wrong step, he then will loose everything.

The best example is the fairy tale about the golden fish and the fisherman. The fisherman sets the golden fish free and the golden fish in gratitude agrees to grant the fisherman’s wish by giving him a new trough to replace the old and broken one. But the fisherman has a wife, and her greed grows every time (first she wanted a big house with servants, then she wanted to be a queen, and golden fish grants all of those wishes) until it transforms into megalomania. She then wishes to be a sea goddess. But the golden fish disappears taking all of her previously given gifts with her, including the new trough, leaving them with the broken one.

The golden fish in this story represents the Self and the fisherman represents the Ego; but the weak one that is unable to resist the dark aspect of his anima (his wife), his subconscious greed which demands more and more satisfaction of his uncontrolled desires. And because becoming an immortal god or goddess is a secret desire of the Ego, making it very difficult for the weak Ego to keep the right balance, he loses everything.

Ego also can take the transpersonal development as his own achievements or identify itself with the archetype, and both are dangerous. Thus, it is always a shock when our “I” (Ego) meets the Self. Or, to put it another way, when our “I” experiences a shock it means that it just met one of its aspects – Self.

But the main question here is, what will the ‘I’ do? Will it surrender and begin to serve the great Whole? Will the hero take this as his own accomplishment and begin calling himself a “chosen one” or “enlightened one” or whatever else he may come up with, finally falling under the complex of the “great guru”?  Dr. Jung wrote that our “I” cannot resist such temptations and, during its development, every human goes through a phase of narcissism. But when he passes this phase, he is ashamed to recall it. That is why it is very important to be aware of it, so we won’t dwell on it for too long.

Here, at the end of our journey, it becomes clear whether or not our Ego is on the right path after facing all of the aspects of Self. We will also find out if the magical power of the Self interests us only as a means for the easier satisfaction of our egoistic desires.

And this is what the latest “Positive Thinking” movement propagates, supporting our greedy Ego to uncontrollably exploit our subconscious. The payback for this greed could be very high. In the end, all that will be left is an old and broken trough. For westerners, the danger of destroying ourselves while running towards power and enormous wealth is huge, because our culture has never paid much attention to our inner world. And if we do not know what this inner world may contain, we could fall into even greater danger. We can get stuck there forever, charmed by its temptations and traps. Because we have a habit of looking at our subconscious only from the point of view that uses it for practical purposes.

In the same way Bastian, the hero of “The NeverEnding Story”, got so fascinated with Fantasia at the end of his journey, that he almost stayed there forever. Excited by the opportunity to change everything in this world, his Ego forgot about going back home. And only at the last moment, thanks to his friend Atreyu, he turns back. When he returned home he met the Coreander, who sold him the book “The NeverEnding Story” in the very beginning. And Coreander revealed that he himself journeyed to Fantasia and there are also people who cannot reach the world of Fantasia (those who got stuck in the stage of Hanged Man), and there are those who reached it but could never return back home (those who “drowned” in the world of the Moon). But there are also those who went there and came back. Just like Bastian did. And they guard both of these worlds.

The purpose of the journey is not to replace one world with another, but to live in both worlds consciously – to achieve integrity and live a full life. And the unification of both of our sides is a theme of the next card.

The Moon (XVIII) is connected through numerology with the Hermit (IX). If Hermit represents reaching the highest point of consciousness, the Moon symbolizes reaching the deepest point of our subconscious. Throughout all of the hero’s journey, there is no other point where the risk of losing all the gifts of the Hermit – the knowledge, the true name, and a magic word –  is as high. And nowhere but here can we finally have the chance to cross the thresholds of our fear (the Moon) and finally find our way back (the Hermit).

© Rita Digilova 2010

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