MythBlast | The Rush, and the Pull, of Spring
Today, March 20th, is the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere! Here in Flagstaff spring will arrive at exactly 9:15 AM, in accordance with a common tradition in the Northern Hemisphere of placing the start of Spring at the vernal equinox (Summer is marked by the summer solstice later in June). Familiar springtime celebrations, religious and secular, based on the symbolism of renewed life are numerous and found in cultures (both ancient and extant) throughout this hemisphere.
“The snow has not yet left the earth, but spring is already asking to enter your heart. If you have ever recovered from a serious illness, you will be familiar with the blessed state when you are in a delicious state of anticipation, and are liable to smile without any obvious reason. Evidently that is what nature is experiencing just now” (The Exclamation Mark, Anton Chekhov).
Chekhov’s image comparing spring to one’s recovery from serious illness conjures the nuanced admixture of joy, relief, tenuous hope, and deep gratitude of life having returned, barely, from the wintry realm of death.
Of course, this metaphorical invocation of spring, this cyclical image of recovery and return, unites the inner world of individuals and the outer world of nature. This is one of the main points Joseph Campbell makes in The Hero With A Thousand Faces, that all is one: “…the perilous journey was a labor not of attainment but reattainment, not discovery but rediscovery. The godly powers sought and dangerously won are revealed to have been within the heart of the hero all the time” (Hero, 39). The physical and the metaphysical realms become one and the mythic identification is complete.
Campbell’s emphasis “not on attainment but reattainment, not discovery but rediscovery,” is tremendously important because, like the seasonal return of spring, the heroic life and perspective must be achieved over and over and over again; one doesn’t reach a “goal” or an end simply by achieving it once. To be meaningful, life must continue to be lived in contact with and through the heartful depths of the hero whether it be long or short, abundant or impoverished, pleasant or purgatorial. This heroic movement lives in Friedrich Nietzsche’s writing as well. Rather than finding the hero within, Nietzsche writes about achieving a self—becoming who one is, but these two constructs—hero and self—are remarkably similar. Nietzsche’s self, much like Campbell’s hero, is a perspective that has to be achieved over and over again.
The Campbellian hero is often naïve and inexperienced, uncertain at first, even overwhelmed (Parzival is a good example). An individual inabiting this confused, novel state is the perfect candidate for discovering a Nietzschean self: “Becoming what you are presupposes that you have not the slightest inkling what you are.” And in fact, “…nosce te ipsum [know yourself] would be the recipe for decline, [and] forgetting yourself, misunderstanding yourself, […] becomes good sense itself.” One mustn’t think to understand oneself too soon because “Meanwhile, in the depths, the organizing ‘idea’ grows and grows [and] it slowly leads you back out of byways and detours, it prepares individual qualities and skills which will one day be indispensable to the whole…” (Ecce Homo, 31-32).
Poets have a way of comprehending and communicating difficult truths beautifully, and Theodore Roethke, in The Stony Garden, put it like this: “Deep in their roots, all flowers keep the light.” And the light that has been held, deeply rooted all winter long may burst free as though for the first time in deliciously new and powerful ways.
Bradley Olson, Ph.D.
Bradley Olson, Ph.D., is the editor of the Joseph Campbell Foundation’s MythBlast series. Dr. Olson is a Depth Psychologist in private practice in Flagstaff, Arizona; his work with clients is heavily influenced by his interest in Jungian Analytical Psychology, literature, and Mythological Studies.