Thursday, January 13, 2011

Unlikely weapons for the Hero's Quest


A dream from the early hours of this morning:

The Scroll of Decision and the Dissertation of Doubt

The Hero is setting out on the Quest. He is given his weapons. They are not the usual hero's weapons, like a sword or a wand or a magic cloak.

The first is a tightly rolled scroll, inside a cylinder of the kind provided with degree certificates. This is the Scroll of Decision. It is a clean, clear, tight statement, and when the Hero unfurls it and reclaims it, he can move forward with sword-point resolution and clarity, and those around him respond accordingly.

The second gift is the Dissertation of Doubt. This is an untidy mass of hundreds of pages, loosely held together with what appear to be shoestrings. The contents may have their uses, but consulting this interminable discussion of pros and cons and whys and wherefores does not seem likely to get the Hero where he needs to go very fast. However, those who support the Quest must have their reasons fior weighing him down with all this material.

I wake from this dream feeling cheerful and curious.

Context: I am continuing my study of Tolkien's mythic imagination, his interest in time travel, his use of dreams - and how dreams used him. Before going to bed, I was re-reading The Return of the King. I made a note of these lines, spoken by the King of Rohan, who has been roused from ensorcelled torpor to lead the Riders into battle, to Aragorn, who will be revealed as the greater King, the heir to Atlantis (here called Numenor):

"You will do as you will, my lord Aragorn," said Theoden. "It is your doom, maybe, to tread strange paths that others dare not."

I capitalized Hero and Quest in my dream report because it seemed I was viewing a model for the archetypal Quest, not a specific version of it.

The Hero's weapons are sometimes ambivalent. When Aragorn scouts the future in a seeing stone (called palantir, or "Farsighted") he makes himself visible to the Dark Lord, Sauron. In my dream the ambivalence is in the duality of the papers the Hero must carry. Maybe his weapons are better suited to a writer's life than swords. My question remains: why do those who support the Hero's Quest burden him with this huge and ponderous Dissertation of Doubt?

"The End of the World", drawing by J.R.R. Tolkien (1912)

18 comments:

Louisa said...

I think this re-tooled Hero Quest is exquisite. If this were my dream, I would sing an Ode to Doubt! I think that doubt, including self-doubt, is critical to creating knowledge and discerning true and false knowledge. Excessive doubt can be paralyzing, but a healthy dose of doubt is an absolute necessity for a scholar or a just ruler. Doubt is central to self-knowledge and self-exploration. Doubt forces you to consider alternative hypotheses and directions of search. Doubt is at the core of law, which demands that guilt be proven beyond reasonable doubt. Doubt is key to empathy and compassion and prevents good intentions from steering you into hell. Armed with Decision and Doubt, the Hero is well equipped for a true Quest.

Robert Moss said...

Louisa - Thank you for this excellent explanation of why the Hero must carry doubt as well as decision. You remind me that a figure who frequently appears in both history and myth is the Jester who sows doubt in the king's mind when no one else dares to question his mindset. Here the bulk of the dissertation suggests - as in the practice of law - the need to study precedent and - as in science and good detective work - the need to evaluate alternative hypotheses and weigh alternate ways of reading a set of clues. Thank you for helping me to see more clearly why the Hero must carry the net of the dissertation as well as the sword of devision.

Worldbridger said...

My question remains: why do those who support the Hero's Quest burden him with this huge and ponderous Dissertation of Doubt?

We give the dissertation of doubt to the hero so that he can carry it for us. The rest of us are incapable of functioning because our doubts and fears stop us from stepping off the cliff. Only the hero is capable of such a momentous achievement.

Despite my doubts I choose to go forward.

Aragorn had many doubts, yet continued on his quest.

Doubt is a weird word when you look at it - it's not even spelled how it sounds.

Should actually be spelled 'dout' - where did that additional b come from?

As far as I'm concerned you can burn the dissertation of doubt.

Amy Brucker said...

Thanks to both of you, Robert and Louisa, for your comments. For the past several days I've been thinking of these two concepts - decision and doubt. (Then posted my talisman question on FB, Robert, I think something is in the air!)

As I remember it, there is a Northern Exposure episode in which Ed, the shaman in training, has a "helper" who is very jester and trickster like. The character both helps and leads astray, which requires Ed to be completely conscious of the choices he faces. His clients' health depends on Ed's ability to see the Truth.

Irène said...

I remember reading an interview with a respected masters of REIKI in which the journalist asked him what he felt when he gave initiations, an important and necessary step in this practice for it envolves direct transmission during which some initiates experience extraordinary sensations. The Reki master replied, "nothing". The journalist continued, "But you don't doubt your work?" And the master explained that given his excesses in previous incarnations, in this life/embodiment, he could not know doubt. He just did what he knew he had to do with an open heart. For me the master's response implies that could equally not know certainty, at least not as mental confirmation on the topside of doubt. His response also implies that the heart does not need confirmation from mental faculties in order to work its magic.

