It's a major shift in thinking, from the black and white to the
gray. In the black and white thinking of young people, they say,
"I'm white and pure, and they are black and evil." In
midlife they realize, "Oh my God, I'm gray, with black and
white in me, and that person has it, too.!" This gives rise
to a much more tolerant attitude. That appears in men's tales,
too, in the emergence of the Trickster who is tolerant of the
foiables of people. The Hero, of course, is not tolerant. He goes
out and slays the evil.
The whole theme comes up in Star Wars, which I think may be one
of the best modern myths made. Luke Skywalker has to realize,
as he is being trained by Yoda, that the evil that he is fighting
is the evil of himself. The he finds out that Darth Vader, whom
he's fighting, is his father. He sprang from evil.
Exactly. And he has to realize that his father turned to evil.
He had to face the fact that evil comes from a wound, and that
his father was not strong enough to face up to the evil emperor.
That realization comes from his wound, too, when Luke has his
hand chopped off.
You also bring out the real importance of humor. What do you
see as the role of humor in our life process?
I see several roles, especially at midlife. One is to learn to
laugh at ourselves, not to take ourselves too seriously. Young
people take themselves very seriously. Everything is life or death.
What they're doing is the most important thing. At midlife we
have to realize that we have to take things with a grain of salt.
If we don't detach ourselves from our projects and our selves,
then it becomes tragic since ultimately we'll die.
Humor also helps sublimate aggression
and anger. There are so many frustrations at midlife, if you don't
learn to laugh, you'll just blow up. Humor is very healing, too.
Laughter itself can help cure disease in a physical way, and certainly
it can psychologically too. Norman Cousins laughed himself to
One of the things that you're suggesting here is that people
in roles of responsibility need to be able to laugh at themselves.
Exactly, because otherwise they become too attached to what they're
doing and take themselves too seriously, and they become tyrants.
They come to believe that they know the one answer. When you can
poke fun of yourself and say that your idea is ridiculous, then
you are open to seeing that maybe other people have a better idea.
I think that this was the importance of having a jester at the
king's court. We don't seem to have that, these days.
Some might suggest that we have had the jester, but he's been
in the President's chair, instead of next to it!
The present one is less of a Hero, and more of a Trickster, a
communicator rather than a conqueror.
There were two images that came up for yourself in Once Upon
a Midlife. One was your Lord of Darkness story. When you peered
into the room to look at the strange glow, the Lord of Darkness
moved his body to block the light, as if to protect you from it.
In the other one you were janitor in the temple. You warned the
visitors not to look on the relic in the inner temple unless they
were prepared. They did anyway, and were dissolved.
The Lord of Darkness image came up for me as I was dealing with
traumatic events in my childhood. I was following the usual pattern
that if young people don't deal with that, or don't remember that,
it comes up for them again at midlife. The janitor story emphasizes
that the power of the inner life can be dangerous if it is not
approached in the right way. It has the power to heal, but it
can also kill. It has the power to create, but it can also destroy.
The janitor story was funny, because it is humbling to find out
at midlife that our place is to be the janitor and not the king.
The relic is the source of the power, not us.
I find it interesting that you had these archetypal images come
to your mind before Raiders of the Lost Ark came out.
I was surprised at that. But the rule I follow is that if I have
an image, then many other people may have had it through the years
The ideas that were coming up for me when you were talking about
that bright light was from Robert Bly and Marion Woodman's discussion
of the Firebird in the On Men and Women videotape series.
They talk about our ability to accept the intensity of the firebird.
Marion Woodman elaborated more on this theme in the interview
in our last issue. Yeats, for example, was burned up by the intensity
of the creative spirit.
Like Icarus flying too close to the sun. I think this is typical
of young people. A great comment I heard for people who meditate
and get carried away by great visions is, "Too much energy.
You need to eat meat and potatoes.!" You need to do this
to get grounded.
The theme that you stressed in Once Upon a Midlife was
this Odyssey from the Tree of Knowledge to the Tree of Life.
