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(11) The Ultimate Boon - What treasure are you looking for?

Updated: Mar 3, 2022


Life's a game made for everyone

and Love is the prize

(“Wake Me Up”, Avicii)


The next step in the Hero's Journey, and the last one of the Initiation Phase, is named by Joseph Campbell "The Ultimate Boon", the supreme treasure.


The Journey so far has prepared and purified the Hero in a way that a precious and transcendent achievement can now be seized.


In myths and tales the "boon", the treasure, often looks like a material object. What counts, though, is the expanded consciousness that gets ignited in the Hero thanks to it or in the process to seize it. The Journey so far has changed them in a way that things will never be the same.


When in your life an achievement that you gained made you discover something of your Self that you hadn’t noticed before?



* * *



The boon is a reward that Heroes get when achieving their goal.


It can take several forms, like an elixir of eternal life (as in the epic of Gilgamesh), or a device that can save their people or the whole mankind (as the Trident in Aquaman), or anything of value for them (as in the story of Mulan).


The Journey has generally prepared them to hold and comprehend its power. In case they are not ready, though, negative consequences will emerge (as in the myth of King Midas), or they are going to lose it soon after they had gained it (as in Gilgamesh).


Let's be guided by myths and tales on discovering The Ultimate Boon and what it stands for, before finally discovering its presence and meaning in our own life.


* * *


Gilgamesh

The Epic of Gilgamesh is an epic poem from Mesopotamia which narrates the story of Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, two-thirds god and one-third man. It is considered the first poem ever written, dating back in its first version to 2100 BCE.


In the first part of the poem Gilgamesh is described as a great and powerful king, but also as a tyrant who oppresses the people of Uruk.

In response to his people’s cry, the gods create and send Enkidu, a wild man equal in power to Gilgamesh, with the goal to counterbalance him.


The two of them fight, and Gilgamesh wins. Enkidu recognizes the king’s power, and they finally become friends.


Gilgamesh then sets for an adventure to become famous by killing Humbaba, the Guardian of the sacred Forest of Cedar. It is a sacrilegious act against the gods and Enkidu tries to dissuade him, but in the end the two of them cooperate and succeed in the deed.

The goddess Ishtar then tries to seduce Gilgamesh but he refuses her, and as a punishment she asks the father of gods, Anu, to send the Bull of Heaven to kill him.

With the help of Enkidu Gilgamesh slays the Bull, but then the gods sentence Enkidu to death for his insolence.


This last event drives the final part of the epic. In fact, Gilgamesh is now afraid for his own death after seeing Enkidu dying (Call to Adventure), and therefore he undertakes a long and dangerous journey searching for the immortal Uta-napishti, "the Faraway", in the hope to learn from him the secret of eternal life. Uta-napishti and his wife were the only humans survived after the Great Flood, and for this reason the gods granted them immortality.

The hero crosses a mountain pass (Crossing the First Threshold), encounters a herd of lions (Road of Trials), seeks for protection from the moon god Sin, and after an inspiring dream (Supernatural Aid, I) he slays the lions and covers himself with their skins.


To no avail the Sun God Shamash tries to dissuade him. “The life that you seek you will never find,” Shamash tells him (Supernatural Aid, II). Yet, Gilgamesh is too afraid of the darkness of death, and stubbornly goes on (refusal of the aid).


Then he arrives at Mashu’s twin mountains and finds a path whose gate is guarded by two dreadful Scorpion-men (Threshold Guardians). Gilgamesh first covers his face, then takes courage and approaches them.

One of them realizes that Gilgamesh is for two thirds god and for one third man. The other asks Gilgamesh how he came there, and he replies that he’s in search of Uta-napishti and of the secret of eternal life. The Scorpion-man warns him on the dangers of the journey ahead and tells him that none like him had ever traveled the path of the mountain, but Gilgamesh is resolute and is finally allowed to enter the dark path (The Belly of the Whale).


Gilgamesh walks in the darkness for a full day, after which he arrives at the Garden of the Gods. There, he finds Shiduri, a tavern-keeper who warns him of the dangers of the journey, especially the Waters of Death.

Shiduri reminds him that eternal life is for gods, while mankind faces death, and advises him to enjoy life at its fullest for as long as it lasts (Supernatural Aid, III).

