MythBlast | The Song of the Quest

Editor’s Note: After a year and a half of editing this MythBlast series for the Joseph Campbell Foundation, the time has come to hand the editorial pen to the next set of writers and imaginers. Thank you to everyone who has written, read, responded, and shared the first 75 essays in this series. It has been an honor and a delight to have the opportunity to ride the mystery with you all. Thank you.    — Leigh Melander

“Every shaman has his song that takes him away.” (The Hero’s Journey, p 61)

I believe that we all have songs that can take us away. We do not have to be shamans to find the shamanic threads in our lives, inviting us to go deep into creative consciousness and our own versions of vision quests.

As I am learning to listen for that song for my own next quest, I am struck by how easy it is to miss it. To not hear well, or to discount the song while wrapped up in our lives and the expectations of those around us.  Our lives, even if not what we dream them to be, are comfortable, even when they are uncomfortable. We know how to do it. It’s familiar. Known. Quantifiable. Even when we are unhappy, we can cling to the ways we walk because we know how to navigate them. The well-worn path, deemed valid and productive by our society and community, can be so seductive because it seems to offer direction. But that illusion of certainty, that comfort in the known and accepted, can keep us from finding our way in, from hearing the music that calls us to the quest that can deepen our understanding of our work in the world.

In The Hero’s Journey, Campbell shares a story:

There’s an interesting paper, “The Shaman from Elko,” in the festschrift novel volume for Joseph Henderson, a psychiatrist in San Francisco. It’s an account of a woman in West Virginia, in the coal-mining areas there, who in her late sixties had the dreadful feeling that she had lost life, that she had never lived life, that there had been a life for her that she had not lived. And in the analysis they found one time when she was a little girl, about thirteen years old (that’s about the time for the experience), she was walking in the forest and she heard a strange music, a strange song. But she didn’t have in her culture the assistance to help her do something with that and so she lost it. And then throughout her life she had the feeling that she hadn’t lived her life. The thing about the shaman crisis is that if the individual does not follow the song he will die, he will really die. (The Hero’s Journey, p 62)

While Campbell frames this experience as something that happens in adolescence, I believe that it can – and does – happen at multiple times in our lives.  We have so many opportunities to forge that new path, to hear a new song, or find the lost tune of a song that’s been working in our psyches. Each is a chance to find your next quest, and to bring a boon – small or large – back to your community.

This is what I wish for you: that you may hear your song and that the culture around you can help you follow it. And that you may find ways to assist those around you to hear theirs, and ‘do something with it.’

And that you may feel that you really have lived your life.

You can find The Hero’s Journey: Joseph Campbell on his Life and Work, an evocative collection of conversations between Campbell and an extraordinary group of colleagues and friends here in print, as an audio book, and coming soon as an eBook.

Thank you for being a part of bringing myth to life in the world.

All the best,

Leigh Melander, Ph.D.

About Leigh

Leigh has an eclectic background in the arts and organizational development, working with inviduals and organizations in the US and internationally for over 20 years. She has a doctorate in cultural mythology and psychology and wrote her dissertation on frivolity as an entry into the world of imagination. Her writings on mythology and imagination can be seen in a variety of publications, and she has appeared on the History Channel, as a mythology expert. She also hosts a radio who on an NPR community affiliate: Myth America, an exploration into how myth shapes our sense of identity. Leigh and her husband opened Spillian, an historic lodge and retreat center celebrating imagination in the Catskills, and works with clients on creative projects. She is honored to serve as the Vice President of the Joseph Campbell Foundation Board of Directors.

Related Post