Award-winning writer, filmmaker, travel guide, and storyteller Phil Cousineau talks about the joys and challenges of homecoming — the oldest tale in the world, repeated from The Odyssey to The Wizard of Oz.
Phil’s fascination with other cultures has taken him from Michigan to Marrakesh, from Iceland to the Amazon. He’s written more than 35 books, including The Hero’s Journey, Stoking the Creative Fires, The Art of Pilgrimage, and The Book of Roads. He’s also the host of Global Spirit, the first “internal travel series” on PBS.
In this podcast, Phil explains why it’s so hard for the hero — or the heroine — to get back home again; why Americans feel so rootless; how rituals help us celebrate our travels, and why we need to share our stories and reconnect with loved ones around the hearth. Here are some excerpts with the audio and full transcript below.
On Homecoming and Detroit
I just came back from the city where I grew up, and there are so many people walking around with sweatshirts for the Detroit Tigers, but also shirts that say DIA for the Detroit Institute of Arts. The people in Detroit who are essentially rebuilding the city are identifying not just with sports, but with culture.
Detroit has had the most precipitous decline in population in urban history. And so this is a huge moment. A rebirth, a renaissance. It’s very hard to begin to rebuild without this sense of pride. It’s an axiom now that if people don’t love, not just like or identify with, if they don’t love where they live, they will burn the place down.
Reading The Odyssey Today
This story is about the awakening of a man who has not quite appreciated his wife, Penelope, and who has upset the gods who are wreaking havoc on his effort to get home again. After his time with Circe, Odysseus goes down into the underworld to find Tiresias, the sage, who tells him: You can get home again but you will have to suffer. The gods will make it difficult for you to do this. You will have to curb your desires and the desires of the men in your crew. This is the psychological insight: It’s your desires that have kept you from getting home again. What does that mean for us today?
The Wizard of Oz
In the last scene the Good Witch turns to Dorothy and says, “If you just wake up, you will see that you have always been at home.” The Buddha said this, too, along with other great spiritual teachers. Wake up! In some way, we all go to sleep. And then philosophy, religion, travel, art, wake us up again. When all five senses are alive, you can be home anywhere.