Symbolism: The journey from illegitimacy to legitimacy – a case history

The following inner journey with Joanne came up and occurred spontaneously within a therapy session.  It is an example of how individual a symbolic journey can be, and also how powerful.  If we accept the research finding reported by Syer & Connolly, that nerve pathways are widened by the use of mental techniques, then it is easy to see that a mythical or symbolic journey like this does in fact ‘get into’ a real place somewhere in the hidden part of ourselves, and can in fact influence our lives tremendously. 


Joanne is a very self-aware individual – someone who has spent a large portion of her life looking at the reasons her life is the way it is.  Although she doesn’t believe in pre-destiny as such, some of the events in her life, and her apparent powerlessness in the face of them makes her tend towards the idea of karmic retribution – or that somehow the misfortunes in her life may be a kind of a repayment for ‘previous’ wrongs.

Before seeking help in her personal explorations, Joanne had concluded that much of her sense of not being quite connected to the events in her life stemmed from a gap in her very early years.  She was adopted at the age of three months, after apparently having been somewhat neglected by her teenage mother.  Her adoptive parents were wonderful, and she grew up secure in the knowledge of her specialness and of how dearly she was loved and wanted.  A single, very dark cloud on the horizon was the fact that her biological parents were not married.  She discovered that she was illegitimate at the age of about 9, when she understood the full implications of this fact.  To her, at nine years old, illegitimate meant ‘not legal’.  Illegitimate meant ‘no right to be here’.

Suddenly to the adult Joanne it became very clear that her lifelong insecurity and shyness was related to the idea of not really having a right to take up the space she occupied.  She also made the interesting connection that her frequent complicated dealings with lawyers and the legal system over the purchase of houses and so on echoed the idea that she was ‘not legal.’

Using mental imaging, or creative visualisation, Joan placed herself on a sunny mountainside in front of the entrance to a dark cave.  Gingerly she entered the cave, and armed herself with armour from the armoury at the entrance to the cave.  Suitably protected, she took the flaming torch from the wall and proceeded down a dark passage.  The floor was sloping downwards, and each step took her deeper and deeper into the bowels of the earth, and further and further away from the safe sunshine outside.  The incline became steeper and steeper downwards, till she reached a series of stairs cut into the rock.  She started down the stairs, and discovered that on each step a letter was carved.  Going from step to step, she soon saw that the steps read ‘ILLEGITIMATE’.  Stepping off the last step, she found her passage blocked by a small locked door.

Determined, she managed to pry the door open, and inside she found a small room, stacked to the ceiling with cardboard boxes.  On each box was written an attribute that had caused her distress throughout her life.  She saw ‘no confidence’, ‘useless’, ‘ugly’, ‘’no right’ and many more.

Each box seemed to be suspended from the ceiling by a white cord, and it seemed important to her that the first thing she had to do was to disconnect these boxes from the cords that bound them, and using the sword with which she had armed herself, she set about cutting the boxes free.

When she had done that, she was satisfied, and didn’t feel the need to go any further at that stage, so she left the room and found, to her delight that the word spelled by the steps had changed to ‘LEGITIMATE’, and that each step upwards was an uplifting experience, where her legs became stronger, and her heart became bolder. Finally she reached the sunny mountainside, and sat there for a while, enjoying the bright sunshine after the dark dankness of the cave.

After her inner journey, Joanne reported feeling a great deal brighter and happier.  She was also aware that she wanted to go back to the little room, because she wanted to look inside some of the boxes, and probably even destroy them.  For now she felt that having cut the white cords that bound them together, and probably to her life, she could choose the time she would go back and ‘finish the job’.

There are of course universal journeys – and Joanne’s journey contained some universal elements. It is easy to identify some of these, such as the downward movement, and the protection by magical weapons – but they also served a pragmatic purpose.  And so it is with most personal mythological stores.

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