Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Intro to Hippy Elf Chick 2: Joseph Campbell and The Secret Garden

    If I could be anything I want when I grow up, I would be Joseph Campbell.  He was a mythologist, and if you've heard of him, he's probably the only person you've heard of with that title.  He made himself a career of being an amazingly insightful, inspiring human being, and brought not only the study, but the true appreciation and experience of ancient myth back to modern popularity in the process.

    Mythology has been a passion of mine since I was a kid, starting with the Greek and Roman classics, branching into Eastern religions as I got older and then into Native American and Celtic myth.  I first discovered Campbell's work at a very crucial, transformative time in my life.  I was seventeen, newly in love with my future husband and newly introduced to the existence of Earth-based religions, when I took an elective class on mythology.  When I first started reading "The Hero With a Thousand Faces" and watching Campbell's lectures, I felt like he was speaking directly to me.  Like someone understood the things I'd always felt, what was magical and divine to me, what was essentially human, what living was all about.  It was an experience of synchronicity that permeated my life that year, and it changed me - or maybe I should say, it stopped me from making the mistake of changing.

    Apart from mythology, the story with the biggest influence on my childhood was "The Secret Garden."  It didn't start me obsessively collecting unicorn paraphernalia like certain other books I read, but it made a huge impact on me that I've never forgotten.  As I've mentioned before, I grew up in the countryside of upstate New York.  My grandparents lived even farther upstate from us, in a huge old house with a beautifully landscaped rock garden.  It was nestled under a few towering conifers and cypresses with branches hanging low, and had a koi pond with three tiers and a little waterfall flowing between them.  The pond was full of frogs that my cousins and I would wake up early to catch while they were sunning themselves on stones.  The craggy rocks that I always scraped my knees climbing on were bursting with flowers from every crevice, and sometimes chipmunks and snakes.

    The only VHS my grandparents had was the Hallmark production of "The Secret Garden,"and my cousins and I would watch it nearly every night we spent there.  It was the perfect place to fall in love with the story of an old mansion and the magic that took place in the garden.  The moment Mary spies the door to the garden through the ivy as the wind blows it aside gave me chills every time.  I became fixated on skeleton keys, and would hide them behind loose pieces in the stone wall in our backyard at home.

    The story of "The Secret Garden" is the divine magic of Nature, the growth of love and healing and joy where before there was sorrow.  Like most of my childhood favorites, it's a story of finding a door to the mystical in the mundane, something that touches the bliss at the heart of being.  For as long as I can remember, I was always looking for that door behind the ivy.  I was always waiting for life to start being what it was supposed to be - something with destiny, magic, adventure, love - something that made me feel the way people in stories felt.

    I didn't appreciate living with Nature all around me as much as I should have then, as children rarely can.  I live in the city now.  I can scarcely look at a picture of a mountain or forest without wanting to cry.  I go out into a world where buildings eat up the horizon, there is no earth beneath my feet, no beautiful things growing wild.  I live without the smell of wood smoke or a crackling fire to make my cheeks burn, without little streams running fresh and cold and full of smooth stones, without the rich wind that smells like all the green trees it's swept through.  Since I left my childhood home, I've had to work every day to bring back some of that blissful closeness to the face of my god that once I took for granted.

    When I was seventeen and falling head over heels for Jay, I was discovering an amazing feeling of rightness such that I didn't know could exist in the world.  I still look at him every day and marvel at it.  Being a hopeless, dateless romantic full of naive idealism had, against all odds, actually paid off for me, and what else might now be possible?  That door I longed to find that would open into a life of magic and meaning was flung wide, and all sorts of goodness started pouring in.  Jay had in his possession, for some reason I'm still not totally clear on, a book by Scott Cunningham, and told me he thought I'd like it.  And thus I learned that Paganism was a thing.

    I was raised Roman Catholic, to an extent.  My overall impressions of the role of religion in life were having to memorize a lot of things, being told not to do a lot of things, extended periods of boredom and a vague sense that I was supposed to feel guilty about something.  I know some Catholics now who are all about love and acceptance and wonderful things that you generally can't argue with, so it's entirely possible I got the wrong end of the stick - but it just wasn't for me.  By the time I was 14, I decided religion as I knew it had no place in my life.  That spirituality was supposed to involve the type of love and awe and ecstatic joy I experienced in Nature had not even occurred to me because it was so far from the idea of religion I had.  So then, at 17 I read a book about Paganism.  And another book.  And another.


    Neopaganism isn't my only spiritual influence - I began to take religion buffet-style, picking up bits and pieces that I liked wherever I found them, blending flavors that complemented my personal experience.  One of Campbell's frequently quoted soundbytes is that all religions are true- in a metaphorical sense.  In a mythological sense.  Myth is not a derogatory term.  It doesn't mean made up, not real, or not true.  It just means not literal.  Whatever Faces of God present themselves to you, that lead you to the rapture within, are true, and none are exclusive.

    Discovering these things gave me this incredible new feeling- when I first read Scott Cunningham, when I first read Joseph Campbell, when I first kissed my best friend.  Is this real?  It's too perfect for me!  I was used to being kind of an oddball my whole life, so it was a weird concept.  There were things existing outside my head that were just what I always wanted.  I was so thrilled!  Thrilled the way my geeky self had been for books and movies that I could launch into escapism with- but about my own real life!  I was about to go to college and have my freedom, and I was taking all this with me, all these things I had wanted forever, and the universe was laying treasures in my path that made them all come true.

    When I read that for the first time, it took my breath away.

    So that's the adventure I'm still on - trying to continue to follow my bliss, to live my life in celebration of the things that make me feel the rapture of being alive.  And trying to bring myself closer to the things I love that are far away.  Philosophizing like this, being goofy and geeky, cooking and playing, remembering everything there is to enjoy.  It might be a lot of scattered themes for a blog, but I've never been good at focusing on one thing.  I never went to summer camp or played sports or participated in an organized activity I could avoid.  I was busy running around chasing bugs in my old Halloween costumes.  And the best part of my adult life has been finding new ways to continue that tradition.

    Maybe it comes from being an only child and not having anyone to hide my favorite toys from, but I have always felt that anything enjoyed alone is not fully enjoyed.  I've always wanted to share the things that make me happy with people I love, and even with people I don't know, and participate in that shared celebration of the goodness of life.  So in this blog I will continue to do lots of sharing, and I hope somewhere out there someone will read something and think, "oh my god, this is just for me!"

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