Reflections on the Underworld


Taking a week off work with no particular plans is a mixed blessing. I enjoyed not having any particular responsibilities aside from taking over as head cook for the week.  I was like a visiting celebrity chef specializing in grilling, and the audience – my family – was appreciative.  The only interruption to Grill Fest 2016 was Tuesday, when I went to see Amon Amarth play a concert in Seattle, which brings me back to my point: while the lack of responsibilities was a delight, the lack of a packed vacation agenda meant I had a lot of uninterrupted time to think, and thinking can be problematic for me.  For the most part, my thoughts this week have been filled with Vikings, heroicism, and the descent into the underworld.  Like I said, thinking can be problematic.

I’ve been clear about my Viking obsession recently.  In a recent post, I mentioned drawing nordic runes on my arms before running a marathon last Sunday and listening to Amon Amarth’s Viking-themed metal music to provide an inspirational soundtrack to the later miles of the course.  The Viking motif culminated Tuesday night when I got to see the band perform live in Seattle.  I have been anticipating this show for months, and it all came together as I had hoped.  My fellow metal heads – including the geezer contingent of Sean, Cam, and Rob, along with the youngsters Sean “Jr.”, Stacy, and Rachel – were all in attendance to partake in the feast of Nordic metal.  Amon Amarth did not disappoint.  They played with a relentless ferocity for almost two hours, and we, their devoted followers, sang along and banged our heads with expressions of pure joy on our faces.  Amon Amarth were great Viking gods, bestowing thunderous lightning bolts of intense metal music upon us.  Sometimes I think bands must get tired of playing the same old songs, but I realize they are giving us a great gift; they are serving their audience.  It was a heroic performance.  That’s when I got obsessed with heroes, or the lack thereof.

I’m not feeling very heroic at work, though I feel I should.  While I am prone to bouts of arrogance, I don’t mean to declare myself a hero in any kind of Marvel way.  Rather than comic book heroes, I’ve been thinking about Joseph Campbell’s Hero With a Thousand Faces.  Campbell is one of my favorite thinkers, and his words about mythology and, specifically, heroes has been on my mind when I think about work.  Specifically, my anxiety-level at the office – based on the, shall we say, “politically-charged atmosphere” – has been increasing week by week.  Just prior to logging off my computer before taking the week off, it occurred to me that – given the outrageous demands on our time and the challenges to our principles – it feels as though, mythologically speaking, my coworkers and I are on a descent into the underworld.  If you’re not up on you classical mythology, think about Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back, when Luke, as part of his Jedi training with Yoda on Dagobah, goes into the Dark Side Cave and confronts the illusion of Darth Vader.  Entering that cave, Luke knew he would be faced with his greatest fear, but he survived it, became a Jedi knight, and went on to lead the rebellion in bringing down the Galactic Empire.  I gotta get me some of that.  But as I think about the impending Monday morning, I can only see a scary, dark cave in front of me.

I pulled my copy of Campbell’s The Power of Myth off the shelf to brush up on the basics of the hero’s journey into the underworld.  That’s right, sometimes I actually look at a real book rather than Wikipedia to find the answer to a question.  In reviewing the text, I was reminded that the hero often brings back a gift for others, knowledge or power that benefits the world.  The hero serves the community, something larger than himself.  Now that’s something to think about.

This week has given me a lot to reflect on.  Just like my metal brethren – and sistren – at Amon Amarth, spending time together in the pit, I’m trying to muster up my courage to leap into the underworld at work with my friends and colleagues, confront those things we fear and return to the world with knowledge and power that will help us overcome the challenges we face.  In that Amon Amarth pit, I got knocked down, falling hard, but before I had time to think about it, I was hoisted back to my feet by three of my fellow Vikings.  I survived, and I’m stronger for it.  I think maybe it’s time to get back to work, back to the journey, and back to service.  Or maybe I’ll just listen to Amon Amarth music.  We’ll see.




P.S., If you are up on your classical mythology, you’ll know the term “chthonic.”  What you may not know is the Chthonic, in addition to a mythological reference, is a great metal band from Taiwan.  The more you know…


3 thoughts on “Reflections on the Underworld

  1. Cthonic:
    (1) adj.; concerning, belonging to, or inhabiting the underworld;
    (2) adj. reflexive; used by authors to display higher erudition (see Dan Brown).


    I believe in “everyday heroism,” those tasks we do each day to better the lives of our family, our community. The daily commute, the pointless attention to procedure, the daily toil. We often think of this as a requirement of modern life, but in truth, it’s a choice. Every day we choose to stay with those we love, to go to our jobs, to “work the mines” in the corporate underworld, all to bring back a bit of gold that we might trade for the necessities of our existence. We _could_ choose to abandon our family, our community, and the greater world just to set out on our own. To the other extreme, we could choose to work solely for our own aggrandizement, serving naught but our own avarice, feeding our lust and gluttony on the masses that surround us. Instead, we choose to serve. We devote our bodies and minds to those we love, sacrificing a part of ourselves for their benefit.

    At least, that’s what I tell myself every Monday morning…

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