The stories follow a general sequence. They start off with the
loss of innocence, the loss of magic. This is equivalent to eating
from the Tree of Knowledge. When we gain self-awareness and reflection,
a lot of the beliefs we have as young people or children disappear.
We realize they aren't true, and we realize how much work and
trouble there is in the world.
Then at the very end of the sequence
the stories show people coming into contact with an inner source
of great creativity and healing. Initially, this may take on a
demonic appearance, but behind this is a vital life, like the
Lord of Darkness in my image. And that's the Tree of Life, I
think. It gives us access to the unconscious, the psyche, which
provides creativity and healing.
And in a traditional Jungian view that stresses individuation
rather than playing roles, in midlife we're in the process of
finding out, "This is who I am; this is where I stand. This
is how I fit into the world."
Exactly. We're recognizing that the roles are just roles, and
that there's a true inner being that's different from the roles.
In moving from Once Upon a Midlife to Beyond the Hero
we move from "middle tales" to men's tales. What's the
connection between the two?
Men's tales are a subset of the "middle tales," which
focus on men dealing with a masculine force in life, for developing
the deep masculinity and moving beyond conventional male roles.
Do you think it's important for women to read Beyond the Hero?
Yes, I think it is, because it portrays not just men's development,
but the masculine principle itself. It shows that the masculine
is not the same as the patriarchal. Women often confuse the two.
There is a masculine energy that is older and different from the
Hero and Patriarch. It also helps women understand what men need
to do to develop, when they can help, and when they have to just
One of the things that Marion Woodman brought up in the interview
we published last month was that women complain about the patriarchy,
but often for them the inner masculine is a greater tyrant.
Exactly. Women also need to have alternative images to the tyrant
Patriarch for the masculine role.
For their own internal masculine as well as for the men they
Exactly. It's often easy for women to project their inner masculine
to the outside and say it's all men's fault, and not address
their inner tyrant.
How do you see your book fitting in with women's spirituality,
books like Clarissa Pinkola Estés' Women Who Run with
the Wolves and Marion Woodman's work?
In several ways. One is that my book is the male complement to
their exploration of the deep feminine. I'm currently working
on a book about women's tales. These tales clearly show that
women need a man, at the end, who is able to recognize their worth
and accept them. Women have to have men develop also, if they
are to develop. Beyond the Hero is an attempt to help both
men and women to get beyond the Hero and Patriarch roles and enter
a new, deeper, richer and more egalitarian relationship.
And in the breaking out of this patriarchy, you seem to get
us into three areas: learning the feminine skills, confronting
the shadow, and dealing with the Wild Man.
I'm struck with how alike these stories are. They show men coming
into contact with this ancient, vital male force, but before men
can do that they do have to come to terms with the feminine. Getting
in touch with the wild, deep masculine is not simply a backlash
against feminism, it is actually a growth beyond feminism. But
men first have to go through that phase of honoring the Goddess.
They also have to go through the phase
of honoring the shadow, coming to terms with the negative side.
The Hero and the Patriarch don't do this. They project it out
onto other people.
A thought just crossed my mind, that you are describing Robert
Bly's life. One of his earlier poetry books, Sleepers Joining
Hands, has a fifteen page essay that may be the best short
essay I've seen about the Goddess. I suppose that was the start
of his work with the Great Mother conferences. A few years later
he came out with A Little Book on the Human Shadow. Two
years later he published Iron John, about getting in touch
with the Wild Man.
That's interesting. I hadn't realized the succession of his writing.
His life certainly demonstrates that. He dealt with the Goddess
and the feminine, then the shadow, then the deep masculine. Carl
Jung also went through the same thing. First the animus
appears, then the shadow, then Philemon, the inner guide, appears.
But Jung never wrote much about the Trickster. It might have hit
a little to close to home for him.
