Psychedelics offer a unique lens through which to view the world. They provide access to inner realms that are normally hidden from view and reveal insights into the nature of reality itself.
One of the most profound aspects of psychedelics is their ability to catalyze transformative change or metamorphosis. I’ve seen this myself, in my own life, but this can be seen everywhere in the natural world, from the changing seasons to biological growth and decay. Moreover, the universe itself is in constant flux. We human beings are no different. This paper will explore psychedelics, the allegory of the hero’s journey, and their relation to metamorphosis in the natural world.
Metamorphosis in the Natural World
The psychedelic experience is often compared to a journey or voyage into unknown territory. This is because psychedelics can take us beyond our normal frame of reference and into new dimensions of reality, into the unconscious. The term “psychedelic” comes from the Greek words psyche (soul) and delos (manifest), which together mean “soul-manifesting.” Psychedelics can thus be seen as agents of soul manifestation, revealing hidden aspects of our unconscious being as well as the world around us in order to fully embrace and integrate life.
This follows a similar pattern to The Hero’s Journey, the monomyth detailed by Joseph Cambell, which has been identified in stories and myths worldwide. In this story, the hero, or heroine, leaves the ordinary world and embarks on a journey into the unknown. They face challenges and trials along the way before returning to the natural world, transformed by their experiences. The hero’s journey is thus a story of transformation, from an ordinary person to someone who has attained new levels of understanding and wisdom from what lies below the surface.
Psychedelics offer a direct experience of the Hero’s Journey by providing access to previously hidden dimensions of our unconscious reality. In the process, we undergo a personal hero’s journey, emerging transformed by the experience. Like the hero, we leave behind ordinary life and come back changed by the experience.
Cognitive neuroscientists believe that we are conscious of only about 5 percent of our reality during any day, which comprises the total of our cognitive activity. So most of our decisions, actions, emotions, and behaviors depend on the 95 percent of brain activity that goes on in our unconscious mind, behind the curtain of our cognitive consciousness. Psychedelics pull back this invisible curtain and allow us to see how the unconscious operates and how to transform.
The power of the unconscious is often underestimated or ignored altogether. However, as Carl Jung famously said, “There are as many nights as days, and the one is just as long as the other in the year’s course. Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word ‘happy’ would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness.” Within the darkness of our unconscious is a vast storehouse of knowledge and wisdom that can be accessed through dreams, meditation, and other altered states of consciousness. Psychedelics can help individuals explore their psyche and understanding of the unconscious mind and work with trauma, disassociation, mental illness, etc.
In the natural world, metamorphosis is a process of change and transformation. It is not linear but rather like a conch shell or a spiral staircase that winds and turns in on itself. This journey is not about going from one point to another but rather about descending into the depths of the psyche to see, hear, touch, taste, feel, excavate and surface suppressed or unconscious thoughts and narratives.
The dissolution of time and self-awareness is an amazing experience. It can be disorienting and liberating to realize that we are not bound by our previous understanding or who we thought ourselves to be! By excavating the unconscious, it is possible to turn trash into treasure with a newfound freedom that allows the integration of events that might have been challenging and outside of our comfort zone previously.
The three basic parts of a Hero’s journey are the separation, where we set out on the quest (perhaps reluctantly) seeking adventure; then there is an initiation which happens when we arrive at our destination – the psychedelic journey – and finally return back to the consciousness of the natural world.
Many people are sleepwalkers in their everyday lives and never realize the freedom that awaits them. This state of stasis, or inactivity, and the realization that nothing changes if we don’t ourselve change it, is often the call to adventure.
The Call to Adventure awakens us from stasis or deep slumber. This can be challenging because it means changing something about our lives instead of just waiting until later. Many people live lives of quiet discontent, with no consideration for changing, as long they get by day-to-day, in whatever way possible. This is not necessarily bad. Refusal of the Call and not changing anything is what many people do…
For others, who need and want more, it is at this point that they may find a mentor, a coach, to provide answers, insights, and guidance. The journey into unknown territory can be daunting, and scary, but with preparation comes success.
The Mentor Coach is the one who navigates life’s challenges with information, knowledge, and wisdom from beyond what we know. Just like a wizard they can provide supportive counseling throughout this process to illuminate dark territory into which we may be exploring without any illumination available thus far on our journey as well-being there for guidance when needed most
Crossing the Threshold is when we make the the conscious decision to enter the cave of our unconscious mind. Altered states of consciousness offer possibilities for exploration. Deep wounds and traumas can be looked at with greater compassion and gratitude. But still, this is uncharted territory that requires mindful intention, especially as we cross onto the road trials. We will come face to face with ourselves, confronting Tests, Allies and Enemies. It may be the dissolution of the ego, a sense of ignorance, hatred, or greed; whatever is present, under the surface, will make itself known.
As we approach the cave and our innermost cave unconscious mind, we come face to face with our shadow self. We encounter the final separation from the world that we knew before, ourselves as we were known by the world and our own self-image. By entering this stage, the person shows a willingness to undergo a metamorphosis. When first entering the stage, the hero or heroine may encounter a minor danger or setback, challenging the commitment.
The underworld of our unconscious takes shape as the doors of perception open. We are on the Road of Trials, this is a place where individuals are tested to see reality through a different lens. In Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, the hero is tested by archetypes of the Goddess (eros, philia, agape), the Father (authority), and Temptation (the world). Fundamental beliefs are challenged and shifted.
Psychedelics can help us look at various tests, allies, and enemies. The symbolic father, the authority that has held us back, maybe an inner struggle, a confrontation that we need to come to terms with regarding our own power and knowledge and how we can best use it for our benefit or for others in our lives. This is the apotheosis, the transformation, and realization that we are unlimited and connected to be powerful, to do with our lives what we want. We are the architects and builders and thus able to construct our realities.
The Ultimate Boon is a reward given at the end of an initiation stage. It’s what this journey is all about. This may be the magic of the experience, or profound insight, or something that gives us power, opens the doors of perception that reset our mindset to live happily ever after, that provides us with a renewed perspective.
Towards the end of our journey, we may wish to hold on, not let go of the psychedelic experience, which can be seen as the Refusal of the Return back to the ordinary world. We may be hesitant to go back to the life we once knew. The journey has changed us.
On the other hand, we may wish to come back and return with our new powers and a feeling of empowerment that we’ve not felt before. This
Crossing the Return Threshold is our journey’s last and final part. We may find that we have new insights and perspectives and that we are now better equipped to deal with life’s challenges. We may also find that we have unique skills and abilities that we can use to help others. Finally, we may find that we now have special knowledge that we had not had before and we can even help to enrich the lives of others. Conscious and Unconscious minds are the two parts of our being. We can live a better life, as the master of two worlds, knowing ourselves better through the journey and process.
We find the freedom to live, to ascent to a higher plane of existence. We find balance in an unbalanced world, between the internal and external worlds. We no longer fear death. We aspire to benefit ourselves and all living beings. We live in the present moment and ascent to a higher plane of existence.
Psychedelics and the Hero’s Journey are a tool for helping us to overcome challenges, to transform, and achieve our goals. By using psychedelics in an intentional and mindful way, we can create experiences that help us to grow and develop as individuals. Psychedelics offer a unique opportunity for us to explore the depths of consciousness, and our unconscious mind, to discover new perspectives and insights. With proper preparation and guidance, psychedelics can help us to transform our lives and to become the best version of ourselves.
Authors note: What stage of the Hero’s Journey are you currently on? What challenges have you faced so far? How have psychedelics helped you to overcome them? If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, consider your intentions, set, setting, and ability to integrate your experience by finding someone that can listen and offer guidance. Seek out help and support.