I found my senior project research paper among old files on my backup drive and decided to share it here. The subjects touched upon are ones still important to me: hero myths, the collective unconscious, who we are as humans, etc., although my writing style from ten years ago isn’t as comparatively eloquent as it is now. I did a quick edit for glaring errors, such as double-spacing between sentences, something I feel is one of man’s greatest sins now. I guess that is what it means to be young and reckless.
Oh, and that IS Encarta 1994 listed in the Works Consulted at the end…
Hero myths represent the mind of the individual. Through analysis of various myths, one finds common aspects that can only be explained as being innate in every person. Traits of the human psyche (see Appendix H) are represented in various forms in such myths. Before one can elaborate on such a topic, one must first understand the meaning of myths, as well as rituals, symbols, dreams, and the meaning of the hero.
Myths, Dreams, and Rituals
A myth is a story that has strong cultural roots. They are found worldwide and have different themes within them such as love, jealousy, revenge, trickery, or journey. There are also various types of myths: creation myths, flood myths, etc. Although there seem to be many variations and incarnations in myth-storytelling, all myths have basic similarities that can be seen in the stories from widely varying cultures.
According to Joseph Campbell (see Appendix A), myths “serve four distinct functions: to instill and maintain a sense of awe and mystery before the world; to provide a symbolic image for the world such as that of the Great Chain of Being; to maintain the social order by giving divine justification to social practices like the Indian caste system; and above all to harmonize human beings with the cosmos, society, and themselves” (Segal x).
Myths have been enjoyed since the dawn of time, and the exact origin of the myth is yet to be discovered. One theory relates to a central, base myth that may have started from an early civilization, eventually spreading to other lands. Another theory incorporates Carl Jung’s (see Appendix C) theory of the collective unconscious (see Appendix D). This theory is based upon the idea that every person is born with the archetypes (see Appendix E) evident in myths, hence the similarities found in stories from around the globe (Rank 4-9).
All myths are cyclic. They follow the basic pattern of birth, death, and rebirth. Although the symbolism may not be so obvious, this cycle is evident. The birth can be a representation of the initiation into the adventure. In most myths, the subject character does not literally die, but symbolically dies: it may be an end to something, such as his/her freedom. The rebirth is symbolic as well, possibly showing his gained knowledge or reemergence into society (Campbell 229).
Creation myths follow a cycle as well: “the cosmogenic cycle is to be understood as the passage of universal consciousness from the deep sleep zone of the unmanifest, through dream, to the full day of waking; then back again through dream to the timeless dark. As in the actual experience of every living being, so in the grandiose figure of the living cosmos: in the abyss of sleep the energies are refreshed, in the work of the day they are exhausted; the life of the universe runs down and must be renewed” (Campbell 266). Similarly, many cultures believe that as each period of existence progresses, the quality of life will become worse than in the previous cycle. The result is total annihilation, and eventually a glorious rebirth. An example of cyclic representation in myth can be seen in the Arthurian legend: The Knights of the Round Table. They chose a round table so that all who were seated would be equal and balanced.
A myth differs from a legend, such that a legend is based upon a historical event. King Arthur is a legend because there is evidence of an actual, historical king of Briton by that name. Myths are created. They are collected stories that may or may not have been true. Both myths and legends, however, are obviously elaborated or exaggerated. In the case of Arthur, he may not have had the mystical Excalibur, but one can be sure that he had a good sword. The line between myth and legend can be arguable. Is Jesus a myth or a legend? The separation between the two is a matter of faith.
During ancient times, there were no written laws. The rules of behavior were set by myths. Stories taught of dire consequences if a course of action was to be followed. In some cultures, the storytellers were also the chiefs. Unlike written laws that simply split right from wrong, stories taught ethics by letting the individual determine a sense of morality (Miller).
Written and oral myths are related to dreams. “Dream is the personalized myth, myth is the depersonalized dream; both myth and dream are symbolic in the same general way of the dynamics of the psyche. But in the dream the forms are quirked by the peculiar troubles of the dreamer, whereas in myth the problems and solutions shown are directly valid for all mankind” (Campbell 19). In other words, myths can also be described as the collective dreams of a society, while dreams are the myths of individuals, personalized with their individual experiences and problems. Jung states that dreams are a product of the psyche that is almost always in a state of never ending activity (Hall and Nordby 59).
As dreams are personalized myths, rituals are myths acted out. The term “ritual” seems to almost always refer to the ceremonies of primitive cultures. The reality is that rituals are found everywhere, even in modern society. Every Sunday, the Sabbath Day, Christians attend Church to worship God. Before a sporting game, teams may offer a prayer for success. Unfortunately, the opposing team is probably praying as well. James Frazer, a myth-ritualist, believed that “myth is the equal of ritual and arises with it to serve as its script: myth explains what ritual enacts. Myth operates while ritual retains its magical power” (Segal xi-xii). The pioneering myth-ritualist, Biblicist William Robertson Smith, believed that “myth is inferior to ritual. It arises as an explanation of ritual only once a ritual is no longer considered magically potent and so is no longer understood” (Segal xi).
