Hello Spiritual Seekers! And welcome to another Hero’s Journey episode of Think Spiritual Podcasts.
I’m your host, Mark, and today I’m taking a temporary diversion from Joseph Campbell’s 17 steps of the Hero’s Journey. I’ll continue with the next step next month, but for now I want to bring you what I’m going call “The Hero’s Journey in Real Life” and I’m hoping that I’ll be able to discover and write about more of these situations in the future.
This particular Hero’s Journey episode of Think Spiritual Podcasts is dedicated to Nice Nailantei Leng’ete: the girl, no, the hero who convinced the Maasai people of Kenya to end their practice of female circumcision (also known as female genital cutting or female genital mutilation).
I am acknowledging and honouring this woman not in the name of feminism nor for standing up to the patriarchy and not even for fighting diligently for a cause. No, not for a single one of those external and ideological reasons.
I honour her today because due to help from her grandfather and due to elders who actually listened to her and through education and by reaching out to many, many, many others in her community, Nice has walked the path of the Hero.
This woman has brought new life and new breath to her community without tearing down the system. She worked with the system to create new pathways towards the future.
And She wasn’t some stranger from without trying to force a culture she knew nothing about to change. This was her culture and her people: a culture and a people that will thrive as time marches on and in time they will weave stories and legends about Nice and how she was the first woman amongst them to speak to the Elders on behalf of all Maasai.
Now, honestly, I know nothing about the Maasai people and I know exceedingly little about Nice and her journey and her struggles, but I know a true Hero when I see one and Nice Nailantei Leng’ete is a true Hero.
I have another reason for recognizing Nice as a Hero today: to point out that the Hero’s Journey is not only a story-telling motif. The Hero’s Journey is a real-life event that every person can experience in some fashion or other. Nice just happens to embody the traits of the classic, larger-than-life hero, and perhaps she was born fated to become the embodiment of change for her people.
Nice heard and answered the Call to Adventure when she was a young child. She did not want to take the same path as every other girl in her tribe. She ran away from what was expected of her. She took the left-hand path.
But Nice couldn’t do it alone. Her mentor, her grandfather, saw something in her. He and other elders saw in her the winds of change. There was a determination in her that they could not fight against. These men and schools of education were Nice’s Supernatural Aid - the outside help she needed to begin her quest of ending the practice of Female Genital Mutilation amongst the Maasai people.
And was it easy for Nice? No, absolutely not. She was shunned by her village and who, besides her, knows what kinds of Roads of Trials she faced? Who knows what she has had to give up along the way? I’ll bet she felt like quitting at times. I’ll guarantee there was Temptation along the way to simply leave her own people suffering in their ignorance.
Nice gathered friends and allies: people who helped her along her way. The Hero can never complete the quest entirely alone.
And eventually, Nice succeeded. Eventually came the day where she was able to bring the Elixir of Life back to her people and convince the elders to ban the practice of female genital cutting without altering any of their other customs.
To end today’s episode, I am going to tell you a story...no, that’s not correct. To end today’s episode I have to tell you a myth that I have written in honour of Nice’s journey. Perhaps it is a terrible myth, but I think I’ve nailed all the key points.
A myth is a parable based in fact, but it is not factual at all. It is an allegory that is not true, but it is, in fact, truer than true.
And if you can unravel my layers of meaning in that last paragraph then you’ve grasped the entire point of mythology...at least from my uneducated understanding of it.
So, let me tell you my tale of Maneen and the Mountain:
There was once a little girl named Maneen who lived in a poor village by the sea. When Maneen reached the age of 8 she was told that she must go and gather seaweed everyday with all the other village girls.
Maneen did not want to gather seaweed. Gathering seaweed was dangerous work. Large waves continuously bashed the sharp rocks where the seaweed was gathered and even on calmer days there was always the danger of stepping on poisonous sea urchins and jellyfish. Hardly a day went by when at least once girl was not seriously hurt or even dragged into the ocean and drowned while gathering seaweed.
Not to mention the fact that the seaweed tasted terrible and was hardly nutritious enough to maintain the villagers for very long.
Maneen cried and begged with her family to not make her gather the awful seaweed. She told them that she would find another food to gather for the village.
Maneen’s grandfather loved his little granddaughter very, very much and he too was afraid of the possibility of her becoming seriously injured or even of dying. So, he told Maneen that she did not have to gather seaweed.
The rest of the villagers were very angry with Maneen and her grandfather. But the grandfather was a village elder and they could not go against his word. However, they could kick Maneen out of the village and they did so.
Maneen was very sad about this as she left her village and family behind, but she was determined that she would find good food that was safe to gather and return to her home triumphant.
As she walked, she kept her eyes on a mountain that was very far away. This was the mountain where it was rumoured that Dagawa, the god of Knowledge lived. He had been silent for eons, but Maneen decided to see if he knew where she could get better and safer food for her village.
It took her many, many days to reach the mountain and when she did it took her many more days to climb it. And as she climbed the mountain she thought, “this is almost as dangerous as gathering seaweed, but I have come this far and I know there will be something good at the top.”
Maneen was right. She reached the top of the mountain days later and there she saw such a wealth of fruits and vegetables growing that she leapt about and danced for joy and sampled each and every piece that she could pick.
And after she had eaten her fill, she sat down to think. How could she ever get the villagers to see this wonderful place? She doubted they would listen to her if she just told them about it. It was very, very far from the village and it was a treacherous climb. The villagers would only complain that it was too far away. She also doubted they would be willing to move the village to the mountain.
At that moment it became terribly dark. There was a flash of lightning and a peal of thunder as a great wind arose. It whirled around Maneen and an angry voice shouted, “Who has come to my mountain?”
Surely this must be Dagawa!
“It is I, Maneen!” cried the little girl, “I have come to find food for my village, but I have no idea how to get the food back to the village nor how to get the village to come to the mountain! Could you move the mountain to my village, Lord Dagawa?”
The whirlwind slowed, the darkness receded and a strange looking half-man, half-beast carrying a large staff stood before Maneen. However, this time when Dagawa spoke he did not shout and his voice was extremely gentle.
“Brave, Maneen,” said Dagawa, “you are the first woman to step foot on my mountain and the first of my villagers to make this request. Long have I desired to make myself known once again to your people and long have I desired to be closer to them.”
“But why didn’t you?” asked Maneen.
“My child, how can I possibly explain the ways and laws of the gods to you? I am not allowed to move my mountain, but I will give you my staff and it will give you the power you need.”
And with that, Dagawa disappeared in a flash of lightning and peal of thunder, but his staff remained where he had been standing.
Maneen hesitantly reached out and took the staff and when she did, the heavens and the earth shook. She looked back towards her village and saw that the mountain was rushing towards it. At the last moment - just when it seemed that the village would be crushed - the mountain stopped and with a thunderous boom a great crack formed and wound down one side of it. Out of this crack, starting from Maneen’s feet, sprouted a path all the way from the top of the mountain down to the village. A safe, gentle path that even a child of two could walk with hardly a fear of stubbing its toe.
Maneen walked the path to the village carrying Dagawa’s staff.
“I have come home,” she declared to the awe-struck villagers, “and I have brought food for all.”
Change your Self; change your World.