One day a princess is playing with her beloved golden ball in the palace gardens, throwing the ball high in the air, watching it sparkle in the sun, until it become a second sun itself. She gazes upon the movements of her prized possession, until out of the sky the ball begins to fall, coming to earth a few feet away from her.
Slowly, down the hill the ball began to roll towards the lake that lay in the dark shadows of the forest. The princess, in a moment of anticipation and realisation, ran after the ball but she was too late – into the dark deep lake the ball sank out of sight, and beyond reach. By the water she fell down and wept, and her tears landed on the surface of the lake like raindrops, rippling out across the water.
Out of nowhere the princess heard a quiet voice: “Why are you crying, my princess?”
The princess looked around and saw a frog, a fat, ugly, frog, with its head emerging out of the water.
The princess explained her woes to which the frog replied, “I can help you princess, I will retrieve your ball, but what shall you offer me in return?” The princess promised the frog her clothes, jewels, any and all of her possessions, but he what he wanted was not her possessions but her companionship:
“Let me be your playmate, eat from your golden plate, drink from your cup, and sleep in your bed”.
In her desperation the princess replied:
“Anything you want, just get me back my golden ball, please!”
At this the frog dove deep into the spring and re-emerged with the golden ball, putting it at the feet of the princess. In delight, the princess picked up the ball and ran off. The frog protested that he could not run so fast and that she must come and carry him, but his words did not reach the ears of the princess. She ran off back to the palace, happy and relieved, and soon forgot the lowly frog, who must have descended back into the dark waters from where he came.
The search for healing, whether individually or collectively, takes the form of what Michael Meade calls ‘an initiatory adventure’. In old practices of initiation, the young must awaken to the dream they carry in their souls or the world cannot be renewed and becomes a wasteland. The initiatory process involves entering life, facing death in some form, and then finding renewal. This process is an archetypal dynamic. This can occur when the direction or meaning of our lives needs to change – every obstacle, every loss is an invitation to transform ourselves and move deeper into life.
Initiation means ‘to begin’, ‘to step into’ or to cause something new to begin. This might be answering a call, taking a risk, or facing adversity, all experiences that involve moving out of the security and comfort of the known into the unknown. Old identities must be shed so a new way of being can be embodied. Some event separates us from what is familiar; then a struggle or ordeal follows. If we survive this ordeal we return with new knowledge and renewed life.
Joseph Campbell identifies departure as the first step in the initiatory hero’s journey, beginning with what is known as ‘the call to adventure’, as illustrated in the story of the princess and the golden ball.
Adventure stories, writes Campbell, begin like this: A blunder, a chance encounter, brings the person in contact with forces not correctly understood. An innocuous occurrence like this is underestimated and not seen for what it is – the altering of destiny. Small moments that lead to great change. For the princess the first sign was the lost ball, then the frog, and finally the promise not kept.
Campbell writes that the role played by the frog in this situation is that of the ‘herald’ – they signal the coming crisis. This is the beginning of transfiguration, a process of death and rebirth as the familiar horizon has been out grown; the concept, ideals and emotional patterns no longer work; the passing of a threshold is imminent.