19. Faces of the Hero

19. Faces of the Hero
Faces of the Hero

Faces of the Hero

Faces of the Hero

Hero as Redeemer and Savior: As with Osiris or the Krishna, Christ points to the divine transcendent within an individual. For this he is known as a spiritual savior. Similarly, “The Buddha broke past even the zone of the creative gods and came back from the void… [then] announced salvation from the cosmogonic round” (Campbell 276).  “Heroes of this second, highest illumination are the world redeemers, the so-called incarnations, in the highest sense. Their myths open out to cosmic proportions. Their words carry an authority beyond anything pronounced by the heroes of the scepter and the book” (Campbell 299).

Hero as Ascetic: “The asceticism of the medieval saints and of the yogis of India, the Hellenistic mystery initiations, the ancient philosophies of the East and of the West, are techniques for the shifting of the emphasis of individual consciousness away from the garments. The preliminary meditations of the aspirant detach his mind and sentiments from the accidents of life and drive him to the core. ‘I am not that, not that,’ he meditates: ‘not my mother or son who has just died; my body, which is ill or aging; my arm, my eye, my head; not the summation of all these things. I am not my feeling; not my mind; not my power of intuition.’ By such meditations he is driven to his own profundity and breaks through, at last, to unfathomable realizations. No man can return from such exercises and take very seriously himself as Mr. So-and-so of Such-and-such a township, U.S.A. Society and duties drop away. Mr. So-and-so, having discovered himself big with man becomes indrawn and aloof” (Campbell 332-333). 


“Endowed with a pure understanding, restraining the self with firmness, turning away from sound and other objects, and abandoning love and hatred; dwelling in solitude, eating but little, controlling the speech, body, and mind, ever engaged in meditation and concentration, and cultivating freedom from passion; forsaking conceit and power, pride and lust, wrath and possessions, tranquil in heart, and free from ego-he becomes worthy of becoming one with the imperishable” (Campbell 26 304).


In “the saint or ascetic, the worldrenouncer... The ego is burnt out. Like a dead leaf in a breeze, the body continues to move about the earth, but the soul has dissolved already in the ocean of bliss” (Campbell 304). “Thomas Aquinas, as the result of a mystical experience while celebrating mass in Naples, put his pen and ink on the shelf and left the last chapters of his Summa Theologica to be completed by another hand. ‘My writing days,’ he stated, ‘are over; for such things have been revealed to me that all I have written and taught seems of but small account to me, wherefore I hope in my God, that, even as the end has come to my teaching, so it may soon come in my life.’ Shortly thereafter, in his forty-ninth year, he died” (Campbell 30).

“The hero is the man of self-achieved submission. But submission to what? That precisely is the riddle that today we have to ask ourselves and that it is everywhere the primary virtue and historic deed of the hero to have solved” (Campbell 11).

Impeding the submission of the true hero or ascetic is the flaw of pride or hubris that emerges from an egoistic centrality to one’s way of being. “Most commonly this tragic flaw was a kind of pride or arrogance called hubris. Tragic heroes are often superior people with extraordinary powers but they tend to see themselves as equal to or better than the gods. They ignore fair warnings or defy the local moral codes, thinking they are above the laws of gods and men. This fatal arrogance inevitably unleashes a force called Nemesis, originally a goddess of retribution. Her job was to set things back into balance, usually by bringing about the destruction of the tragic hero. Every well-rounded hero has a trace of this tragic flaw, some weakness or fault that makes him thoroughly human and real. Perfect, flawless heroes aren't very interesting, and are hard to relate to. Even Superman has weak spots which humanize him and make him sympathetic: his vulnerability to Kryptonite, his inability to see through lead, and his secret identity which is always in danger of being exposed” (Vogler 92).


Super Hero: Heroes, throughout time, have had Super Powers. Hercules was super strong. Sosruquo (“man of steel”) could fly and was impervious, Perseus could fly, Arthur couldn’t be harmed (as long as he wore the scabbard of his sword), Zeus could throw thunderbolts, mythic mystics can fly and manipulate reality. The list goes on. Campbell offers the example of Cuchulainn. “The cosmic energies burning within the vivid Irish warrior Cuchulainn-chief hero of the medieval Ulster Cycle, the so-called Cycle of the Knights of the Red Branch-would suddenly burst like an eruption, both overwhelming himself and smashing everything around” (Campbell 284).


