Rites of Passage
By Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki
speaks to us of human destiny.
The title of this lecture is
in essence what a racial myth is all about. It is that deep dark
mysterious adventure that opens up to the dreamers, the seekers,
the seeming misfits and discontents, the poets and painters, and
those who are destined to wear "The Coats of Many Colours."
We may see these chosen ones,
sometimes called the Proud Walkers, in the fairy tales of our
youth no matter what part of the world we may call home. We can
see it in the tales of the youngest son cast out from his family,
and the penniless soldier returning after the war, cut adrift
from the comforting group soul of his regiment, feeling lost and
lonely. There is the widow's son, and the fool of the village
who everyone makes fun of and despises. Cinderella, Snow White,
Thumbalina, Tom in "The Water Babies", the Prince in
"Sleeping Beauty." All of them epitomize the ones called
to that greatest of all adventures, the Personal Quest.
Sometimes the stories hint of
the dangers that are to be found on this strange and demanding
road, proof that not all who seek are assured of success. Yet
all who tread this path reap some reward, even if they do not
make it all the way. In the fairy tale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses,
we can see this very clearly. The young men who have already tried
and failed to discover the secret are found either turned into
stone or imprisoned, it depends on which version you read. But,
although they have suffered, they are left with more wisdom than
before they start off their search for truth.
Although the primal work of both
fairy tale and myth is to draw one's mind inward, an understanding
of it is also essential to the ability to look outward, projecting
the power of what has been undergone towards those still dwelling
in the every day world. Thus one who has taken the journey and
learned its lessons becomes a Janus-like figure that stands at
the gate of two worlds, upper and lower, and upper and highest.
All myth decays and grows old
and is finally relegated to the nursery, though the most powerful
may linger on for thousands of years exerting a lasting influence
on all who come under their spell. But as they fall out of favour
and memory, invariably they are replaced by others that spring,
like Athene, full blown from the mind, not of Zeus but of man
himself. They well up from the racial subconscious, the results
of far reaching events, heroic deeds and epic undertakings, while
those who act them out are continually updating the symbols of
the Personal Quest and its' Heroes. As we look around the world
today we may see all about us the raw material that lies at the
heart of each new myth condensing, as Shakespeare tells us, "into
something rich and strange."
The miracle is that each new
hero, each new adventure, and more especially each new goal, contains
the essence of those that have gone before. The central theme
never changes, nor, except in minor details, does the chain of
events that invariably lead up to them. This is because there
is a sacred seed that lies at the heart of the Monomyth of each
and every culture. The knowledge of that seed, what it is and
what it can grow into, its aim and its purpose, offers us a ringside
seat as each Seeker attempts the Quest.
The Eternal Quest would appear
to have three stages: 1. Separation from the known and the familiar,
from loved ones and the safety of the Group Soul of the Race;
2. The transmutation of the soul through experience, i.e., initiation
and the training pertaining to it; and 3. Something that is not
always fully understood, the need to return, bearing a GIFT.
This gift is to be shared, must
be shared, with those who did not go upon the Quest themselves,
no matter how unworthy they may seem. In the oldest version of
Cinderella when all is acted out and happily resolved, the Princess
is seen to forgive her stepmother and stepsisters by granting
them gifts and promising them protection in the future. In this
way she has shared the Gift which was the result of her suffering
and fortitude. The Prince, who in the fairy tale brings back a
bride snatched from the forces of evil, as in the tale of Snow
White, shares his Gift with his people through the children he
will have with his new wife. For whosoever takes the long road
of the Quest must realize that it will not, cannot, be for the
self alone, but for all those who are too weak to go for themselves.
This willingness to act as a
sacrifice or a scapegoat is tested at the beginning of each and
every fairy tale or myth. It is the demand for no less than the
thing most dear. The stories of Beauty and the Beast and of lphengia
make this very clear indeed. It is the strength to go and, in
going, disregard the sorrow that the departing cause to those
dear to us. Both Lancelot and Percival rode away on their Quests,
leaving their widowed mothers to die of sorrow.
Each of these three stages has
within it other levels, mostly three, thus making nine in all.
This is an appropriate number when one understands that the Quest
takes place in the sphere we call the Treasure House of Images,
the lunar sphere whose number is nine, itself a tripling of the
Three of the Initiator of all Initiators, the Great Mother. It
is always she who prepares the young soul for the final moment
of separation. This is seen reflected in the patterns of Chivalry
and Knighthood when the mother, young wife, or sister dresses
son, husband or brother in his armour, or in the gift of a father's
sword, or the making of a seamless robe.
