February 20, 2018

JourneyCake Spirit

JourneyCake SpiritIn 1989, the poet Robert Bly and mythologist Michael Meade led a weeklong conference that I attended along with 110 other men. Meade told a fairy tale that more than 25 years later has now led to the naming of this new website: www.journeycakespirit.com.

The hero of the story, a pig herder, had encountered many challenges on a long journey. Finally, with the help of his animal allies, he won a magical horse from an old and tricky hag. The horse would take him out of the forest, but the evil sorceress sabotaged the deal. She snuck into the corral and drained the marrow from the legs of the horse on the morning of his freedom. The pig herder set off for the edge of the forest and as he approached the last tall hedge to navigate, the horse collapsed.

Another piece of fate had entered the story, as fairy tales are sometimes prone to do. That morning, a protective elf in the forest had watched the wicked ways of the witch. The elf captured the drained marrow and made it into a cake, which she packed in the hero’s bag.

Our Odysseus of a pig herder had faced much despair along his journeys, but this time he did not fall to his knees sobbing. Searching his options, he rummaged through his bag, found the cake and gave it to the horse. Magical again, the steed leapt over the final barrier of the forest taking our hero to one final challenge at his mythical castle of happiness ever after.

On the last day of that 1989 men’s conference, the kitchen crew (including me) ground the leftovers into what we called “journey cakes.” The mythological cake from the fairy tale joined the concrete lineage of corn-based flatbreads indigenous to Native Americans, called journey cakes or johnny cakes. The men left the conference with a cake, as much a talisman for souls as nutrition for bodies.

That 1989 conference was one of many turns of fate that I needed during my midlife years. Without such nourishments, I would not have understood how my past was holding back my future nor discovered how to shift my daily breath to embrace adventure as well as adversity. I needed a long time to sort out my transformation but finally completed The Crane Dance: Taking Flight in Midlife. On this decade-long flight I needed many journey cakes to guide me beyond depression, through painful memories of Mississippi, and into a richer understanding of vocation and self. A new vitality emerged with “my will intact to go wherever I need to go, and every stone on the road precious to me,” as the poet Stanley Kunitz puts it.

We all have our stories to tell and need a place to tell them. I hope this platform provides a way to share matters of the spirit and heart, so as to nourish our souls, trust our solitude, enhance our stories through community engagement, and walk with a bit more spring along life’s graveled paths. Just as journey cakes have nourished travelers through the centuries, may this website offer sustenance for our spirits.