Look at you! The Hero of your own life! Fighting your way through your Road of Trials. Meeting your inner god or goddess in order to become whole. Facing and overcoming Temptation. And finally coming through the Abyss and Atoning with what had the most power over you.
And now my dear Hero, comes the very best part of all: it’s time for you to die.
Hello, Spiritual Seekers, and welcome to what I really hope will be my favourite episode of Think Spiritual Podcasts. As always, I’m your host, Mark, and this is step ten of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey: Apotheosis.
Now, I have no idea if this will be my favourite episode of the podcast because every single time I think I’ve done my favourite episode, I seem to pull another amazing script out of my brain. So, perhaps my next episode will be even better, but this is my favourite step of the Hero’s Journey, so I think it will be my favourite episode of the podcast…unless this turns out to be a terrible script. It has been very difficult to write.
But why is this my favourite step in the Hero’s Journey? Because this is freedom time. At this time comes huge shifts in your ways of thinking and being and all the burdens you’ve been carrying are suddenly of no consequence. You can move forward unhindered and without worry of what you’re leaving behind.
As I said in the introduction, this is the time for you, the Hero, to die, but you have to trust me and believe that this is the best thing you can do at this point on your Hero’s Journey.
And why is that?
Because you’ve outgrown your old Self.
You’ve learned too much. You’ve changed too much. You’re not the same person that you used to be. That old “you” has to be burned to ashes so the new “you” can rise again.
That’s the symbolism of the Phoenix of old in case I didn’t make the metaphor clear. That is always what the phoenix has stood for: the constant renewal of the Self when something old is sacrificed and something new is raised up.
That’s also the symbolism of Christ crucified, buried and raised again as well. We sacrifice all we thought we were, we spend some time with Death and then we are raised up completely renewed – possibly so different that even our friends don’t recognize us anymore.
Okay, so the question you’re most likely asking at this point is, “What the hell is Apotheosis? What does it mean?” And I don’t blame you for asking. It’s hardly an everyday word. Outside of Hero’s Journey talks you may never hear it at all.
There is even an antonym of apotheosis and I’ll start with that first. That word is nadir or “nay-deer” – I think either pronunciation is correct. I’ll bet you haven’t heard that word either unless your vocabulary is exceptional.
Nadir is the lowest point in a person’s fortunes or life in general. It is someone’s rock-bottom. Nadir is often the point in life where many people will begin their Hero’s Journey.
Apotheosis is the highest point of a person’s personal development. It really means “to make divine” or is the recognition of the divinity of one’s Self.
We can see this happen in very old stories. Take the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden for instance. In Genesis chapter 3 Adam and Eve partake of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. This is an Apotheosis moment: the death of childhood innocence and the raising up of the divine within them. God himself emphasizes this in verse 22:
And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil.”
Goddamnit. Now I’m quoting scripture in my podcast.
Okay, let me go back to one of my favourite movies once again – in fact, I talked about it in the Atonement with the Father episode – the 2011 Thor film.
Remember how I had said that Thor’s Atonement moment was his letting go of his pride. He has to understand that he is fallible and imperfect and that he will make mistakes from time to time. Not everything he does is perfect or unquestionable.
And when he realizes this, the Destroyer kills him.
And in that moment of death – in that moment of letting go of all that thought he was – he becomes everything that is worthy of the power of Thor. Thor is raised up and given back his godhood status.
Now, something that I really want to mention here is the fact that Apotheosis is something that happens to us all the time and all throughout our Hero’s Journey. There are small apotheosis moments happening to us constantly.
Everything we learn is a death of ignorance and innocence. Every tiny step forward is the death of cowardice and lethargy. Every moment of determination to keep on living is a tiny death to Nihilism.
Every moment of happiness is the temporary death of sadness. Every moment of mourning is the temporary death of joy. Every moment we spend in darkness makes the spark of our divinity shine ever brighter.
However, as I said, these are small apotheosis moments and they happen constantly. Every single day. We need these apotheosis moments to keep the spark and fires of life burning. Old forests need to be constantly burned down to make way for the new life within otherwise we stagnate and rot.
