The daylight fades quickly now while the nights seem to linger. We are approaching the darkest night of the year in the northern hemisphere. (Our southern neighbors are bathed in light as they approach their longest day.) Each year, we cycle back to this time of greatest darkness. Each year we celebrate the return of the Light. Each year, before this blessed event, we travel through the dark with Sagittarius.
There’s something mysterious and beautiful about the evening sky during late November and early December. The sky is a deep sapphire blue, warm and protective despite the cold. Sagittarius is like that. The cold night sky sends us wisdom if we remember how to look for it. During Sagittarius, the night sky is full of stories belonging to the Summer Stars. We look at the sky and are assured that there are things in life worth living for. The sky gives us faith and hope.
Sagittarius energizes our spiritual search. Coming after Scorpio’s emotional purge, Sagittarius’ fire energizes our search for a larger vision, a curiosity about what might be out there now that the old life is gone. In Sagittarius, our perspective widens as well as narrows, like the vision of Eagle, Great Spirit’s emissary. We want to look beyond our old beliefs and discover something new about the universe. What we discover is Cosmic Law. We discover what we have to do to live out our destiny. We’re called back to our beliefs, whatever they might be. We are called back to our center.
After the death & rebirth experience in Scorpio, we want a new understanding of our place in the Cosmos. Our old worldview was distorted by our emotional wounds; a new worldview comes into being if we let the chaos of their death work on us. We fear the chaos more than anything else. Once we survive the break-down, the chaos, the silence of death, we’ll find that we coalesce into something new. Our new energy does need a form, however; a structure to channel it into our new life. This structure comes from the archetypes, and we access them through story.
We all need a story to inhabit. Our deepest source of life energy comes from our imaginations; it is the imagination that tells us the story of what is possible for us. It is this belief that gives us energy, passion and will. All too often, our stories are shaped by patriarchy and become too narrow for us to live with. Hence, the need to leave those stories behind us and heal the wounds that they caused. As we go through our death and rebirth experiences, we need to re-access our passion and find out what the next step in our life will be. And that comes to us through the stories we tell ourselves. What does the future hold? If we choose to live in a story of fear, it will hold fear. If we choose to live in a story of creativity, it will be a creative story. If we live in a story of hope, there will be hope. So it’s important to choose what to believe in.
Our beliefs power our lives. Sagittarius helps us choose our beliefs. While we might not go to a church, synagogue, mosque or temple anymore, we still need to believe in something bigger than ourselves. This time, though, we need a personal relationship with Cosmic Law, Deity or the Force. That’s the Sag way.
The movie I want to talk about for Sagittarius is a gem of a movie called The Way. Written by Emilio Estevez for his father, Martin Sheen, it is a story of a surprising death and an equally surprising rebirth. The story is simple: a father heads overseas to recover the body of his estranged son who died while traveling the El Camino de Santiago. Once there, he decides to make the pilgrimage himself.
El Camino De Santiago -The Way of St. James - has existed for over a thousand years. It has been one of the most important Christian pilgrimages since medieval times. St. James and his brother John were called the Sons of Thunder, and were two of Jesus’ closest disciples. Saint James supposedly preached in Iberia (Spain) and when he was martyred in Jerusalem, legend holds that his remains were carried by boat to northern Spain where he was buried on the site of what is now the city of Santiago de Compostela. There are many different routes (how Sagittarian!) on The Way, ranging from 800 km to 227 km to whatever you can do. Since the Middle Ages, people have settled along the different routes, providing lodging and food for the pilgrims. Pilgrims walk The Way of St. James, often for months, to arrive at the great church in the main square of Compostela and pay homage to St. James. Walking on pilgrimage is a time of letting go of our old lives so that we can find a new Way to live.
Martin Sheen plays Tom, a successful doctor from southern California. Stuck in his ways, content with his life, Tom can’t understand why his middle-aged son, Daniel, won’t settle down. As Tom drives Daniel to the airport to see him off on yet another adventure, they argue. They argue over how to live life. Daniel dropped out of his PhD program to travel the world and experience what he’d been studying and now he wants Tom to drop everything and come away with him, to travel as father and son. But Tom thinks it’s irresponsible. This is the patriarchal lie that we all tell ourselves. Tom thinks that Daniel looks down on him for the life he’s chosen. To which Daniel replies, “You don’t choose a life, dad, you live one.” This is so typical of the tension between a patriarchal father and a son who wants to follow his own dreams. Unfortunately, that’s the last time Tom sees Daniel.