Rituals express our inner desires. As Jung mentioned, the shadow is the animal-archetype of the individual. It is the instinctual being within us that is expressed in such rituals. Child fantasies and entrance into manhood are also evident in rituals. When the ritual is initiated, those participating become one structure. This is also seen in the work force. All workers become one large working force. Individually, they are not as great as they are when they work together (Campbell 383-84).
In many primitive cultures, a youth must pass through an initiation ceremony before he becomes a man. In an aborigine tribe in Australia, a child is required to become circumcised if he wishes to mature. He is scared into thinking that the Great Father Snake is coming to get his foreskin, and rightly so. The frightened child goes to the mother for support but finds no help, thus the child must face the feared father-figure alone (Campbell 137-38). When the ceremony is completed, the child emerges stronger, and has found atonement (“at-onement,” as Campbell explains) with the father-figure. This is the hero’s journey.The psyche of the individual can be seen in hero myths. “The hero is the man of self-achieved submission” (Campbell 16).
Campbell and Lord Raglan’s (see Appendix B) hero saves society. A hero is one who risks something to benefit the greater good. This can be the hero’s freedom, wealth, or even life, as Jesus did when he was crucified. The hero eventually returns to reintegrate with society and share the gifts he/she has reaped on the journey (Campbell 246).
The hero myth follows a basic pattern, which is described by Campbell. The first stage of the hero’s journey, or the monomyth, is the initiation of the hero into the world of the unknown, or the call to adventure. There are various versions of initiation situations. The hero may have blundered, with the consequence being his/her journey to the unknown. This is evident in The Odyssey, where Odysseus’s unintentionally long voyage is largely due to his boasting against the gods. In the story of Alice and her journey through Wonderland, she follows a rabbit into a dark passage (the unknown), a whimsical world not without its dangers. The hero that refuses the call becomes a victim because he/she loses the power of affirmative action. In some cases, however, the hero that waits for the problem to escalate before heeding the call, uses “willed introversion,” and is able to absorb the new forces, he/she may reach a higher level of self-consciousness and control (Campbell 64).
The initiation of the hero may be aided by a helper, which may or may not have supernatural qualities. The gates leading into the world of darkness and unknown are guarded by a “shadow presence,” where the hero may find battle or find help. Odysseus’s battle with the Cyclops is his crossing into the dark realm. He blinds the monster and boasts of his greatness. Unfortunately for him, the Cyclops is also the son of Poseidon, Lord of the Seas and Earthquakes. Odysseus’s seaward journey home is thus delayed by the god’s wrath. In this story, Odysseus defeats the Cyclops (gatekeeper) and enters the darkness (Campbell 245).
When the hero enters the world of the unknown, he/she may face brother-battle, dragon-battle, dismemberment, or crucifixion. To be dismembered and crucified is to be slain, a journey into the realm of death. This is the threshold separating the two worlds. When the hero is completely within the realm of darkness, he/she must pass a trial of tests. There, the hero may also find helpers (Campbell 245-46).
The worthy hero, however, may find no tests. Such a case can be seen in the story of the Prince of Lonesome Island and his encounter with the sleeping Queen of Tubber Tintye. The Prince enters her domain to seek a cure for the Queen of Erin: eater from the flaming fairy well. He travels past sleeping beasts and creatures, and comes across rooms with a beautiful woman in each. He does not remain to be with them, for he knows his goal. Eventually, he encounters the most beautiful of all the women, the Queen of Tubber Tintye. He eats her food and rests upon a turning, golden coach. When he awakes, he takes three bottles of the sacred water and leaves the Queen a note stating that he ate her food, rested upon her coach for six days and nights, and took three bottles of the well’s water. He leaves as easily as he came. In this example, the well is symbolic of the center of the world, the World Navel (see Appendix J), releasing the healing flow of its sacred water that is life itself. The spinning coach is the World Axis (see Appendix K) for it represents the directions of the world (Campbell 109-110, 172-173).
At the peak of the hero’s journey, a reward is given to him/her, after the final, largest test. His triumph may be represented in a sacred marriage with the mother-goddess figure, atonement with the previously hateful father figure, the bestowing of immortality or god-hood (apotheosis) upon the hero, or through the theft of the reward. The reward is also known as the boon or elixir. It is the treasured item that makes the hero’s journey worthwhile. It may be a person, a treasure, or knowledge. To overcome the unknown is to fill the mind with glorious wisdom. The reward is usually an expansion of the hero’s consciousness, also known as illumination, transfiguration, and freedom, and an expansion of his/her being (Campbell 246).
The return is the final act of the hero. If he is favored by helpers or powers, he may return via an emissary. The hero may take the boon without consent of the owner, or may not be liked by the forces. This leads into a chase, in which the hero flees with the boon, whether it be a bride or knowledge. The two forms of flights are transformation flight and obstacle flight. Transformation flight involves the hero leaving behind some object or creature to delay the pursuer. In obstacle flight, the hero drops obstacles to deter the chaser (Campbell 196-207).
