However, I thought it woudn't hurt to re-visit Campbell's perspective (and I'm pretty sure even he would say his isn't the only way to conceive it).
In interviews with Michael Toms, Campbell ruminates on the hero's place today:
Campbell further asserts that "the rejuvenation of the Arthurian grail hero [is] that of recognizing God as the dynamic of your own interior" (p. 39), restating his definition from Hero with a Thousand Faces:There are two aspects of the hero, I think. The hero is somebody whom you can lean on and who is going to rescue you; he is also an ideal.
To live the heroic life is to live the individual adventure, really.
One of the problems today is that with the enormous transformations in the forms of our lives, the models for life don't exist for us. In a traditional society - the agriculturally based city - there were relatively few life roles, and the models were there; there was a hero for each life role. But look at the past twenty years and what has come along in the way of new life possibilities and requirements. The hero-as-model is one thing we lack, so each one has to be his own hero and follow the path that’s no-path. It's a very interesting situation.
-- Joseph Campbell (with Michael Toms), An Open Life, p. 109. [emphasis mine]
"[T]he hero is symbolical of that divine creative and redemptive image which is hidden within us all, only waiting to be rendered into life."
...and that is the hero's journey within reach of each individual today - a quest for one's Self - for the real self, not just the mask of ego. Is it any wonder that Bill Moyers points out that Campbell believed in "the hero's journey not as a courageous act, but as a life lived in self-discovery"?
The imagery that comprises the myriad expressions of this monomyth serves as a picture language, in symbolic form, of the crises met in our own lives.This is what Joyce called the monomyth: an archetypal story that springs from the collective unconscious. Its motifs can appear not only in myth and literature, but, if you are sensitive to it, in the working out of the plot of your own life.
The basic story of the hero journey involves giving up where you are, going into the realm of adventure, coming to some kind of symbolically rendered realization, and then returning to the field of normal life.
-- Joseph Campbell, Pathways to Bliss
Some critics contend that Campbell claims all myths are simply a retelling of the hero’s quest - but Campbell points to the hero archetype emerging somewhere in the third millennium BCE, with the Epic of Gilgamesh. This period throughout the Near East marks the appearance of a masculine solar hero, “dispelling darkness and shadow,” identified with the sun (and, coincidentally(?), the hero archetype emerges in the same period as the first wars of conquest). Previous traditions identify the sun as feminine and the moon as masculine, common to early Bronze Age cultures (traces of which linger in the gender of sun and moon - die Sonne and der Mond - in the German tongue, or in Amaterasu, the sun goddess of the Shinto nature religion native to ancient Japan). Campbell finds this orientation differs from what he terms “heroic mythology.”
The hero’s journey is not the only form myths take - but Campbell finds it is a continuing theme from this period forward, one still relevant today:
We are each of us an incarnation of the Hero - if we answer the Call. The quest today is for each to find within our self the resources to meet and embrace our individual destiny.[T]he journey of the hero … I consider the pivotal myth that unites the spiritual adventure of ancient heroes with the modern search for meaning. As always, the hero must venture forth from the world of common-sense consciousness into a realm of supernatural wonder. There he encounters fabulous forces - demons and angels, dragons and helping spirits. After a fierce battle he wins a decisive victory over the powers of darkness. Then he returns from his mysterious adventure with the gift of knowledge or of fire, which he bestows on his fellow man.
Whenever the social structure of the unconscious is dissolved, the individual has to take a heroic journey within to find new forms.
-- Sam Keen, “Man & Myth: A Conversation with Joseph Campbell,” Psychology Today, July 1971
Myths, ancient and modern, point the way.
This is one reason why Campbell places such emphasis in his interview with Moyers on the episode of the police officer risking his own life for another human being. The significance lies in its graphic demonstration of the recognition in one’s actions of a primary metaphysical truth,Now, all these myths that you have heard and that resonate with you, those are the elements from round about that you are building into a form in your life. The thing worth considering is how they relate to each other in your context, not how they relate to something out there--how they were relevant on the North American prairies or in the Asian jungles hundreds of years ago, but how they are relevant now--unless by contemplating their former meaning you can begin to amplify your own understanding of the role they play in your life.
-- Joseph Campbell, Pathways to Bliss
… that you and the other are one, that you are two aspects of one life, and that your apparent separateness is but an effect of the way we experience forms under the conditions of time and space.
Whether an Egyptian serf hauling stone for the pyramids or Bill Gates building Microsoft, life’s initiations remain the same: each is born of woman, an episode fraught with struggle and danger; each comes of age amid changes in body, emotions, and perception; each must come to terms with the dynamics of marriage and raising a family (questions that even those who choose alternative lifestyles - whether same-sex relationship, a life of contemplative celibacy, or something other - still must face); each grows old, withers, and dies.
There aren’t two ways of digesting food, two ways of menstruating, two ways of dying - these life moments, large and small, are remarkably constant for Hapsburg as well as Hottentot.
There are dragons to be slain and treasures to be gained in every life - these are also constants. Campbell identifies the motif of the hero’s adventure as a map, an outline to follow - but every individual fills in his or her own details, the circumstances of one’s own life.