Hero as Lover: “[The] Hero as lover [is expressed through] the freedom won from the malice of the monster, the life energy released from the toils of the tyrant Holdfast-is symbolized as a woman. She is the maiden of the innumerable dragon slayings, the bride abducted from the jealous father, the virgin rescued from the unholy lover. She is the "other portion" of the hero himself-for ‘each is both’” (Campbell 293).


Hero as Warrior : “The warrior is only one of the faces of the hero, who can also be pacifist, mother, pilgrim, fool, wanderer, hermit, inventor, nurse, savior, artist, lunatic, lover, clown, king, victim, slave, worker, rebel, adventurer, tragic failure, coward, saint, monster, etc” (Vogler xxi).


Campbell gives an example of a hero who’s destiny as a warrior is clear in his youth. “When he was four years old-so the story goes-he set out to test the ‘boy corps’ of his uncle, King Conchobar, at their own sports. Carrying his hurly of brass, ball of silver, throwing javelin, and toy spear, he proceeded to the court city of Emania, where, without so much as a word of permission, he dived right in among the boys" thrice fifty in number, who were hurling on the green and practicing martial exercises with Conchobar's son, Follamain, at their head." The whole field let fly at him. With his fists, forearms, palms, and little shield, he parried the hurlies, balls, and spears that came simultaneously from all directions. Then for the first time in his life he was seized with his battle-frenzy (a bizarre, characteristic transformation later to be known as his "paroxysm" or "distortion") and before anyone could grasp what was coming to pass, he had laid low fifty of the best” (Campbell 284).

Hero as Tyrant: As Nolan conveys in the Dark Knight trilogy, “The hero of yesterday becomes the tyrant of tomorrow, unless he crucifies himself today” (Campbell 303). “No longer referring the boons of his reign to their transcendent source, the emperor breaks the stereoptic vision which it is his role to sustain. He is no longer the mediator between the two worlds. Man's perspective flattens to include only the human term of the equation, and the experience of a supernal power immediately fails. The upholding idea of the community is lost. Force is all that binds it. The emperor becomes the tyrant ogre (Herod-Nimrod), the usurper from whom the world is now to be saved” (Campbell 299). “The tyrant is proud, and therein resides his doom. He is proud because he thinks of his strength as his own” (289-290).


The Heroic Ego sets up a psychological condition in which, on one side, pride inflates with the persona while, on the other, that which has been excluded from self-identification by the persona’s censorship pressurizes into bubbles of shadow that burst into conscious experience. These two forces are externally expressed in the form of tyrants and shadow figures. The tyrant represents the force of will, which festers into control. The shadow represents the repressed qualities of the self that want to burst through to the surface.


Campbell writes, “The mythological hero, reappearing from the darkness that is the source of the shapes of the day, brings a knowledge of the secret of the tyrant's doom. With a gesture as simple as the pressing of a button, he annihilates the impressive configuration. The hero-deed is a continuous shattering of the crystallizations of the moment. The cycle rolls: mythology focuses on the growing-point. Transformation, fluidity, not stubborn ponderosity, is the characteristic of the living God. The great figure of the moment exists only to be broken, cut into chunks, and scattered abroad. Briefly: the ogre-tyrant is the champion of the prodigious fact, the hero the champion of creative life” (Campbell 289 290).


If the shadow serves its purpose, the ego is forced to expand and holistically engage unconscious depths. If it goes too far, it overwhelms the conscious self with a deconstructive experience of the unconscious. Conversely, if the willful self can refrain from becoming tyrannical, it serves the purpose of disciplining and directing one’s life and being. On the other hand, if the will becomes tyrannical, it can lead to a military dictatorship through which the will of one individual seeks to control the collective will. Again, one of the dangers that comes with achieving the heroic quest is the corresponding inflation of ego combined with a seat of power that results in tyrannical leadership.