Rites of Passage

By Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki

Myth 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 be feared.

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 the light.

From The Portal, June 1996. Archived on this site.

© Copyright Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki 1996