Wasn't he Trickster? I heard the tale that someone would come
in and say, "I've been fired from my job." Jung would
reply, "That's absolutely wonderful news!" Someone
would come in and say they got a promotion. Jung would reply,
"That's terrible! But if we stick together, somehow we'll
get through this."
That is the Trickster. Saying exactly the opposite of what you
would expect, but exactly what you needed. Perhaps one reason
Jung didn't write more about the Trickster was that the available
folklore about the Trickster at that time showed the Trickster
mainly as a juvenile delinquent character, a negative, shadowy
kind of character. It would be hard to write about that. But now,
with more complete research into folklore, the Trickster comes
out as a much more positive figure.
In The Magician Within Robert Moore describes the Trickster
I think we differ on the view of the Shaman/Trickster. He focuses
on the Warrior and the King as primary archetypes. I focus on
the Shaman/Trickster as the primordial, original archetype.
I'd like to discuss the Trickster in a bit, but I'm still at
the three stages before the Trickster. You describe all of these
as initiations. I find this a fascinating concept, that there
is not just one initiation, but a series of initiations through
life, that aboriginal cultures have recognized.
Yes. I was surprised to find that. What is better known is the
male puberty initiation. I was astounded to discover that most
cultures have other rituals for initiating men into higher orders
as they pass through life, often at midlife or later. That's something
that isn't well publicized, but I think it's crucial. Some cultures
have men being initiated into service of the Goddess first, then
into manhood later.
Do you remember the sequence that Martín Prechtel, the
Mayan shaman at the Mendocino conference described? You are not
a man when you are a warrior. That's where they put the adolescents.
Then you reach a stage when you are mature enough to have children.
You are initiated in your late twenties or thirties into being
a husband and a father. Then, he says, the greatest thing is when
you get older, and become initiated into being the "echo
man." The "echo man" has integrated all these parts,
and is to mirror back into society all the wisdom of all the echo
men and the ancestors who gone beyond.
That is a dramatic illustration. Don't you think it's a good
pun, too, as in "eco-man," a man who now fits unto nature?
This ties into a quote in your book, that "we are looking
for a masculine fierceness, a fierceness that avoids warfare,
honors the feminine, and recognizes the balance of nature."
Yes. I think of the Shaman/Trickster, because he comes from a
hunting culture which is very ecological.
Could you talk about the Trickster as being an older archetype?
I present the Trickster as an older, deeper archetype than the
Hero, the Patriarch or the Warrior. I like to emphasize not just
the Trickster, but the Shaman/Trickster, because Trickster is
pejorative in connotation, but the Shaman is more positive. So
I link the two together. And certainly you can see that the Shaman/Trickster
appears in the earliest Paleolithic cave paintings, about 18,000
or 20,000 years ago. Warriors don't appear until about 9,000 years
ago. Kings appeared even later. It appears historically that the
Shaman/Trickster came a lot earlier, perhaps even before the cave
painters appeared. The Shaman/Trickster is closely tied to hunting,
and hunting and gathering were the origin of human society, maybe
50,000 years ago. The Warrior and the King are possible only after
the development of cities.
Where do the matriarchal, matrilineal and partnership cultures
of Rene Eisner, author of The Chalice and the Blade, fit
I believe they are associated with the early Neolithic period,
not the ancient Paleolithic. In the Neolithic you find the invention
of agriculture, which allowed settlements and villages to appear.
The original hunter/gatherers in the Paleolithic, where the Shaman/Tricksters
appeared were nomadic. They traveled from place to place. It's
when you settle down and grow things that fertility becomes crucial,
so that the mother and feminine become important, and the Mother/Goddess
becomes paramount. But then I think they were eclipsed as we got
more and more population, and war appeared. Systematic fighting
was invented. In that situation, men were valued because they
were warriors, and the Goddess was replaced or eclipsed by the
Warrior as a God. And, of course, the warrior chief, who was the
So we move from agriculture to the need to acquire and protect
Yes. Think of the greed for more and more property, which, of
course nomadic hunters don't have. If you have to carry everything
you own, you don't want to carry a lot.