Yet, Gilgamesh is resolute on continuing his journey (refusal of the aid). Seeing his determination, Shiduri directs him to Ur-shanabi the ferryman, who will help him cross the Waters of Death and meet Uta-napishti on the island where he lives (Supernatural Aid, IV).


Once there, Gilgamesh asks the immortal man for help on his quest but is admonished by him. Trying to avoid the human fate is useless and deprives from the joy of life, he tells him (Supernatural Aid, V).


Then Uta-napishti recounts the story of the Great Flood and of how the gods granted him and his wife the gift of immortality for surviving it.


He points out, though, that this gift was unique in nature, and to demonstrate it he challenges Gilgamesh to stay awake for six days and seven nights.

Gilgamesh accepts the challenge, but falls asleep and remains in that state for seven days straight.


When he wakes up, he realizes with sorrow that, while he was seeking for immortality, he cannot even resist sleep (failed Atonement with the Father).


Then Uta-napishti tells Ur-shanabi to wash Gilgamesh, to provide him with the royal clothes that a king deserves, and to bring him back to Uruk.


Before he leaves, Uta-napishti’s wife (The Temptress) suggests him to provide Gilgamesh with a parting gift. The immortal man agrees, and tells him that at the very bottom of the sea there is a plant, full of sharp thorns, that can provide him with youth again.


Excited by this information and with new hope, Gilgamesh dives deep with the help of heavy stones bound to his feet, and, while scratched by its thorns, he is able to seize the Plant of Youth (The Ultimate Boon).


On his return to Uruk, Gilgamesh decides to stop by a spring and bathe in its waters (Refusal of the Return). A snake, smelling the fragrance of the Plant of Youth, silently comes up, carries it off, and eats it.

As it leaves, it sheds its skin, having earned the ability to become young again.


Gilgamesh sits down and weeps, realizing that all his efforts to gain eternal life and youth have been useless.

* * *

This happens, myth says, when we insist on looking after exterior treasures instead of remembering who we truly are.

Or, in other terms, when it is human fear that moves us, and not the desire to understand and follow the divine laws of nature and life.


Gilgamesh had been warned several times during his journey not to fool himself with vain hopes.


He had done things that a king should not be doing. He had vexed the people that he should have instead protected. He had pursued arrogant endeavors against those same gods that he should have served as a king, with the consequence of his best friend's death. On his desperate search for the secret of immortality, he had covered himself with the skins of the beasts that he had slayed, instead of wearing royal robes. He had walked in a miserable state for all of his journey, as a fool moved by the fear of dying rather than as a king moved by the desire to bring peace and prosperity to his own people.


Towards the end of the story, Uta-napishti assumes that Gilgamesh has learnt the lesson, and asks that he gets cleaned, perfumed, and provided with the clothes that a king should wear.


But then a temptation springs up as a test for Gilgamesh. There is this external elixir that provides youth again. Has Gilgamesh realized that immortality is already endowed in his status as a king, that people will remember his name forever anyway, and that he doesn't need a magic plant for that? Or will he keep playing like a beggar wandering on the streets in need of help, as he has done throughout his Journey so far?


And, once again, he fails.


He rushes and picks the Plant of Youth (or "Plant of Heartbeat" as it is named in the original version) that scratches his hands, and instead of guarding it as a treasure he lets a snake snatch it away.


And there he is, miserable again. He realizes that he'll never be able to reach physical immortality nor youth again.


* * *


The myth ends with Gilgamesh and Ur-shanabi reaching Uruk by the sea, with the king declaiming how beautiful and impressive its walls and foundations are, and how large the city is, with its Temple of Ishtar and the cultivated fields.


Could we infer that he has finally realized that at least his name, as a ruler of the city, will be immortal forever?


There is no additional sign in the rest of the story confirming that Gilgamesh has actually learned the lesson. But if we go back to the epic's Prologue, the narrator states that Gilgamesh "came a far road, was weary, and found peace," before "all his labours were set on a tablet of stone".


And it is in that "finding peace", that mix of resignation, acceptance, and understanding, and in the subsequent sharing of it with the world through oral tradition and clay tablets, that this Hero has fulfilled his journey.



