Chapter 10 of the series Myths and Dragons
Part 1 – Horus: A New Hope, A Wise Past
Part 2 – Jacob – Never Surrender, Never Learn
Part 3 – A Change Worth Dying For, A Culture Always Challenged
If we are to take stories as maps of behavior then we need to identify with the characters. Horus, Jacob and Jesus provide three unique maps for the relationships between a father, a mother and a son. They also illustrate three progressive steps in the mythological consciousness that frames our cultural heritage. We can read these three stories and examine what they say about how the individual relates to the social order that surrounds them and to the unknown world outside that protective social order.
The posts are made up of three parts: an introduction, a story, and one explanation (or midrash).
Questions for readers: Can you identify with the hero’s situation? Is this story a good map for how we should behave?
The Christian story of Jesus, when examined through the mythological elements unknown, known and knower, is about how all individuals become equated with the hero, therefore potentially reaching divine status (There are so many versions of this story. Check out this kung-fu comedy version. Below is a simplified summary.)
Jesus had a humble, vulnerable birth. He grew up to be an intense student of the Jewish law, and then became a teacher and charismatic speaker increasingly frustrated with the established order of the day. He did not use physical weapons, but relied heavily on storytelling. He did not seek militant political revolution, but he was compelled by a need for social change. He affected the lives of those that heard or saw him greatly. He summarized the ancient law of the Jewish people in two principles; love your God, and love your neighbor (even if an enemy) as you would yourself. By doing so, any individual takes up Jesus’ model for behavior and follows a heroic way of living. He disrupted the business of the money-changers in the temple and was brought before the judicial courts. He then voluntarily faced both punishment from the legal system and the great unknown of death.
Jesus is, in a sense, the individual no organized human society could really put up with. He was a master of the traditional knowledge of the culture. He was quick-witted enough to outsmart his prosecutors. He desired to remove all past conditions or social judgments from determining the present value of a person if that person came to him with honesty. And, he faced his final judgment voluntarily. He never took another person’s life, but was willing to give all his efforts and his life to changing the attitudes of people around him.
- Find something so intriguing, so compelling, it fixes your attention and becomes more important than anything personal or selfish.
- Commit all of your being to it. Take the weight of it upon yourself even if it’s impossible to bear (especially because it is impossible to bear). Be responsible for it and take a stand.
- Take action so that the future will transcend the present and the past, even if it means you will not survive to enjoy or even see the fruits of that future.
He combined the Great Father of traditional culture and the Great Mother of the natural world in its complexity into one monotheistic deity (something already started and developed by the long Jewish history of storytelling). The unknown became a place of both order and awe. What better way to reassure people, and inspire them to face the unknown, than to tell them they will find something there that will always love them, something in which they will always have a place, and something that will always have order (even if unfathomable)?
He also became a model for how anyone, regardless of race or background or education, could achieve equal status with the divine – seek out the cultural errors around you, submit to what they teach you and commit to changing things for the better, even if it means your death. But never sacrifice someone else for your own personal ends. What better way to show something is more important than yourself than to be the servant? The sacrifice is always you, and the action must always be made by you.
There is always something wrong with a society, and it is always the job of the hero to change those things for the better. But that being said, the ability to absorb any individual completely, someone that might forever have something dysfunctional or anti-social about him or her, is too hard for any society to withstand. How could there be order in a land of nothing but heroes? And yet this is exactly what must be done because society is only made up of individuals, each potentially divine, each potentially a bringer of the magic elixir, and each potentially a destroyer of the traditional order.
(addition: the recent events in Norway are poignant examples of how misguided an individual’s actions can be, how misdirected an individual’s intentions can be, and how disastrous it can be on social order. Two attempts at understanding the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of this individual can be found here and here. Apparently, the person was trying to invoke social change, and he was willing to sacrifice other people in order to make his statement. How can a society address such threats? Build even more walls? Put a microchip in everyone’s brain? Condemn religions? Pressure each individual to be sane and rational?)
Identification with and commitment to tradition is not sufficient. Instead, we adopt and we adapt. The very process that continually creates culture cannot be separated from the process that creates the individual urge to explore new territory, for good or bad, and thus change the present conditions through the gifts and threats found there.
What do you think?
Can you identify with the hero’s situation?
Is this story a good map for how we should behave?
Can individuals behave this way in a community that depends on order?