Thursday, July 14, 2011

BHJ: The Return Begins, FIRST GATE

Dear Birth Peeps,
There is more that could be said about the Ordeal, but finally, it is time to begin exploring the third phase of the hero’s journey: the Hero’s Return, the Ascent. During the next week I will be explaining some of the tasks of the Return… focusing on the evolution and the resolution of the would-be hero’s (no she is not yet a hero!) Story about her Ordeal.
There is never just one birth story because the birth story evolves, organically, over time. After years of listening deeply to birth stories I observed an almost predictable order of appearance, I began to categorize “types” of stories—there are nine—and began to think of each of the nine stories as rungs of a ladder, a ladder the hero must climb all the way out of the underworld. Follow me as we climb out of the underworld on the story ladder. (Tonight is the first time I’ve ever used the ladder metaphor, it just came to me! Until tonight I’ve referred to the nine stories as Gates, in reference to the myth of Inanna who must pass through Seven Gates to enter and exit the underworld.)

First Gate

It was difficult to conjure up a symbol or an image for the First Gate, the No Story Gate. But finally this image came to me: An infant being cradled in a hand; the infant represents both the baby and the newly-born parents. Because this story arises in the deep underworld—within minutes or hours of giving birth—where everything is falling apart, the symbol is painted in dots with a swirl of dots, like steam from a hot drink, to represent the feeling of just being without a story.
In the hours surrounding giving birth, a mother is immersed in living the birth. It is not yet a story: there is no timeline, there are no words, there is no audience to hear the story.
Other people witnessing the birth, or visiting shortly after, do have words, opinions, and a story about her labor, birth, or baby. They begin to tell their story of her birth to her, and around her, and their story inevitably colors what her story will become.

But in those first hours, the mother and father are still spinning, stunned open in love or stunned by the intensity of what they have lived… they haven’t formed a story yet.

Above the First Gate you see TWO LITTLE EAGLE CHICKS IN A NEST.
There is a common belief that by giving birth, mothers and fathers instantly become full-fledged parents; that parenting is predominantly instinctive. For most humans this is not true; parenting is more than just caring for the baby, it’s also involves a complex and profound social, psychic and spiritual transformation.
When a child is born, the parents are also newly born; we could say that (archetypally-speaking) the new parent is a Child-Mother or a Child-Father.
The eaglets represent the Child-Mother and Child-Father. The eaglets, who will one day be great hunters, for now must be fed eagle food to survive and grow their wings. Might the same be true for newborn parents? For parents to make it all the way out of their underworld of labor, and to complete their initiation and the transition to parenthood —they also need to be fed “eagle food,” the Food of Life and the Water of Life by their village. It takes patience and time to grow parent-wings.

In-Love on the Ladder!


  1. I love this metaphor. The ladder...the village. I love being part of the village that feeds the new family. These are such wise words.

  2. In German, new parents are called "freshly baked" parents -- isn't that such a fun and accurate description of parents at this 1st Gate? :-)