A hero is an active participant in the Great Work, who, by doing as opposed to just contemplating, contributes through his or her skills and active participation.
Despite the predominance of men [and in some cases apparently fairly violent men] in legend, the spiritual path in reality is open to all and huge numbers of women have been this route or at least some way along it. In other words anyone can be a ‘hero’ and violence [real or spiritual] doesn’t in reality help at all.
A hero can have many roles all of which are valid and helpful in the overall scheme of things.
A hero does not have to be a ‘fighter, or a ‘warrior’, but can be very gentle and kindly – like the White Knight in Alice through the looking Glass. Inventors can be heroes, child minders can be heroes, mummies can be heroes, as long as they know their destiny and the role they were intended to take, they are part of the Great Work.
I will also provide J E Cirlot’s quote on the special role of the knight – a synonym for a hero as it helps to add detail to my definition.
A Dictionary of Symbols – J E Cirlot
The knight is ….. the spirit which prevails over the mount – that is over matter. But this is possible only after a lengthy period of apprenticeship, which may be seen, historically speaking, as a real attempt to create in the knight a human type superior to all others.
As a consequence, the education of the knight was directed in part to strengthening him physically, but in particular to developing his soul and spirit, his affections (that is his morals) – and his mind ( that is his reason) in order to prepare him adequately for the task of directing and controlling the real world, so that he might take his proper place in the hierarchies of the universe ….
….. in the bas-reliefs on the capitals in the cloisters at Silos, knights are shown bestriding goats. Now, goats are symbolic of superiority, because of their association with high peaks, and Rabanus Maurus points out that knights mounted on goats must therefore be interpreted as ‘saints’.
By taking account of certain other orders of things analogous with chivalry, including (particularly) alchemy – which was in fact a mediaeval technique of spiritualisation – and also certain aspects of colour symbolism, we have been able to arrive at a system of analogies which we believe to be very helpful in explaining some of the more recondite aspects of the symbolism of knighthood.
Medieval tales and legends often refer to a green, white or red knight, but most frequently of all to a black knight. In alchemy, the rising scale of colours is black, white, red with gold representing the final stage.
Hero - characteristics
What defines a ‘hero’?
- Courageous – They show courage, bravery, resilience, and mental strength …………
- ‘Tolerant’ and even handed - The next characteristic is that they do not regard themselves as superior in any way to their fellow beings, everyone is regarded as being equal.
- ‘Moral’ - The next characteristic of a hero is that of honour, he/she follows codes of behaviour that basically are summed up by the simple sentence “Love and Don’t hurt or hate”.
- Are not motivated by money or wealth - Heroes do not do the quest for money.
- Are self sufficient and self motivating - heroes do the challenges by themselves. The hero may receive help from spiritual sources but they cannot ask for help from fellow beings. Hercules for example is denied one of his challenges because he received help with one of his 12 labours. This is because the journey is as important as the end, it is the lessons learnt en route that are important.
- Use no unnecessary force - A hero has strength of will and probably exhibits strength of character too, but a hero does not use brute force or violence to achieve their aims. A hero uses more subtle means – talk, persuasion or simply the combined action of a number of people he or she has been able to bring round to the cause. Diplomacy and not aggression. They may never have to confront, but simply by-pass opposition and choose alternative routes to achieve the same ends.
A hero is essentially – although it may sound odd - a peace maker not a fighter in the conventional sense.
- Are ‘modest’ – a hero is not self promoting. Heroes manage to achieve all they have been given to do in a quiet unassuming and totally peaceful way without ever being recognised as a ‘hero’. They are in some cases ‘invisible’ - anonymous achievers.
- Are generous kind and helpful - If the hero is a man, a hero will also protect and assist women. I suppose women can do this for both men and women these days, so perhaps this attribute can now be applied to both male and female heroes.
- Are motivated only by the idea of ‘glory’ - The ‘reward’ if such it is, is not money but ‘glory’, a mixture of appreciation, acknowledgement, praise and thanks. There may be no reward in the life of the person. They may win ‘gold’ but their gold is allegorical, it is spiritual gold
- Do not win kingdoms by taking over from others whose kingdom it is - they are not competitive in the normal sense. As the hero’s journey is solitary, the only person they are competing against is themselves, what other people do and achieve should make no difference.
- Displays fairness, self control, loyalty, justice, and mercy
In the olden days, there were other attributes of heroes that also marked them out:
- They did not have children
- They were founders, builders or defenders
- They were usually eventually betrayed by men and often died as a consequence.
But the betrayal often carried severe penalty with it, as the betrayers then lost a spiritual leader. Often at moments where a hero needs support and is abandoned by the majority a new unlikely hero emerges to support him. So what appears to be a moment of sadness becomes a time for new heroes to emerge to carry on the work.
When the heroes are very influential and effective, the death or loss of a hero can be traumatic, what follows can be a time of great suffering for the humans left afterwards.
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