Returning to the world of the hero, the hero may be rescued by forces or resurrected from the dead. There may also be struggle at the threshold. In some cases, the hero may not want to return. He/she may wish to stay with a lustrous goddess for all of eternity. In such a case, those of the other world may come and take the hero back. “Society is jealous of those who remain away from it, and will come knocking at the door” (Campbell 207). The hero may also be forced back into the world by some blunder.
When the hero eventually returns, or is forced back, to society, he/she must deal with the task of reintegration and bestowing the sacred boon upon his fellow people. The hero must also make mental adjustments to prepare for the return, for the hero is returning a changed person. “The first problem of the returning hero is to accept as real, the passing joys and sorrows, banalities and noisy obscenities of life” (Campbell 218). The reintegration of the hero into society is the hero’s return into the world he/she has left: home. The boon that the hero brings back from the other world is shared amongst his people, as Sidhartha Gautama (the Buddha) spread the knowledge and wisdom of his findings after reaching nirvana, eternal bliss. He too, felt reluctant to return, for he felt that society would not understand his teachings. “How teach again, however, what has been taught correctly and incorrectly learned a thousand thousand times, throughout the millenniums of mankind ‘s prudent folly? That is the hero’s ultimate difficult task” (Campbell 218).
Lord Raglan described a hero pattern as well, although it does not directly display the cyclic nature of the hero quest. Raglan also thought of the king as a hero, and the hero a king. Raglan’s hero pattern goes as follows:
(1) The hero’s mother is a royal virgin;
(2) His father is a king, and
(3) Often a near relative of his mother, but
(4) The circumstances of his conceptions are unusual, and
(5) He is also reputed to be the son of a god.
(6) At birth an attempt is made, usually by his father or his maternal grandfather, to kill him, but
(7) He is spirited away, and
(8) Reared by foster-parents in a far country.
(9) We are told nothing of his childhood, but
(10) On reaching manhood he returns or goes to his future kingdom.
(11) After a victory over the king and/or a giant, dragon, or wild beast,
(12) He marries a princess, often the daughter of his predecessor, and
(13) Becomes king.
(14) For a time he reigns uneventfully, and
(15) Prescribes laws, but
(16) Later he loses favour with the gods and/or his subjects, and
(17) Is driven from the throne and city, after which
(18) He meets with a mysterious death,
(19) Often at the top of a hill.
(20) His children, if any, do not succeed him.
(21) His body is not buried, but nevertheless
(22) He has one or more holy sepulchres” (Lord Raglan 138).
It can be observed in Lord Raglan’s hero pattern that it is much more specific than the hero pattern of Joseph Campbell. This leaves more room for error because there is bound to be a myth in which the hero is not a king or the son of a virgin mother. The hero also does not necessarily have to die. Lord Raglan recognizes the fact that not all myths will fit exactly, nor will any myth fit Campbell’s pattern exactly. It is a measure of how close the myth is to the pattern that counts.
The Psychology of Myth
When one examines the theory that all myths originate from one central myth, one finds the concept flawed, for it does not mention the origins of that central myth. This would give the collective unconscious theory more bearing. This theory shows that humanity was born with a myth in their minds.
Symbolism is abundant in myths (see Appendix G). This can be seen in the hero’s entry into the dark unknown, which is usually a dark and mysterious forest, as well as the symbolism of animals such as Athena’s owl. The owl, commonly attributed as being wise, sits upon the Greek goddess of wisdom’s shoulder. Similarly, one can find many of the archetypes evident in myths. Archetypes, which compose the collective unconscious, are the universal symbols. They can teach a lot about the individual’s unconscious and hidden desires. Such archetypes include the mother-goddess of the world and the hateful father figure, e.g., the Holy Virgin Mary and the vengeful god, Poseidon, in the story of Odysseus, respectively (Campbell 18, 19).
Hero myths reflect much of the human personality. They have been analyzed a great deal by psychoanalysists and mythologists. Hero myths teach individuals a lot about who they are. “For Campbell, hero myths originate and function to fulfill not a blocked need but simply a yet unrealized one: the need to discover and nurture a latent side of one’s personality” (Segal xxvii). Similarly, the journey of a hero is about entering a world of darkness, or unknown, and returning stronger and wiser than ever. The darkness is symbolic of the undiscovered side of the personality. It is often said that what is unknown is feared.
“For Jung, heroism… involves, in addition, relations with the unconscious. Heroism here means separations not only from parents and anti-social instincts but also from the unconscious: every child’s managing to forge consciousness of the external world is for Jung heroic” (Segal xvi). Unlike Jung, who did not limit the hero to a particular portion of life (though he mentioned a greater involvement in the second half ), Campbell believed that the hero is limited to the second portion of life (Segal xvi-xvii). To overcome the fear of death is, in itself, heroic.
If indeed myths originate from the collective unconscious, than individuals have more in common than it would seem. It would also appear that myths do not simply represent the individual, but rather are the individual. They represent something as deep as the collective unconscious in the individual.
The hero’s journey is the journey of the reader, as well as the life and story of every individual. The monomyth pattern is symbolic to the situations in today’s society. The college student enters the unknown as he/she leaves home, just as Alice enters the unknown by following the white rabbit into the hole. Odysseus’s encounter with the lustrous Calypso is every person’s confrontation with desire. The Cyclops that Odysseus encounters is the bully child that harasses the smaller children.
