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The Human Heroic Figure

(taken from The Hero with a Thousand Faces)

“It would appear, were we to follow the long genealogy of heroes and heroines in mythos, that it is via the soul being stolen, misman­aged, disguised, disrupted, pre-empted or trodden upon, that some of the purest features of the psyche may rise up and begin to long for—call for—the return of that radiant companion and counsel.

In stories, the force of soul is conveyed in so many ways. Sometimes it is represented by such symbols as the darling princess, the handsome prince, the tiny or wounded creature, the holy chalice, the cloak of invisibility, the golden fleece, the answer to the riddle, the seven-league boots, the creature who reveals the secret, or the proof that there is yet left in the world one last honest human being.

Since first daylight, the revelatory actions and lessons found in the oldest tales are ignited by and revolve around the loss of the precious thing. And then come the efforts, detours, and inspira­tions that suddenly appear whilst in pursuit of the recovery of the greatest treasure.

How may one do this? The people, the tribes, the groups and the clans of the world keep heroic mythos alive—keep stories impor­tant to the soul alive—by telling them, and then by trying to live them out in some way that brings one into more wisdom and ex­perience than one had before. The same is given to us to do on our life's journeys also—to seek and follow the personal life myth, to see our worst and best attributes mirrored back to us in stories.

Once embarked, there will be times, as occurred in the life of the hero Odysseus, when one will have to search one's ways through crushing life circumstances, and, often enough, have to start all over again—while at the same time having to resist seductions that invite one to stray off the path.

On the mythic journey, like Demeter, most human beings will be called at least once, and perhaps many times in a lifetime, to set aside passive longing, and instead to fly up to the highest light, or even into the face of convention—"taking the heat" in order to find the truth of things, in order to bring one's Beloved back home.

And counter to Oedipus and the sad motifs found in the story-play Oedipus Rex, perhaps we will also have reason in life to resist throwing away the spiritual child self, and instead to unburden and uncurse what has been misunderstood, and par­ticularly what is innocent. We may also find good reason to refuse to blind ourselves, as Oedipus did, to the evils of the world or our own foibles, and instead to try to live in full disclo­sure and integrity.

In tribal groups, whether stories of the journeys of the heroic soul end humorously, tragically, or grandly, each kind of termi­nus is still considered an object lesson, a window through which one can see the broad continuum of how the soul can not only be known more and more, but how it can also, through courage and consciousness, be grown to greater capacity. The soul is not known or realized less when a tale comes to no good end—only differently. In tales, as in life, increase can come as much as from travail and failure as much as when the episode ends with a com­fortable or lovely result.

Most persons who have been through hell of various kinds— war, massacre, assault, torture, profound sorrows, will tell that, even though they still feel sick with the weight of it all, and per­haps also ill with regrets of one kind or another—they are never­theless learning how to swim strong to reach the able raft of the soul.

Though there is something to be said for those rare heroes and heroines who sit on the undisturbed shore enjoying the in­tense beauty of the soulrise, I am more on the side of those who must swim the torrents while crying out for help. In all, they are striving hard not to drown before they can reach the safety of the soul's arms. And most who have been so deeply harmed will tell you that, all the while they are swimming, they feel their own soul is rowing toward them with the strongest, deepest of strokes that can only come from One who loves without limits.

This is the underlayment of mythos, as I understand it: that there is a soul; that it wishes to be free; that it loves the human it inhabits; that it will do all it can to shelter the one it loves; and that it wants to be known, listened to, followed, given an en­larged broadcast range, granted leadership in the quest for expe­rience that carries such worth for the higher self—and that its language is stories.” - Joseph Campbell

Tanya Muir