The Task of the Hero Today.......
(Adapted from Joseph Campbell's "The hero of a thousand faces." Hmm, I went off at my own tangent at the end.)
The invention of the power generating machine, the democratic ideal of the self-determining individual, and the development of the scientific method of research have so transformed human life that the long inherited, timeless universe of symbols have collapsed. In the fateful epoch-announcing words of Nietzeche's Zarathustra: "Dead are all the Gods".
One knows the tale: it has been told a thousand ways. It is the hero cycle of the modern age, the wonder story of mankind's coming to maturity. The spell of the past, the bondage of tradition, was shattered with sure and mighty strokes. The Web-Dream of myth fell away; the mind awoke to full awakening consciousness; and modern man emerged from ancient ignorance like a butterfly from a cocoon.
It is not only that there is no hiding place from the searching microscope and telescope; there is no such society still supported by the Gods. The social unit is not a carrier of religious content, but an economic political organisation. It's ideals are not those of the hieratic pantomime, making visible on earth the forms of heaven, but the secular state, in hard and unremitting competition for material supremacy and resources.
Isolated societies, dream bounded within a mythologically charged horizon, no longer exist except as areas to be exploited.
In the progressive societies themselves the ancient human heritage of ritual, morality and Art look to be in full decay.
The problem of mankind today, therefore, is precisely the opposite to that of men in the comparatively stable periods of those great coordinating mythologies which are now known as lies....today no meaning is in the group-none in the world: all of it is in the individual. But there the meaning is absolutely unconscious...the lines of communication have been cut, and we have been split in two.
The hero deed to be wrought is not today what is was in the Century of Galileo. Where there was darkness, now there is light: but also, where the light was , there now is darkness. The modern hero-deed must be that of questing to bring to light again the lost Atlantis of the coordinated soul.
Obviously, this work cannot be wrought by turning back, from what has been accomplished by the modern revolution: for the problem is nothing if not that of rendering the modern world spiritually significant. The task is nothing if not that of making it possible for men and women to come to maturity in contemporary life.
The community today is the planet, not the bounded nation; hence the patterns of projected aggression which formally served to coordinate the in-group now can only break it into factions. The national idea, with the flag as totem, is today an aggrandiser of the nursery ego, not the annihilator of an infantile situation. It's parody-rituals of the parade ground only serve the tyrant dragon, not the God in whom self-interest is annihilate. The great world religions, as presently understood, cannot meet the requirement, the triumph of the secular state has thrown all religious organisation into a secondary and ineffectual position.....
The great human problem was once to become linked to the creatures of the wild or to relate to the plant, the symbols of the life rituals of planting and reaping, later, attention shifted to the sky and mankind enacted the pantomime of moon and sun kings and the symbolic festivals of the world regulating spheres.
Today all of these mysteries have lost their force; there symbols no longer interest our psyche. The notion of a cosmic law is now accepted in mechanical terms as a matter of course
The descent of the focus of western sciences from the heavens to the earth and there concentration today, at last, on man himself, mark the path of a prodigious transfer of the focal point of human wonder...man himself is now the crucial mystery, and the alien presence with whom the forces of ego must come to terms..
The mythological landscape is being worked out at another level on which it can't be planned any more than tonight's dream but it will end the old cycle and give birth to a new mythology and a transmutation of the whole social order so that through every act of secular life we will again feel the vitalising image of universal godhood: one so universal and general her face will be easy to see in all the cultures and families of man as it will be easy for them to see him.
To find this new "holy grail" is our quest and the task of the hero today.
The modern hero with whom it is our whole destiny to be atoned, cannot, indeed must not, wait for his community to cast off it's slough of pride, fear, rationalised avarice and sanctified misunderstanding.
It is not society that is to guide and save the creative hero, but precisely the reverse.
That is why today, every one of us shares the supreme ordeal---carries the cross of the redeemer---not in the bright moments of his tribes great victories, but in the silences of his personal despair.
Last Updated: Sunday, March 09, 1997