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Spiritual Aspects of Romance

An Interview with Jonathan Young, Mythologist and Storyteller

by Karen Pierce Gonzalez, Marin Independent Journal, 1996

Cupid, Cinderella, Rapunzel and other tales of romance go beyond telling of our desire for relationship to reflect spiritual longings for love. They reveal inner journeys and offer encouragement and guidance for contemporary living, says Jonathan Young, Ph.D., archivist of the late mythologist Joseph Campbell.

Young will explore the use of fairy tales and other stories at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow at the Marin Church of Religious Science. He will also lead an afternoon workshop "Meeting The Fairy Godmother," from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. at the Marin Church Center, 85 Mitchell Blvd. San Rafael.

"There's great value in looking at these stories because they show us our own patterns," Young said.

For example, "Sleeping Beauty" is about the potential for love that awaits in our hearts. "In this fairy tale, the heart has grown cold and does not waken until there is a connection with the beloved," he said.

The image of the beloved, he said, goes beyond a focus on another person to include "the yearning to connect with the spiritual side of ourselves. Many people bring unacknowledged religious longing to love relationships, and it's more than a mere human partner can handle," he said.

Valentine's Day also speaks to spiritual love. "Its roots are in ancient Rome, but its symbols are firmly planted in today's world," said the Reverend Luzette Hoff of the Marin Church of Religious Science.

Lupercalia, the Roman festival of love was the first festival before spring. Men selected women's names and adored that woman for a year. "It was a variation of the arranged marriage theme because, after the end of the year, the couples usually remained together," Young noted.

Of the several men who were named Valentine, one defied the emperor's decree that marriage was forbidden because only unmarried men were able to become soldiers. This Valentine got married on the eve of the Lupercalia feast, the 14th of February. The next day he was beheaded. "That's where we get the phrase 'to lose your head in love,' " Young explained.

"Another story of Valentine's Day has it that Valentine's love for a blind woman helped to restore her eyesight. He sent her a card signed 'from your valentine,' " he said.

Young, who has written Saga - Best New Writings on Mythology, added that in many cultures, such as that of ancient Egypt, the heart was the seat of the soul, and in that context, "to lose your heart" or "open your heart" has spiritual meaning.

Frank Cadogan Cowper, Rapunzel

"The complicated themes we find in these stories run through our lives," he said. "We can see how we fall into cliché roles, often becoming someone else's victim. By studying the stories, we have a chance to do something about the problems we repeatedly bring to our relationships."

Young said that exploration of these sacred stories is inspiring. "We also find that we all have help. No one is alone. There are advisers, guardians, fairy godmothers in all of these tales. On a psychological level, these helpers are often different aspects of our own inner lives," said Young, who developed the Mythological Studies Department at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara.

The 10:30 a.m. talk, "Spring of the Heart" will explore the myth of "The Woman in the Tower" and what love can teach about the longings of the soul.

The afternoon seminar will focus upon discovering the spiritual treasures of fairy tales, including Cinderella which touches upon the mythic journey of emotional and spiritual recovery.

Saturday, February 10, 1996