There’s always a Hero at the center of each myth. Whether it’s a God or a mortal being, the archetypal protagonist goes through a series of transformative cycles that brings him closer to his goal. More importantly, at the end of his journey, he’s a different man altogether. But what exactly IS a hero? In this blog post, we’re going to explore the Anatomy of the Hero and how you can harness the power of this abstract mythological figure.
Big muscles, courage, a sharp mind. These are the common heroic traits we encounter in mythology.
Yet, these are attributes anyone can possess. But they don’t make them a hero, right?
While they’re a necessity in some ways, there’s something more profound underneath the stereotypical Thor or Cadmus. After all, heroes are everywhere we look. They aren’t Gods or supernatural beings.
They’re your neighbor next door struggling to feed his family or the athlete waking up at 5 am to achieve his dreams.
The essence of this Archetype is lodged deep within everyone, we just need to activate it.
And the first step to do that is self-awareness; defining the hero.
The method of Applied Mythology takes otherwise abstract myths and grounds them in reality. Using practical techniques, we can flesh out the very core messages of each story and apply them in our lives.
In the case of the Hero, perhaps it’s wise to find the beginning of the thread…
The Classical Hero
Communities need rituals and ritual-like behaviors to strengthen their bonds. Fantasy becomes rumours, rumours become oral stories and eventually myths that articulate the sacred traditions of a society.
Heroes represent the “problem solver”. An individual, often a cluster of conceptual traits, transcends normative standards and becomes something greater than human. He kills monsters, makes deals with Gods, he lifts giant boulders. He plunges himself deep into the dangerous parts of reality, the shadowy unconscious, and brings back treasures for everyone!
The elders will project ethical lessons, in the form of stories and myths, onto that abstract figure so the next generation can follow the path of virtue.
Moreover, the Hero often becomes the Girardian scapegoat, a placeholder for the collective sins and repressed negative emotions. Rest assured, whatever burdens a local village is burnt and purified by the symbolic fire of a lytrotic act of courage.
In plain words, he will save you! Your life as well as your soul.
(There isn’t a better example than Heracles, the Quintessential Hero. You can check out this post where we go deep into the hidden symbolism behind this tragic figure.)
The classical hero gains wealth and glory by performing supernatural acts of strength and courage. He’s able to beat death by acquiring post-humous fame – a very important concept we encounter in many epics, including Homer’s Achilles and the poem “Beowulf”.
Mortals and Human Nature
The idea of the hero being the perfect man or woman became prominent during the Golden Age of Greece. Think of it as a form of propaganda. The representative of the glorious city of Pericles cannot be anything less than perfect, right?
In reality, as I mentioned it’s important for the hero to be relatable. After all, he’s the “paradigm” of society, in the literal sense.
And this is where we begin to create a rough draft of YOUR inner hero.
How to Find Your Inner Hero
Archetypes reside within every one of us. You can draw power and inspiration from learning more and more about them. But it’s more important to understand how they might manifest in your life.
There are a few key principles that are most likely universal. It’s up to you to determine how they translate in your specific situation.
Power: The Capacity for Great Good or Great Evil
Historically, “ήρωας” wasn’t ethicised to the degree he is today. And that makes sense, right?
Context matters. Trojans certainly didn’t consider the attacking Greeks heroes, though they did recognize their heroic potential.
Aha! Potential. This little word has been the subject of many philosophical discussions over the centuries. It signifies a mercurial crossroad; the neverending choices we have to make throughout our lives to fulfill whatever purpose we were blessed with.
Greeks and consequently the Romans believed that only the strong can be virtuous; only when you have the capacity for great evil can you do great good.
The traditional heroes were monster killers. They possessed supernatural strength. They could level villages, end wars. Or, they could help their fellow humans.
Applied Mythology: Before you begin contemplating what’s right or wrong, it’s important to gain the skills and abilities that will allow you to do good! This means keeping your head down and focusing on yourself until you perform “herculean feats”, i.e. gain mastery over your discipline.
Moirai: Discover Your Fate
Three women, Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos are weaving your fate as we speak.
Clotho colum retinet, Lachesis net, et Atropos occat
- Clotho is spinning her thread from her distaff onto her spindle, giving you more and more life
- Lachesis using her measuring rod determines how much thread you get
- Atropos decides the manner of death by cutting the thread when it’s time
Daughters of Nyx, they reign over the mortals and Gods. Fate is inescapable. No matter how much you try to avoid destiny, it’ll find you.