The darkest secrets of mortal souls’ are on display within each myth. They display the gruesome truth of our inner desires, dressed prettily in story variations and verbal magic. An example would be the Oedipus complex (see Appendix I), evident in many hero myths, for the hero often falls in love with the mother-goddess of the world. The mother-goddess is the hero’s mother. It is the role of mythology to ease such a discovery (Campbell 111-113).
By analyzing myths, one learns the secrets of the psyche. It is of outlandish adventures, yet they bring to the mind a familiar image. Children, too, love to hear the same story over and over again, for the theme expressed is pleasing and touches the heart. The theme is usually that of homecoming (Miller).
The following hero myths are from different regions of the world and have different characteristics. The Ramayana is the typical hero adventure, from India. The Polynesian story of Maui and the Greek story of Heracles are stories of lone achievements. They differ because Heracles seeks repentance. The Irish story of Cuchulainn and Emer is a love story.
Rama and Sita
The Ramayana translates as “the story of Rama,” a great Hindu hero who is also the seventh incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. It is an ideal monomythic story and is very straightforward. Rama’s story fits perfectly into the monomyth cycle. The story begins in the heavens as the gods discuss how to rid the world of the demons living in Lanka, an island off the southern coast of India. Because Ravana, lord of the demons, was given a boon that decreed no god could ever harm him, it was decided that Vishnu should become born a mortal.
Meanwhile, the king of the kingdom of Ayodhya is praying to the gods for a child. Hearing this, they give the King divine food in a Golden Vessel to feed his three wives. They gave birth to four children. The chief wife, Kaushalya, who was given most of the food, gave birth to the dark-skinned Rama, Kalkeyi gave birth to the dark-skinned Bharata, Sumitra gave birth to the light-skinned twins, Shatrughna and Lakshmana. All of the brothers are skilled in various arts, but Rama is the greatest of all.
During his youth, Rama travels to the kingdom of Mithila to protect a sage wishing to make a sacrifice from the demons he may pass. In Mithila, Rama wins the hand of the beautiful princess, Sita, by stringing a sacred bow, which he snapped in half. His brother Lakshmana, who is also with him, is given the hand of Sita’s sister, Urmila. As Rama is about to be crowned king of Koshala, Kalkeyi, the mother of Bharata, is persuaded by her humpbacked serving-maid, Manthara, to use two boons that the King owed to her (she saved his life many years before) and ask that Rama be banished and Bharata be given the throne. She goes through with the plan, and the entire kingdom is saddened to see Rama banished.
But he is not alone. His brother-companion Lakshmana and his wife Sita are with him. Rama’s call to adventure is his banishment, and his entry into the unfamiliar forest is his initiation into the unknown world. His dismemberment from society is his symbolic death. His family accompanying him, as well as the royal charioteer, Sumantra, who drives him out of the city, are his helpers.
Bharata and Shatrughna, returning from visiting their grandfather’s kingdom, find Rama banished, the King dead from grief, and the city in turmoil. He begs Rama to return, but Rama does not agree because he does not want to break the boon that the father owed, lest he bring dishonor to his father’s name. Bharata tells Rama to place his feet in a pair of sandals, which he says he will place under the royal canopy, and they shall rule the kingdom. Bharata states that he will wear the clothing of the hermit and live on forest food outside the walls of the city. He further states that if Rama does not return on the last day of the last day of his exile, he will jump into a fire and end his life.
Rama and his companions continue their life in the forest, living the hermit’s life. Their peace is disrupted when they encounter the sister of Ravana, Surpanakha, who wishes to marry Rama. Rama mocks her, and she attacks Sita unsuccessfully. Rama realizes his mistake in teasing such a creature. Lakshmana draws his sword and cuts her ears and nose off, for he would not kill a woman. The demon-woman flees to her brother, Khara, who dispatches fourteen warriors to attack Rama and his companions. When they are defeated, Khara, himself, attacks Rama. Rama slays him, but Surpanakha and another demon manage to flee to Lanka, to speak to Ravana, the lord of the demons.
Ravana devises a plan to abduct Sita, for he feels that without his beloved wife, Rama will most certainly be defeated. Another helper, named Jatayu, a great vulture tries to save Sita from Ravana, but loses his life instead. Unfortunately, Rama is angered by the abduction. Ravana, who has fallen in love with Sita, returns to Lanka, where she is held captive. The encounter with the sibling demons is a test Rama must face to proceed on his journey. Unfortunately, this test is followed by a greater test: recovering Sita. To save her, Rama must slay Ravana and, when having done so, fulfill his destiny.
While in the forest, Rama meets the monkey warriors Sugriva and Hanuman, two monkey warriors who aid Rama on his quest. They show Rama and Lakshmana the jewels and golden veil that Sita drops upon them during her flight to Lanka. Sugriva also tells Rama of how he was banished from his kingdom, unfairly, by his cruel brother Bali. Rama agrees to help him slay Bali, and Sugriva vows to help him find Sita. Sugriva returns to his wife and becomes king of the monkey-city of Kishkindha.