Joseph Campbell challenges each of us to write our own hero’s tale.
Is the Warrior archetype an appropriate expression of the Hero? Can a soldier be a hero?
I fear we're in danger of concretizing the image, taking a mythological motif a mite literal - but, well, hell yes, a soldier can be a hero. We see it all the time in the movies ...
I can certainly understand the impulse to resist the John Wayne or Rambo stereotype; the hero, whether in fiction or in life, is far more complex, as are the nameless, faceless "bad guys" they kill, who aren't bad guys at all in their own world
... but again, we are talking about archetypal images - and even John Wayne and Rambo, despite the body count, are willing to sacrifice their life to something greater than their own ego concerns (keeping in mind that the ego's prime concern is survival of the ego). Within the context of the movie, each meets at least one of the definitions Campbell offers of the hero:
Joe is making a sublime point about the realization that you and your neighbor are One (tat tvam asi - "Thou art That"), and that in today's world we must recognize we are all neighborsThe hero is the one who has given his physical life to some realization of that truth. The concept of love your neighbor is to put you in tune with this fact. But whether you love your neighbor or not, when the realization grabs you, you may risk your life…
-- Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers, p. 138
... but for the warrior heroes of myth - Hercules and Achilles and Ulysses and even Arthur - the concept of "neighbor" is more narrowly defined.
There are neighbors, and then there are strangers - and the strangers are fair game, within the context of the myth, whether that myth is Samson slaying 10,000 Philistines with the jawbone of an ass, or Davy Crockett encircled, the last man standing, ammunition spent, knife and tomahawk already thrown, wielding the butt of his rifle as a club against the raised bayonets of massed thousands of Mexican soldiers moving in for the kill.
Those are powerful mythic images - the Hero, steadfast, facing overwhelming, even insurmountable odds. It's the positive hero aspect of the warrior archetype, and can certainly inspire and enthuse us today. William Wallace facing off against the English, as portrayed in Braveheart, still has the power to stir my soul, as does Luke Skywalker blowing up the Death Star
(though, if we step outside the sepia tones of myth, no doubt hundreds of stock clerks, mechanics, and cooks perished along with those thousands of evil Storm Troopers when Luke remembered the Force ...).
However, we don't take these heroic images, whether historical or mythical, as literal models for our lives today, but as metaphorical models. One can certainly embrace the positive qualities of the heroic warrior willing to sacrifice himself for his neighbor, without accepting the literal, context bound definition of "neighbor" portrayed in the myths.
And then there are warriors who consciously recognize the "Thou" in the Other. The samurai who offers a prayer in the Bushido tradition for each opponent he slays in battle, the native American brave who does the same for a fallen enemy - these offer powerful, positive images of the warrior.
Of course, the warrior archetype casts a long shadow as well - but I prefer my heroes with shadows (Breaker Morant comes to mind, as does Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca), for in real life we are each a complex marriage of dark and light.
PBS recently aired another brilliant documentary from filmmaker Ken Burns - simply titled The War - twelve hours spread over seven episodes, devoted to the personal accounts of the lives of the men and women caught up in World War II. These are personal, intimate sharings, backed up by incredible archival footage recently unearthed, much shot in color.
In the words of the creators,
These soldiers and sailors and airmen describe witnessing - and sometimes performing - unspeakable horrors; their souls are heavily burdened with what they have seen and done - and yet, it's what they felt they must do, out of love for their neighbor.Over the course of the film’s nearly fifteen hours more than forty men and women opened their hearts to us about the war they knew -- and which we, their inheritors, could only imagine.
Above all, we wanted to honor the experiences of those who lived through the greatest cataclysm in human history by providing the opportunity for them to bear witness to their own history. Our film is therefore an attempt to describe, through their eyewitness testimony, what the war was actually like for those who served on the front lines, in the places where the killing and the dying took place, and equally what it was like for their loved ones back home. We have done our best not to sentimentalize, glorify or aestheticize the war, but instead have tried simply to tell the stories of those who did the fighting -- and of their families. In so doing, we have tried to illuminate the intimate, human dimensions of a global catastrophe that took the lives of between 50 and 60 million people -- of whom more than 400,000 were Americans. Through the eyes of our witnesses, it is possible to see the universal in the particular, to understand how the whole country got caught up in the war ... how those who remained at home worked and worried and grieved in the face of the struggle; and in the end, how innocent young men who had been turned into professional killers eventually learned to live in a world without war.
There are some incredible epiphanies - the sadness that wells up at seeing the soldier you just killed, who was about to kill you, is just a teenager, or the accounts of those who did some of the fighting and the killing describing stumbling upon the Nazi death camps and liberating thousands of emaciated walking corpses, and fully realizing why they were fighting and killing
... despite the killing, there is an echo of "tat tvam asi" even here ...
As Burns notes,
Heroes in real life ...Throughout the series, one theme has stayed constant, one idea has continually emerged as we have gotten to know the brave men and women whose stories it has been our privilege to tell: in extraordinary times, there are no ordinary lives.
No, I don't think the Hero and Warrior archetypes need be mutually exclusive.
mitakye oyasin ("we are all relations"),