I often remind myself of this story when my own doubts begin to churn in mental masturbation cycles of, "Yes but... " and "what if"s.

nina said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
j-google said...

Perhaps the book is simply a reminder of the burden we choose when we live in our doubt.

Compared to the internal weights we create in our mind and body, the book itself is likely a relatively small burden to bear.

JB

nanmwyatt said...

isn't doubt a question we do not know the answer to? this reminds me of the life cereal commercial which sort of goes, "i'm not gonna try it", "i'm not gonna try it", "let's ask mikey, he'll do anything". there may be more to that life commercial than cereal.

David Hestrin said...

Does the dissertation of doubt provide freedom from taking things too seriously?

Patricia said...

I'm on holidays at the moment and, for me it is a time of catching up on reading and revisiting dvds and movies that I may have missed on the big screen. Yesterday I watched Doubt, the movie with Meryl Streep and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. I had seen it before and wanted to revisit the experience of not knowing: of being able to sit in the middle of a question; an uncomfortable place to sit.
Now, reading your dream, it reminds me of a spiritual teacher I had a long time ago who said in the beginning "I will be saying a lot of things in the course of these lessons and I want you all to never lose your ability to Doubt. If there is anything I say, that does not sit well with you, I want you to filter it out and make up your own mind about it. I want you to always question what I say."
I agree with Louisa. An Ode to Doubt!!! Bring it on!!!

Robert Moss said...

Worldbridger - I wouldn't be in a hurry to burn ANY books, especially not the Dissertation of Doubt. The "b" comes from the Latin, by the way. If we were to spell "doubt" the way it sounds, we'd get "dowt". Follow that principle through the language and you'll have an interesting script.

Amy - Yes, so much depends on our ability to see truth, and that can require some painful awakenings, some artful play by the Trickster who puts a banana peel under our certainties, and the willingness to read from the Dissertation of Doubt.

Irene - the heart has its own intelligence, and must be our navigational center, because it is there that we find personal truth and it is the only place that we find courage. However, I'm not inclined to cast aside the tools of the Quest that were shown to me last night.

Robert Moss said...

Nina - I like your dream a lot! I am glad that you followed the advice of the inner friends you overheard talking on the dream phone. If it were my dream, I would recognize them as aspects of my self. In what little I know of Qabala (I use the Q instead of the K because I grew up in the Western esoteric version rather than the Jewish Kabbalah) 6 is the number of Tiphereth, the heart center. A good place to operate from.

I'm rather amused to be cast - in some comments - as some kind of advocate of doubt! Anyone who knows my life will recognize I've had a propensity for jumping off cliffs in one way or another. I struggled for a while, after waking from last night's dream, trying to understand why the Dissertation of Doubt is given to the Hero as a weapon, not simply a burden. Louisa explains that very well.

Robert Moss said...

David - I like your spin on this!

Robert Moss said...

Patricia - I always tell my own groups that I want everyone to bring their skeptic into the room, so they will be ready to question, to test and to verify. And also that in order to enter into some of the depth experiences we share, they'll need to ask that skeptic to wait outside from time to time. We don't want to kill the skeptic, but we do need him to know his place.

Louisa said...

Why do you think this dream was cast in such decidedly academic aesthetics? If this were my dream, I would say that a degree certificate accompanied by a dissertation are attributes of completed advanced education. The Hero graduates into the Quest, which suggests to me that serious work and study have been done before the Hero is found to be fit for the challenge. And what degree is awarded to the one who has learned to wield both Decision and Doubt, does he or she become Redoubtable?

Robert Moss said...

Louisa - "Redoubtable" is a worthy derivative from the degree of Doctor of Redoubt, bestowed h.c. by the sages of the scholar-city of Anamnesis in the 13th month of Ophiucus. For those more accustomed to the swords-and-sorcery style of Hero questing, be it noted that a "redoubt", in military parlance, is a fortified position created outside a larger and safer system, to take the first shock of an enemy advance.

Wilson said...

Hi Robert - I see a collection of doubts as a strategic advantage - if you know the doubts of your adversaries you understand them and will know their weaknesses. If you know the doubts of the people you are representing, then you know their limits and what they have tried and so far not-succeeded in doing. I believe the collection of doubts is key for deciding where an extra heroic expenditure of energies would likely yield the most promising results. Or even that Edison idea that he did not fail 1000 times - he built upon each step he took until he had his breakthrough - think that Edison idea is one of your books - Wilson -

Robert Moss said...

Wilson - Excellent points. Thank you for adding to our understanding on why the Dissertation of Doubt may be worth toting along on the Quest.