The Death of the Hero

More than halfway through Coming into Being, I’m having a great time discovering the multiple layers of depth within a single folk tale. As Thompson is pointing out, it is like excavating the layers of a cultural ecology that surrounds and embodies us, even to this day.

In early human history, the sacred was represented in voluptuous woman figurines, the male figure not yet differentiated from mother Gaia. Instead, the phallus is contained within the figurine. The eternal return.

The male archetype is represented as borrowing life from Gaia and always having to return it. Gaia demands sacrifice. The story changes, however, with Osiris, “who is at the threshold of the transition from prehistoric culture to historic civilization.” By eliminating human sacrifice, by defying the eternal return, he serves as a cultural hero in a new type of human society. The individual has begun to have importance. Horus, the son, is enthroned.

Thompson describes the differences between matriarchy and patriarchy nicely by detailing human burial:

“No one had names, everyone was buried impersonally. The bones were placed…in the megalithic tumulus, the great vault that is the womb/tomb of the Great mother. When we come to the heroic age, the Bronze Age of militarism and patriarchy, then we encounter the graves of heroes with names. And then we come upon passing on from one generation to another, from one male to another, from father to son.”

This process of individuation manifests much stronger in literate societies with names and lineage, fathers and sons. Gilgamesh and Enkidu act in defiance against the goddess, Ishtar. They represent the true establishment of personality and ego, “firmly entrenched.” The male is born and begins to actively work against death and the matriarchy of the Goddess. But this story does not end well, and ultimately death triumphs.

Thompson says that Gilgamesh is the fundamental text of Western civilization.

“The extroverted hero, being neither initiate nor yogi, only knows the world of action, of travel in physical space, of making names and fighting wars, of building walls around cities with empires that won’t last that long. Being neither shaman nor yogi, the hero returns to his city. He goes back, sadder and wiser, and the poem ends the way it began, in a beautiful ara da capo that celebrates the walls of the city, the tragedy of form, the impermanent nature of the container, body or body politic, of human life.”

What comes to mind very quickly in contemporary culture is, of course, the Singularity believers. Ray Kurzweil invokes the spirit of Gilgamesh as he dares proclaim that death is unnecessary, and will be conquered by us mortals tinkering with matter and form. Kurzweil points to a technological evolution which will allow us to bend the rules of Gaia to our liking, making ourselves immortal.

Even though a purely technocratic vision of evolution and divinity will not do, it is simply interesting that the Gilgamesh myth recurs even in our firmly established secular age where, for the most part, the yogi is and the shaman is all but forgotten.

Avatars and Evolution

There’s an upside to all of this, however, and that is the unfinished work of Osiris. Thompson makes the distinction between the Hero, like Gilgamesh, and the Avatar, like Osiris. If Gilgamesh is the hero of our civilization, then Osiris is the avatar. The hero is unaware of anything greater, embedded and attached to his form. The avatar represents a move into a greater cosmic awareness.

Unable to resurrect himself, Osiris rules the bardo realms. The waxing moon is symbolic of Osiris, slowly being pieced back together by Isis. In short, he has made time sacred. The story is continued in the archetypal death and resurrection of Jesus. Unlike Osiris, Jesus descends into the bardo realms and returns, fully flesh and fully divine. In the larger scope, perhaps metaphorically, Jesus is Osiris at full moon. Yet, even the story of Jesus is yet to be finished. The Kingdom of Heaven hasn’t fully manifested on Earth.

Even in the East, Maitreya is signified as the one who will truly sublimate the world, biding his time in the bardo realms before manifesting on Earth.

Teilhard De Chardin wrote about the Omega Point, which he believed to symbolically represent a time period of Jesus return, the final triumph of the divine as matter. The Kingdom of Heaven firmly establishing itself in this world.

The alchemists described this as The Great Work, symbolically represented as the transmuting of led into gold.

You might consider these perennial, archetypal themes as a collective Great Work humanity is a part of. It is a cosmological vision of reality, one where the story is not yet finished and in which there are cosmic seasons and cycles, ages and epochs. There is a circular nature to time, the Eternal Return, but there is also an exponential evolution of novelty. The union of matter and the divine must play out both in cycles and in emergence, the two aspects of time. The arrow and the circle create the spiral, and the kundalini serpent rises.

The cycle intensifies and manifests the Eternal in greater and great ways. We can witness this in the evolution of our story-telling, from the tragic sacrifice of Osiris to the triumphant death and resurrection of Jesus. Beyond the relative goings-on, the rise and fall of politicians and empires, larger stories play out.

Even in the scientific narrative, a similar story plays out. One can witness the emergence of complexity, the awakening and differentiation of nature in human kind. The rise of the hero and his return. One can follow the evolution of human consciousness by closely studying the human imagination throughout the ages.

The work is unfinished. Will we be able to survive our collective dark night of the soul, as humanity enters the bardo realms in an attempt to reintegrate and evolve?

The Hero’s journey is also about the death of the ego and the rise of true individuation.

The Hero is incomplete. He must rediscover aspects of himself he did not know he had. So he encounters aspects of himself he has disowned, confronting them as obstacles and aids on the journey.

Through these trials we become re-integrated and stronger than before. Returning to the Source is not the same as emerging from it. Unity is forgotten, but by forgetting this essential truth, the Remembering is all the more potent.

The hero becomes the initiate and rediscovers his soul. So too is the human race rediscovering the divine and the feminine, as Western Civilization grows old and weary, succumbing to time and the greater wisdom of Gaia. Humanity seeks to find its Soul, and in doing so, we play our part in a larger cosmological story of the Divine manifesting as Matter.

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