After a long period in which Rama has to remind the fickle monkeys of their vow, they set off in search of Sita. Four teams travel in the four directions: north, south, east, and west (World Axis). Hanuman, the most powerful of monkeys, is the one to find Sita with help from a great vulture and brother of Jatayu, who tried to stop the abduction of Sita but failed. His wings burned, he cannot fly to Lanka. Hanuman, one with many talents, leaps across the sea, and finds Sita still alive and unharmed. Before he leaves to tell the others, he burns parts of Lanka, but stops when he realizes he may endanger Sita.
They return to Rama with the news and the whole group goes to Lanka. The monkey Nala and some other monkeys construct a bridge to Lanka. Rama, Lakshmana, and the monkey army defeat the entire demon family, even Ravana (the greatest and final test), with help from Vibishana, a noble demon. After testing if Sita has remained faithful to Rama by making her walk through fire (because she is innocent, she is protected by Agni, God of Fire), they return to Ayodhya on Ravana’s divine chariot, and Vibishana becomes king of Lanka. Rama resumes the throne and all rejoice at his homecoming, bringing the boon of peace and happiness to the land, as well as Sita.
Lord Raglan’s hero pattern is applicable to Rama’s story. Although one does not know if Rama’s mother is a virgin, one knows that his father is a king and the circumstances of Rama’s birth are unorthodox. One may not consider Rama’s birth a virgin birth, but it appears to be so because Vishnu has placed his essence (the divine food) into a possibly virgin woman, later conceiving Rama. Although Rama is actually Vishnu reborn, one can say that his birth has godly influence, so he is the son of a god. Unlike other stories, there is a hateful mother-figure, Kaikeyi’s maid. He is spirited away, but is not technically reared by anyone in the forest. He is, however, a guest to many hermits. We are told minor details of his childhood. After slaying the father-figure Ravana, Rama returns home and becomes king, with Sita by his side. His reign is a happy one and order spreads throughout the land.
The Ramayana is a perfect example of a myth teaching others regulations and propriety in life. Rama is devoted to the Vedas, a set of religious rules regarding morality. Rama is the epitome of humbleness. He understands the sacrifice he must make in order to preserve his father’s name. He is honored for his purity, thus persuading others to follow in his path.
There are many elements in the story that are common archetypes and symbols. One finds the hateful father figure (Ravana), as well as the hateful mother figure (Kalkeyi’s maid-servant). Rama’s entry into the dark and mysterious forest is similar to the threshold crossing of many other myths. The woods are a source of strange, yet familiar, magic.
The story teaches a lot about the psyche of the individual. Rama’s entry into the unknown represents the human battle to conquer ignorance and fear. The forest that he enters is dark because it is not familiar. He cannot “see” until he understands it. The fickle monkeys may represent the greed and lust of humans. So lost in his wealth and power, Sugriva forgets the oath he made to Rama.
Maui and the Sun
The Polynesian story of the demigod Maui also fits into the monomyth cycle, though it cycles more times than the Ramayana. Unlike with Rama, Maui’s adventures are comparatively lonesome. The story of Maui begins as he lies peacefully on the beach. Suddenly, he is attacked by vicious waves. The gods help him by casting down a rope to the heavens. He climbs to safety and, during his time spent above, learns various new skills. He returns to his society and shows his great talent to the astounded people. He is faster and stronger. The waves attacking Maui represent his call to adventure, in which he must venture forth into the unknown world: the heavens. He returns with superb skills to share with society.
One of his dreams is to enlarge the island in which his people live. He creates a fishhook and throws it far into the sea. Pulling the cord attached, he lifts another piece of land out of the ocean. Although he could not make them connect to his island, he is content that there are other islands, green with beauty. The creation of the islands is one of many tests Maui encounters in his life.
Later, the villagers complained to Maui of the Sun speeding across the sky, faster and faster. (In another version, it is his mother who complains to him.) The plants do not have enough Sun to grow, and the fishermen do not have enough day time to fish. Another call to adventure, Maui is thrust into confronting the Sun.
When he confronts the Sun atop Haleakala, it mocks him and continues to fly by. After a series of pleads, Maui grabs his hook and throws it at the Sun. It digs itself into the Sun’s body. Maui threatens it to slow down. After agreeing to move slower, Maui frees the Sun. The villagers rejoice at Maui’s accomplishment. Maui’s climbing atop Haleakala is another journey into the unknown. His confrontation with the Sun is yet another test. He bestows upon the people days of longer length.
The application of Lord Raglan’s pattern is more difficult because the myth does not state many of the specifics asked for in his pattern. It is also harder because there are many different versions of the Maui myth. Although his mother may not be a virgin, she is a supernatural being, as is his father. The father is son of the god Tangaroa (Kanaloa in Hawaiian). His great strength is a result of the mana given to him when his mother, Hina, places a red malo (type of cloth) around her. His victory is over the Sun, a father figure.