Tom misses a call from Daniel and gets annoyed that he doesn’t know where his son is or how to contact him. Tom tells his assistant, “He wanted to see the world.” And his assistant says, “And he did.” She sees what Tom can’t see, which is so true of the feminine spirit of life. Tom wants everything secure and controlled. Unfortunately, Daniel won’t give it to him. This is how we’ve been trained to live under patriarchy. Let nothing be left to chance!
The next day, Tom gets a call from France in the middle of his golf game: Daniel has died in a sudden storm on the very first night of his journey on el Camino de Santiago. Tom leaves immediately to claim his son’s body, but when he arrives in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France, he talks with a very sympathetic police captain who explains what his son was doing and why it is important. Tom rejects the whole notion of the pilgrimage, but going through Daniel’s backpack that night, he suddenly decides to cremate his son’s body and take his ashes on the pilgrimage. The police captain tries to explain that he isn’t ready to do it, that he lacks the training, but Tom is nothing if not determined. He will make sure his son gets to finish his pilgrimage.
And so, Tom sets out on The Way. He doesn’t know what to expect. He’s in a chaos of emotions over his son’s death. And so he walks. He walks alone, even though other pilgrims join him. He walks alone even when others try to connect to him. As Tom says,” I’m old and tired.” He’s lost his faith, not only in God but even in his golf partners. When people ask him why he’s making the pilgrimage he says he’s doing it for his son. But the captain tells him, The Way is a very personal journey. The journey itself will teach Tom why he’s going.
Before Tom starts out, he is sitting alone at a restaurant when a fellow pilgrim, Joost, sits down with him. Joost is a gregarious Dutchman who tells Tom that he’s walking to lose weight for his brother’s wedding - and to make his wife and doctor happy. And then he proceeds to eat, unconsciously and compulsively. And of course, Tom can’t wait to get away from him.
One thing you can say about Tom, he’s determined to do this for Daniel. While he says he’s going on pilgrimage for his son, I think he’s going to prove to himself that he loved Daniel. They had grown apart since his wife’s death, mainly because of Tom’s judgments about Daniel’s new lifestyle. And while he thinks he loves Daniel, his guilt is strong. And he has a fear of death - he couldn’t even touch Daniel, like I imagine his mother would, when he went to identify his body. Tom thinks he goes on pilgrimage to reclaim his son.
The Way itself is beautiful. Tom and his fellow pilgrims walk through fields, forests, hills, mountains and cities. The Way encompasses all of life’s beauty, strength and compassion, as well as its quirks and horrors. When Tom passes a homemade cross on the mountain the first day, he flashes on Daniel and realizes this cross is where Daniel died. He leaves the first pile of Daniel’s ashes there.
Lost in thought at the site of his son’s death, he has to trek through the darkness to his first pilgrim hostel. Being late, he gets no supper, and finds he has to sleep in a big dorm room with all the other pilgrims. Nothing like what a wealthy doctor expects - a metal bunk bed in a crowded, noisy room. There he runs into Joost again, cheerfully eating and smoking grass.
Tom ends up traveling with Joost, letting him talk him into getting coffee before they leave and then goat cheese at the next village. He looks down on Joost while joining him in all the distractions along the way. While Tom walks with Joost, who finds joy and food wherever he goes, he doesn’t journey with him, hiding from Joost whenever he leaves ashes. Tom doesn’t share himself. He’s locked away. He looks on Joost as a fool, without seeing his kind heart. But he, like Joost, is searching for what will nourish him.
Everyone shares why they are going on pilgrimage, but Tom won’t tell anyone. He thinks he’s hiding his wound. Finally Joost puts together the story – Tom is related to the young man who died in France. Once Tom tells Joost his story, he finds an excuse to go his own way and get away from Joost. He stops at a wonderful Basque pensione, where travelers argue with their Basque host about history. Tom can imagine Daniel enjoying these conversations.
Tom runs into Sarah at this pensione. Sarah is sarcastic, hurt and angry. She taunts him about his motives for being pilgrimage. He tries to ignore her, which makes her open up. She’s going to give up cigarettes, but she’s going to enjoy them until she gets to Compostela. Tom’s reply to that is, “Spoken like a true addict!” Tom has no social skills anymore after spending his time with his doctor buddies, whose way of relating is to taunt each other. He has a superior attitude and doesn’t think much of the other pilgrims. Tom’s lack of social skills, communication and caring are evident at this stage of his journey.
In the morning, he sees the proprietor pretending to be a bullfighter. When he’s discovered, the owner tells Tom, “I wanted to become a bullfighter. My father wanted me to become a lawyer.” All over the world, our personal desires are negated by the expectations of our fathers. Tom isn’t alone in what he’s done to his son. But he sees how other sons have dealt with having their dreams denied.