This female figure can appear
in many forms and in many stages along the way. She may be the
old woman who bestows a gift in return for a kindness done, the
young princess combing the hair of a sleeping giant and stealing
the key of the dungeon door when he is asleep, or even in some
cases, the evil witch who forces the hero/heroine to undergo severe
tests and subjects them to dangers almost beyond their endurance.
But, this is an illusion, the first of many created by those who
watch over each and every attempt of the Quest.
This is the illusion of apparent
evil. It is the Tarot card of the Devil, for there is a negative
aspect which can sometimes be the instrument of good. One of the
biggest tests for a would-be initiate is to understand an apply
this in his life. Without the impetus given by the witch, the
evil Queen or the malicious Wizard, or in the case of the myth,
a hostile god or goddess, nothing would be attempted or accomplished.
Misunderstanding of this car, cause many problems to the would-be
seeker. In occult work it is very unwise to close one's eyes to
things that look unpleasant; look at everything very closely.
The more unpleasant, the more important they may turn out to be.
Always try to hold up a mental mirror to them, to see the reverse
image. Remember, that if evil is the reverse of good, then logically,
good must be the reverse of evil. That is why the mirror of the
evil Queen in Snow White shattered at last. It is also why a mirror
is considered to be a highly magical thing in its own right.
There are many working in the
occult field today who dismiss the area of fairy tale and myth
as being childish and of little use, yet a child can be the wisest
of beings at times. Many are so busy being, to their mind, great
occultists and appearing to be wise and all-knowing, that they
forget that what they really should be doing is seeking for the
truth wherever it may be hidden. Sometimes they find one small
piece of the truth and think they have it all. There are many
ways to take up the Quest: one is through the racial contacts,
another is through the mind and the physical brain (this will
be the way of homo Aquarius) and there are many other ways. But
those who display a deep rooted antipathy towards their own racial
contacts in most cases hide a deep sense of their own inadequacy,
and an inability to deal with the Archetypes on a personal level.
It is for these people that the Seekers undertake the Quest, and
who will eventually suffer some form of martyrdom at their hands.
To turn from one's racial contacts
is to turn from oneself, for the two are bound together in a sacred
knot, in itself a symbol of the deepest kind. From the Girdles
of Aphrodite and Hippolyta, to the Gordian knot but by Alexander,
from the sacred, complex knots that close the wedding garment
of a Kazak bride, the knot implies a binding together that nothing
may set apart.
The question may be asked, and
again the question itself is one of main symbols of the Quest:
Why should such tales as these evoke such power century after
century? The answer is simple: because in them is hidden the ultimate
secret, the Crown of Mankind, ultimate Godhood, the Gift of the
Creator and His/Her Child. But such a prize must be approached
slowly, with the slowness of millions of years of effort and change.
Mankind is flawed and flawed of his choice. Had man stayed in
a state of spiritual beingness, he could never have reached out
for the Gift that was offered. In order to achieve it he had to
"fall," i.e., descend into the world of matter, reaching
its lowest point before starting the long road upwards. He has
had to fight for each step, conquering the pull of cruelty, injustice
and blind ignorance even in the Temples and among the Priesthood.
The Magi of the ancient world
know well the character of mankind. They know also that an age
of darkness and persecution would fill the lives of men. They
took steps to preserve their knowledge guarded since the beginning
of time. They knew that such times were cyclic, and planned for
the distant time when their wisdom would once again be sought
for, studied and understood by men from the future. That knowledge
was hidden in many ways, in the Tarot, knowing that a game of
seeming chance would speak to the unconscious mind of those who
played it. They hid it in the intricate words and patterns of
the I Ching, in the art of the Astrologer, in Cartomancy, Geomancy.
Some they hid in scrolls, time locked, to be found at intervals
by those born of the line entrusted with the inbred knowledge
of their hiding places. But still something extra, something more
powerful, was needed.
They realized that wherever people
gathered together there would always be one gifted as a teller
of tales, singer of songs, who could recall the old days, the
golden time of high deeds and long and dangerous journeys to land
no longer found under the sun. Thus they began to store the knowledge
of the training of the Seekers, the most vital of all their secrets.
They placed in myth, story and song the quest of those who heard
the call of the hidden soul to seek her out wherever she may be
hidden, built in a ring of thorns, lying in an enchanted sleep,
or hidden in a golden tower with no door, fleeing from hunters
in the form of white deer, hanging in the shape of Golden Fleece,
or on an altar in the form of a Grail. Sometimes it was the shape
of a unicorn, the most magical of all, for it shows the highest
and ultimate estate of man, male and female joined in one symbol,
each upholding the grace and strength each find in the other within
themselves. Every one who takes the path through the forest of
the unconscious has the task of understanding that only by using
both sides of the self can the soul be found and rescued. Together
they are lock and key, together they open the door of the Mysteries.
