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(5/12 of the Heroic Journey)

Crossing the First Threshold
Separation from the Feminine
Guardians of the Threshold


“The ranks of the Seekers are thinner now. Some of us have dropped out. But the final few are ready to cross the threshold and truly begin the adventure.”Christopher Vogler

Departure, at last. The journey can begin.

In a world of instant gratification we have become increasingly used to rushing straight to our goals. Our heroism is reduced to an act of will. We expect to bring home the booty via a path with a proven track record. A sprinkling of adrenaline is added to give a sense of courage.

Unfortunately this safe road only leads to more of the same. Nothing new can be found by following a well trodden path with ‘guaranteed results’.

Those who discover treasures of real value – and receive their true unique gifts – are prepared to leave the safe haven behind.

In real life the Heroic Journey is a wild expedition into virgin territory. Real heroes and heroines know that the adventure they are letting themselves in for is not a roller coaster ride in an amusement park.

It takes real courage and it’s a real challenge. It means leaving the familiar environment and stepping into the unknown. These two spaces are separated by a threshold. Therefore the 5th stage of the Heroic Journey is also called Crossing the 1st Threshold.

In his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces Joseph Campbell writes “The sailors of the bold vessels of Columbus breaking the horizon of the medieval mind – sailing, as they thought, into the boundless ocean of immortal being that surrounds the cosmos like an endless mythological serpent biting its own tail – had to be cozened and urged on like children, because of their fear of the fabled leviathans, mermaids, dragon kings, and other monsters of the deep.”


Crossing the First Threshold

“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”André Gide

At first sight the departure appears to be only a small and relatively insignificant part of the journey. It is ‘only’ the starting point, the place we want to leave behind and ‘get on with the exciting stuff’.

In the narratives of mythology and contemporary fiction the departure of the main character often holds clues about how the story is going to unfold. Departure is a sensitive phase on any journey.

In the summer of 1980 I travelled to Spain with a friend. Our point of departure was Frankfurt railway station in Germany. We caught the night train to Paris, or so we thought.

The train was very crowded and very long. It was actually two trains coupled together, one heading for Belgium, the other for France. The train split at the border in the middle of the night while most passengers were fast asleep. I remember being very unhappy and confused, when we woke up in Liège, Belgium, early the following morning.

I could have taken this as a bad sign and returned home. But I didn’t. I went ahead anyway. I wanted to go to Spain and spend the summer in the sunshine. The trip turned into one of my worst holidays ever.

In April 1998 Josh and I went to America. It was our first trip together. At the checkin counter of Virgin Atlantic in London Heathrow our economy class tickets were upgraded to business class. On boarding the plane at the gate our tickets were upgraded again, this time to first class. It was the departure to a magical holiday. We took it as a good omen for our life together.

Even though the departure holds important clues for the unfolding of the journey, in real life the signs are not always easy to read. Heroines and heroes do become better at it with experience and practice.

However, the journey is not about avoiding negative experiences at all cost. We may choose to step into the strange no-man’s-land – even when the signs are unfavourable – if we feel that there is something important for us to learn from that particular expedition.

Crossing the threshold at the departure gate marks a point of no return on the Heroic Journey. In his book The Writer’s Journey Christopher Vogler warns us that “The hero doesn’t always land gently. They may crash into the other world, and the leap of faith can turn into a crisis.”

You have to take a leap of faith. You leave the familiar shore in the knowledge that it will not be all plain sailing from here onwards. But you trust that you’ll be able to rise to the challenges. You know that real life experience – including crisis – is a profound way to learn and sharpen your heroic skills.


Separation from the Feminine

“The collective unconscious of a patriarchal society, the source of its big dreams, carries the values excluded from consciousness and therefore has a feminine – matriarchal – bias.”Janet Dallett

Maureen Murdock’s Heroine’s Journey begins with departure. She calls it Separation from the Feminine.