Tom’s adventures continue to include Joost and Sarah. After some time, they run into Jack the Irishman. Jack is running around a field, acting crazy, but when he sees them, he proceeds to give a lengthy description of his time on the road. To wit, he’s a travel writer and he has writer’s block. He’s both full of himself and also down on himself. Tom dislikes him from the start. A true shadow projection! Later in the movie, Tom tells Jack that he reminds him of Daniel and it drives him crazy. But in reality, Jack is Tom’s shadow. He even tells Tom about giving up his dream to be a great writer when he started making money on travel books. “But it’s the life I choose.” Tom’s words in Jack’s mouth!
Soon after this, Tom and Sarah have an altercation. Joost has let slip the story of Tom’s son, and Sarah shares her story about an abusive husband and her decision to abort their baby. Tom finally shows some feeling and says he’s sorry about her baby and she replies that she’s sorry about his. When he says that his son was almost 40, she says, “But he’s still your baby.” Sarah, his anima/soul, reminds him of a truth that he’s forgotten. Something changes after this conversation.
Tom, the typical patriarchal man, is so out of touch with his feelings that he has trouble feeling any empathy for other people. Sarah represents his bitter, wounded shadow anima. His feminine, feeling side is just as wounded as Sarah. They are both prickly. They are both sarcastic. They both hurt. As their relationship improves, they both get in touch with their feelings.
At one point, they all argue about what makes a true pilgrim? Tom has had it and asks, “Someone who died on the Camino?” Tom then proceeds to get drunk and tells them all what he thinks of them. Jack is a writer who thinks he’s better than everyone else. Joost is a great big lug who eats too much. Sarah is the poor, victimized woman.
Tom gets rowdy and ends up in jail. The other three bail him out, but they ignore him. Tom’s outburst makes them all think. The silence of the Way comes into play now. Ignored, Tom finally gives in, but instead of apologizing, he goes to Jack and insists he’ll pay him back. Jack asks Tom to let him write about his story instead. That’s when Tom says that Daniel was like Jack - smart, confident and stubborn. “He pissed me off a lot.”
On the Way, Tom meets his shadows: the unconscious need for comfort, the bitterness of harsh reality, and the blocks to his creative spirit.
At Burgos, the four meet up again with old acquaintances they’ve met on the Way. That’s where a young gypsy boy steals Tom’s backpack with the ashes. The four of them give chase and end up where the gypsies live. Joost and Jake tell him to give up, that the gypsies are trouble. That he’ll never get his pack back. That’s when Tom does give up – with the box gone, he loses hope.
But boy’s father arrives with the backpack and an apology, and invites all of them to be his guests at dinner. That night while the gypsies entertain them, Tom sees the power of family. The gypsies are outcasts, yet they have a strong sense of honor. The father, Ishmael, tells Tom to take Daniel’s ashes to the sea at Muxai past Compostela. When Tom says he’s not religious, Ishmael replies, “Religion has nothing to do with this, nothing at all!” The next day as they leave town, Ishmael has his son carry Tom’s pack for him. When Tom tries to downplay what the son has done, Ishmael asks, “What would you do with your son? Our children – they are the very best and the very worst of us.”
After this meeting, a deep healing occurs in Tom and therefore in the others. They finally begin to journey together! They are no longer separate, but now they are a family. They help each other, they laugh together, they enjoy each other.
When they come to a big town, Tom treats them all to their own rooms in a marvelous hotel. They can have anything they want, but food, pedicures, and writing no longer serve them. They all end up in Tom’s room. A family! He’s become not only a companion, but a father.
When they get to Compostela, Tom dedicates the pilgrimage to Daniel. Each of them has found a measure of peace. And they all go with Tom to Muxia where he releases the last of Daniel’s ashes. The Way has healed them. The pilgrimage has bestowed grace on them.
The wisdom they’ve found? Jack realizes that words don’t stand up to experience. Sarah admits that it’s never really been about giving up smoking. And Joost admits he needs a new suit. Tom is now free to live his life. And he does. He starts to travel! He continues on his Way!
The Way is a modern-day mystery play. Tom symbolizes our western ego, lost in the glamor of things and work and responsibility. As he walks the Way, he discovers his own shadow: his unconscious use of the world, his bitterness and fear of emotional pain and his useless intellect. Along the Way, he re-integrates his kindness, his courage and his vision. And so is made new again.
As we wait upon the arrival of the magical, holy season of Winter Solstice, may you walk the Way and discover your inner child once again.
From the Bard’s Grove,