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Art Of Conversation

"The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest minds of past centuries."

~ René Descartes

There is a statue that I admire of Shiva, an image depicting the four-armed god in the middle of his cosmic dance. He holds in his right hand the drum with which he strikes the beat of time. This represents the creation of the cosmos, which began with time, and the journey of all existence through time. In his left hand, he cups the flame of destruction, symbolising the end of all created things. Of course, endings can only occur after beginnings, and both (as well as the concept of “after”) require tim...

“In a dark time,” the poet tells us, “the eye begins to see ...” The poet in this instance is Theodore Roethke, but what is this dark time, and what do we see in it? These are questions at the heart of the apex-nadir (paradox intended) of the Hero’s Journey: the Temple.

The Temple takes many forms – for Roethke, as we will see, it exists within the self, in each person. For others, it is a cave, or a church, or a metaphysical space. For many, it is literally a temple, like that of the oracle Pythia, cons...

According to one version of a Chinese folktale, when princess Miaoshan’s father ordered her to marry a wealthy but selfish man, her response took to the form of a question: What good will it do? She could only agree to marriage on the condition that their union would ease the suffering of people as they aged, when they fell ill, and when they or their loved ones died.

Her father pointed out that no marriage could address such problems; she pointed out that a life spent in religious servitude directed tow...

Heracles was an overachiever. Not content with rising to the challenge of his twelve labours, which included chasing a magical deer and scrumping from an orchard guarded by a many-headed dragon, he took up heroic deeds between tasks. On his way back to Tiryns after slaughtering the hydra, he took a coastal route that led him to a young woman, chained naked to a rock by the sea. No doubt keeping his eyes disinterestedly on the sky or at his feet, he asked the beautiful prisoner what she was up to.

“I am H...

It is said that when Siddartha Guatama was born, a wise hermit travelled to meet the infant, where he pronounced that the child would one day be either a great king (a prospect that appealed to Siddartha’s dynastically-inclined father) or a great sage. Distraught at the prospect of his golden boy letting down the family and pursuing bearded, sandalled, penniless enlightenment – he would have hated the sixties – the father did all he could to keep his son from encountering the real world. Any aspect of i...

In the beginning...

The universe begins, in the Genesis myth, with division. The first thing we read is that “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. The cosmic architect begins by creating here and there. Out of divine unity, from the wholeness of transcendence, comes the world; division is woven into its fabric, duality a feature of its construction. God’s work is divided over six days, and it constitutes the separating out of the world’s elements – light from dark, water from land, cr...

“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: Fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: The hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

~ Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces

Many people who pay attention to narrative, from amateur cinephiles to cultural critics, have become disillusioned or even bored with the concept of the Hero’s Journey. Much of the blame for this mus...

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