The treasures are within, because your brain isn't any heavier
when you carry knowledge and wisdom.
Yes. You have to have the skill to know when to hunt, where to
hunt, what to hunt, and what animals not to hunt.
One of the themes that you hear is that if only we were back
in the Goddess culture all would be well. But Joseph Campbell
pointed out something I though was fascinating. It was only that
we move into the vegetative culture that human sacrifice originated.
With the focus on birth, death and renewal, for the first time
our religious practice was to deliberately kill someone to spread
I think that's an important point. In praising Goddess cultures
we often forget the shadow side of the Goddess. Particularly,
men were often sacrificed.
We keep on hearing about the sacrifice of the virgin.
That seems more typical of patriarchal cultures, which arose
after the Goddess cultures. The old Goddess cultures have more
stories about the young male husband who is killed to guarantee
the fertility of the fields.
Or the concept that as soon as the King lost his generativity,
and could no longer produce twenty offspring through as many wives,
he had to be killed so there could be a new king. It doesn't sound
like much of a retirement plan for kings!
"Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown."
speak of the Trickster as having both a hidden wisdom and a generativity.
was surprised to find that. Behind all the all the trickery and
foolishness, many Tricksters have a Divine Calling. They were
sent specifically by the Creator or Supreme Being in various cultures
to make the earth safe for humanity. But, of course, the Trickster
forgets. He lies, cheats and steals, and then says, "Oh,
my God! I have a mission on earth from the Supreme One!"
Then he does his job, but then he forgets again. Later, again,
he says, "Oh, my God! I forgot, I have this mission!"
you remember what Malidoma Somé told us at Mendocino about
what initiation was for his people? He said we all have a purpose
of life. The medicine man would talk at the mother's womb before
the child was born, to find out that child's purpose, and then
name the child. The purpose of adolescent initiation is to help
us remember what it is we came here to do. Are you suggesting
that the Creator forgot to initiate the Trickster, and the Trickster
forgot why he was here?
could be that the Trickster was initiated, but forgot anyway.
Even after initiation, we don't always remember what it is we're
supposed to do.
also talk about the Shaman/Trickster as a teacher.
was flabbergasted by these stories from around the world, that
show men at midlife taking the road of ashes and being all alone
and abandoned. Then the Trickster comes up, and becomes a companion
and teacher, although often appears as a pest at first. He later
reveals that he really is a teacher. I thought that was astonishing,
but also quite reassuring for men struggling at midlife.
on the shadow side, perhaps you can tell us about the dream you
described in your book where you were hanging by your fingertips
on the edge of the world. The Trickster came along and stomped
on your fingers, and you fell.
yes. It was a vision, rather than a dream. It was quite dramatic,
a series of images over many months. In this one I was following
a stranger who was leading me on a journey. He led me to a wilderness
where there was no food, so I was starving after a few days. Then
he appeared and led me to an underground place where there was
a banquet, so I started eating. Then it turned out that all the
food was human body parts. It was a cannibal feast. I was absolutely
horrified. I tried to run away. That's when I fell into a hole
that went all the way down. It didn't seem like there was any
end. I was just holding onto the edge of the hole with my fingertips.
Then the stranger reappeared and stepped on my fingers, forcing
me to let go. Of course, I was terrified. I dropped into the hole.
I fell and fell and fell, then burst out into another world. The
image that came up was just amazing. I felt I had been running
around on the inside of a planet, and broke out finally into the
outer world. This outside surface was a luminous realm.
brings to mind the Rumi poem, "I was knock, knock, knocking
on the door, then I discovered that I was already on the inside."