Murdock writes, “The journey begins with the heroine’s struggle to separate both physically and psychologically from her own mother and from the mother archetype.” The initial rejection of the feminine is necessary so that the heroine can reclaim her femininity at a new level.

‘The feminine’ is one of two fundamental archetypal principles – it’s counterpart is ‘the masculine’. As principles, the masculine and the feminine have to be understood in a much broader sense than mother and father, or our male and female role models.

The ultimate goal of the Heroic Journey is the so-called ‘return to wholeness’, bringing the two principles into balance. The reconciliation of our masculine and feminine aspects is not gender specific.

In our culture an internal separation from the feminine principle happens spontaneously for heroines and heroes alike. Here are 4 main expressions:

We despise our own Body and hope to replace it with an illusory ideal.
(The Body can be seen as an individual expression of ‘Mother Earth’ = feminine principle)

We dismiss the emotional messages from our Instinct.
(The Instinct represents the ‘irrational feminine’ principle as opposed to the ‘masculine rational’ Intellect)

We don’t know when or how to trust our Intuition.
(The Intuition is another feminine Faculty and can be seen as the counterpart to the masculine Inspiration)

We reject the truth of our own Soul.
(The Soul is traditionally regarded as feminine, complemented by the masculine Will)

The inner separation from the feminine affects all of us in many ways. Part of the Heroic Journey is about becoming aware of this separation.

What is your relationship with your Body, – Instinct, – Intuition, – Soul?

Awareness of the separation is the first step towards reclaiming the feminine principle in its various expressions. The feminine Faculties of our Consciousness are there to guide, protect and nourish us on our journey.


Guardians of the Threshold

“It is possible that mankind is on the threshold of a golden age; but if so it will be necessary first to slay the dragon that guards the door.”Bertrand Russell

Departure is filled with emotions – excitement of travelling to a distant location, sadness of separation and leaving, fears of what might happen along the way. These feelings and their intensity generate a kind of emotional threshold within our own inner world.

In the mythological hero’s journey the threshold is often marked by a guardian. The ancient Greek underworld for instance is guarded by Cerberus, a three-headed dog with a serpent’s tail.

The main role of the threshold guardian is to test the heroine or hero. Often this is a test of faith, clarity, courage, and determination.

Sometimes the guardian can be bribed, or appeased with a trick, or they simply need to be acknowledged. Sometimes there is an illusory threat, which must be reflected back to the vigilant guardian.

On the Heroic Journey of everyday life there can be internal guardians as well as external ones. At the point of departure the people around us can turn into our ‘guardians of the threshold’.  The British philosopher Bertrand Russell observed that “conventional people are roused to fury by departure from convention, largely because they regard such departure as a criticism of themselves.”

When we depart from the conventional status quo of our current Ordinary World it is not unusual that some of our nearest and dearest get upset about that. Your departure may remind them of the ‘heroic life’ they don’t have the courage to live themselves.

The most annoying and persistent guardians of the threshold, however, are residents of the inner world. You may have the best intention in the world to accomplish your heroic mission. You may have received a clear Call to Adventure. You may have overcome your resistance and done your preparations, but all of a sudden those inner ‘guardians’ step onto the scene.

The inner guardians may be subconscious self-sabotaging beliefs. They may be deeply ingrained habits. They may be self-doubts or hidden fears. No matter how hard you try to squeeze past them, you always find yourself back at ‘square one’. This can be very frustrating.

The internal guardians of the threshold cannot be fooled. You have to find ways to bring them on your side. They might just be afraid of ‘dragon kings and other monsters of the deep’, like the sailors in the fleet of Columbus. They might even be able to help you and send you on your journey with a blessing.

The Ethiopian physician and author Abraham Verghese reminds us that “the rituals we use for marriage, baptism or inaugurating a president are as elaborate as they are because we associate the ritual with a major life passage, the crossing of a critical threshold, or in other words, with transformation.”

Because the Heroic Journey is a process of personal transformation the same strategy can be applied. Once you become aware of the nature of your inner guardians you can design and perform a personal ritual to help you cross the critical threshold.


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