Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Hero Ideal

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

The Hero Ideal

We often confuse hero with hero-ideal. The hero-ideal is a persona-representation, an outer shell, the knight’s armor parading on the stage of collective consciousness, a public image in the world of customs, values and ideals. The hero-ideal is an idea or image that an individual, a society or a sub-group may place at the center of its admiration. When a hero becomes a hero-ideal, the process of aging has begun, and, as von Franz says, “myths lose their spirit, and just like aging kings, they must die.”25 The same is true for the hero: returning home, the mission is fulfilled, and at the peak of vitality, triumph and idealization, the process of stiffening has begun, possibly coming to an end in the form of the old, worn and dying ruler who refuses to step down.

Just like the term ego-ideal refers to the ego’s attachment to the persona, its desired appearance, the hero-ideal refers not to the heroic process, but the hero’s appearance.

We find the hero in myth and tale, bidding farewell as he leaves home, traveling on rough roads and sailing stormy seas, as he encounters hardships and struggles with dragons and monsters, and finally finds and releases the treasure from its imprisonment in the shadow—be it the princess in captivity, the grail, the fire of the gods or the diamond in the cave, the new idea or the new dispensation.

That is, the hero has taken upon himself an undertaking, and returns home with something new or hitherto dormant, thereby rejuvenating the individual psyche or society. Accordingly, Greek hero-myths “are concerned with the origins of cities, families, and tribes,” as Kerényi points out.26 In the psyche, new tracks, new paths of thinking replace old patterns. For example, a woman in her early fifties, who strictly followed her parents’ advice to “keep your job whatever, be sure to get a pension,” had remained in her secretarial position, in spite of feeling that she “dies every day of boredom.”

After many years of hesitant attempts and painstaking deliberations, she had the following dream: “I live in a fortress with a high, decaying wall around. I dig beneath the wall in order to clean up things. Surprisingly, the wall doesn’t fall, but its shape changes; it becomes more open and green, with birds.” Following the dream she resigned from her job, and found a way to earn a modest living and a rich life from her awakening creativity.

In society, the hero may be the messenger of hope who lights the torch of democracy. Sometimes it is amazing how, at the right moment in history, the heroism of a nation, spurting forth through layers of oppression, creates dramatic changes and overthrows worn-out regimes.

We may wonder if the Bolsheviks of 1917 and the militants of Islamic Jihad are heroes in this sense. In some places they have overthrown dubious regimes and brought issues that resided at some depth in the shadow to the foreground. Was there anything heroic about the Nazis, unleashing the violent animal forces of paganism and anti-Semitism from the lion’s den in the shadow, letting them loose at the city center, at the center of concourse? We know that, initially, it attracted Jung’s fascination.

The mere process of bringing material from the shadow to the surface and taking power does not anoint the hero or crown a king. Destruction of morality and humanity does not turn the rebel or the militant in the world into a hero. Psychologically, there is no rejuvenating heroism in projecting the shadow onto the Other—as does the fanatic, the fundamentalist and the terrorist. Neither suicide or homicide, nor genocide or sociocide—the destruction of the “evil other’s” vulnerable social fabric by spreading terror at crossroads and city squares, on buses and ice-cream parlors—imply renewal of the ego, but merely make use of ego functions to concretize destructive projections onto the other.

The simple hero-ideal that we often adhere to and refer to as ‘hero,’ is usually two-dimensional and shadow-less. In the early days of Zionism, for instance, the hero was personified by the pioneer who redeemed a barren myth, recovering the archetype of Mother by digging into her harsh and unfruitful earth in the Land of the Fathers. I have elsewhere elaborated how in this process the mythical was brought into the realm of concrete ego-reality—which is the task of the hero. The common ground shared by psyche and matter, soul and the desert landscape, is evident in Israel’s Proclamation of Independence: The night before independence, the paragraph saying pioneers “made deserts bloom” (lehafriach schmamot), was changed by a single letter, so that the text came to read lehafriach neshamot, that is, “make souls [or spirits] blossom.” Redemption of the soul was as much part of the Zionist hero-myth as the revivification of the harsh earth.27

But as soon as the hero began to appear as a poster-image, a persona-hero, his head raised from the ground, looking up and ahead with a visionary gaze, then the reality of hardships and despair was disposed of in the shadow. And so the shadow raised its voice in the so-called Theatre of Doubt, which spoke about the loneliness, despair and estrangement.28

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

25 Marie-Louise von Franz, Interpretation of Fairy Tales.
26 Carl Kerényi, The Heroes of the Greeks, p. 12.
27 Erel Shalit, The Hero and His Shadow: Psychopolitical Aspects of Myth and Reality in Israel, p. 45ff.
28 Ibid., p. 35f.

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

Friday, September 12, 2008

Who is He, or She, the Hero?

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

Who is He, or She, the Hero?

The Hero is often portrayed as the golden image of youth, radiant in libidinal vitality and charisma; courageous and rebellious, “young, comely, with glowing locks and fiery crown,” as the sun-hero has been described.17 But he may likewise be the mature leader, guiding the nation through crisis, a Winston Churchill pronouncing he has “nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat”18 in order to move nations out of their slumber to combat evil, tyranny and madness.

