Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Hero

Excerpt from Erel Shalit's Enemy, Cripple & Beggar:
Shadows in the Hero's Path

The Hero

“Where id was, there ego shall be,” proclaims Freud.7 By interpretation, the unconscious is made conscious. Interpretation is the sword of psychoanalysis, splitting the enigmas of the unconscious into intelligible slices of consciousness. A symbol’s multitude of meanings becomes the unitary signs and banners of consciousness. The ego, which in Jungian thought stands at the center of consciousness and conscious identity, may be stiffly bound to the totem of collective consciousness, to norms and conventions. Alternatively, the ego may bravely turn around to face what lies in the unconscious.

For this purpose, the ego needs the hero. The notion of the hero in Jung’s analytical psychology represents that particular aspect of the ego that ventures into the darkness of the shadow, searches for “the treasure, the princess, the ring, the golden egg, elixir of life, etc.,” which, as Daryl Sharp says, all are “metaphors for one’s true feelings and unique potential.”8 By means of its hero-function, the ego turns toward the Self and a vital and dynamic relationship between them is made possible. As Joseph Campbell succinctly says, “The effect of the successful adventure of the hero is the unlocking and release again of the flow of life into the body of the world.”9

While on the one hand “the hero symbolizes a man’s unconscious self,”10 he also brings victory to consciousness; “The hero’s main feat is to overcome the monster of darkness: it is the long-hoped-for and expected triumph of consciousness over the unconscious,” says Jung.11 The hero must defeat the dragon, escape being devoured by it, and then return safely, even if marked by bitter strife, to the kingdom of the ego. As Jung says:
In myths the hero is the one who conquers the dragon, not the one who is devoured by it. And yet both have to deal with the same dragon. Also, he is no hero who never met the dragon, or who, if he once saw it, declared afterwards that he saw nothing. Equally, only one who has risked the fight with the dragon and is not overcome by it wins the hoard, the “treasure hard to attain.”12
And there, upon his return, the hero himself risks being devoured by consciousness, losing his heroic stamina, establishing the new rule with its new norms and conventions, yielding to his own uncompromising kingship.

Freud’s myth circles around psychosexual development and genital maturity, attaining the capacity for love and work. Jung’s myth is the myth of meaning, and the meaning that is to be found in the mythical, as it has so pertinently been expressed.

Jung said that the problem of modern man is mythlessness. Without a guiding myth and a sense for the mythical, when exclusively relying on the ego and concrete reality, and by being disconnected from the archetypal energies of the gods, man experiences meaninglessness. “The loss of a central myth brings about a truly apocalyptic condition,” says Edinger.13

The central, nuclear myth of Jungian psychoanalysis is the Hero-myth, because the psychological essence of the hero is to abandon the kingdom of the ego, to challenge the norms and obsessions of collective consciousness and the persona—the face of social adaptation—and to search for meaning. The absence of meaning is the essence of neurosis, which, Jung says, “must be understood, ultimately, as the suffering of a soul which has not discovered its meaning.”14 When Sartre says that man is “the incontestable author” who, condemned to freedom, “is responsible for the world and for himself as a way of being,”15 he speaks of heroic man. For Freud, “heroism involves relations with parents and instincts,” says Robert Segal,16 while for Jung the hero’s grand opus concerns the relation with the unconscious. The hero goes forth into the netherworld of the shadow, in spite of being threatened by the monsters that lurk in the darkness of the unconscious, to save an endangered soul, an anima in captivity, or to redeem a dormant myth or mythical motif, which he has to bring into consciousness. The hero thereby creates a new sense of meaning and relatedness.

That is, the Jungian myth of meaning is consciousness, not in the sense of an ego-consciousness that replaces the unconscious (“Where id was, there ego shall be”), but in the sense of the hero who awakens the soul that otherwise lies dormant and barren in the unconscious. We might call this the ensouled ego—an ego-consciousness that turns toward the unknown, the gods, the world soul, and the self. Yes, toward sexuality as well, making the blood pulsate, streaming through the soul. It is Prometheus not just stealing the fire from the gods, but a human consciousness that keeps the fire of eros and logos, of heart and spirit, burning.

Erel Shalit's Enemy, Cripple, & Beggar: Shadows in the Hero's Path and his previously published book The Complex: Path of Transformation from Archetype to Ego can be purchased at or by phoning Fisher King Press directly at 1-831-238-7799

7 Freud, New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, SE 22, p. 80. (SE refers throughout to The Standard Edition of the Works of Sigmund Freud)
8 Daryl Sharp, Jung Lexicon, p. 59.
9 The Hero with a Thousand Faces, p. 40
10 “The Dual Mother,” CW 5, par. 516.
11 “The Psychology of the Child Archetype,” CW 9i, par. 284.
12 “The Conjunction,” CW 14, par. 756.
13 Edward Edinger, The Creation of Consciousness, p. 10.
14 “Psychotherapists or the Clergy,” CW 11, par. 497.
15 Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness, p. 707.
16 Robert A. Segal, Introduction, In Quest of the Hero, p. xvi.

Copyright © 2008 Erel Shalit - For permission to reprint see Fisher King Press

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