* * *



King Midas

Another example of a Hero’s Journey gone wrong in search of an illusory boon of success is the myth of King Midas. One day Silenus, the satyr who had been schoolmaster and foster father to the god Dionysus, goes drunk and starts wandering around.

King Midas, follower of the cult of Dionysus, recognizes Silenus and gives him hospitality for ten days. On the eleventh day he brings him back to Dionysus. To show gratitude to Midas, the god promises to satisfy any wish he chooses. Midas asks the power to turn into gold whatever he touches, and his wish is granted (Ultimate Boon).


At first Midas is excited at his new ability. Any flower, tree, or rock that he touches turns immediately into shining gold.

But then he discovers that also anything that he puts in his mouth, be it water, wine, or bread, turns into liquid or solid gold as soon as it touches his skin, and he realizes how foolish his desire was.

So he rushes back to Dionysus, asking him to take his new power away. The god tells him to wash himself in the river Pactolus to reverse the effect, and so Midas does. it is since then, the myth says, that the sands of that river are golden.



* * *

Aquaman

Arthur is the son of Atlanna, Queen of the mythical undersea kingdom of Atlantis, and of Thomas, a human lighthouse keeper. Because of these unusual roots, he unites in himself an incredible physical strength on earth and an amazing propulsion in water, on top of the ability to communicate with sea creatures. These powers allow him to combat pirates and to save human lives in the sea, and this is why people call him "Aquaman".


When Arthur was just a baby, Atlanna was forced to leave him, Thomas, and the surface, and to get back to Atlantis. In fact, she was sentenced to death for loving a human and having from him a half-breed son, and she accepted her fate in order to protect her earthly family.


Arthur never forgave Atlantis for this. He doesn't feel like an Atlantean, yet he isn't fully a human and feels like a stranger on earth. That's why he's never been to Atlantis and he keeps himself lurking on the surface in anonymity.


The evil Orm Marius is the new king of Atlantis, son of the previous King Orvax who died in the meantime, and of Atlanna herself, and therefore half-brother to Arthur. In his megalomania, Orm wants to unite and lead the majority of the kingdoms that formed when the original Atlantis sank into the ocean, become therefore Ocean Master, and with this power destroy the surface world for having polluted the oceans.


The princess Mera, coming from one of those kingdoms and betrothed to Orm, seeks for the help of Arthur. In fact, as the firstborn son of Queen Atlanna, the throne is his by birthright. He should reclaim his role as the king of Atlantis, overthrow Orm, and bring peace to both worlds, the Seven Kingdoms and the Earth (Call to Adventure).


Arthur refuses. He doesn't want to be involved into something bigger than him, also because he doesn't feel like belonging neither to Atlantis nor to the surface (Refusal of the Call).


But when Orm sends a tsunami that almost kills Arthur's father and Mera comes to aid, the Hero accepts the challenge.


Mera takes Arthur underwater to Atlantis (Crossing the First Threshold) to meet Vulko, the trusted advisor who was entrusted by Atlanna to train Arthur as a skilled warrior when he was a young boy. Vulko urges Arthur to find the mythical Trident of Atlan, the first ruler of Atlantis. Only a true king could be able to hold it, and this would make Arthur acknowledged as the King by all Seven Kingdoms.

To find the Trident, Vulko provides Arthur and Mera with a device that will help them discover where it is located (Supernatural Aid, I).


The three get ambushed by the Guards of Orm. Mera and Vulko flee with the device, but Arthur is captured and brought in chains to Orm's fortress (Belly of the Whale).


Orm would spare Arthur's life if he leaves forever, but instead Arthur challenges him to duel for the kingdom (Road of Trials).

Orm accepts, knowing that he has been trained for all of his life to fight underwater, while Arthur hasn't. The two of them fight, and with the proper weapons Orm gets one step from overtaking and killing his half-brother.


At the very last moment, Mera rescues Arthur and takes him on the surface (Supernatural Aid, II). With the help of the device, they find out where the Trident is located and set off by sea in search of it.


Mera reveals to Arthur that the path leads to the Kingdom of the Trench, dreadful and deadly sea creatures. Twenty years before, Atlanna was taken there and sacrificed to them. Arthur is horrified, and suggests to go back.


"I'm no leader. I'm not a king. And I can't let you die trying to turn me into something that I'm not."


