I started blogging almost a year and a half ago. So far I’ve avoided repeating any posts, but recent events in Libya prompt me to reconsider. Originally published on March 12 of this year, this post addresses the traditional interpretation of the hero myth which elevates “masculine” values and represses “feminine” ones. In my next post I will describe other toxic aspects of the old version and describe characteristics of the newly emerging one.
In an early post I wrote that the film Avatar highlights the differences between the heroic and immature ego. Avatar’s hero, Corporal Jake Sully, succeeds because of his bravery, receptivity to Princess Neytiri and her culture, and willingness to heed his wise and truth-pursuing mentor, Dr. Grace Augustine. His adversary, the obsessive and soulless Colonel Miles Quaritch (there’s an interesting similarity between his name and Colonel Mohamar Qaddafi don’t you think?), fails because of his resistance to the Na’vi and their spiritual leader, Queen Mo’at, and his determination to destroy whatever threatens his power.
Quaritch and Qaddafi exemplify the Old King/Warrior ego. This is the part of us which attains power and success with two primary strategies: first, by believing we are the supreme authority of the psyche and the world around us; and second, by rejecting otherness, which in Jungian psychology is associated with the feminine unconscious. As long as we function in this mode, sharing our power and trusting the wisdom of forces we consider inferior is unthinkable.
This way of thinking gave rise to, and still supports, patriarchal cultures with their hierarchies of authority. The old ego believes that climbing to the top to become a colonel or king will immunize it from the suffering, victimization and failure experienced by all that is below. Thus, being forced to surrender to the corporals of the world feels like a mortal, humiliating blow administered by a cruel enemy. Likewise, for many people including Job and Jung, an experience of God — the ultimate Other above everything — as a force with far more power than our puny ego is, in Jung’s words, an “unvarnished spectacle of divine savagery and ruthlessness” that produces shattering emotion.
I imagine Colonel Qaddafi might be feeling some uncomfortable emotions himself about now as he faces growing rebellion in Libya. Perhaps in the secret places of his soul he’s even questioning his God-image. After all, if he who did everything right (from the perspective of his ego) can be threatened by the loss of control of his country, what has his life been all about? This is exactly how every ego feels when confronted with the divine power of repressed otherness. Losing control feels like a violation. Like utter unfairness. Like death, the ultimate feminine mystery.
In Hinduism this mystery is symbolized by the aspect of the Great Mother known as Kali, the Mistress of the Dead who reminds us that when new healing is required, the old ways must change or die. Her natural cycles of birth/death/rebirth terrify the Old King/Warrior/Ego who wants to escape the darker demands of growing up: things like aging, becoming vulnerable in relationships, and losing power, money, status, loved ones, health. So he deludes himself into believing that controlling or destroying otherness proves his omnipotence and protects him from the Great Mother’s power. It doesn’t. The Old King/Ego aided the survival of our species. But the rules have changed. Now he is a dinosaur whose dominator mind-set is rapidly becoming extinct.
Einstein said: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Our world is in trouble. Dying to the old ways and birthing a stronger and wiser ego is the great work to which each of us is called today. Will we, like Corporal Sully, attain our heroic destiny by embracing otherness in ourselves and the world, or will we, like Colonel Quaritch and Colonel Qaddafi, ultimately fail?