Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Hero and Shadow

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

Hero and Shadow

There is no hero without a shadow. Carl Kerényi says, “The glory of the divine, which falls on the figure of the hero, is strangely combined with the shadow of mortality.”29 Denial of the shadow and identification with the “golden hero” and “godlike heights,” is “certain to be followed by an equally deep plunge into the abyss,” says Jung.30

Consequently, it is the enchanting hero-image of youthful narcissism that pays the heaviest of prices, because it knows no shadow, and there is no survival without a shadow. When “the brave die young” motif is acted out in actual reality, as all too often in all too many wars, the pain is devastating, the agony petrifying.

A hero without a shadow is like an ego without a soul. And it is precisely when the ego experiences a loss of soul, for instance a self-experience of emptiness or meaninglessness, that the hero-function needs to be constellated and venture into the shadow in search for meaning and relatedness.

In a way it seems right to describe the hero as narcissistic. He needs to be ‘full of himself’ in order to move out of the safety and confidence of the couch or the comfort and protection of the armchair. He must dare to trust his own capabilities, in order to oppose the gray and dull routines of common adult life. At the height of narcissism, when the heart pounds triumphantly at the peak of youthful feat, our hero may be seduced into believing that for him there are no obstacles along his road. And unless he manages to survive the transformation assigned to him by fate, he will die, and only if he manages to survive his death, will he be transformed, and only then will he determine his own destiny. Yet, when his mission is fulfilled, the hero dies, taking his position as the new king of consciousness.

If shadowless and inflated by megalomaniac love of self—seemingly the height of supreme beauty and fearless courage—then his premature death by the kiss of Narcissus is sure to ensue, since there can be no life without a shadow. These are the youthful gods of promise and fertility, burned out in summer’s heat, never to reach mature fulfillment. They are Adonis, Attis and Tammuz, the worshipped and adored, beloved and lamented gods of vegetation. Adonis’ death and resurrection were celebrated at midsummer, in the festival called Adonia. As Frazer tells us:
[T]he ceremony of the death and resurrection of Adonis must also have been a representation of the decay and revival of vegetation ... At Byblus the death of Adonis was annually mourned with weeping, wailing, and beating of the breast; but next day he was believed to come to life again and ascend up to heaven in the presence of his worshippers.32
In Ezekiel’s vision of the Temple, the prophet is brought “to the door of the gate of the Lord’s house which was toward the north,” where he found the women of Jerusalem “weeping for Tammuz.”33 The God of words, who in Genesis creates by saying and by naming,34 cannot easily defeat the heart’s yearning for the spirit of fertility, for Tammuz who dwells “in the midst of a great tree at the centre of the earth,”35 and for whose revival the grief-stricken Ishtar was willing to descend into the netherworld to fetch the water of life. At the mourning ceremony, “men and women stood round the funeral pyre of Thammuz lamenting,” and as water was thrown over him, represented in effigy, he came alive.36

These young male gods are needed in springtime for new beginnings, vegetation and creation, but they do not last long; either (self-)castrated like Attis, destroyed by wild animals like Adonis, or they die at summer’s peak—Tammuz lending his name to the Hebrew month at the height of summer’s heat.37

Transformation takes place by the death that the hero experiences when he sheds the known; what was, can be no more. This is the death by which the shadow constellates and life becomes genuine. Can it be better told than in the words of Oscar Wilde’s Happy Prince, who stands as a statue “High above the city, on a tall column,”38 and tells the Swallow who asks him how come he, the Happy Prince, is weeping, that:
When I was alive and had a human heart, … I did not know what tears were, for I lived in the Palace of Sans-Souci, where sorrow is not allowed to enter. In the daytime I played with my companion in the garden, and in the evening I led the dance in the Great Hall. Round the garden ran a very lofty wall, but I never cared to ask what lay beyond it, everything about me was so beautiful. My courtiers called me the Happy Prince, and happy indeed I was, if pleasure be happiness. So I lived, and so I died. And now that I am dead they have set me up here so high that I can see all the ugliness and all the misery of my city, and though my heart is made of lead yet I cannot choose but weep.39
There is no shadow in the Palace of No-Sorrow (Sans-Souci), and there is no heroism when not “caring to ask what lies beyond.” The Happy Prince must die in order to depart from his paradisiacal palace of pleasure and venture into the shadow of misery, to feel the sadness that enables empathy and care for others. “It is the rarest of exceptions,” says Kerényi about the hero, “if he does not fall victim to death; he is always in contact with it, death belongs to his ‘shape’.”40 Death is the essence of the hero’s transformation.

While we often are stunned by the hero(-ideal)’s radiant charisma, the transformation pertains to the death of Narcissus. To grow up and become an adult means, in painful sadness to the very marrow of one’s bones, to let go of youth, giving up some of the breathtaking libido of sweet sixteen. When asked by pregnant Leiriope, Teresias the Seer tells her that her son Narcissus will “live to a ripe old age, provided that he never knows himself.”41 ‘To know oneself’ entails the painful confrontation, encounter with and recognition of one’s shadow, which is essential to maturity; not only the maturity which forms the basis of Western Apollonian civilization and goal-directed consciousness, but also reflective consciousness, in which the ego is acutely aware that it is not the grand-all. And if not before, then at that very moment of self-awareness, the elevating spirit of Narcissus escapes the embrace and abandons us to the pain of our wounds; (secondary) narcissism must die. Narcissism is an indispensable driving force, but it entails denial of one’s shadow.