But to understand these small moments better and to be able to appreciate them all the more, we need the Hero’s Journey and we need the huge Apotheosis moments that really “kill” and “resurrect” us. All that we thought we were has to die so that we can live our truest and best existence.
And, really, this process takes time. Sometimes it’s quick and we’re through it and moving on, but most often it is a struggle. As I’ve said before, the purpose of the Hero’s Journey is ultimately to Atone with the thing or person that has the greatest power over you.
Your BIG Apotheosis moment happens immediately before or immediately after that Atonement and it’s either grand and mind-blowing or it’s as soft as a whisper.
Now, there are absolutely endless scenes of Apotheosis in movies that I can use for examples – I just gave you one from Thor – but I’m not certain if those examples will be of any particular help to you – although I will tell you how to specifically spot these scenes towards the end of this episode.
What I am going to do is tell you about three specific Apotheosis moments in my own life that were pretty big, mind-altering moments for me.
If I remember correctly, the first, and probably most major, happened in two-thousand-nine. I had left Christianity and ended my marriage mid two-thousand-seven, I was regularly seeing a counsellor because I was trying to sort out my emotions and figure my life out as much as I could.
But I was angry. Like, Incredible Hulk level angry.
I left my fairly high-paying job and career in August of two-thousand-eight partly due to me needing to make more changes in my life and partly due to not being able to work with people very well at that time.
In my personal life and with friends I was pretty happy and fun-loving, but at work or when I had to deal with any kind of regular life pressure, I was a raging tyrant.
So, at some point in early two-thousand-nine I told my counsellor that I needed some extra help with my anger and I got into an anger management program.
To compress this story a little, I have to tell you that the anger management program didn’t help me that much. What helped me more was actually the book they chose to use for the program: Anger Management for Dummies. I ended up reading much of the parts of the book that we didn’t use in the program and one evening I came across this sentence:
You have to give up your use of anger to protect yourself from emotional pain.
(- W. Doyle Gentry, PhD)
Boom! Mind blown! Huge Apotheosis moment. That was exactly what I had been doing: using my anger to protect myself from my emotional pain – and from more possible pain from the outside world.
In that moment, my old knowledge, my old thinking “died”. My unconscious or even subconscious thought of “I need to protect myself from this pain and this anger is a powerful weapon to fend it off,” had to die and be replaced with or “resurrected” with the new knowledge that I had to face my pain.
That was a huge Apotheosis moment for me and what immediately followed was an Atonement with the Father moment: facing and feeling my pain. Not pushing it away, but actually embracing it and accepting it.
And because of that, I was able to begin to deal with my anger. It didn’t mean that I never got angry again and it didn’t mean the pain went away either. It’s simply that those things were given their proper place and attention.
Alright, Apotheosis moment number two:
Since the age of fifteen I had battled off and on with Existential Nihilism: the belief that life has no essential meaning or value. I didn’t know what the purpose of living was. I didn’t know what my purpose was.
And this continued even through my years of healing. I felt like I had come a long way and learned so much and I was pretty happy for the most part, but life still seemed pretty pointless to me.
It was summer two-thousand-seventeen when I was washing dishes one bright and sunny afternoon. My fight with Nihilism had started up again a few weeks before and I was struggling with it as I washed those dishes.
Now, there were too many thoughts whirling around in my head to explain fully how I came to this Apotheosis moment – I don’t even completely understand it – although I do know that this particular fight had been set off by Sirenia’s Dim Days of Dolor song and music video – but I was looking at the beautiful sunshine and the trees in my yard and the birds and I was enjoying the flow of water on the clean dishes and I actually started laughing.
I was laughing at my Nihilism. I suddenly realized that what I was seeing and hearing and smelling and touching and feeling was the point in life. Without me there to experience those things, they had no meaning and no reason to exist.
What is the point in the sun if there is no one to see it? What is the point in water if there is nothing to feel it or to drink it? What is the point in a tree if it cannot provide something with shade and oxygen?
