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Mythic Imagination: The In-Between

A door to a balcony overlooking the ocean at Castillo San Felipe del Morro. Taken by Flickr user Christopher V. San Juan, Puerto Rico. April 2012.

Soul seeks a life that is not purely driven by ego centered desires, societal demands, or cultural norms, but a life that is connected to Psyche or Spirit. Spirit lives in the In-Between, it lives in the poetry of mythic imagination. Fairy tales, myths, legends, all remind us of this undeniable truth that often torments us when we see our own lives fall short of our soul’s inner promptings. 

The realm of the In-Between is also the realm of the call to adventure, as Joseph Campbell demonstrates in the collected fiction of Mythic Imagination. We step into the realm of mystery because of the moonlight, because of a death, perhaps because we cannot bear to function in the day to day anymore:

The Moon soared above the clouds. It was a romantic moon. Freddy Bliss had never before   been at large like this, in country moonlight that he could see by almost as well as day. The night odors of the fields were surprisingly strong, and they were kind of wonderful […]. For the first time since his departure from New York he was feeling really happy—really alive. (Mythic Imagination, 7-8)

The romance of moonlight lends itself to the geography of the in-between; and it is this intrusion of the archetypal world into our daily life that most surprises us. Without realizing it, we step into or are led, sometimes dragged into the other world, the world of mythic imagination, right at the doorstep of our ordinary life. It is perhaps a collision of beauty and truth, and sometimes an act of violence, a breaking down of boundaries. It is as if imagination requires excess, the courage to break through the safe silence of old ideas, of someone else’s rules. This breaking down of control is the path to which the genius of Myth calls us, it is the deep longing of Soul to become more embodied, more full-bodied.

The In-Between is the realm of shamanic travel, of confronting shadow, of death and resurrection. My own experience of such moments has come in different ways but most often as an undeniable intrusion of the natural and supernatural worlds, inextricably connected through Psyche, a herald of a descent, extreme, terrifying and transcendent, dragging me to the underworld, sometimes to Hades, and sometimes to the Elysian Fields.

Perhaps one of my more memorable experiences of the realm between the realms, is what happened when my Aunt Adita died. The man she remarried, after her first husband died, was someone I could not bear to be around. I could not bear to even shake his hand. I had a visceral reaction to him, which no one understood, including myself. It made things difficult during family visits. I saw very little of my aunt in the ten years that followed her remarriage. But I couldn’t help it. The sensation was so strong, I could not move against it.

It was not a complete surprise when the news came, but still devastating. My intuitive suspicions had done nothing to change the fates. My cousin told me over the phone that my aunt had been murdered by her husband and then he killed himself in their bedroom.

I was asked to come and help take care of my aunt’s personal effects. Reluctantly, I walked into the apartment and stood in liminal space, a threshold between ordinary life and violent death. Blood was still on the carpet in the bedroom, I could see it out of the corner of my eye. I dare not move. My cousins told me to take anything I wanted. I wanted nothing.

As I stood there like a stony tree in the hallway, I heard a whisper in my mind. It directed me to the bathroom, insistent. I followed its direction to the pink bathroom, my aunt’s realm, and stood in front of the sink staring up at my face in the mirror, so like her own. 

The soft voice told me to look for the soap dish. I thought it must be a crazy joke. Had I come here, in this place of death, to retrieve a soap dish? But I obeyed and saw indeed a dish, a shell of mother-of-pearl. It looked nice. “Pick it up,” the voice said, “turn it over.” I did and saw something that took my breath away and made me stumble. It was an exquisite carving of the resurrection, or perhaps Lazarus rising out of his coffin.

I knew then why I had come, to witness the power of Psyche, of love, to understand the flimsy nature of the veil between the worlds, and to keep listening with all my heart. To know a truth beyond human understanding, in a visceral way, is the power of mythic imagination. It is to be changed forever by simply holding the story inside of us, the shell of mother-of-pearl.

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