A Place Called Home
Updated: Jan 15
As a psychotherapist, I am always interested in what home means to people.
Home is one of those archaic concepts that has appeared in stories since man first sat around a campfire. From Homer's epic poem The Odyssey, to the 2020 musical comedy Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, both favourites by the way, the hero of the story must go on a journey to discover the meaning of home, and ultimately learn about himself.
'Home' can be a 'secure base' or a 'safe haven', it is also a fundamental 'need'. The French philosopher Simone Weil, who was forced to leave France during the Second World War wrote, 'to be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognised need of the human soul.'
Another twentieth century philosopher, Martin Heidegger, explored this theme in his writing too. He concluded that all philosophising was about 'homecoming', which he defined as the search for 'truth and meaning'.
Both Odysseus and Will Ferrell's character Lars are very human characters. They are flawed, self-centred, and don't always make the right decision. Their hero's journey represents the part of them that yearns for excitement and self-discovery. In Freudian terms 'Ego'. But the ego is fragile; vanity and hubris are the heroes' shadow.
Of course, the journey is just as important as the destination. Odysseus's story turns thrilling as he encounters the lotus-eaters, the six-headed monster Scylla, and the captivating witch-goddess Circe. In The Story of Fire Saga, Lars dream of pop stardom takes him away from Iceland to the Eurovision Song Contest. But as our characters lose themselves in their journey, they risk losing what is important to them.
When I first read The Odyssey, I questioned whether Odysseus even wanted to return home, after all, the poem reminds us, 'a man who has been through bitter experiences and travelled far, enjoys even his sufferings after a time.'
Odysseus yearns for a life free of war and suffering, and for the love of his wife Penelope. He has no idea if and when he will get home, or what he will find when he gets there. As the story develops, home begins to take on a mythological status. In The Story of Fire Saga, home is the hygge cosiness of Iceland, the wisdom of the elves, and the certainty of Ja Ja Ding Dong every Saturday night in the local pub.
The Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa captures this in his posthumous work The Book of Disquiet:
'The feelings that hurt the most, the emotions that sting the most, are those that are absurd, the longing for impossible things, precisely because they are impossible; nostalgia for what never was, the desire for what could have been; regret over not being someone else; dissatisfaction with the world's existence. All these half-tones of the soul's consciousness create in us a painful landscape, an eternal sunset of what we are.'
This feeling, which does not have a direct English translation, can be found in many cultures. In Welsh, the word Hiraeth which has been likened to homesickness, tinged with a yearning for the land and culture, a longing and nostalgia, for something that no longer exists.
Home does not need to be a physical place, and sometimes that is not even possible. It is a sense of belonging which we experience when we are loved. Hollywood explored this very idea in films such as It’s A Wonderful Life, 1946 and The Wizard of Oz, 1939. After all, ‘there's no place like home’, which as Dorothy discovers, is not so much the physical place of Kansas, rather it is the love of her friends and family.
Freud explored this concept too. Nationalism was a powerful force by the beginning of the 20th Century, but the horrors of the First World War, and the rise of Nazism with its focus on a physical sense of belonging, of Fatherland, had taught him that the promised land or Utopia need only exist in the human mind. This message has never been more relevant as we navigate the complexities of the 21st Century.
As for Odysseus and Lars, at times both are literally adrift on the sea. At the mid-point of The Story of Fire Saga, Lars gives up his popstar dream to return to a life as a trawlerman. Carl Jung understood the sea as a symbol of the unconscious. Many of us have had a sense of being adrift at some point or another in our lives, the routines of everyday life feel meaningless, the certainties of politics, ideology, and globalisation have been found wanting. Or perhaps we have been forced adrift though change and uncertainty. Like Odysseus and Lars, we may have an idea of what we want, yet we are unsure of what we need, as we search for our own Ithaca or Husavik.
Here is a thought, perhaps the answer is to let go and be 'adrift'? In his book, Care of The Soul, Thomas Moore writes, 'the soul requires that we sustain the experiences of absence, wandering, longing, melancholy, separation, chaos, and deep adventure. There is no shortcut ...'
I leave it to Maya Angelou who reminds us: 'You are only free when you realise you belong no place, you belong every place, no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.'
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga - Netflix, 2020
If you enjoy the story of Odysseus and Greek myths and legends can I recommend the following:
Circe - Madeline Miller
The Odyssey - Homer - new translation by Emily Wilson
Myths of Greece and Rome - Thomas Bulfinch
Mythos - Stephen Fry