Not stated in this story, (one version of) Maui’s death is a result of his climbing into the mouth of the goddess of life, Hine. He believes that if he slays her and takes her heart, immortality will be bestowed upon all the people. He warns his friends not to laugh, lest she awaken and he die in her belly (the entry into the belly of the whale is another form of symbolism for the entry into the unknown). As he enters, a bird comes down and laughs (for it is a laughing bird), and the goddess Hine awakens and closes her mouth. Her teeth kill Maui and he dies. Like many mortals, he is on a quest for immortality but learns it cannot be obtained. One learns from this story that it is the relinquishing of the fear of death that is the ultimate heroic task.
As myths are large parts of cultures, culture is a large part of myth. The hook that Maui uses to snare the islands and the Sun is a similar design to the fishing hooks used by fishermen in Polynesia. The magical cloth his mother wore is part of Polynesian culture as well.
Heracles and the Twelve Labors
The tale of Heracles (Roman: Hercules) is quite possibly one of the most well-known mythological stories in the world. As with Maui, Heracles goes through numerous cycles. The story of Heracles and his twelve labors is one of repentance and acceptance.
Heracles, the son of Zeus, lord of the gods, and Alcmene, a mortal woman, is tricked into killing his family by his jealous step-mother Hera, queen of the gods. He is told by a Pythian priestess (who is the first to call him “Heracles”) to go to the king of Mycenae named Eurystheus to repent for his sins. When the tasks are completed, he will be immortal. The killing of his family is his call to adventure. The priestess may be regarded as the helper at the gate, instructing him how to cross the threshold. She also tells him that the boon for his quest is his immortality.
Eurystheus demands ten labors that Heracles must undergo, though he ultimately completes twelve. The tasks are: 1.) bring the skin of the Nemean lion which is impossible to wound; 2.) to kill the Lernaean hydra that grows two heads when one is destroyed; 3.) bring the Cerynitian deer alive which is sacred tot he goddess Artemis; 4.) bring the Erymanthian boar alive; 5.) remove the cattle manure from a barn of many cattle; 6.) to drive away the Stymphalian birds; 7.) to bring the Cretan bull; 8.) to bring the mares of Diomedes the Thracian who is the son of the war-god Ares; 9.) bring the belt of Hippolyte, queen of the Amazons; 10.) bring the cattle of Geryon from Erythia; 11.) retrieve golden apples from Hesperides, guarded by an immortal serpent; and 12.) bring Cerberus, the dreadful three-headed dog of the Underworld. Heracles ultimately completes twelve labors rather than the originally stated ten because he receives help killing the hydra and gains profit from cleaning the barn. Each of these tasks is an adventure on its own, thus each has its own cycle. In each cycle, Eurystheus can be regarded as the initiator and sage. He guides Heracles through the process of atonement.
When his tasks are complete, he is admitted into Mount Olympus, home of the gods. He atones with his mother and lives as an immortal for eternity. His immortality and atonement with his mother are his boons. One cannot be sure if he actually shares any of his boons with society, but one knows that he saved many a life while still mortal. He reintegrates into his future home, Mount Olympus, with the society of gods.
Lord Raglan’s hero pattern can be seen in this story. Heracles is the son of the god Zeus and the mortal Alcmene. His biological father is a king, and he has godly heredity. The hateful mother figure, Hera, tries to kill him. He is spirited away to Eurystheus to repent for his sins. As a child, he is reared by mortals, Amphitryon and Alcmene. Although little is told of his childhood, it is known that he kills two fierce snakes as a baby. His learning of skills, such as archery, as a youth is also briefly discussed. His return home is the return to Olympus, his future kingdom, except he does not become a king. One might consider, however, to name him a king among men. He has many wives and children. His victory is found in the accomplishments of his twelve labors. He is reborn as an immortal. He is not buried because he is lifted to Mount Olympus after being enveloped by a smoke cloud. His children go on adventures of their own, though none is as great as he.
As many people do, they sacrifice their time, energy, or belongings to repent a sin committed. By repenting, Heracles wins the acceptance of his mother as well as immortality. He demonstrates the very human desire to belong. The hateful mother figure in the story of Heracles replaces the role of the hateful father figure. She is the forbidden mother whom Heracles cannot connect with until his atonement with her. She is the mother who has spurned the child (Campbell 111).
The twelve labors in which Heracles must complete are symbolic. Twelve represents the circle: the hours on a clock, the path of existence, and the World Axis. Similarly, one may see him as entering the house of Eurystheus (birth), facing the tests (death), and reemerging with everlasting life (rebirth). Such is the path of the hero.
It is also noteworthy that the story of Heracles may be a retelling of the story of Heraclea, a female demi-god warrior. Early society shifted from female dominance to males dominance, from the celebration of the mother-goddess to the father-goddess. Heraclea is a story dating back to the matriarchal societies of Greece. It is believed that when the patriarchal society developed, the story was converted to the story of Heracles.
Cuchulainn and Emer
The Irish myth of Cuchulainn and Emer is a love story that fits pleasantly into the monomyth pattern. The step-son of Conchobar, the king of Emain Macha, Cuchulainn is a handsome youth with seven pupils and seven fingers on each hand. He is swift and strong, but also brash and daring. Needing to find a wife, Cuchulainn visits the land of Erin to meet Emer, the lovely daughter of the king of the Fomorians, Forgall the Wily. Cuchulainn’s search for a wife is his call to adventure.