The hero may be the male Prometheus stealing the fire from the gods for the benefit of mankind, but no less, the hero may be female. As Joseph Campbell says, “The hero, therefore, is the man or woman who has been able to battle past his personal and local historical limitations…”19

In the story of Hero and Leander, the latter is the hero who every night swims from his hometown Abydos across the strait that separates Asia and Europe, to Hero, a maiden in Sestos who serves the goddess of Love. She, no less a hero, is the one who by the light of her torch guides her lover on his journey across the sea.

Lord Byron, who in 1810 at age twenty-two, repeated Leander’s feat, makes us aware of how pain and love belong together. Remembering how finally Leander drowned in the rough sea, and Hero threw herself into the waves, he writes:
The winds are high on Helle’s wave,
As on that night of stormiest water,
When Love, who sent, forgot to save
The young, the beautiful, the brave,
The lonely hope of Sestos’ daughter.
O, when alone along the sky
The turret-torch was blazing high,
Though rising gale and breaking foam,
And shrieking sea-birds warned him home;
And clouds aloft and tides below,
With signs and sounds forbade to go,
He could not see, he would not hear
Or sound or sight foreboding fear.
His eye but saw that light of love,
The only star it hailed above;
His ear but rang with Hero’s song,
‘Ye waves, divide not lovers long.’
That tale is old, but love anew
May nerve young hearts to prove as true.20
Upon her return to Canaan, Ruth the Moabite, widow of Mahlon (‘the sickly’), unites with Boaz, (‘the strong’). From this union the House of David is eventually established, reflecting the hero’s grand return from the shadow into consciousness. Has she not brought with her a blossoming femininity and loyalty, as her name reveals, to the patriarchal but previously barren, sickly and inflated, Land of Canaan?21

And Artemis, roaming freely in the forests and the fields, is she not heroically protecting virgin nature against men’s ravenous forays, remaining chaste of the male projections of pure, naked femininity that she attracts? Even if some of us men may identify with the pain and tragic fate of Actaeon, Artemis (Diana) leaves us speechless, as does Charles Boer’s exceptional translation of the Metamorphoses:
Bath Time As Usual For Diana: & here comes
Cadmus’s grandson! tired, straying, unsteady,
woods unknown; but he finds the grove! fate brings him;
enters cave: splashing fountains, naked nymphs!
they beat their breasts: “Man!” loud outcry
fills entire woods: they surround Diana, covering
her body with theirs
but the tall goddess towers over others
by a neck! seen undressed, Diana’s face
goes scarlet dawn, sky color when
clouds deflect sun; her troops crowd round:
she, sideways, looks back, wishing
she had arrows ready: instead throws water,
soaks virile face, wets his hair, adds
to water-vengeance words promising disaster:
“Now say you saw me undressed!
if you can!”
no more threats: she sprouts old stag
antlers on his wet head, expands neck, points
his ears, lengthens arms & legs, spots on body;
& adds fear: hero flees surprised at his own speed
he sees in water, head antlered & starts to say,
“Oh dear!” but no word comes; groans
only; tears streak cheeks not his own;
his mind alone unchanged22
In the male psyche, Diana may serve as a fascinating and fearsome anima, defying capture, making him plunge deep into his own shadow. She heroically defies the fate spoken by the gods by turning poor Actaeon, brought by fate to find her in the grove, into a stag, then setting his own hounds upon him, tearing him to death.

We may compare her with Dora, eighteen-year-old Ida Bauer, victim of abuse, manipulation and psychoanalytic projection: She fought heroically against the fate of seduction, betrayal and deception imposed upon her by her father’s authority, as well as Freud’s fatherly authority, abandoning the latter after merely three months; leaving him with, as he admits, only a fragment of an analysis.23

The Hero may be the Heroic Healer, the brilliant brain surgeon who with his laser-sharp sword, the scalpel, cuts through human flesh and bone and nerve to determine in the operating theater’s war between life and death. Or, he may be the Wounded Healer, whose cure to heal broken souls is brewed in the pain of his own untreatable wound. Or, the hero may be the Wounding Healer, whose tool is the dirty needle, which Freud put at centre court by means of psychoanalysis’ initial dream, the Dream of Irma’s Injection, with which he introduces the Interpretation of Dreams24—like a Churchill in the battlefield of mind and psyche, promising nothing but dirt, mud, guilt and shame, in the struggle to uncover the autonomous complexes in the shadow, which threaten to undermine free will and psychic balance.

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

17 “The Song of the Moth,” CW 5, par. 164.
18 Winston Churchill, May 13, 1940, in his first speech as newly appointed Prime Minister.
19 The Hero with a Thousand Faces, p. 19.
20 The Works of Lord Byron, Vol. III, The Bride of Abydos, Canto the Second, p. 178.
21 The land of Moab and the Moabites trace their feminine ancestry to the mother of Moab (whose name means ‘from my father’), the daughter of Lot. As a heroic act of renewal, when she believed no men were alive but her father, she lay with him and Moab was born. As Robert Graves writes, “Lot’s daughters are not here reproached for their breach of the incest taboo, since they acted innocently; a midrash even suggests that God aided them” (Hebrew Myths: The Book of Genesis, p. 185). For an extensive analysis of the story, see Yehezkel Kluger, A Psychological Interpretation of Ruth.
22 Ovid’s Metamorphoses, translated by Charles Boer, p. 53.
23 Fragment of an analysis of a case of hysteria, SE 7, pp. 3-124.
24 The Interpretation of Dreams, SE 4, p. 106ff; Robert Bosnak, “The Dirty
Needle: Images of the Inferior Analyst,” Spring, 44, pp. 105-115.

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