Once Upon a Time: Pack Your Bags | 1

I have someplace I’d like to go, and I hope you’ll come with me. This will be a long journey, but if you stick with me until the end, I think each of us will discover treasures and have adventures that we can’t even imagine now, as we begin. I don’t even know quite where we’re going, but I have a compass and a rucksack, and a heart full of intentions.

What I hope to do is complete my series of essays about the Quest, the Monomyth, the Heroic Journey of every hero (and the non-journey of every anti-hero), flesh them out and do a good job of it, so that from now on, whenever you read a story or see a movie, or hear a tale, you’ll say, “Aha! That’s quest mythology. . . I see it! There’s that archetypal figure she said would appear to guide the hero!”

An excellent example of the sort of myth I’m writing about is found in the mythical figure of Venus, or Aphrodite. I’ve meant to study her myths (there are two) and Boticelli’s paintings of Venus for some time now. I’ve learned some fascinating things that I think will surprise and fascinate you, too. For example, Boticelli painted The Birth of Venus in the late 1400s during a time when much secular work arising out of pagan myths, such as his painting, was being burned or destroyed by some nutjobs from the Roman Catholic Church. Boticelli had the Medici family as his patrons, and they protected him and his work, which is how this amazing painting survived.

Many people don’t know that The Birth of Venus was one of two paintings that were meant to hang together. After painting The Birth of Venus, Boticelli painted another large piece called Spring. It depicts Venus after she’s come up out of the sea on the clam shell. She’s fully clothed and her head is covered; she’s quite regal and queenly, as a mature woman ought to be. The same dark woods serve as the backdrop for the scene of her fulfillment, and she is surrounded by even more mythological creatures.

I’ve never studied the myth of Venus or Boticelli’s two paintings before, so this will be an adventure for me, too. You’ll get to see me work and reach for symbols and meanings that have been part of this art and these myths for thousands of years.

Boticelli researched his painting before he ever painted it; and we’ll research it, too, by reading the myth and thinking about the archetype of wholeness: the Bride and Groom, the Divine Couple, the Syzygy (Jung’s funny word indicating an integrated wholeness, from the Greek σύζυγος (syzygos),  meaning “yoked together”).

My intention in starting this blog has been to write about myths and symbols of wholeness and individuation with a view to the ultimate in being “yoked together,” which is the wedding supper of the Lamb of God. You don’t have to be a Christian to have this imagery; the Divine Marriage exists in every culture in every time among every single people who has ever lived on the planet, as far as we know. There is always a hero; there is always a quest; there is always a shadow type; always a trickster, always a Wise Old Man or Wise Old Woman, always an anima and animus, and always, at the end, a death and a resurrection, a treasure or elixir, and a Divine Marriage and wedding feast.

It’s as inescapable as death, and so we might as well write and talk and think about it.


17 responses to “Once Upon a Time: Pack Your Bags | 1”

  1. Cliff Burns Avatar

    Very, very smart post, Eva: this is the kind of writing I troll through the blogosphere hoping to find. You have a first rate mind, kid…

  2. Once Upon a Time: More Gods | 6 « The Third Eve Avatar

    […] Part 1: Pack Your Bags–Introduces some history about Boticelli’s The Birth of Venus and the use of myths. […]

  3. Orphan Quest: Finding One’s Myth « The Third Eve Avatar

    […] 8th, 2007 · No Comments As we delve into the “Once Upon a Time” series about myths, I’ve thought a lot about the meaning of myths, how they function, […]

  4. Henitsirk Avatar

    Eve, ask away, any time.

  5. Eve Avatar

    Thanks, Smiler. Comments like yours make me feel a little more sane about blogging.

  6. Eve Avatar

    Henitsirk, oh, thank you for the link! I was thrilled to see not only the two paintings, but Warhol’s Venus at the bottom of the page!

    I feel that I’m on the right thinking path when I find that eminent others are similarly intrigued and have written about it. Maybe I’m in good company, eh?

    Whew, that’s a relief.

    I’ll have to ask you more about being an editor. It’s one of several jobs I’d like to do in another lifetime (my list is rather long and life seems short, or else I might try it).

  7. Smiler Avatar

    I’m definitely on board, albeit lagging behind a little. I’m really fascinated with the topics you broach Eve. I’m glad I found your blog. It’s a truly enriching experience.

