Certain Masonic lodges include a preliminary mini-ritual preceding the initiation of an Entered Apprentice. In it, the candidate is seated at a desk in a small room called a Chamber of Reflection, an allegorical representation of an ancient initiatory cave. He is instructed to solemnly contemplate certain things of importance relating to the degrees which he may thereafter receive. The chamber is decorated with an assortment of strange, ominous objects and markings, one of which is an acronym formed from the archaic word for sulfuric acid, vitriol. The letters stand for the Latin, Visita interiora Terrae, rectificandoque, invenies occultum lapidem, meaning “Visit the interior of the Earth, and rectifying it, you will find the hidden stone.” This clearly shows an influence of the alchemical mystery on Masonic ritual, but puts it in the psychological context which Carl Jung found so useful. The “hidden stone,” or Philosopher’s Stone, represents illumination, or psychological healing. To “visit the interior of the Earth” means to search within oneself. Thus, the acronym V.I.T.R.I.O.L. is to Freemasons what the aphorism Know Thy Self was to the ancient Greeks.
Just as the alchemical process begins with digging in the dirt to collect the necessary elements, self improvement begins with introspection. When one encounters the same emotional problems over and over again, it is sure to have its genesis somewhere in the past. Understanding what happened and how it wounded you is the first step to healing the wound. Anything less just creates a scab waiting to be ripped open again. One must dig down inside oneself, find the source of one’s pain, and bring it to the surface where something can be done about it.
“Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.” — John Lennon
Photographer Bob Gruen remembered John Lennon as a man who could never be exposed in a biography nearly as well as he had exposed himself to the world in life. Lennon was unafraid to be naked and vulnerable to the world, warts and all, and in some cases he literally went on record to confess his sins. While co-writing Getting Better, Lennon’s lyrical contribution included the line, “I used to be cruel to my woman, I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved.” Most people would be terrified at the notion of admitting something so horrible, much less singing about it. But I’m inspired by the courage Lennon summoned to own his mistakes.
The hero is always wounded. The hero has always sustained some traumatic damage in their past that ultimately leads to their final victory. In fact, the hero ultimately cannot overcome the final test without their wounding. It’s called the Sacred Wound when heroes heal enough to take strength from what he has learned. They succeed in their quest because of their wound.
What wound has the hero endured? What gifts does the hero receive? What abilities does the hero gain so that they can fulfill their destiny?
I’ve been a fan of both Jesus and Superman for almost as long as I’ve been alive, and one thing I can tell you about both men is that their stories fit the mythic hero archetype. This is why, whether intentional or otherwise, Superman can be seen as an allegory of any one of handfuls of other heroic figures from disparate mythologies. The new film Man of Steel draws the comparison specifically to Christ with varying degrees of subtlety. Of course, the true allegory of any heroic myth is how it relates to you, the Initiate listening to the Exemplar‘s story by the fireside. When we compare the lessons of one heroic figure with another, inroads may be found that lead to a greater understanding of the philosophy presented, and indeed, to the human condition itself. But how can the Initiate possibly benefit when the Exemplar is a god? How can a mortal relate to a god?
When I went to technical college, I lamented to my father about having to take Calculus classes. I knew that in my chosen field (which I had already been working in for several years), calculus was something I would never be called on to use. In responding, my father described having a similar experience while studying Latin in Jesuit grade school. “The point,” he explained, “is not that you learn how to speak Latin or perform Calculus equations. The point is to learn another way of thinking.”