A Goddess at our Shoulder
We were getting a little airy-fairy in our last post, speculating that some Unseen Cosmic Force of justice compels you and me onto our ordeals “in the wilderness.”
Let’s stay in the same lane today.
Let’s go back to the Odyssey and see what happens if we take Homer’s epic literally.
One of the aspects of the Odyssey that is often overlooked, probably because it’s so up-front and in-your-face, is that Odysseus throughout his ten-year ordeal is accompanied, aided, and advised by the goddess Athena.
More than once, when our hero washes ashore on some unknown isle, the goddess steps in to transform his appearance, making him look younger and more handsome so that he has a better chance of being welcomed by the inhabitants. Athena counsels Odysseus. She guides him. He pours out his woes to her and she responds with wisdom and kindness.
What does this mean? Is it just a literary device? Did Homer really believe that the real Odysseus really did possess an immortal companion—a deity on the scale of Athena, for whom Athens was named and whose temple, the Parthenon, remains one of the architectural wonders of the world?
More importantly for you and me on our sojourns in the wilderness … do we have any help? From anywhere?
If some Unseen Force of justice compelled Odysseus onto his journey (and compels you and me on ours), could there also be a countervailing Force of Wisdom that can come to our aid as well?
You won’t be surprised, I’m sure, when I say I believe there is such a force … and that it is working for you and me even in—specifically in—our darkest moments. Here’s Joseph Campbell on what he calls “the hero path.”
We have not even to risk the adventure alone, for the heroes of all time have gone before us. The labyrinth is thoroughly known … we have only to follow the thread of the hero path. And where we had thought to find an abomination we shall find a God. And where we had thought to slay another we shall slay ourselves. Where we had thought to travel outwards we shall come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone we shall be with all the world.
What Joseph Campbell means, as I understand it, is that on some higher or deeper level of consciousness, our ordeal “in the wilderness” has been laid out for us, like a map from a navigation app, and that signposts and constellations are already in place to guide us.
As we are “made to” stray grievously about the coasts of men, we’re also channeled infallibly, whether we believe it or not, into pathways that will serve us ultimately—even if we have no clue in the moment and even if, in reflection, we dismiss the whole process as hogwash.
Our time in the wilderness is our “hero’s journey,” complete with the acts of being cast out, the ordeal of wandering, and the return home.
I’ll go even further (with no evidence of course) from my own life. I believe that the people we encounter in our wilderness condition were guided to us, or us to them, for some unknown but mutually beneficial purpose. My upcoming memoir, Govt Cheese, is broken into eight books. Each one is named after a mentor—a boss, a teacher, a partner—all of whom appeared, as far as I can tell, at once randomly and also with cosmic purpose.
They were my “little divinities” and the actions they took toward me, whether they knew it or not (99% not), were the kicks in the ass and the pats on the back I needed—and at precisely the point I needed them. Not Athena maybe, but the next best thing.