Let me in this context briefly mention Oscar Wilde’s wonderful doppelganger novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, in which the painted portrait magically relieves handsome Dorian, ‘gift of the goddess,’ from the grayness of aging. As long as Dorian Gray remains the handsome youngster himself, while projecting his shadow onto the canvas, letting the painting on the wall carry the afflictions of aging, he causes damage and death to others. Terrified by old age, Dorian strikes a Faustian deal, trading his soul for the beauty of eternal youth. His double, the painted portrait, carries the painful shadow of getting old. But only that which remains connected to the instinctual roots of the shadow owns its life. Having externalized his shadow, harm and hell, death and destruction inevitably ensue. As Rank says, the double reflects the soul as duality, the person and his shadow, simultaneously representing “both the living and the dead person.”42

Dorian falls in love with the performing skills of the actress Sibyl, but when she is touched by the reality of love, she can no longer perform. Dorian’s love for her thus comes to an end, and he turns away from her, leaving her to suicide. And when Dorian after several years shows the portrait to its painter, Basil, the latter begs him to repent his sin. Rather than expressing remorse, Dorian kills his creator.

Any archetypal identification, for instance with eternal youth and supreme beauty, entails projection of the shadow, which leads to loss of soul, which in turn causes the very uprising of the shadow—beauty turns into ugliness, the charms of youth into the agony of old age, euphoria into despair.

Only as godlike beauty ultimately is returned to its proper place, to the painting on the wall, Dorian is forced to reclaim the yoke of old age, and dies. His old and ugly dead body is found in front of the picture of young Dorian. The image of the hero as carrier of youth and glamour must die. Likewise, every psychological hero, that is, that inner function which enables us to depart from the ego, to venture into the shadow and retrieve what has been lost, and to bring it home into conscious living and our conscious identity, he as well must die when the mission has been fulfilled. When successful, the hero dies by being transformed into the king, the dominant principle of consciousness, who, as mentioned, eventually stiffens into collective norms, rules and regulations, into the adamant truths that replace the many thoughts; truths that when embraced become false, making people grotesque.43 And then, as is inevitable in the cycle of the psyche, he as well must abdicate the throne—if need be, defeated by the new hero.

The dreamer of the following dream experienced the pain of relinquishing an outdated identity. He had to accept the new features that initially were brought to him by the transformative capacity of the trickster:
I am at the seashore. It is as if in the Middle Ages. From the sea a big ship, like a frigate, with strong silent strength, approaches the coast. I stand on the beach facing the sea, throw a spear, but it falls in front of the ship into the sea. I am weak, the ship invincible. Behind me, a group of archers with bow and arrow. They hit me from behind, and I fall to the ground, I think I died. I am caught between those behind me and the ship in front of me. Someone, dressed like a court jester comes ashore from the ship. Surprisingly, he helps me up and we escape through a playground carousel. We get to a hiding place, a cave, and then head towards [the ancient ruins of] Apollonia, where I take off the feathers with which I have been covered, and I wake up.

At middle age, this man had been stiffened by a well-adjusted persona for far too long, causing him both the comfort and the weakness of convention. Only when he experienced the conflict between the spears that from behind straightened his back for a perfect social performance, and the appearance of silent strength moving towards him from the sea, could the heretofore dormant playfulness and latent dynamics of transformation wake up, and guide him toward a more truthful, featherless sense of self, as revealed at Apollonia.

At Apollonia, north of Tel Aviv, one finds the remains of a crusader city and fortress. Originally called Arshuf, the settlement was established during the Persian period, sixth-fifth centuries BCE. It prospered during the Roman and Byzantine periods, eventually falling to the Crusaders in 1101. In 1197 it was the scene of battle between the Crusader army under the command of Richard the Lion-Heart and the Muslim army under Salah-ed-Din (Saladin). Eventually, the Mamluks defeated the Crusaders after a forty-day-siege in 1265, following which the wall and the fortress were destroyed. The site has since not been resettled.

Arshuf was named after the Canaanite-Phoenician fertility god Reshef, who during the Hellenistic period was identified with Apollo, master archer, god of prophecy and knowledge, protector of young men. Identified with fever and fire his name is translated in the Bible as ‘hot thunderbolts,’ and ‘sparks that fly upwards.’44 But Reshef was also a demon, a god of plague and burning coal.45

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

29 The Heroes of the Greeks, p. 3.
30 “Two Essays on Analytical Psychology,” CW 7 (2nd Ed.), par. 41.
31 Adonis, from Adon, Lord. Tammuz, from Babylonian Dumu-zi, ‘the son who rises’ (Ernest Klein, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for Readers of English, p. 705), ‘son of the blood’ (Barbara Walker The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, p. 971), ‘sprout’ (Joan Comay & Ronald Brownrigg, Who’s Who in the Bible, p. 372).
32 James Frazer, The Golden Bough, p. 280f.
33 A hapax legomenon, occurring only in Ezek. 8:14.
34 Gen. 1:1-31
35 The Golden Bough, p. 288.
36 Ibid., p. 287.
37 The Hebrew calendar is lunar. The month of Tammuz coincides with June-July.
38 Oscar Wilde, Complete Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde, p. 9.
39 Ibid., p. 12.
40 The Heroes of the Greeks, p. 14.
41 Robert Graves, The Greek Myths: Vol. 1, p. 286.
42 Otto Rank, Beyond Psychology, p. 71.
43 Sherwood Anderson, Winesburg, Ohio, p. 6.
44 Psalms 78:48; Job 5:7.
45 In Habakkuk 3:5 Reshef appears as burning coal together with Dever, pestilence, before God as he is about to execute judgment on earth (cf. Geoffrey Wigoder, Illustrated Dictionary & Concordance of the Bible, p. 276).

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