When Forgall finds out that his daughter has fallen in love with Cuchulainn, he concocts a scheme to drive Cuchulainn away. He tells Cuchulainn that he may marry his daughter only after he learns the ways of the warrior by visiting Scathach, a woman wise in such arts. Cuchulainn and Emer both swear vows of chastity until they are together again. Cuchulainn’s journey into the unknown is characterized by his journey to Scathach. Forgall is the initiator, as well as the hateful father figure, who sends him out to be tested.
Learning skills in Donall, Cuchulainn met with a gruesome looking woman named Big-Fist. Spurning her love, she swears revenge. As they leave Donall, his companions experience visions that they must not leave Emain Macha. The visions may be a result of Forgall or Big-Fist, both trying to lead Cuchulainn to doom. He is tested at Donall and learns new skills as a result.
On his own, Cuchulainn meets the camped scholars of Scathach who tell him how to reach Scathach. He must pass through obstacles and monsters sent by Forgall the Wily, until he comes upon an island across an impassable bridge. It is impassable because when one steps on it’s surface, the other end springs up, leaving the traveler on his/her back. Cuchulainn, however, knows how to do the hero’s salmon-leap, and leaps to the island. He is told, by Scathach’s daughter Uathach, to threaten Scathach and ask for boons: 1.) the hand of Uathach in marriage, and 2.) to be taught skill of arms. The crossing of the bridge is yet another test for Cuchulainn to complete. He is also tested by Scathach.
Around this time, Scathach is at war with the tribes under Princess Aife’s rule. Cuchulainn defeats the opposing soldiers and wins. Cuchulainn demands three boons from Aife: 1.) she must give hostage to Scathach, 2.) she must bed with him, and 3.) she must bear him a son. Cuchulainn gives Aife a ring and states that when the child is old enough that the ring fits, the child should seek him in Erin. When Cuchulainn has learned the skills of the soldier, he journeys to Erin. When he reaches Erin, Forgall flees and kills himself. Many begin to attack him, and Cuchulainn kills them all. Hundreds lay dead. Reuniting with Emer, they live together for the rest of their lives. They are welcomed by his step-father Conchobar and the men of Ulster, at the House of the Red Branch. Although Cuchulainn does not atone with the hateful father figure, he defeats him. The ultimate boon, and the purpose of his journey, is the hand of Emer. He also has a union with Uathach and Aife. His return home is his reintegration into society, with a new wife to show to the people as well as newly developed skills.
Lord Raglan’s hero pattern can be seen in this story. Cuchulainn is the son of the “good god,” Daghda and the female mortal Dechtire, half-sister to King Conchobar MacNessa. His biological mother and step-father are related, though he has many other step fathers. His conception is unusual because his father is a god. As a child, he is raised away from his biological, godly father. The story of his early childhood is not specifically told, though it is known that he assumed arms at the age of seven. The father figure Forgall tries to kill him. He is spirited away by Forgall to seek Scathach. His victory is in a war, and over Forgall. He marries Princess Emer. It is not mentioned whether he becomes king, but he dies at the age of twenty-seven, beheaded by a man name Lugaid.
The story of Cuchulainn is interesting because it is more about winning love rather than retrieving a loved person or object, as in The Ramayana. One finds that Cuchulainn may not be the most ideal hero, for he marries another woman and has a child with another after swearing a vow of chastity to Emer. One learns the harshness of winning love in this story, though Cuchulainn and Emer are already in love when he leaves. The bridge symbolizes a hard path, leading to the enlightenment that Cuchulainn finds at Scathach. Most of the time, the hardest part of finding an answer is the search.
Each of these four stories follows the monomyth and fits fairly well with Lord Raglan’s hero pattern. The existence of such similarities points to common paths of thought in the differing cultures and the existence of a collective unconscious. Having such qualities, hero myths display the common desires that individuals have, though they do not consciously express them. By analyzing the myths, one is able to examine the patterns with more substance. One cannot, however, simply derive credible theories on myth by just the analysis of a few tales as we have done. The total analysis of myth requires a study of numerous myths from all conceivable regions and time periods.
Through the analysis of hero myths and the application of psychoanalysis, one can see that they represent the individual psyche. The unconscious is spoken through the language of myth, expressing infantile desires, repressed thoughts, and constrained emotions. This is why hero myths, no matter how gruesome, are vaguely familiar. The myth is the individual. Transcending time and location, myths speak to people through their hearts, rather than by their eyes. When one reads myths, one is reading one’s self. To understand myth is to understand the mystery and glory that is the cosmos.
The Study of Mythology
- A: Joseph Campbell
Joseph Campbell is an American mythologist who studied myths of different distinctions, analyzing the symbolism evident in the stories, as well as the connections they have to other myths. He was born in 1904 and died in 1987. His studies on the journey of the hero, which he refers to as the monomyth, are of significant value. Campbell draws more from the psychological approach of Carl Jung, although they have some differences. Although he does not consider himself a “Jungian,” Jung’s influence is evident in Campbell’s work. Campbell wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in 1949, as well as The Masks of God, and other notable works, and created the television documentary, The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers (Segal viii, ix-xi, xix-xxii).
