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Philosophy Spiritual

The Symbolic Meaning of the Belly of the Whale

The Beatles are metaphorical for the “belly of the whale” motif in mythology. I never realized it myself until I read “Anthology” and realized that they had spent almost 2.5 years in Hamburg playing 8 hours a day, 7 days a week. Now this isn’t literally true. They did have breaks. They definitely went home many times for breaks, but the most important aspect is that it is psychologically true. Apparently the clubs were physically below the street level, like walking down into a subway, and I do remember a compadre of theirs saying, “We’d go down their and wouldn’t come for air for a week.” Now this obviously is not literally true. But one understands the psychological, metaphorical implication: giving yourself over to something completely. That’s the idea of the belly of the whale motif in mythology. Even the the locals of the Cavern Club in Liverpool seemed to be stunned by the transformation of the post Hamburg Beatles. That’s the central idea of the “Belly of the Whale” motif. It’s exactly analogous to the idea of the male initiatory experience: You go in one person and come out the other side with a completely transformed consciousness. All mythology, as Joseph Campbell said, is about the transformation of consciousness.

Transformation of Consciousness is the goal of Mythology as well as Initiatory Experiences. They can happen involuntarily (You’re born into a certain group) or voluntarily (You have an intent to become someone new.) Regardless, the method is the same: extended periods of “submersion” in which there is “no way out.” Only under those circumstances does a crucial part of the brain “switch” and a true transformation take place.

I’d say there are two main aspects to the Belly of the Whale symbolism and they are psychologically connected although in the world express themselves in two different ways: 1) As noted above with the Beatles is the aspect of a career. The way to get to the top is complete emersion, giving yourself over to it completely, allowing yourself to be “swallowed up.” This is the appropriate attitude for a young person, say 20-30, deciding on their career. They have to know the irony that this immersion, once a decision has been made, will free them, not confine them, as long as it’s their true calling, not someone else’s.

2) Is more metaphysical in the sense primarily of acceptance. The trash compactor scene from Star Wars comes to mind. If you just take the literal, mechanical view of nature, then its all about a group of adventurers who are most certainly going to die in a horrible way. At best their chances are 50/50. But what in the deepest sense does this scene really mean?

Update 6/13/20: I realized as I was watching a lot of music production videos on Youtube, and as their algorithm keeps bringing you more, I realized that the amount of content I could watch on this subject is nearly endless. And then I realized, that’s it! You keep at something non-stop until you break through to another level. The irony is its your laser-like focus on one subject that opens up the entire world to you.

Now, I would say there is at least one caveat: whatever that subject is, I think it needs to be your true soul’s calling. In other words, if your only reason for doing it is to get rich and famous, it still might work, but there’s something lost in translation. And the whole process will not be fun. If it is your true soul’s calling, then it will be feeding you the whole way in terms of inspiration, joy, and fulfillment, even in this so-called “Belly of the Whale” period in which you are not getting outside attention or rewards. I’d say that’s the test for your true calling: If you feel emotional reward from the act itself, then that’s it. Stephen King and writing is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of this analogy. Especially if you want to be a writer, go watch some of his speeches and interviews on Youtube. He mentions this aspect as being primary.

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