My entire purpose was simply to be. That was it and that was all I needed. My Nihilism bowed, saluted and faded into the background of my life.
Unlike my previous and rather painful Apotheosis moment, this one was joyful and quiet. It was just as mind-blowing, but it was one of those fleeting moments that feels like eternity. The moment you try to cling to it, it slips through your fingers and is gone.
Hero’s Journey wise, that was pretty much my “Freedom to Live” moment – which is a stage we obviously haven’t reached in this Hero’s Journey series yet – but I do consider that moment as an big Apotheosis moment for me. In order for me to live freely, my Nihilism had to “die” and my new knowledge of my purpose in life had to be “resurrected” in its place.
Existential Nihilism held a lot of power in my life and it was something I had to face and deal with.
Hmm…maybe it’s not only this Apotheosis stage of the Hero’s Journey that happens many times during the journey. Perhaps Temptation, Atonement with the Father, and Apotheosis are happening all along the way.
Of course, there is also the fact that we take more than one Hero’s Journey in life and the fact that we often have a lot of things to atone with as life continues on. There are many things that can gain power over us – even if only for a short amount of time.
You know, when this Hero’s Journey series is complete I have a feeling it’s not going to be over. Well, there’s my small apotheosis moment in regards to this podcast.
Okay, the third big Apotheosis moment for me and I will tell you that I’m not entirely certain how this fits into my Hero’s Journey at the moment…nope…wait. Maybe I do know, but I’m not certain, so I’ll just tell you about it and not pigeon-hole it.
At the time of writing this script for Think Spiritual, this Apotheosis moment happened exactly…a week ago. Yes, one week, so this one is pretty fresh, but it’s also the least dramatic of the three even though my mind was pretty blown away by it at the same time.
In order to fund this podcast and my music gear addiction and to pay some house bills that my day-job doesn’t cover, I sell music gear on Reverb and eBay. If you ever want to support this podcast and YouTube channel, please send me a piece of gear to sell or go and buy one from me.
To accomplish this, I am always scouring the buy and sells and online ads for deals. When I find one, I grab it.
So, last week I found a deal online. I contacted the seller and arranged to meet with them on Thursday evening. However, there was a catch for me. A big catch.
The piece of gear I wanted was owned by my old home church.
I had not stepped inside this building in nearly 20 years. While nothing particularly bad happened to me there, it is a major source of pain. I considered that church to be the reason why I became so damaged and dysfunctional in the real world. I was never able to reconcile what I learned in church and how the rest of the world existed.
I almost cancelled the deal for the piece of gear. I almost didn’t go. That Thursday afternoon I spent a lot of time during the day restlessly pacing back and forth and quietly raging and crying. Thankfully I work alone at my job.
But I did go. And I will tell you that I didn’t go alone. I asked Christine to go with me and I asked her to go into the church with me.
The entire drive there and while walking up to the doors I kept telling myself, “There is nothing in there that can hurt you. There is nothing in there that can hurt you.”
And I walked in…and…nothing.
Honestly, I didn’t even recognize the place. I knew they had expanded the building and done extensive renovations, but absolutely nothing was the same. It was all completely different and I just looked around feeling amazed.
That church had changed as much as I had changed. There was nothing recognizable left other than portions of the outer shell.
As far as Apotheosis moments go, this one was rather anticlimactic, but it was no less awe-inspiring for me and I would say that it definitely caused some kind of death of fear and re-birth of hope within me.
I’m not exactly sure to what extent, but this past Monday I was able to go to my old town with Christine and explore some of the back streets and old houses without having any pain associated with the place and without the dread of knowing that “that church” was just at the top of the hill over there.
Alright, so I’m getting close to the end of this episode of Think Spiritual Podcasts and I’ve mostly just talked about myself, but I feel this was the necessary approach to take at this time. Most often I’ve provided you with scenes from movies or song lyrics to give you examples of the step of the Hero’s Journey that I’m talking about, but when it comes to Apotheosis, real-world examples are far easier to grasp.