- B: Lord Raglan
Lord Raglan, the English folklorist and “myth-ritualist” (one who believes in the accompaniment of myth and ritual), was born in 1885 and died in 1964. Under the influence of classicist and anthropologist James Frazer, he wrote The Hero, in 1936. He composed a list of events that are commonly found in most hero myths and analyzed a myriad of heroes, using his pattern (Segal xi,xii, xxiii-xxvi).
- C: Carl Jung
Carl Jung was born in July 26, 1875, in the small village of Kesswil, Switzerland. As a child, Jung was an introvert and kept mostly to himself. He had a great love for nature and a vast interest in the occult. His interest in philosophy was influenced by the Greek philosopher Schopehauer, because of his straight-forward interpretations of life. His first work experience as at professional psychology was at the Burgholzli Mental Hospital in Zurich, Europe’s most famous mental hospital. He was the assistant to the director, Eugen Bleuler. Jung was also influenced by Sigmund Freud. Their friendship, however, came to an end with the publication of Jung’s book, Symbols of Transformation. Jung married Emma Raschenbach in 1903, and they settled into their home near his beloved Alps. Jung lectured at universities, and had his own private clinic for a brief period. He died on June 6, 1961. His life is “‘a story of the self-realization of the unconscious’” (Hall and Nordby 15). The C.G. Institute was founded in 1948 and still exists (Hall and Nordby 15-30).
- D: Collective Unconscious
Carl Jung’s most notable research is on the collective unconscious, archetypes, complexes, and symbols. He also investigated personality types, the conscious mind, and the dynamics of the mind. The collective unconscious, as he believed, holds innate information present in everyone when they are given life. What is learned by one generation is inherited by the following generations. In a more widely accepted version of the collective unconscious states, the mind goes through germ plasm mutations where it is altered to increase survival. This is a similar concept as evolution (Hall and Nordby 40).
- E: Archetypes
The archetype is the name of the contents of the collective unconscious. They are primordial images, and are symbols that represent universal concepts. Jung’s archetypes include the persona (societal mask/conformity), the anima (feminine impulse) and animus (masculine impulse), the shadow (animal nature/instinct), and the self (order/organization/unification) (Hall and Nordby 44-53).
- F: Complexes
A complex is formed when a central element in the personal unconscious (where repressed memories or memories too weak to reach consciousness are stored) attracts other associated elements to form a constellation or cluster, which may take place in events such as early childhood trauma. In Jung’s word-association test, when he would say a word that hit on a complex, the patient would hesitate and find it harder to answer. Examples of complexes include the mother complex, where everything the individual does is related with the mother and pleasing her, and the infamous Oedipus complex, where the child begins to desire the mother (the first object of love) and hate the father (the first object of transgression) (Hall and Nordby 36-38).
- G: Symbols
Symbols, which are abundant in myths, “are the outward manifestations of archetypes. Archetypes can only express themselves through symbols, since the archetypes are deeply buried in the collective unconscious, unknown and unknowable to the individual” (Hall and Nordby 111). Symbols are structures that stand for other things.
- H: The Psyche
The psyche is defined as “spirit” or “soul,” in Latin. In modern language, it refers to the mind. Carl Jung described the three levels of the psyche being: consciousness (the only portion of the mind directly known), the personal unconscious, and the collective unconscious (Hall and Nordby 32, 33).
- I: The Oedipus Complex
The Oedipus complex, which Sigmund Freud described clinically, is a recurring theme in mythology. The Oedipus complex is named after Oedipus, the Greek king who inadvertently kills his father and marries his mother. The Oedipus complex refers to a universal feeling of love towards the mother and hatred towards the father. The mother, being the first object of love in the child’s life, is implanted as the ideal image of female love in the child’s mind. The father, who comes between the bond between the mother and child’s relationship, is implanted as the enemy, for he has transgressed their almost magical relationship. It can also be found in females with the role of mother and father switched, known as the Electra Complex (Campbell 111).
- J: The World Navel
The World Navel is the center of the world, where indestructible and healing forces emanate. It is the source of the flow of life. “The torrent pours from an invisible source, the point of entry being the center of the symbolic circle of the universe… around which the world may be said to revolve. Beneath this spot is the earth-supporting head of the cosmic serpent, the dragon, symbolical of the waters of the abyss, which are the divine life-creative energy and substance of the demiurge, the world-generative aspect of immortal being” (Campbell 40, 41). The World Navel is often symbolized with a tree or a well. In the story of The Odyssey, the World Navel is represented as the olive tree in which Odysseus builds his city of Ithaca around. It is also the bed he shares with his beloved wife. It is also often known as the World Ash or Yggdrasil, a name borrowed from the Nordic myths.
- K: The World Axis
The directions of the world and its cyclic nature (see Appendix J). The world axis can be seen in the directions of north, south, east, and west, each traveling in a distinct direction.
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