"You think you're unworthy to lead because you're of two different worlds... but that's exactly why you are worthy. You are the bridge between land and sea. I can see that now."


"The only question is," Mera continues, "Can you?"


On their journey, their boat gets caught in a storm and they are assaulted by a hoard of Trench. While escaping from them, they have no option but to pass through a dangerous energy portal that takes them to the Hidden Sea at the center of the Earth.

They survive, and there they discover Atlanna, alive and safe. Twenty years before, when sentenced to death and thrown to the Trench, she had managed to escape through that same wormhole.


Mother and son are then reunited (Meeting the Goddess).


Atlanna explains that the portal they had passed through doesn't allow to go back, and that the trident is the only way home. The Sacred Trident is guarded by the lethal monster Karathen, whom she has never been able to defeat. The creature will allow only the true king to pass. All who had tried so far had died.


"Atlantis has always had a king," Mera tells Arthur, "now it needs something more."


"What could be greater than a king?"


"A hero," Atlanna replies. "A king fights only for his nation, you fight for everyone."


Arthur accepts the challenge and finds the place, deep in the sea, where the Trident is protected, still in the hands of a dead King Atlan. The monstrous creature watches over it.


"You do not belong here. I have guarded the trident against false kings since the beginning, and for a thousand years I have seen the greatest champions try and fail. But never have I sensed one as unworthy as you. You dare to come here with your bastard blood to claim Atlantis' greatest treasure?"


"You're right. I am a half-breed bastard. But I did not come here because I thought I was worthy. I know I'm not. I came because I had no choice. I came to save my home and the people that I love. I came because the trident is their only hope."


"No man has ever freed the Trident from Atlan's grip. Should he deem you unworthy, I will kill you," the Karathen warns him.


Arthur reaches the Trident, clanches it, and raises it.


A sphere of energy explodes from there. The power is with him. He's the One (Atonement with the Father).


Arthur finally gets the awareness that he is the true King of the Seven Kingdoms, and that he has always been (The Ultimate Boon).


The Trident allows the three of them to come back, and they go and fight Orm (Rescue from Without, The Crossing of the Return Threshold).


With his newly acquired consciousness, Arthur drives all sea creatures, including the Trench and the Karathen, against Orm's army. With the Trident in his hands, Arthur is recognized as the true king. Orm is defeated, and the war is over.


Atlanna gets back to Thomas, while Arthur and Mera finally ascend to the throne (Master of the Two Worlds, Freedom to Live).



The Ultimate Boon in “Mulan”

In the 2008 animated movie version produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation for Walt Disney Pictures, Fa Mulan is a girl living in Imperial China who struggles to conform to societal expectations. Females are expected to show grace and composure and to stay silent in front of men, while Mulan’s vitality flows through her with uncontrollable joy and restlessness.

People notice, and constantly remind her that in doing so she’ll never be able to bring honor to her family (Ordinary World).


When the terrible Huns invade China, the Emperor forces every family to send one man to join the Imperial Chinese Army. Mulan’s father, a former warrior now lame and weakened, accepts the call, but she knows that in those conditions he will never come back alive (Call to Adventure). During the night she takes the decision to cut her hair to disguise as a man, take her father's armour and sword, and ride to the Camp to join the Army in his father’s stead.


In the training camp (Crossing the First Threshold) Mulan soon discovers that she has to perform better than men to be accepted (Road of Trials, I).


On top of gaining physical strength she learns how to use her wit, intelligence, and discipline, to excel in activities where the pure brute force used by her male fellow soldiers isn’t enough to succeed (Meeting with the Goddess).

Once the army training is over, the soldiers set forth to war, guided by Captain Li Shang.

On their way, in the midst of snowy mountains, the Huns ambush them with a gigantic army. When everything seems lost, Mulan shoots a rocket to the snow-clad top peak of a nearby mountain, triggering an avalanche that swallows the whole Huns’ army.

Just before being submerged by the snow though, Shan-Yu, the Huns’ Chief, wounds Mulan. She falls down but manages to run away and gets back on her horse. Captain Li Shang too gets struck by the fury of the avalanche and faints, but Mulan manages to rescue and bring him to safety.

She earns his trust, and the small army celebrates her as an hero.