  8. Henitsirk Avatar

    Recently I edited a book about the art historian Aby Warburg. His doctoral thesis was on these two Botticelli paintings. Among other things, he analyzed how “applying these antique forms [classical symbols, gestures, patterns, and forms that he identified as common to Renaissance painting] means to surrender to the power of eternal forms that lead their own life in the new context of the image. ” (quoted from http://www.educ.fc.ul.pt/hyper/resources/mbruhn/)
    I’ll be very interested in your upcoming posts!

  9. Eve Avatar

    Alida, I think that having one foot in and one foot out is probably a good idea. No one church has it all (regardless of what the Church tells us). Jesus said the kingdom was within, and that’s pretty darn personal. Ultimately, as long as one of your feet is turned inward, I know you’ll find straight paths for your feet.

    I hope you read Campbell’s book; it’s fantastic. The PBS series is quite good; maybe you can rent it and get all that rich imagery and narrative, too.

  10. Eve Avatar

    Curtis, oh, good! I was really wowed by Fowler’s faith progression. It fits pretty seamlessly into this paradigm we’ve been discussing.

    In fact, it will be an adventure to delve into it, so I’ll be sure to keep reading.

  11. Eve Avatar

    Kyle, syzygy… I have to copy and paste it to even spell the darn word! No, I didn’t know zygote and syzygy were related… but, wow; doesn’t that give you ideas? It’s such a nice, robust word.

    I was pretty excited to learn that it meant to be equally yoked. That’s enough to make any Christian go, “Hmmm.”

    About becoming Catholic, as I’ve said somewhere else, I call myself a Prote-Catholic. I can’t shake my agnostic-atheist-apostolic-Methodist-charismatic roots, now, can I? Not to mention the Jewish ones I’ve never quite assimilated… yet. But in terms of symbolism and the medieval beauty of the liturgy and the mass, yes, I’m right there with it.

    I hope some day to write more about Martin Luther. What I’ve read of him surprised me, and it was reading his letters and diaries that actually pushed me even more firmly into the arms of the Catholic Church, oddly enough. He loved the Church; he simply hated the pope. But that’s a different story.

  12. Eve Avatar

    Lamb, that question you asked in your second comment… about what replaces religious symbolism and Mother Church; well, that’s the one that troubled Jung until the very end of his life. It’s the question that keeps compelling depth psychologists and mythologists to keep writing. I think it’s what keeps fiction writers, poets, and artists being creative.

    We don’t really have a replacement, and modern culture shows it, from our architecture to our art to our increasingly diagnosed psychiatric illnesses not only among adults but among adolescents and children, too.

    I don’t know of the replacement. I’ve been thinking about it, though. So if you have any ideas (Walt Disney, hahaha!), let’s have ’em!

  13. Alida Avatar

    I’m looking forward to this. I’ve had “Hero with a Thousand Faces” by Joseph Campbell on my bookshelf for a while. I think it might be a good time to pick it up.

    I love what you wrote about slamming the door on religion. I grew up Roman Catholic and was very involved until the sex abuse scandals broke. I’ve struggled so much about raising my kids in the Catholic Church. I feel I’ve not quite slammed, but stand with one foot in and one out of the door. Who knows? This journey might help me make up my mind.

  14. curtismchale Avatar

    I am looking forward to it. I will be starting some work on Fowler this week so look for that in the coming weeks as well.

  15. renaissanceguy Avatar

    Good start, Eve. Thanks for tackling this topic. I’m glad that I asked.

    You could end up turning me into a Roman Catholic! Of course, I’d be in good company: G. K. Chesterton, J. R. R. Tolkien, Flannery O’Connor, and. . .YOU. I agree with you about the loss of religious imagery after the Reformation, and I’m afriad that the Reformation itself helped lead to it.

    I’m glad that you are going to write about the Monomyth. And thanks for syzygy. I love that word. Do you realize that zygote is a related word? I think that is significant.

  16. Lamberakis Avatar

    Also, if religion = community , what are the results of dissolving the old bonds of the Church? What supplants the old religious bonds in a community? Walt Disney?

  17. Lamberakis Avatar

    Hmm. Interesting. I have similar feelings about the legacy of the Reformation.

    Also, Akira Kurosawa – don’t know if you knew this – brings Van Gogh’s “Field of Wheat with Crows” to “life” in his film Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams.

    Van Gogh was a saint. Also, his and Theo’s relationship is one of the great love stories of modern times.

    I’ll be reading!

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