It’s only when we transcend life and death that we can grab the thread from the wrinkly old hands of the crones.
How? By breathing life into other people. By helping others, thus creating an infinite chain of consequences, hopefully beneficial.
Applied Mythology: Find meaning and purpose in your life. I know, easier said than done. It’s a lifelong journey. The insight I can offer is that your purpose is something that will redeem you in the end. No matter what went wrong throughout your life, that one thing you accomplish will make up for everything else.
The Hero’s Journey
Heracles had his twelve labors, Odysseus his journey back home, Bilbo Baggins travelled to the Lonely Mountain.
The seductive song of distant lands and tall mountains can be heard wherever you are. Every hero goes through the transformative Monomyth. A dangerous adventure that uproots you from your comfort zone and throws you into the pit of raw reality.
In fact, the challenges you’ll face will test your character. They’ll change who you are. The psychological transformation every one of us goes through in the span of months and years is our initiation of becoming a hero.
Heed the call to adventure! Sure, like all heroes, you’ll refuse it at first but remember that destiny is inescapable!
Applied Mythology: If you want to live a more exciting life, make more decisions. Indecision is the cousin of complacency and torpor. Fill your routine with adventures and boldness. Some risk is also welcome.
Self-love is ultimately self-sacrifice. The relationship between Eros and Thanatos is complicated but it’s where the hero finds fertile ground.
There are countless examples of great warriors and polypragmon individuals throwing themselves into the fire pit to save the lives of others.
One of the key characteristics of the hero is having a cause that transcends his own life.
Applied Mythology: Virtue is the nourishment of our fighting souls. We die symbolically every time we don’t defend our beliefs and ideals. Having a sense of self, and being comfortable with who you are transform the way you interact with the world. Place the necessary boundaries! Only then will self-sacrifice have meaning.
In modern times, we tend to demonize glory. And for a good reason!
People become famous for nonsense that has nothing to do with heroic deeds or acts of courage.
But glory itself is simply your payoff, your reward for everything you’ve done for your family, friends, and society.
The hero is a role model. Others will look up to you. Keep that in mind.
Applied Mythology: You cast a bigger shadow than you think. Your choices matter and often influence the lives of others. It’s important to use your skills for good. It sounds cliche but you’ll know you’re doing it right when you begin to sense resistance! The world is filled with monsters and shadows – slash them in half!
Scapegoat: Paying the Price
There’s no give without take.
“Prophets are never welcomed in their hometown”
There’s always a price. The hero, after everything he’s been through, becomes the scapegoat. People need a common enemy; once you slay the monster, you become one yourself.
This is inevitable. Life is tragic like that. We are quick to turn our backs on our savior.
Applied Mythology: The naysayers eventually become jealous. Jealousy becomes malice. This is the path of the warrior. No one said it’s going to be easy. You just have to learn to live on the edge, often shunned by society, yet always called when they need your help.
Find out Your Weaknesses
Achilles’ heel was his only flaw. And consequently his downfall. But it’s not the weakness itself that makes you weak. It’s the fact that you don’t WANT to recognize it as a weakness.
Pride and arrogance are the companions of sin. They poison the psyche, blurring our ability to think clearly.
Applied Mythology: Self-awareness and radical honesty can help you mitigate many of the shortcomings stemming from your blindspots. This is where keeping a dream journal, jotting down the insights your illuminating unconscious is giving you, can be invaluable.
Bonus: Physical and Mental Prowess
It is said that Heracles had a gigantic stature. Odysseus had a sharp mind. Achilles was virtually unbeatable in battle.
A Hero is his heart. Yet, it doesn’t hurt to become the best version of yourself. It’s a form of self-respect. It’s not about measuring your biceps or consuming thousands of books.
It’s about being strategic in gaining valuable knowledge, staying ready for physical challenges, and training smart.
Leap of Faith
In the age of the internet, information is abundant. You can find every piece and bit of knowledge you wish.
That creates the illusion of certainty. That, somehow, you can think your way out of every situation as long as you have the right information. Problems that require courage now become intellectual problems.
Instead of committing to a leap of faith, jumping straight into chaos, we chain ourselves to our minds. In order to act, we require to know EVERYTHING beforehand.
But a hero is a man (or a woman) of action. He does, he acts, he pushes forward without having all the answers.
Google is great for interesting trivia. Yet, it won’t save you from everything life will put in front of you.
Only your grit and sharp mind will.
This is the Anatomy of your Inner Hero.
Writer. Seeking to discover my private mythology through dreams.