Heroes are a mythic commonplace, so much so Joseph Campbell lumped them in a monomyth. A hero is a mortal with semi-divine divine powers whose business is bringing home the bacon while still on the bull. Half sun, all clout, the hero’s journey is go way out there, cross a threshold, do battle with a Morholt or Medusa, thus to (b)reach an inner sanctum where the treasure hardest to attain awaits, dewy-eyed with bling, blarney & booty. Mission accomplished, the hero's final task is to bring home the goods for the tribe.
Why are heroes popular, well, usually that’s us in there, wearing the mask of Hero, besting and wresting, clubbing and lugging our way to Victory. Not bad, eh? Psychology has long identified the hero fantasy with ego development, a nascent consciousness growing from Prince to Knight to King on a road of trials.
But if it sounds a tad testosteroney, it is. Dudes have been flashing that sword a long time. We have a hard time getting around the stereotypical imagery; we slight female heroes; all that swashbuckling smoke gets in the eyes. (And when we try, too often she looks like something out of the Marvel superheroine list—pouty lips, lightning-fast moves and a slight turn away so the rump’s on display. (Heroic glutes.)
I’m not sure we’re really all that much evolved with our hero-worship, and perhaps we shouldn’t be. Heroes are models for the tribe, showing aspiration and courage are real necessities in a world changing all too fast. History takes meaning remembering heroic deeds.
If there has been growth at all in our imaginariums, we have to look into the periphery for heroes who don’t look or swing like ’em—anti-heroes like Byron or Mad Max, women warriors from the Morrigan, Calamity Jane to Athena; culture heroes including Orpheus and Celtic Lud and JK Rowling (shall I dream a world?). And then there are heroes whose heroics are hidden from normal view – wily Odysseus, Frodo Baggins, The Dude. And for spiritual heroics, well, there’s the shaman, the Sin-Eater and, I propose, Melania.
Some suggest that hero psychology belongs on the dustbin of history. As if we need more empowered super egos on this Earth! We have too many heroes now on steroids, unable to squeeze through any threshold, armed with weaponry so powerful that advantage becomes annihilation I for one could do with fewer bug-eyed berserkers on my commute.
But must we throw the heroics out with the badass water? Perhaps we can create altar-space to revere ex-cons in prison ministry and those who help the deaf to hear, the teacher of wonder, the recovering addict and the judges who don’t give up on them. Feed the poor, renounce one’s privilege, let the plants do the talking—those are all heroic qualities we should embrace.
If there is one thing we are lacking this day, it’s the sense of history. When change is halcyon and warp-speed, who has time for memory? That’s so yesterday. Our rabid 24-hour news cycle chomps events like Cheetos, leaving nothing but orange crumbs and gas behind. Clio, the first muse and daughter of Mnemosyne (Memory), was the singer of history, a recounter of heroic deeds. Without taking time to remember heroics, we lose any sense of proportion and value. We’re like Hercules without his club in Hades, dancing in the dark. Remembering history gives epic meaning to time.
Bonus idea: Back of history lies the primordial forces of life and death, love and yearning. Back in those archetypal emotions are gods: Mars and Eros, Aphrodite and Artemis, Hermes and Athena, Zeus and Apollo and Dionysos, oh my (picking from the Greek pantheon here, but every culture has a dense divine vocabulary). Looking for a different way to explore your hero? Pair h/her with a different god. If Hercules is too empowered by Zeus, try pairing him with his mother Hera (heroes often haver mother-complexes). Psyche too knowing? Enflame her with Eros. Then turn things around and wound Eros with Psyche’s curiosity about the nature of love. Now the real education begins … Could be fun; point is, sometimes a new pairing writes a different history.
For this weekend challenge, pick a hero/ine and write about him/her/it. Tell a story, muse what is best and most memorable. Please don’t feel you have to make this about myth; sometimes those masks hang back of the tale and require no naming. The story is the myth; history is mystery. Tend an altar, sing a hero—and come share it here.