One moment later, Mulan passes out as a consequence of her wounds.


The Camp’s Doctor comes to aid, but when bandaging her he realizes she’s a girl.

She’s accused of high treason, and she should be executed there and then.

Shang, mindful of having been rescued by her, spares her life, but she’s expelled from the army.

The soldiers proceed to the Imperial City without her to give the Emperor the news of the Huns’ defeat.


But then she sees in the distance the Huns’ Chief Shan-Yu alive with some of his warriors heading towards the Imperial City.

Mulan rushes to inform Li Shang and her fellow soldiers, but they don’t trust her, and in the Imperial City nobody listens to her, since she’s a woman.


The exact moment the Emperor is publicly thanking Li Shang and his soldiers for saving China, the Huns jump out of their hidings and kidnap the Emperor.

Mulan, supported by Shang and her comrades, chases the Huns to fight them. First they manage to rescue the Emperor, and then Mulan, after saving Li Shang once more from sure death, kills Shan-Yu (Road of Trials, II).


The Emperor reaches out to Mulan and firstly scolds her. She’s stolen her father’s armour and sword, ran away from home, disguised as a male soldier, deceived her Captain, dishonored the Chinese Army, and even set fire to the Emperor’s Palace while chasing after the Huns.

But in doing so, he adds, she has saved them all (Atonement with the Father).


He then bows to her in honor, and so does every single citizen of the Imperial City (Apotheosis).


The Emperor asks Mulan to become a member of his council, but she respectfully declines. She’s missing her family.

He then gifts her with the Emperor’s Crest and with Shan-Yu’s sword, so that her family and the whole world can know what she has done for him and for the entire China (Ultimate Boon).


The courage of a maiden has saved China, and honor is now re-established.



The Ultimate Boon in My Story

Back in 2019, while training to improve my coaching skills, I stumble on the “Inside-Out Understanding” and on the “Three Principles” through the work of Michael Neill, and my life takes an extraordinary turn.


I discover how fun it is when I stop pushing to get something and instead let the Universe do its own thing: it always comes up with solutions much smarter than anything I would have ever conceived.

I learn to say, 'Hey Universe... Surprise me,' to put my little self aside, and simply enjoy the manifestation that, with no exception, discloses before my eyes.


The personal and professional crisis I had undergone seems now so distant, yet I hold its memory dear in my heart. It gives me the lucidity and humility to respect and support all those people who believe to know how life goes, yet fight every single day in an inner world built on fears and contradictory thoughts, as I had done for my whole life until then.


I tell myself that the more I comprehend and see the nature of life beyond the veil of appearances, the more I see its principles in action in my own life, the more I can support people around me on becoming free from the self-imposed cages of thought.


I discover that I'm no longer attached to a "self-identity". I’m neither my titles nor my certifications. They’re the evidence of the road that I’ve travelled so far, but they don’t define me.


And I stop defining myself.


The journey shows me how to stay flexible and to experiment with what life discloses in front of me, every time discovering more and more of my true Higher Self.


Freelance consulting provides me with a freedom and an ability to adapt to a changing environment that were unimaginable to me during my years as an employee.


All of this is the “Ultimate Boon” that the Journey had led me to own.



And since the nature of life is change, and that the Hero's Journey has to come full circle back to the Ordinary World where it all started, then the Return Phase soon followed.

And this will be the subject of the next post.


 


Your Story

  • Following the events that you have traced in the previous post, what's the material reward that you have gained through the journey so far? What makes it so special?

  • Compared to when you had answered your Call, has anything changed in you? Behaviors, thoughts, energy?



Beyond Your Story

  • Do you sense something beyond the material reality of the treasure that you've gained?

  • Has it ignited a new awareness of who you are when you let go of self-imposed limitations?

  • Have you been moved to seize this treasure by fear and despair, or by inner knowing that it was your time to open up to a reality larger than your self?



 



Is this post lighting you up? Are you willing to Open Up to Your Potentials?

  • Make sure you download your free Hero's Journey Map and Hero's Journey Workbook from here.

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  • Want to share your feedback on this post? Does it resonate with your life? Please comment below or send me a message.

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Love,

Danilo


 

The Journey so far:


Copyright © Danilo Tambone. All rights reserved.



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