And why is that? Well, because in almost all forms of art, Apotheosis is expressed as symbolism.
I already mentioned the symbolism of the Phoenix and of Christ crucified and resurrected and of Thor being slain and raised back to life by the power of Mjolnir.
So, let me tell you about one of the most powerful scenes of Apotheosis that I have seen in any movie to date:
I Kill Giants from 2017 follows the story of a young girl named Barbara. She is an outcast at school, she’s bullied, she sees the school psychiatrist regularly. She seems very troubled and as if she is dealing with some dark demons.
Barbara believes that she is hunting and killing literal giants and without spoiling too much of the story I will tell you that Barbara is definitely slaying giants within herself in this movie.
The climactic moment of the movie comes when Barbara faces down a Titan. She strikes it down, but ends up being pulled into the ocean as it falls. Barbara is sinking, falling down into deep water and we hear the voice of the giant over this scene asking her if she can embrace the fact that life is finite and not fear it ending.
Barbara kicks and swims for the surface and then we see an interesting thing: for most of the movie up to this point, Barbara wears a set of costume bunny ears and when she breaks the surface of the water the bunny ears are gone and then we see them washed up on the shore.
What has happened in this scene is that Barbara has symbolically drowned. This is an extremely common symbol of Apotheosis. If you see someone drown or almost drown in a film – especially if they are in the water for a while and then are pulled out and have to cough up water – check out my recent episode on The Shallows – you can be pretty certain that is an Apotheosis moment for that character.
In this case with Barbara, the bunny ears represent her immaturity – her girlhood. So, Barbara, the girl, goes down into the water, but Barbara, the woman, surfaces into new understanding and enlightenment. The girl has died and the woman is born.
To understand why this was necessary for her to do, go and watch I Kill Giants. It’s a dark yet hopeful and powerful movie.
So, drowning is a very common symbol of Apotheosis. Most flowing water scenes can be considered such as well. Even a powerful shower or rainfall: I’ll direct you to my video on Lady in the Water for the rainfall reference and also check out Captain Fantastic – which I have not covered yet – for the shower reference.
A massive explosion or a scene with say, a forest fire or a house burning down, can also be a symbol of Apotheosis. The end of The Dark Knight Rises comes to mind here when Batman supposedly dies in a bomb blast.
The most obvious and simple reference I mentioned with the 2011 Thor film. When a character seemingly dies, but is then suddenly brought back to life. If you check out my Terminator 2 episode, I believe I mention where this happens to the T-800 as well.
And for one final symbolic scene I’ll use the 2009 film Creation with Paul Bettany as an example. This entire movie takes place in winter. There is snow and ice everywhere, but the last scene of the film is springtime. Apotheosis, anyone? The end of winter and the newness of spring is a very potent reference to death and rebirth within one’s Self.
I really hope that my personal examples and these symbolic examples of Apotheosis help you today to recognize the death and rebirth moments in your own life. And if you’re going through one of those moments right now, just know that you won’t stay dead forever. Rebirth is inevitable. And on the other side of this process is the the very thing you’ve sought all along: the Ultimate Boon.
But that, Dear Listeners, will have to wait for the next Hero’s Journey episode of Think Spiritual Podcasts.
Thank you very much for listening or watching yet again. Please like, share, comment and subscribe to help me grow the podcast and YouTube channel. And if you ever wish to support me financially, I do have a PayPal donate button on my website or you can go to my Reverb page where I sell used music gear to help me fund this podcast.
And if you ever want to send me a piece of gear to sell or for my own personal use, please do so.
I may have some handmade items available in an Etsy shop very soon as well. Some may be related to the podcast and others will likely be movie or music related. I’ll keep you posted as to when that happens.
I have been your host, Mark. This has been Apotheosis: step ten of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey and I know that when old knowledge dies within you and new knowledge is raised up that you absolutely will change your Self and that new Self will change your world.
I will see you on the next episode of Think Spiritual Podcasts.