All these strange and wonderful
things were and still are to be found in the stories woven by
the Magi and passed to specially chosen adepts. These then went
into voluntary exile as beggars, singers, bards and story-tellers.
As they grew old, each one sought a successor to whom the knowledge
was passed. Sometimes it was fully understood, sometimes it was
carried parrot fashion, uncomprehending, but always it was passed
faithfully. They filled the hearts and minds of men with their
strange tales and one in many thousands would catch a gleam of
the truth behind them and set out for the land beyond the mountain.
In later centuries, other men collected them not fully understanding
why, but obeying an inner instruction to do so thus preserving
them in the printed word for all time.
Others began to look below the
surface and began to descry a pattern that slowly unfolded its
secrets. The power with which these images were built is an example
of the use of the creative imagination in its highestform. They
were designed to act upon the subtle levels of the mind and anyone
ready to receive those images would awaken an immediate response
from the Inner Levels.
All over the known world, and
to parts that were then unknown, the exiles traveled. In some
lands they became men of great power and authority; to be trained
by them was a mark of great honour; to have one of them live in
your home or among your tribe gave enormous prestige. Others simply
went from place to place telling their stories where they could,
in return for bread and a place to sleep. Yet one would always
recognize the other, no matter the difference in status or clothing.
Some built around themselves Fraternities, becoming the Trouveres,
the Heralds of the Court of Love. They acted as courtiers for
the other great orders that flourished from time to time, then
slept again in times of persecution and trial. Always, the inner
knowledge was kept until the time should come when the stake and
the rack, the envy and hatred of lesser men were no longer to
The great strength of the idea
to store such knowledge in song and story is that all men without
exception hold within a dream world locked away from the prying
of others. A place where he may act out the adventures of the
hero and heroine, where the prize is there for us to attain, and
where, if we are wise, we may learn to rule the greatest kingdom
of all, the kingdom of the self Those who do not understand the
inner life dismiss such things as fantasy, yet fantasy carried
the Ark wherein it is said God himself was hidden. But under the
appellation of "fantasy" much goes on. Sometimes it
is merely a replica of everyday life, a day dream for the masses
of humanity weighed down by their lives of dullness. A wish fulfillment
of telling the boss to go to Hell and walking out to the applause
of others too weak to follow. The weary typist dreaming of marrying
her handsome, rich and romantically inclined boss, even though
her real boss may be married, sixty and bald.
Children have the truest dreams,
for theirs are still able to come true if the desire is strong
enough and they are not broken by the attitude of adults. It is
essential for children to be allowed to have and hold their dreams
and not to have them trodden on by uncaring feet. Breaking a child's
dream carries a heavy toll. Yet if this part of a child's life
is nurtured and gently disciplined, it can be an invaluable aid
in later life. Through specially designed pathworkings and full
encouragement in the art of creativity, they can very quickly
learn to join their two selves and work toward a desired goal
in adult life. Even more, they will learn to control desire for
things that will hurt others and will temper those desires making
them a weapon for justice in their hands and not a sword for those
weaker than themselves. To our generation has been given the task
of training and teaching Homo Aquarius.
Sexual fantasies, because they
are basic to our needs as human beings, are also part of the Quest,
one of its many facets. Fulfillment on all its levels is part
of the prize, hence the princess who comes to the poor Woodcutter
as bride. (Remember that as a woodcutter he is privy to the secrets
of the Sacred Tree.) Sex will always play a part in the Quest,
despite the exhortations of church and stuffy moralists, because
the Quest itself is undertaken to find that lost part of ourselves,
the soulmate, hidden deep inside us all, of whom the mate taken
in life is a mirror image. Mating in everyday life is an outward
experience that goes inward as we explore the depths of sexual
feelings with them, leading to the soulmate within.
Thus the Quest touches all parts
of man, so do not despise your dreams and fantasies, cherish them,
help them grow. Use them to learn from, but do not allow them
to become the Quest themselves. They must never become more important
than the end result, the personal Grail. All dreams can be made
real - they merely need determination and the overcoming of inertia,
the curse of modem man. Thus all we need is Desire. Desire is
the central theme of life. It is creation itself. Everything in
us springs from desire on any one of many levels or forms. Joy
comes from the satisfaction of the vital need, be that need for
the Grail as a symbol of the love of a Creator for His children,
or for the Prince/Princess as a symbol of the lost inner self
Suffering comes from a negated need or desire, either go out and
seek it tirelessly, or offer the need itself as a sacrifice, as
do the inmates of the convent or monastery. Whichever is true
of you, do not hide your dreams away from the light of day. In
the end result, the psychomythology of the Quest is an analogy
of shame. It is the fig leaf with which Eve covered herself, and
which she must now throw away to stand naked and unashamed in
From The Portal, June 1996.