Morning folks. Did you see the inauguration? Fascinating that Trickster appeared in the fluffing of the swearing-in lines. That's the moment in European myths when a glass breaks or a dog barks at the wedding at the end of the story, or the one incomplete strand in a persian rug-it's a genuine contribution to the attempted alchemy of the situation, even if it wasn't 'consciously'intended. Good to see something from the Myth-World passing through.
i wanted to write a little something this week about the idea of the Hero. With such despair and hope flying around at the moment it felt interesting to me. Many of my generation have grown up with a complete antipathy around the word-sensing something stiff, generic and even possibly corrupt around it. So i want to poke about a little
and suggest that our negative connotations could be more connected to the words Champion or Defender.I would be a withered little man without my hero's.They contain one of my favourite words; a 'generative' energy-they radiate a sense of challenge, inspiration and possibility. We shouldn't be scared of the term, but aware of what it really means. Due to the tiny size of the blogspot, this is just a murmur in the breeze i'm giving here, much remains incomplete. Still, it's good to hurl shoes at the moon.
Before that some weekly news: it's the Steiner Winter Storytelling Festival in Dartington, Devon this Friday (from 4.30) and Saturday,tickets on door range from £2-£7-the full programme is at www.steiner-south-devon.org. I will be telling stories both evenings and giving a talk around the ideas in my upcoming book 'A Branch From The Lightning Tree', Chris Salisbury will be telling tall tales, as well as the brilliant Clive Fairweather reaching into some Irish folktales. It's kid friendly, very cheap and good fun. Come along if you can, it would be good to meet/catch up.
Talking about 'Lightning Tree': The Westcountry School will do a limited initial run of 1000 copies, hopefully out mid-march.The last endorsment is in and the art-work done. It's getting printed over in Oregon but the first boxes will arrive soon. We will get pay-pal/info on the school website for purchasing.
Back in the studio too, to record 'The Birth of Ossian' and commentary, a story i truly love.
Here's some feel-good lines from Yeats;
Begin the preparation for your death
And from the fortieth winter by that thought
Test every work of intellect or faith,
And everything that your own hands have wrought,
And call those works extravagance of breath
That are not suited for such men as come
Proud, open-eyed and laughing to the tomb
W.B Yeats Vacillation
Yeats is calling a grandious tune with a touch of darkness at the end; that we should be explorers, in fact heighten our game as we age. No gentle falling off after forty, but a narrowing and amplifying of our pursuits. That word he uses, 'tomb' is terrifying, it has a finality to it, it puts our emphasis back on life rather than ideas of the beyond. Initiatory process, as we have discovered, is partially to do with drawing closer to death to live more fully. If you have not engaged with that then anyone over the age of sixty is a creaky reminder of something you haven’t even begun to face. The things we grab onto, like life rafts, are rosy glows, full blooms and houses that are only painted white. There appears to be a wilful resistance to the reality of elders because it means looking at another set of values, and beyond that- death.
The religious propensity for gazing backwards at an imagined Eden has transformed into a lust for an imagined luminous, technological future,one where ageing is associated with being ’behind the times’ . Either one of these perspectives is out of balance if it detracts from what is happening right now.Where once was the tragedy of leaving a ‘golden age’ behind, we now have the supposed triumph of the ‘nearly here’ future.
‘If you find nothing now,
You will simply end up with an apartment in the City of Death.
If you make love with the divine now, in the next life you will have the face of satisfied desire’
The simplified image of the heroic leader has to be challenged.
In the earliest myths we find pursuit of otherworldly treasures, rejuvenating potions, magical animals-all somehow enhancing the wider arch of the community. The symbolic world was activated and abided in the land beyond the village gates. By the twelfth and thirteenth centuries some of this energy got caught in the gorgeous vocabulary of the Troubadours and turned inward, cultivating the intimacy of heart knowledge: love and some kind of moral self-improvement.
As the centuries progress we could say that an aspect of this pursuit leaps out again into the flurries of intellectual and empiric expansion of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; the Quest shifts like sunlight hitting the scales of a fish. In the twenty first century we are dwelling in the debris of this process, and feeling the collapsing legacy of that rapid expansion. It feels appropriate to be looking inward again-psychological and mythological thinking are helpful in this attempt.
The large and difficult question we are left with is 'What am I questing for? What remains just out of view that I long for?'
The image of the hero as a generic defender of cultural sanctions is actually tribalistic slander. It's a kind of Hollywood whitewashing of a much older, rawer picture. In the ancient tale of Gilgamesh, we come across him as the regent of Ur, a champion that wanders society taking what he wants. To temper this, the gods create Enkidu, a wild man conjured from mud to stand up for the women Gilgamesh has violated. When they meet in combat an affinity develops and the champion and the hero become friends. The mundanity of applause has no weight for Enkidu and he refuses to fall into the regulations of society. When he dies Gilgamesh senses the authenticity of Enkidu-that he was not hypnotized by collective cause. He continually refers back to a psychic independence and intimacy with the divine that is not to be bought. Carrying the elemental energies of the woods with them, we find Enkidu's relatives emerge through the centuries; Herne the Hunter, Robin Hood, John Barleycorn. So something of the hero’s independence relies on connection to wildness, to fresh strange ideas and an eye upwards towards god. The champion is the one that rolls out endlessly to battle, not the hero.
The roots of the hero stories are found in pre-literate mother cultures like Herappa in India, Minoan Crete and the Magdalenian area of southern France-they are not wheeled out to support a patriarchal order. Sometimes, like Anga in the Serpent and the Bear, or Cuchullain with Scathach, they serve an initial education with a woman. One of their distinct masculine traits is their desire to achieve mastery over rather than integrate into, certain obstacles, and it is here that the vulnerability lies.
The sorcery of history has the capacity to take this root energy and attempt to separate it from its connection to nature and the feminine. It is a great achievement for bad people when we can't detect the difference between champions and heroes anymore.
We abdicate heroism because we don't know what it is, and then we wonder why we don't have the energy to vote.
Actually the old idea of a hero is someone that suffers in full view of the community, that is alive to a certain type of pain.