Then there is this whole other concept of spirit
brother. In one of your stories Brother Lustig turns out to be
good friends with St. Peter, who is a spirit brother. What does
this mean for men being brothers in the spirit?
are two main themes. One is the inner spirit brother. Jung had
his Philemon. Dante had his Virgil. Then there is the outer spirit
brother. I think the men's movement provides that, for example
at the Mendocino conference, where there is a fraternity that
is spiritual now. For young men, the fraternity is based on finding
a common enemy, or stealing and drinking as a gang. But a mature,
spiritual brotherhood the focus is on exploring things together,
not conquering together or fighting a common enemy.
another implication in working together. The part of me that connects
with you needs to be the part of me that is spirit, connecting
with your spirit, as opposed to asking you what you do for a living.
a nice way to put it. The connection is through spirit, not something
Bert: I wonder
what the readers' reactions are going to be when they discover
the aspects of the Divine Trickster you bring out when you describe
the Holy Ghost as a Holy Fool.
a Holy Trickster. I was blown away by that. How could the Holy
Spirit, one of the most sacred parts of the Christian tradition
turn out to be the Trickster? But the parallels are so astonishing,
I thought, that they cannot be ignored. It certainly comes up
in the myth of Parsifal and the Holy Grail. In some versions,
the Holy Ghost acts as a Trickster leading Parsifal on and helping
The major theme would be that the Holy Ghost
serves the same function and has the same characteristics as the
Shaman/Trickster. The Trickster typically is a communicator, bridging
the gap between God and humanity. But that's exactly what the
Holy Ghost does in Protestant traditions, bringing the revelations
of God to us and guiding us. In aboriginal cultures the Trickster
is also usually the one who brings fire, language and essential
human customs that are the foundation of civilization. In Christian
theology, the Holy Ghost is identified with logos, the
Word, or language. It is also usually portrayed as fire, either
fire descending from heaven or the fire of the Eucharist. In Christian
tradition the Holy Ghost is considered the founder of the Christian
church. At Pentecost the Holy Ghost descended and inspired the
One of the basic functions that the Holy Ghost
plays is to mediate between father and son. In aboriginal cultures
the Trickster connects the father with the son. In the Christian
tradition that's what the Holy Ghost is, the consubstantium,
the common substance that embodies us.
now we're in the realm of healing the father-son would.
And the Trickster does that, or allows that to occur.
all of this work, moving through the feminine and the Wild Man
and developing the Trickster, brings us into a deep masculine.
Then, according to your saga, we turn to the feminine in everyday
whole point of initiation is always a return to society, to bring
back the treasures of the initiation to everybody else. I think
it's important to recognize that the men's movement is not an
end, where men stay by themselves and women stay by themselves.
It a way of coming back together.
also speak of a midlife calling. Is that something that comes
to us when we've done all this other work?
But it's also a big part of what makes men start to feel restless
at midlife. this is the urging of the calling, a reminder that
they have a mission.
would the midlife calling be, and how would that be different
from the adventure and the mission that we take on to do as a
life career, say, when we get out of college?
youthful ambition, goal, dream or mission is usually specific
and idealistic, like becoming a healer. There is often also an
egocentric element, like becoming the most famous writer, or a
great warrior, or a wealthy businessman. But the midlife calling
is much more indefinite, not tied to a specific thing. The tale
"Go I Know Not Whither" sums this up in the title. Go
I know not whither, and bring back I know not what. That turns
out to be the basic call to men at midlife.
The summons for youth is also a way for youth
to enter society, to adopt social conventions. The summons for
men at midlife is to abandon those.
you began wanting to be the great healer and the world's best
physician, and the world's best psychiatrist?
that, and also wanting to write a best seller. But that's not
so important now.
has replaced that? What's important now, from your midlife perspective?
of them is to bring out the treasures in these stories, which
is a Trickster function of communicating. It feels like I stumbled
upon these stories quite by accident. It certainly wasn't anything
I had planned or thought about. It felt like the Trickster led
me to this treasure trove in the forest, and told me that one
of my tasks is to remind people that these are here, that they
belong to everyone, and they have incredible wisdom in them. It's
been amazing to find these stories, especially about the Trickster
in men, and seeing these stories personally, in the men I work
with as a therapist.